We start the first leg of the trip on Sunday with a stop to check on one of our Famous Trees, the "Fleming Oak" in Comanche.
This tree was saved in 1911 by "Uncle Mart" Fleming, who had camped under the tree when he first arrived in Texas in 1854, and refused to let the tree be cut down in the name of "progress."
It's now suffering through one of the driest years in the last 100 years, but shows a new flush of leaves here.
The Shackelford County courthouse in Albany.... Texas, that is!
We had several big trees to check on, including this #2 Afghan pine (Pinus eldarica) near Knox City, located at the NRCS Plant Materials Center and planted in 1986.
Just to show how easy it is to grow a champion tree, here is the same Afghan pine in 1988 shortly after being planted.... Just add water and time (25 years) and you, too, can have a state champion tree!
Next we measured the current state champ white mulberry (Morus alba), shown here beside owner, Renella Watson.
Up the road in Seymour, another sizeable white mulberry, which hadn't been measured since 1976. Unfortunately, a recent "topping" caused its measurements to actually shrink after 35 years.
A glimpse of rain clouds west of Childress, a sight not often seen this summer -- just about anywhere in Texas!
One of many dust devils (left shoulder) we spotted along the way.
Enough rain to spot the windshield, but a welcome sight, nonetheless....
...and even a rainbow to mark its passing!
More clouds at sunset between Amarillo and Canyon.
Monday morning brought us to Palo Duro Canyon State Park to search for a few new state champions. Some authors have described stands of 100-foot tall Rocky Mountain junipers (RMJ's) in the 120-mile long canyon.
Park Manager Mark Hassell volunteered to show us some of the more remote areas of the park, places that might harbor the big RMJ's (Juniperus scopulorum) we've heard about.
Down in the floor of the canyon, which runs along the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River.
A young buck mule deer.
At one of the picnic areas along the river, Mark showed us this large RMJ.... Could it be a new champ?
This juniper is distinguished by its small, blue cones with a whitish "bloom," leaves that resemble eastern redcedar and a tall, straight trunk with shredding bark.
One of our many views of the farms on the caprock. Now we're headed to another hidden canyon in the park.
First, a quick stop to check out the local real estate.... Texas Parks & Wildlife owns this restored ranch house, named the Fortress Cliffs Ranch, but for budgetary reasons has put it on the market along with much of their caprock acreage within 1,500 feet of the canyon edge.
Gretchen looks right at home.... "Come on in and let's have a look-see!"
"Here's the updated kitchen...."
"...and the fabulous view from just one of several living areas. Perfect for entertaining!"
Even the ranch brand has Gretchen's name on it.... the Rockin' G!
Sizing up the fixtures in one of the master bathrooms. "Yep.... This'll do."
New mistress of the Rockin' G?... All it takes is a successful lottery pick. :)
Yard needs a little work, but if you can afford the $3.5 million asking price, this won't be much of a challenge.
Now for a hike into one of the many side canyons in search of those elusive RMJ's. Enough water, everyone?
I catch Pete next to this old one-seed juniper. Besides the RMJ, we're also hunting for big one-seed and Pinchot (redberry) junipers.
Gretchen spots a grove of tall RMJ's in the next canyon to the left.
This looks like the right slot canyon.... Wouldn't want to be here in a rainstorm!
Gretchen at the pour-off.... We're not getting down this way.
She's hard to keep up with once she spots a potential champ!
Our feet are at treetop level, so Gretchen surveys the canyon for the best spot to climb down for a closer look. Instead, we take a height measurement from here with the laser rangefinder.... No hundred-footers here.
The trek isn't a total loss, however.... Along the trail we spot this big one-seed juniper (Juniperus monosperma).
This species differs from the RMJ by its thicker foliage and blue, berry-like cones with just one seed (OK, sometimes two) inside.
Major rockslide, waiting to happen. This canyon is still very active, geologically speaking.
A sure-footed Gretchen stands at the overlook with the best view of the state park.
A less-sure-footed Pete can't bear to look down.
Panoramic view of most of Palo Duro Canyon State Park from our vantage point along Fortress Cliffs.
On the way back to the ranch house, I spotted this oak with bluish leaves, so we stopped to take a closer look....
...The leaves were highly variable, but we decided the tree was a Mohr's oak (Quercus mohriana)....
...which will be our newest state champion, and hopefully the newest national champ from Texas!
Tub Springs Draw provides the easiest access to the main canyon. It also harbors some big RMJ's, including our new state champ. Unfortunately, this side canyon is on the auction block.
Just one of many species that depend on this important water source.
Our last view of the Fortress Cliffs ranch.... Or is it now the Rockin'-G?
The CCC-built park entrance, with wood timbers salvaged from the park's native Rocky Mountain junipers -- in Spanish, "palo duro." This species is found in Texas only here and in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Doesn't look like much from the outside, but this old cistern has been converted into some of the finest handicap-accessible bathrooms in any state park.
Later that evening, we stop by the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, built in 1932.
Gretchen can't resist rolling around in the lush fescue on the campus of West Texas A&M University.
Strolling around campus, we ran across this architectural wonder, made almost entirely of petrified wood!
It's a shame not all the buildings survive to this day.
This logo begs for an "A" and an "M", doesn't it?.... Whoop!
