– Denton, Texas to Amarillo, Texas –
We don’t do many winter trips here at Travels with Ripley, but we them on occasion. Summer is more my season. In any event, this year, Mark, Ripley, my mom, my dad, Sabre, and I are all taking a road trip across the southwest over to Death Valley. As you can imagine, Death Valley is a much more pleasant place in the winter than it is in the summer.
We’ll out for about 10 days, including over New Year’s. On the night of New Year’s Eve, we’re staying in Las Vegas. More on that later, I suppose. We’re also planning to see the Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree, Petrified Forest, and White Sands, among a few other things. Much of this trip depends on the weather, so we will see what all we accomplish. As of right now, the forecast says it will be snowing the day we get back home. That seems unlikely, but you never know.
Now that you’ve got the gist of what we’re doing out here, we can go ahead and forge ahead into what we did today, which was meant to be a short-ish day but turned out to be quite a bit longer than we expected. We only drove from Denton to Amarillo today, so the drive only took about 5 and a half hours, and it’s one we’ve made many, many times. By itself, it would’ve made for a pretty boring day.
Fortunately, we decided that we wanted to add a little something to our Amarillo trip this time. We’re there all of the time, but we’ve never been to the national monument half an hour north of the city. With that little side trip in mind, we left early this morning, instead of at noon, like we usually do when we make the trip to stay in Amarillo.
So what’s north of Amarillo, you ask? Well, that would be Abilates Flint Quarries National Monument and Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. Over Christmas, Mark’s dad told us that Abilates Flint Quarries can only be visited during a ranger-led tour, which we did not know. You have to call ahead to book the tours. I’m really glad he warned us. It allowed us to call yesterday to book our little tour, which was already scheduled for 2pm today.
While it’s only 5 hours to Amarillo from Gainesville, and an extra half hour from Denton, it’s a pretty tight drive to arrive at the Flint Quarries by 2pm if you leave at any reasonable hour. That meant we had a pretty tight schedule for the day.
Mark and I were up at 4:45am, and we hustled through our morning routine and packing the car to get to my parents’ house up in Gainesville by 8am. We managed it, although it was a bit tight. We still had quite a bit to do this morning. We only got back from Mark’s parents’ house up in Oklahoma yesterday afternoon.
By 8:30, we were on the road, but that only left us with a half hour of leeway for stops. Luckily we didn’t need a tank of gas, so we managed with two stops: one for a bathroom break and one for lunch. Lunch was at a Sonic in Memphis. We did so well on our stops that we actually made it to the visitor center for the flint quarries 15 minutes before 2pm. Aren’t you impressed?
People have been using flint from the Abilates Flint Quarries for at least 13,000 years. Flint has been used as knives, tools, and weapons since the Stone Age. The area around the Canadian River north of Amarillo has several thousand small flint quarries dug into the earth by ancient people, with around 700 of those found within the national monument. The best flint is found beneath the soil to be about 8 feet deep, as anything on the surface has been exposed to weather erosion. Flint is frequently found inside woolly mammoth fossils, where prehistoric humans used it was spearpoints. Spearpoints of Abilates flint have been found all over the United States.
This particular national monument isn’t for everyone. The tour is a lot of fun if you like looking at rocks and listening to a history lesson, but if not, you might be bored. It’s also an interesting place to be if you’re a hunter, because it’s one of the few areas where the public can come to hunt in Texas. Most hunting has to be done on private land in Texas. Our guide told us that it is currently the season for some particular class of deer (I think he said doe) and quail. People don’t even need a special permit to hunt there- you just need a regular hunting license and to follow the rules very precisely.
As I mentioned before, we arrived at the visitor center around 1:45, and we had a few minutes to get a stamp for our passport book and make the dogs comfortable before we took off. We only found out when we got there that the tour took about 2 hours, which we were not expecting. It turned out not to matter much, since we had the time and the cool weather made it simple to leave the dogs for that long. They were perfectly comfortable sleeping in the car while we were away.
From the visitor center, we took a van up into the national monument. Oddly enough, the visitor center is technically located in the Lake Meredith National Recreation Area instead of on the national monument’s land. You can only access the national monument through a locked gate. Three other people went along on our tour, and including the ranger, we made eight.
