Our Trip to the Alibates Flint Quarries

 

The stars aligned this trip for an event I had been thinking about for at least twenty years, ever since I first started reading books and articles about the peopling of the Americas – a visit to Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument.

This is where flint perfectly suited for fashioning high quality projectile points, knives, spear points, awls, spokeshaves, etc. – everything you need in your toolkit to settle a continent.

One of the earliest cultures was Clovis, and they spread themselves – and this flint – for a thousand miles in all directions from this flint quarry on the Canadian River in the Texas panhandle.  Later cultures also used it, such as the Antelope Creek culture who built stone houses and grew corn, squash, and beans here less than a thousand years ago, so this quarry was in more or less continuous use for 13,000 years.

In addition to making excellent tools, Alibates flint is also very beautiful, with rainbow swirls of color and striking patterns in the rock, and people are always the same. Just because you're in a paleolithic culture doesn't mean you don't go for the bling.

You can spot it instantly when you're doing an archeological dig. Reading about it for decades, I gradually got an understanding of what it meant to the native Americans who used it, and the scientists who studied them.

And I had always wanted to come here and see for myself what all the excitement was about.  Flint forms in nodules in limestone, and the dolomitic caprock of this area is full of these nodules.  People would travel here from far away to find or quarry the flint, make blanks, which are the raw material for flint artifacts, and carry them back to trade or use them.

We drove the forty or so miles up from Amarillo to the visitor's center, getting here a bit before opening time, so we poked around the nearby area and found what I call a Texas bridge. I love these things – it's a sturdy pole at the bottom of an arroyo with height above ground marked on it in feet.  If you drive up during a flash flood with mud, water, boulders, and occasional livestock rampaging down the arroyo, you can see how deep the water is on the pole, and either turn around or take a chance. It tops out at six feet. Even the bravest cowboy has to turn around sometime.

The visitor center has displays and brochures and whatnot, and they have guided walking tours of the quarries (about 700 pits maybe a dozen feet across and a few feet deep) twice a day. Sharon has no interest in these things and I didn't want to burden her with a long wait, so I skipped the tour, and we headed up the road a bit to the Lake Meredith National Recreation area, using the map the visitor center ranger thoughtfully provided.

 

Lake Meredith is a reservoir on the Canadian River the locals use for the Amarillo water supply and recreation, and you have these beautiful campsites up on the caprock rim overlooking the lake, with drinking water and a dump – and it's all free.

I think there are maybe a half dozen other people staying here with us now – it's very sparsely utilized this time of year. But the weather is beautiful, we are almost completely alone, the satellite dishes work great, and we haven't sat around out West like this since the year before last.

Fiona wants to get out and wrangle a few prairie dogs. I have to go with her so she doesn't wrangle a coyote or rattlesnake by mistake.