Tag Archives: High Plains

Hey, the drought has returned!

Eighty-three days and counting …

It’s been that long since Amarillo has experienced any measurable precipitation. You and I know what that means. The drought has returned to the Texas Panhandle.

Weather forecasters are spending a good bit of time talking about the threat of wildfire. They are right, of course. The grass is plentiful from rain that fell through much of the summer of 2017. It’s now bond dry. It has become prime fuel to ignite killer fires.

It goes without saying: Take great care to avoid torching the land; don’t toss cigarette butts out of your car; avoid dragging metal chains under your vehicle; no outdoor grilling, particularly in the ever-present Panhandle wind.

There’s another concern that troubles yours truly: water waste.

Do not waste water. We have no need to wash our motor vehicles. Check for leaky faucets and sprinkler heads. Indeed, reduce lawn-watering during the winter months when local grass goes dormant.

I remember when we were cheering the rainfall in 2017, which finished with a rain-average surplus over normal. But we’ve gone nearly three months now without any measurable rain or snowfall.

It’s a potentially dangerous period out there. Let’s be so very careful. Shall we?

RV travel presents weather-related headache

You are aware by now that my wife and I have moved into our recreational vehicle.

Our house is empty. It’s been dolled up. It’s about to go on the market. We’re now living full-time in our home on wheels.

We returned from a lovely week downstate, settling for a few days in an RV park in Sherman, Texas. We got to visit with our granddaughter, her big brother, our son and daughter-in-law and our daughter-in-law’s parents.

As great a time as we had, we did experience our first significant weather related conundrum. It got cold in North Texas. As in bitter cold, man!

How cold was it? It was so cold we lost our water for two days.

We did what we were supposed to do. We unhooked our fifth wheel from the water source. We had water in our tanks. Then the temperatures plunged, into the low teens, with wind chills taking the temp into single digits.

The water in our RV froze. We got it to trickle some. Then as the temps inched above freezing we tried to turn the spigot outside. No luck. The water source was frozen, too!

Thanks goodness we stayed at an RV park with working restrooms/showers. We were parked only about 50 feet from the park’s facilities.

Here’s some more weirdness for you. We left Sherman on Tuesday. We arrived in Amarillo later that afternoon. I figured we were jumping from the fridge into the deep freeze. It’s generally much colder in Amarillo than it is downstate.

We arrived at our RV park back home. Then we got some good news. The outside temperature hovered around freezing at 4 p.m., then we were told that we had running water at the site reserved for us.

Ahh, yes. There is good karma, right?

We’ve now prepared for the next serious cold snap. No damage done by the loss of water — and for that we are grateful.

Today was a good day, indeed. The Arctic blast that took temperatures on the High Plains to single digits has dissipated. The sun is shining. The ice has melted. The water is flowing.

Life is good … once again. It’ll get cold again. We are ready for it.

Here is God’s gift to the High Plains

You don’t see any mountainous splendor in this picture.

Instead, you see flat land. You also see a very large sky that seems to be on fire. Those of us who live on the High Plains of Texas got to see this sunset on Black Friday, 2017.

Not a bad way to end the day, if you ask me.

I didn’t take this picture. I did snap a picture of the sunset, but this image comes from a social media acquaintance, Bill Bandy, a fellow Amarillo resident.

I want to share a view with you that I’ve had for as long as my wife and I have lived on the High Plains. It is that God Almighty has a way of paying us back for deciding to put those tall mountains and tall timber in other regions of the country.

My wife and I returned recently from a 4,200-plus-mile journey out west, where we got our full measure of nature’s splendor. The Rockies, the Cascades, the Sierra Nevada — along with the endless stands of tall timber we saw in the Pacific Northwest — all provided plenty of stunning landscapes for us to ogle on our journey to Oregon and back.

We don’t have that kind of scenic splendor out here on the Caprock. We do, though, have a sky that won’t quit. I have said before on this blog that whoever hung the “Big Sky” label on Montana never laid eyes on the Texas Panhandle.

The sky is the Almighty’s way of telling us: I get that I didn’t bless you with terrestrial grandeur, but I hope you appreciate the sunsets — and the sunrises — I am able to provide.

Yes, I do. I’m quite sure we all do.

Happy Trails, Part 45

I want to talk about the seasons of the year for a brief moment.

What that has to do with retirement and the happy trail on which my wife and I are embarking will become apparent quite soon.

I’m normally a Spring Man. Spring historically has been my favorite season of the year. It’s the season of renewal after long, cold and occasionally damp winters on the High Plains of Texas, where we have lived for the past 22 years.

The grass miraculously starts turning green. The trees regain their foliage. The rain comes — often in torrents. The playas fill with water. And, yes, the wind blows hard.

This year might bring a different appreciation for another season.

Autumn arrived just a few days ago throughout the northern hemisphere of Planet Earth. We’ve had a good summer on the High Plains. We’ve had unseasonably heavy moisture, which has cut down on our water usage.

This autumn, though, is a season of immense transition for my wife and me. We’re preparing to relocate to points southeast of here. You see, we’ve been telling family members, friends and even people we barely know that we are being pulled in that direction by a 4-year-old girl who just happens to be our granddaughter, Emma. You’ve read about her on this blog.

