For the last three Christmas break vacations, our family has left behind balmy southeast Texas for west Texas, from the humid Gulf coast to the desert. We’ve operated under the assumption that it is best to visit the natural landscape of the high desert when the temperatures are typically less deadly, and we haven’t been disappointed.
The journey from east to west Texas not a short trip under regular circumstances, but when pulling a travel trailer, it requires an overnight stop. Nothing brings home the fact that Texas is a large state like traveling across it during a limited Christmas vacation time frame.
For our Christmas break 2020 trip, we selected Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Since we try to hit new state parks whenever possible, I looked for a solid halfway point from Houston to the Panhandle and decided to give Fort Richardson a chance.
As often happens when we are trying to leave for a longer trip, we got a later than planned start, but since it was Christmas Day, even driving past Dallas and Fort Worth wasn’t as bad as it usually is. We arrived at the gates of Fort Richardson at dusk, pulling in with just enough light to see the outlines of our site and the sunset behind the windmills right across the road.
Side note: Don’t let anyone tell you that Texas is all oil and gas. Don’t get me wrong, when gas prices go down, Texans do not celebrate. The oil and gas industry keeps a large portion of the Texas economy running. But the energy sector is diversifying, as evidenced by the plentiful wind and solar farms sprinkled amongst the west Texas oil fields, ranches, and farms (and the growing number of people in our area with solar panels, like us). Our multiple drives through western portions of Texas has shown us that the winds of change are coming, even if it is too slow for some, too quick for others.
It didn’t take long for our family to settle into camping routine. While I made dinner, the kids started climbing the tree right next to our site. After a day of sitting still in the truck, they were ready to stretch their legs, completely ignoring my admonitions to remember that it was dark, they had no light to see how to get down, and we might not be able to help them. It didn’t matter. They just wanted to explore the bounds of our large campsite and the tree was their preferred exercise of the moment. Since we knew we weren’t going to get a whole lot of exploring in at the state park, Jeff and I gave up our alone time walking the dogs and took the kids with us as we checked out both ends of our immediate camping loop in the dark, taking in the camping sites and the enclosed cabins that we had driven past on our way in, the bright Texas stars and third quarter moon lighting our way.
We got a later-than-planned-start for the next day, and even though we had every intention of hitting the road so that we could arrive in Palo Duro before dusk, we took a family drive to the Fort Richardson Historic Site so we could see the buildings and take in some Texas history.
Established in 1867, Fort Richardson was a major outpost in the complicated history of the relationship between Plains indigenous tribes and the U.S. Calvary. The fort was in full use for 11 years, serving as base camp for many of the conflicts between the U.S. government and native tribes who refused to be forced into giving up their land or lifestyle. Today, visitors can see several of the outbuildings in addition to hiking or biking the many trails throughout the state park, including the nine-mile Lost Creek Reservoir State Trailway.
We started our self-guided tour at the largest building, the Post Hospital, and worked our way around the grounds, reading through the walking tour guide that we picked up in the Post Hospital and eventually ending at the Interpretive Center, where we were able to read just a little more history before heading on the road.
Like much of American history, Texas historians struggle with finding a balance between honest assessment of the past that both celebrates the successes of those who established their lives in the state while recognizing the significant human cost of that success. It is a constant struggle and one that the state park system is increasingly trying to put out in the open as opposed to ignoring the complicated history for yet another generation.
Throughout the historic park there are acknowledgments of the Buffalo soldiers that fought in the Indian wars and a recounting of the indigenous culture that was wiped out at the expense of westward expansion. The honest tension is being played out for all visitors to see, if they are looking for it.
By the time we finished our walking tour, we Texas transplants felt a little more informed about our adopted state. And while we didn’t get to check out the other trails and sights throughout the park, we did get to at least take in a little more Texas history in addition to stretching our legs.
Fort Richardson proved to be a lovely park and a perfect overnight stop for our family before we headed to the main attraction: Palo Duro Canyon State Park.