Stories from a Wanderer – Solitude Near the Panhandle

The heat is on in Texas and I’ve found that often the coolest place to be is in the driver’s seat. When it’s dry and in the triple digits, exiting the cold car brings a blast of heat that delivers a shivering rush of adrenaline. The shiver and adrenaline rush work in reverse upon re-entry. A long drive on rural highways was exactly what I was looking for on this ramble.

I started north and west just after sunrise with a full tank, extra cold bottled water and a charged cell phone. My plan was to travel towards a geographical quirk called the Medicine Mounds, a place for meetings, rituals, scouting and navigation important to Native Americans for generations. The last tribal nation to live in the area was the Comanche. Quanah Parker, a pivotal figure as both war chief and diplomat, used the mounds for spiritual rituals. The nearby town of Quanah is named for him. When I set out, I wasn’t certain I’d make the entire three hour-plus drive and gave myself permission to become side-tracked or turn around. However, with one stop for a cold coffee and another to stretch my legs and check out a roadside consignment marketplace, I drove the distance.

I was struck again at how busy West Texas is, at least along its highways. Vehicles of all sizes and types, from massive industrial equipment carriers to farm tractors and, of course, horse and livestock trailers move at high speeds in every direction, even on rural highways. Oil pumps pump and windmills churn. Boots, safety neon, straw hats and dust are the most common uniform.

The mounds rise up from flat plains just to the south of the main highway. These dolomite formations are uneroded remnants of the bottom of the Permian Sea, from hundreds of millions of years ago. They immediately strike one as slightly eerie: perfectly conical, evenly spaced and ascending from south to north in size and height. They are in perfect alignment and equally spaced. It is easy to imagine how these became sacred grounds, a practical place to find water from their natural springs and to climb and search across long distances for friend and foe.

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A small blue highway sign points the way to the ghost town of Medicine Mound. The mounds themselves are visible along the way from the paved farm to market roads. For a number of miles, I was the only vehicle on the road or soul in sight. The red dirt roads are muddy and rutted. Given the heat, the sudden solitude and the potential to become stuck, I decided to stay on pavement rather than try to get closer to the mounds. I was unsure how close I could get to them in any case, as they are surrounded by private ranch land. At my closest, I was probably within a mile.

It was well worth it to brave the heat, to step out of the safe coolness and listen to the silence, stand in the hot breeze and contemplate how many hundreds of generations over perhaps tens of thousands of years looked to these strange formations for guidance.

I also took a brief walk around the two remaining buildings of the town of Medicine Mound – one a gas station and the other a general store. Small metal machines, hitching posts and an outhouse also remain. Although the area was populated by human beings for as long as 10,000 years, the first white settlers arrived in the 1870’s and the town itself reached its historic peak in 1911. At that time it had 22 businesses and 500 residents. The Great Depression, changes in rail patterns and a wildfire in 1933 contributed to the town’s demise. My only company was a pair of handsome, curious buckskin horses that snorted at me as I read the historical markers.

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There were other discoveries on the way home, a route slightly different from the way I came. The geography had less plains, more cross timbers and the roads were pleasantly winding. Small towns, historic ranch entrances and a malt shop all gave me the opportunity to stop and stretch. The small number of clear radio stations nudged me to listen to music and other content that I would otherwise not have the chance to enjoy or contemplate.

When I returned home, I had much to think of and remember, and ideas for the next time I might head that direction. An ancient destination and modern air conditioning made for a relaxing and interesting ramble.

greta ode
Greta Ode is currently enjoying “tiny house” living in Weatherford, Texas. She has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine and is an editor and contributor to Tandeta Journal. Her work can be found on Substack at “Ramble, Bramble.”

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