But first things first. This time of transition is occurring as autumn moves forward. The transition requires considerable preparation for the move that’s pending.

We have lived in our house for nearly 21 years. It’s the longest span of time either of us has ever called a single place “home.” Our 46 years of marriage, moreover, have enabled us — if that’s the right verb — to acquire a lot of possessions. We’ve stuffed them into this house we’ve occupied for more than two decades. We have jettisoned a lot of it already. There’s more to go as we prepare to “downsize” to a more livable arrangement befitting a retired couple looking to spend more time with their granddaughter.

Given that retirement has given us ample time to do all these things, the task at hand now requires us to buckle down and commit to getting it all done before too much more time passes. I consider it a mix between a blessing and a curse in this post-working aspect of one’s life.

I get asked all the time, “Are you now fully retired? Or are you still doing this and that?” I am fully retired. Period. Next question.

That doesn’t mean I have nothing to do. I have plenty of tasks ahead of me. I merely await my marching orders from my much better — and more organized — half.

This transition awaits. Depending on how it all goes in short order, I might find myself a year from now forsaking spring as my favorite season and falling madly in love with autumn.

Water everywhere, not a drop to drink

Is there a more fitting context for the phrase about there being “water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink” than what we’re witnessing in Beaumont, Texas?

The horrific deluge in the Golden Triangle city of about 120,000 residents has damaged the city’s drinking water plant. Neighborhoods are waist-deep in water that flowed in from the Neches River or just fell from the sky as a result of Hurricane Harvey. But the folks who live in those ‘hoods cannot drink the water.

This is where those who “serve the public” really get to demonstrate their service.

My goodness, it is heartbreaking in the extreme.

Texas National Guard troops have been mobilized to bring water in to the stricken region. A young man I know has hauled a significant load of water from the Texas Panhandle to way down yonder in the Houston and Beaumont areas. I have heard he’s having difficulty navigating his truck into the region, trying to find passable roads and highways he can traverse to deliver the precious water.

Knowing this young man as I do, his intrepidity will see him through.

The scope of this tragic event is still playing out. The death toll is at 32; it’s likely to increase. You know, when you think about it, one must be amazed that so few victims have lost their lives. I am. No, it doesn’t minimize the grief of those who have lost loved ones and my heart breaks for them.

Meanwhile, those of us on the High Plains — so high and very dry — are left to pray and to send every bit of positivity and good karma to our stricken friends downstate.

HPPR quenches news junkies’ thirst

I am a happy radio listener.

High Plains residents — those of us who like news, information and well-reasoned analysis of current events — are getting an additional treat on our radio dial.

It’s called 9.49 Connect. It’s an expanded news offering provided by High Plains Public Radio. When HPPR’s morning news shows go off the air — while being broadcast simultaneously on 94.9 and 105.7 FM — 94.9 Connect stays on the air with more news and commentary.

HPPR rolled out its expanded news offering this past week. In doing so, it has decided to quench the thirst for news junkies such as yours truly.

National Public Radio for too long has gotten a bad rap by those who suggest it is some sort of “liberal organ” that only squishy lefties would appreciate.

Wrong, man! Double wrong! Triple wrong!

If you’ll pardon my lifting a common mantra from the 2016 presidential election, NPR “tells it like it is.” So does its affiliate station, HPPR, which is headquartered in Garden City, Kan.

I am happy to sing the praises of a non-commercial radio station, given that public radio relies on listener support and corporate “underwriters.”

And make no mistake, its news presentation strides down the straight and narrow. It doesn’t pepper its coverage with buzz words and partisan rhetoric, which I suppose is what its critics — mainly those on the far right — wish it would do.

Only they want the news slanted in their direction.

High Plains Public Radio has just enhanced the quality of life for public radio listeners — and news junkies — across our vast region.

Thank you, HPPR.

Ranchers respond with kindness

You think humanity has gone to hell? You worry that we’ve become so very cynical that we care little about other human beings, that we no longer feel empathy for their heartache?

Perish the thought.

A lot of ranchers in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles have endured more misery than anyone should endure. Wildfires scorched thousands of acres of grassland, from which these ranchers harvest their hay to feed their cattle, which they send to market and, thus, earn their livelihood.

So, how do other ranchers who have been spared the flames respond? They load up big flatbed trucks with bails of hay and send them many miles down the highway to their stricken ranching brethren.

I’ve heard about the convoys of trucks tooling down Panhandle highways. They come, of course, from neighboring ranches in the immediate region. They also are coming from neighboring states.

This kind of response helps me purge any latent thought I might have when I hear about cruelty and heartlessness among my fellow human beings.

We are proud in this region of the spirit of community that resides in the hearts of those who live here. We express it from time to time when disaster strikes. Lord knows the High Plains region is prone to heavy wind and Mother Nature’s violence. Fires do plague the region on occasion at this time of year.

That community spirit demonstrates itself when tragedy does strike.

Such as when we see trucks loaded with bales of hay heading toward the scorched Earth.

Time for prayer as we enter fire season

I believe it’s time to say some prayers.