The central fountain in front of Old Main pays homage to "The Original Texans," the American bison.
This building is one of the oldest in Canyon, complete with outdoor plumbing... which Pete can't seem to resist.
Tuesday morning we met up with local TFS forester Brian Scott, who immediately took us to a unique feature in the flat High Plains terrain.
On our way to a wildlife food plot Brian helped install for a local landowner, we scared up several mule deer, headed for water no doubt!
Brian gives Gretchen the story of windbreak installation. Maybe she'll use this info when the acquires the Rockin'-G ranch?
Brian demonstrates how to free the growing windbreak trees from the constricting landscape fabric. It's great at keeping weeds under control in the early years, but can girdle trees later in life.
I spotted this porcupine, which I immediately named, "Prickly Pete."
This is the part where "Pete" shoots a few quills in my direction.... Prickly, indeed!
Next, Brian showed us the Amarillo "Arbor Trail" project, completed several years ago along an old railroad bed, with help from a TFS educational grant.
Each planting bed along the trail has five trees of a single species, each with signage explaining how big the trees can grow with proper care.
This spur of the old Rock Island line connects walkers and cyclists with other sections of trail, but so far this is the only "Arbor Trail."
Driving along old Route 66, Brian spotted one of the city arborists, a fellow they call "Feller," whose job is to maintain the city tree inventory.
Here, Feller was updating the tree records in his hand-held GPS unit. Amarillo is one of the few cities in Texas with a working city tree inventory, leading to better tree care in parks and along streets.
One of the many fine northern hackberry (Celtis occidentalis) trees in the Amarillo park system.
A modest Amarillo homestead close to downtown.
We stopped by to measure this large Siberian elm (Ulmus pumila) on the outskirts of town....
...which is #3 on our list and was last measured in 2003....
... and where Pete couldn't resist some play time on the tire swing.
On our drive south to Lubbock, we stopped in Plainview to check on another of our Famous Trees, the "Plainview Hackberries." That vacant spot in the foreground is where they once stood. :(
These are the Plainveiw Hackberries as they appeared in the first edition of Famous Trees of Texas, published in 1970.
This painted longhorn at the Hale County courthouse in Plainview honors the heroes of the Texas revolution.
In Lubbock, we end the day with another champion tree measurement. This old desert-willow (Chilopsis linearis) had grown enough in twenty years to become our new state co-champion!
Pete leans against this ancient "wild plum" tree, reported to be a Chickasaw plum and our state champ. Unfortunately, it is likely an Oklahoma plum, not recognized as a native Texas species.
More end-of-day storms grace the skies over Lubbock.
On the campus of Texas Tech University, another candidate for the Tree Campus USA program. Go Red Raiders!
Statue of former Texas Governor, Preston Smith, in the moonlight.
The road goes on forever....
....or at least to Yoakum County and our national champion Havard shin oak (Quercus havardii), which normally grows as a shrub.
This grove of small trees along the side of the road must harbor all kinds of wildlife, including our friend "Prickly Pete." He gets around almost as much as I do!
Here I am next to our champion tree, to give it some scale.
The shortest route to El Paso from Lubbock?... through New Mexico.
I take my turn at the wheel, while Gretchen navigates and handles camera duties.... Pete was napping in the back.
Gretchen is happy to pose next to our state champion netleaf hackberry (Celtis reticulata), along a farm road in Culberson County.
This single tree was an oasis for several families of finches that had woven dozens of nests in its branches.
Here is a shot of the tree in 1993 when it was first measured.
Another dirt devil....
...with the Guadalupe Mountains in the background.
El Capitan.... More about this later.
The impromptu shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe along the old highway in the national park.
Another view of El Capitan and the slopes that lead to Guadalupe Spring.
Closer to El Paso, a wildfire threatens a local ranch along Hwy. 62.
After our Thursday workshop in El Paso, we headed east to Van Horn for the evening, with a brief stop in Sierra Blanca to search (in vain) for an old Giant Yucca (Yucca faxoniana). Sierra Blanca has seen better days, as evidenced by this oddly-shaped sign.
A view of Main Street in Sierra Blanca.
Our rest stop for the evening, the Hotel El Capitan in Van Horn. This was designed by noted architect Henry Trost and is one of the five historic "Gateway" hotels near several of the newer national parks, Big Bend and Carlsbad Caverns.
Gretchen shows off the courtyard fountain.
The view of the hotel courtyard from my room.
A meal fit for a Champ.... Pecan-crusted pork chop with house-made BBQ sauce, scalloped potatoes and collared greens.... Mmmm, good!
A quick drive north after dinner to view the approaching storm along the Sierra Diablo mountains...
...with an almost-full moon in the desert sky...
...and a fantastic light show!...
...and, the grande finale!
Back for the evening.
Gretchen takes in the morning air from her hotel balcony.
Friday morning we stopped by the famed Chuy's restaurant in Van Horn after spotting this big Giant Yucca (redundant, right?) between the buildings.
Turns out this tree rivals our two national co-champions for this species.... Three's the charm, right?
Windmills along I-10 tell us the wind still hasn't stopped blowing.
A brief final stop in Stonewall to see the final resting place for our 36th president, his wife, and family.
Her given name was Claudia Taylor, but we all knew her as "Ladybird."