Our ranger was an older gentleman who has lived in the area his entire life, and had spent his childhood in the two parks. He was quite interesting, and he had a nice slow pace during the walk, which my parents really appreciated. The walk itself was only around a mile, though it did climb up a small mesa, and it had quite a few stairs involved. Still, the ranger had just had knee surgery, and he had no trouble navigating the trail, so it’s not incredibly difficult.
The region is full of cactus and yucca, as you might expect. The ranger pointed out quite a few edible plants as we headed up towards the flint quarries, which were more at the top of the mesa. It is not nearly as flat in the two national parks as the land around them. In fact, it used to be underwater.
Once we got to the top of the mesa, we started seeing the flint quarries. They aren’t large at all, which you might not expect. The quarry pits around only a few feet wide and a few feet long. I suppose that’s why they needed so many- at least 700, if you’ll recall. People would dig into the earth for the finer flint in a small oval, then haul the good stone away to a nearby settlement to make tools. No arrowheads or spear tips have been discovered near the beds themselves.
Flint is interesting.It’s a type of quartz, and oddly enough, scientists aren’t entirely certain how flint is formed. Our ranger had his own preferred theory, but the truth is that no one is really sure, and there are several possible explanations. Flint splits easily into flat sections that make fantastic cutting tools, since the flakes away with the correct type of pressure. It’s easy to work into the shape you want, but it’s strong. It’s very pretty, too. I had no idea it came in so many colors.
There’s a lot of flint in the national monument. I guess I wasn’t expecting just how much is laying around. There’s so much that you just walk through huge piles of it. You can also find tiny, shiny pieces of quartz, which I turned out to be pretty good at spotting. I guess I like shiny things. I’m like a magpie. Unfortunately, as it’s a national park, you aren’t permitted to take any rocks from the premises. Luckily the rangers keep a handful of rocks taken from outside the park back at the visitor center, which they passed a few of to us after the tour. None of it was as pretty as what was in the national monument, but it’s still nice to have it.
The tour really did take two hours, which surprised me. There was a video to watch at the end, but we skipped it in favor of getting the kids out of the car for a walk. Ripley in particular was pleased to get some exercise. Sabre was just glad someone was back to hold her.
It was about 4:15 when we left the national monument and drove over to see Lake Meredith, which obviously isn’t far away, since the flint quarries are basically on the lake. I’m glad we didn’t drive up there just to see the lake, because we were really unimpressed. We’d been hearing about low water from our park ranger, but we were shocked by just how low the water truly is. It’s impressive.
In the photo above, Google Maps told us we were underwater. Looking off in the distance of the photo, you can see a bit of concrete. That concrete was installed to protect the lakeshore from erosion. The water used to lap against that concrete. The record high for the lake is 101.85 ft back in the 1970s, and the record low is 26.14 ft, and that occurred in 2013. The lake used to be a major water supply for Amarillo, but with the severe drought and overuse, the lake is too low to use much at all for water. People still boat on it, but I personally would be pretty nervous about putting anything other than a canoe or a kayak on the lake. It’s big, but it isn’t very fully, and the bottom is obviously rocky.
Our visit to the national recreation area took us all the way around the lake, including across the dam. We saw a lovely rainbow at sunset over the lake, but for the most part, it was pretty uninspiring. Don’t drive up here just to see the lake. If you’re going hiking or planning a boating trip, maybe, but it’s not one just to look at.
The area surrounding the lake was liberally spotted with mule deer, and they were not timid at all. We stopped and photographed them without even making them flinch. I think Dad was wishing he had his rifle along. I was just happy to see them, since they are so fluffy and adorable. We were in Amarillo by 6pm, and had dinner at a Jason’s Deli by 7pm. We checked into our hotel not long after.
Tomorrow is one of our longest days. The drive will be close to 9 hours, but we will go through two time zones, so by tomorrow evening we will be on Pacific Time. We don’t have time to run in the morning, which makes me sad, but we’ll still have a good time. Our hotel for the night will be in Flagstaff. Arizona, here we come.
– Trip Total : 450 miles –