Red rock walls dominate each side of the sandy river bottom while under foot, the river sand is powdery and not moistened and damp as is the norm. The driest 10-month span in all of recorded Texas history has ceased any hope of new water running through the cavernous Palo Duro Canyon and giving life to the upper end of the Red River.
In this part of Texas, plains cleave to a shallow draw, the draw becomes a creek and then creeks combine to become a river. From the bottom of the cavernous Palo Duro, the canyon dominates more so than the river. The river proper isn’t much more than a ribbon of sand where it starts. From it’s meager headwaters, however, the Red River flows for 640 miles easterly through Texas and cuts through an impressive swath of land, culture, and history. Along the way, it serves as a boundary in more ways than in just the geographical sense. It was a boundary between nations, a boundary between states, and a boundary between cultures.
By all accounts this country is still wild and wide open as population densities in the Texas Panhandle are light. As the sun rises, it is quiet down in the canyon. So quiet, all I hear is the sound of the wind sifting through the junipers. Facing east, the journey before me is a daunting one. It is one, however, that will help me discover the river and learn about it is a way I’ve never known.
In southern Armstrong County, Palo Duro Canyon opens wide and eventually succumbs to the wide open red rolling plains of northwest Texas. As the river heads east, its bed widens and when it flows, the water picks up the color of the surrounding redbed landscape thus giving the stream its name. Driving through the wide open river country, it’s a patchwork of farm and ranch land.
Old farm houses stand in silent sentinel overlooking the farms that once were and whose people have long since extirpated the river region. Unlike most of Texas, this area has seen a steady depopulation over the last half century. A variety of sociological reasons are at play but the reality is that, for the most part, people are scarce in the western Red River valley. However, some people remain and continue to challenge the land to reap the bounty of the big country.
“We moved out here in the spring of '55,” remembers Minnie Lou Bradley, iconic rancher and National Cowgirl Hall of Fame inductee. “When I moved out here, it was the height of the 1950's drought and the Red River was white with the salt that came from the water. Just like it is right now.”
For the past sixty years, Minnie Bradley and the Bradley 3 Ranch became leaders in the American beef industry by adapting to their surroundings and providing thoughtful stewardship to their ranch.
“We went into the pasture to take a look and I didn't see any grass because of the drought. My soon to be father-in-law got down on his knees and dug up some grass and said, ‘The roots are still alive. I believe this will be a good outfit.”
“So we took care of the ranch and it really came back. That's how good of cattle country this is.”
Any questions or comments? Contact Russell at email@example.com or visit his website at www.russellgraves.com