For firefighters who are battling blazes across the vast landscapes of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. For those who seek to assist the firefighters. For everyone with homes that might be in the path of destruction.

We’ve had a couple of pretty rough days along the High Plains.

Some firefighters were injured battling blazes in Potter County. What’s more, three individuals have died in Gray County while trying to protect their livestock from the murderous flames.

Livestock has been lost. Property has been destroyed.

There might be much more to come as spring’s arrival approaches and as the traditional “March winds” ratchet up.

This is a dangerous time to live in this wide-open region, in this area with little natural obstruction to the winds that howl across our landscape.

City and county officials impose burn bans. They tell us to take care when operating open flames. They warn us of the consequences if we turn a deaf ear to those warnings.

And yet …

People continue to flout the common-sense advice that flows their way. They flip cigarettes out motor vehicle windows. They light barbecue grills in howling winds, allowing red-hot embers to get blown way beyond their reach.

Let’s all understand something. It is that we’re a chronically dry part of the world. Sure, we had some good moisture earlier this winter. The grasslands are dry at this moment. Never mind the snow that blanketed the region earlier this winter.

The March winds will blow. There’s nothing we can do about them. We can, however, seek to minimize the effect of those winds if we just take a bit of extra care, heed the warnings our local leaders want us to hear.

And some earnest and heartfelt prayer surely cannot hurt.

Cadillac Ranch: May it stand for a very long time


I’ve just made my second trip to Cadillac Ranch in the past three days, taking members of my family out there — on the south side of Interstate 40 just west of Amarillo — to see this unique roadside attraction for the first time.

My cousin asked me today as we drove out of Palo Duro Canyon, “What is Cadillac Ranch, precisely?”

My answer: “It’s art.”

Those of you who’ve seen it know of what I speak. For those who don’t: It is 10 Cadillacs stuck nose-first into a pasture. They’re lined up perfectly and they purportedly are angled to face the Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt … or so legend has it.

The trip today was fascinating for another reason: the number of motorists who had pulled off the highway to take a gander at this place.

The site was strewn with spray-paint cans on this glorious, sunny day on the High Plains. And many visitors were partaking of the chance to leave their mark on the Caddies.

Whenever I bring visitors to the place, I am compelled to tell them of the ranch’s origin. I tell them it was the creation of the late Stanley Marsh 3, the eccentric/weird Amarillo “art patron” who thought it would be cool, I guess, to stick the Caddies in the ground.

Marsh’s died not long ago. His legacy is — to say it charitably — a mixed bag. His eccentricity is legendary in West Texas. So is his philanthropy, as he and his wife have given a lot of money to fund higher education, as well as the arts, in Amarillo and elsewhere.

But there’s a darker side to Marsh’s history: the allegations of sexual misconduct. Given that such acts are in the news these days as they involve a certain Republican Party presidential nominee, I find it timely to mention here today.

Marsh had been charged with crimes involving young males. Even as he battled the cancer that eventually would take his life, Marsh was forced to defend himself against some serious allegations of misconduct. He ended up paying a lot of settlement money to those who had filed criminal complaints against him.

Then he died.

In the period immediately after his death, some of Marsh’s more strident critics called for the demolition of Cadillac Ranch. They want it removed from alongside the highway, believing the Cadillacs remind the community of the illegal acts for which Marsh had been accused.

My own thought is that the Cadillacs ought to remain for as long as they can withstand the sometimes-harsh High Plains elements.

The many motorists who pull of the highway to gawk at the cars, take “selfies” with them in the background or engage in some spray-painting fun likely don’t know — nor perhaps care about — the complete history of the Man Behind the Cadillacs.

Let’s keep them there. Cadillac Ranch remains to this very day a major attraction for those who choose to learn just a little about the quirky nature of this part of Texas.

The large number of cars and people I saw today illustrates the interest the Cadillacs create in those who are passing through.

A harbinger of a harsh winter?

el nino

Dave Oliver, one of Amarillo’s TV meteorologists, predicted the other day that we are in for a long, cold and wet winter.

“Doppler Dave” predicted 44 inches of snow this winter, blaming it on the strength of the El Nino weather current in the Pacific Ocean.

Weather forecasters have called it the “Godzilla” of such events, contending that it’s stronger and more persistent than normal. It’s likely to pelt and pummel the Pacific Coast with much-needed rain, not to mention sending more moisture across the Rocky Mountains and onto the High Plains.

It’s always welcome. But … c’mon!

Whatever the case, I’ll just make this brief plea.

I hope they’re wrong.

Today was not a particularly fun day. We were housebound because the temperature didn’t get above about 25 degrees all day. The ice — and the light coating of snow — that blanketed the city overnight did not melt. Not one bit. There was no drip-drip-drip off the edge of the roof on the south side of the house, which usually occurs in the winter months around here — as the sun’s trajectory dictates.

We didn’t get a lot of snow. I keep hearing some slightly conflicting forecasts for Saturday and Sunday. I do hope, though, to get out of the house at least a little bit over the weekend.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy my wife’s company and she tells me she enjoys mine, too.

However, we’re both prone to fits of cabin fever.