Friday, August 23, 2013

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument

Tour the US: Texas

Canadian River Breaks. NPS Photo
 The Texas panhandle is not known for its interesting and varied scenery. In fact, "flat" and "dry" pretty well sums it up. However, the Canadian River is a distinct contrast, and stumbling upon the lush vegetation and red, iron-rich banks it has carved a path through is a real treat. The best place to appreciate the unique landscape it has shaped is Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, just outside of Fritch, or about 30 miles north of Amarillo. Here, you can climb up on top of a mesa that not only gives a great view, it is also an expansive archeological site, covered with colorful stone left behind long ago.

The National Monument is associated with Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, which has its headquarters in Fritch. However, Alibates boasts its own, modern contact station a ways south out of town, with a clearly marked turn-off on Highway 136.



--Quarry Tours

The Monument is one big archaeological site. About 1,000 years ago, ancestors of the Caddo, Pawnee, and Wichita tribes quarried flint here. The site can be visited with a ranger, who will lead you up the side of a mesa. As you arrive on top, you will not be able to avoid the thick carpet of colorful flint shards underfoot. These are the remains of the quarry, each piece hand chipped from the ground. If you have sharp eyes, you will be able to pick out the remains of the pits themselves, now overgrown, and the ones viewable on the tour are but a small sampling of the many pits that dot the area.

Alibates Flint. NPS Photo
The ranger will explain that the Alibates flint is unique. It is actually agatized dolomite, which means the original rock became saturated with many types of minerals which produced the incredibly colorful and beautiful stone you find here. It was used to shape weapons and tools, and the beauty made it a valuable trade item, meaning pieces that passed from hand to hand can now be found all over the country. This is where they all started from.

Free tours are usually offered twice a day at 10AM and 2PM, depending on staffing and weather conditions. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling the Lake Meredith headquarters at (806) 857-3151, or on weekends you can call (806) 857-6680. The tour is 1 mile long and requires walking up several stairways for an elevation gain of 170 feet. While there are several shade shelters along the way, the Texas sun can be quite intense so be prepared with water, sunscreen, and hats, especially in the summer months when temperatures can hover around 100F. Allow 2 hours.

Spring Canyon. NPS Photo

--Outdoor Recreation

Alibates is surrounded by Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. The lake, which is a man-made reservoir, is disappearing, but the surrounding area still gives plenty of opportunities to get out and about. High clearance vehicles, horses, mountain bikes, and hikers can explore the many dirt roads into more remote areas, though some roads become impassable when wet.  Fishing, bird-watching, and a small swimming area is at Spring Canyon. There are also several camping areas, which are all free, though sites on top of the bluffs can be incredibly windy. Corrals are available in several locations for horses.

--Off Season

October is Texas archaeology month, and during this time Alibates offers an opportunity to tour one of the Antelope Creek Ruins. Reservations are required and can fill up quickly for this popular tour. The road out to the site requires a high-clearance vehicle, but the park service can transport a limited number of people by shuttle. The ranger will guide you through the remains of foundations and help you spot petroglyphs carved into the rocks.
Spring and early summer is a great time to see wildflowers. There are many cacti which have large and colorful blooms, including prickly pear.

Lake Meredith National Recreation Area is open for hunting. Dates and regulations can be found here.

Contact Station. NPS Photo

--Limited Time or Mobility

Even if you can't go on the tour, the Alibates Flint Quarries Contact Station is worth a visit. The pleasant, modern facility offers a place to sit, cool off, and have a drink of water. There is a short orientation film about the quarries. If you are lucky, you may catch a flint-knapping demonstration, where you will learn about how the flint was used and watch as a spear-point is shaped right before your eyes. Even if there is no demonstration, you can see and handle samples of the flint. Picnic tables are out back next to a garden where you can learn about the native plants as well as a few cultivated and used by the native people. Another great place for a picnic is nearby McBride Canyon, where you can enjoy the shade from cottonwood trees and take a look at the historic McBride ranch house.


Location: Fritch, TX
Website: Alibates Flint Quarries, Lake Meredith
Entrance Fee: Free!
Season: Park open year-round. Contact Station open most days, though it may be closed while the Ranger is leading tours, depending on staffing. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years. Lake Meredith Headquarters closed on Sundays and off-season holidays.
Accommodations: Camping available at Lake Meredith or at a few nearby private campgrounds. No hook-ups in park. Several small motels are located in Fritch, with a few of the large chains found in nearby Borger. A full range of accommodations can be found in Amarillo.
Closest International Airports: Amarillo, TX

Be aware that the Flint Quarries has limited cell-phone service.

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