Saturday, June 13, 2009
The Oasis of the Panhandle
I’ve been away for a while, having some of those new experiences I promised myself I’d have way back at the beginning of the year. I’ll start by telling you about my visit to Canadian, Texas last month to research life in a small Texas Panhandle town for my Young Adult novel-in-progress. My friend, writer Linda Castillo was nice enough to make the drive with me and we spent the day exploring the town and surrounding area.
Canadian is located in the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle, slightly more than a 2 hour drive from Amarillo and only about an hour’s drive from Pampa, where I lived for 6 years, from the time I was in the 5th grade through my sophomore year of high school. During all that time, I never ventured north to the “oasis of the Panhandle,” and my recent visit took me by surprise; the town truly is an oasis in the corner of this flat, parched land I call home. Whereas the bed of the Canadian River branch that runs through my area of the Panhandle is usually cracked and dry, water flowed in abundance beneath Canadian’s “River Wagon Bridge.” And in striking contrast to the flat, treeless, almost desert-like plains surrounding Amarillo, our drive through Canadian’s countryside took us over rolling green hills and into valleys graced by swaying cottonwood trees.
Upon arriving in town, we stopped by the Visitor’s Center where two very nice ladies loaded us up with information about must-see places. Then we drove through quiet neighborhoods lined with stately historical houses, following the giant cat paws painted on the streets to the Canadian Wildcat’s football stadium. (Any book about high school students in small town Texas without football in it, is a book written by someone who doesn’t know what Texans are all about!)
Soon we ventured back to Main with its old-fashioned street lights. (Which I learned are brand new.) We parked the car then browsed the quaint shops and antique stores. The staff at the Canadian Record, the town’s award-winning newspaper, gave us a tour of their offices and were nice enough to take me in back to see the old retired printing press that the paper used decades ago.
After leaving the paper, my growling stomach led us to the City Drug Soda Fountain where we ate lunch. Entering the fully restored soda fountain with its black and white checkerboard floor, round red bar stools and cozy booths is like stepping back into an episode of Happy Days. I had a really tough time choosing between the many sandwiches, salads, soups and quiches on the menu, but in the end the quiche won out. The food was tasty -- even though the menu board is beneath an old pharmacy sign that reads LAXATIVES. (Luckily, the quiche did not have that effect.)
After the oil and gas boom ended in 1985, Canadian’s economy suffered and the town began to shrink. The Canadian River Valley’s abundant wildlife and outdoor resources saved the day. Ecotourism is now Canadian’s main business industry and has brought new jobs to town. According to an article entitled A Success Story From Canadian Texas – But It Can Happen Anywhere on the website Fermata: The Business of Nature “Canadian has a wildlife co-op that books trips for nature tourists to see prairie-chickens and to immerse themselves in a cowboy culture for a few days. The profits from the tours are split fairly among restaurants, B&Bs and ranchers. A $250,000 National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant funds biologists to help ranchers make habitat improvements for Lesser Prairie-Chickens and other prairie wildlife.”
Since we didn't have time for a formal nature trip, Linda and I checked out much of the flora and fauna Canadian has to offer (as well as some very interesting graffiti on the adjacent railroad track retaining wall)from the River Wagon Bridge I mentioned above. It's located two miles north of town on highway 60. (And it’s free!) This amazing 3,255 foot steel bridge with wood plank flooring was completed in 1916 and is now a part of a trail for hikers and bikers that crosses over the Canadian River. With its impressive length and arched-back trusses, the bridge is a truly striking sight . . . and a little eerie. After walking across it, I had a feeling a fictional version of it would work its way into my story. And I was right – it already has! Eerie = good when you’re writing a ghost story.
Then it was back to the City Drug Soda Fountain, where I was forced to make the tough decision of whether I should have an old-fashioned ice cream soda, root beer float, or homemade pie. The coconut pie won and it was sinfully delicious. I figured I walked off the calories, so what the heck?
The day in Canadian was so interesting and fun, and the residents were so welcoming and friendly that I hope to make a trip back next October for their annual Fall Foliage Festival Arts & Crafts show. I’ve heard the drive is beautiful with the leaves changing color, and that the event is a lot of fun.
This research trip, along with my earlier one to Panhandle, Texas has really helped bring my novel's fictional town of Cedar Canyon to life in my mind. Cedar Canyon has become a unique mix of those two towns, with a heavy dose of my own imagination tossed in.
I've only touched on a small segment of what Canadian has to offer. For example, the old Palace Theatre on Main, like the City Drug Soda Fountain, has been restored to its glory days, and current movies are shown there. If you’d like to know more about the town check out their website
Next post--My recent trip to Seattle.