The Quanah Parker Arrows of Route 66
Greetings from Tucumcari, New Mexico. A very pleasant morning in New Mexico, the cool dry air echoing nothing, as this Route 66 town has not yet awakened. The calm and cool air will be missed later this afternoon as the summer sun of the Texas Panhandle and the ambient heat of the v-twin will create an uncomfortable yet rewarding ride east across the top of Texas.
This ride is a quest. This ride has a purpose. That purpose is to search for a lesser-known Route 66 roadside attraction, the Quanah Parker Arrows.
Who’s Quanah Parker?
Quanah Parker was the last Comanche Chief. The son of a Comanche father and Anglo mother. Quanah’s life would develop into a saga of struggle and survival. Quanah would become an ambassador for his People, he would negotiate and mediate written and verbal agreements between the Native Americans and Anglos that would be of greater benefit than any before.
Quanah personified the Native American image that media and pop culture has embedded in the American psyche. Stoic with masculinity in demeanor and physique that transcends time and place. Quanah would learn to navigate the political waters of the Anglo culture, befriending old enemies and creating new alliances in his pursuit to preserve the Comanche Culture heritage.
I did not get off to an early start due to a conversation that started up with my motel neighbor as he packed his car. We exchanged our pleasantries and then went down the rabbit hole of Route 66 itineraries. He and his wife were four days into a run to Los Angeles and they would soon turn north to Las Vegas, New Mexico, following the old route up the Santa Fe Trail. I always get a bit envious when I meet people heading west.
He inquired about my journey; I mention the name Quanah Parker and an unaware look overtakes his face and our conversation ends.
Eager to get rolling, I top off with fuel and accel rapidly down Interstate 40 letting the flat-topped Tucumcari Mountain fade in my mirrors. Condensation begins to form in the speedometer of the bike. A sure sign of a changing of temperature and humidity.
The morning sun’s blinding rays directed right in my eyes as the sun rises on the rail that is interstate 30 running east. This requires me to gaze to the left and right, allowing my thoughts to be carried to the far horizon. Some are left on the horizon while others return to mind to be discarded at another time.
A bit of sadness overtakes me as I approach the Texas Stateline, knowing that soon I will pull up and out of the scarred and colorful land of New Mexico and find myself sitting on top of the cotton fields and windmills, the Texas Plains. I extend my time in New Mexico with a pitstop at Russel’s Travel Center to take advantage of the free car museum and air conditioning.
Where did these giant arrows come from?
The arrows were created by Charles Smith a Lubbock, Texas native. Charles never set out to create what would become, some argue, the largest art installation in the world. Charles did not intend to be honored and adopted into Quanah Parker’s family and given the name Paaka-Hani-Eti, meaning “Arrow Maker.” Charles was a welder who built metal palm trees at his home, an hour south of Lubbock, in the heart of the Texas Plains.
Charles Smith stumbled into this honor by doing a favor for a friend.
These 22-foot-tall tributes tower over Texas as token reminders of the impact of Quanah Parker. Piercing the Earth in over 80 spots across the Texas Panhandle, these arrows give perspective of the extensive and enormous size of what was once Comancheria, the area the Comanches called home.
Before Charles’ passing, he created and placed over eighty arrows in more than fifty counties in the Panhandle-Plains Region of Texas. These arrows became The Quanah Parker Trail.
Today I will be visiting three along the Texas section of Route 66.
Vega, Texas, is my first stop, but before I get there, I will make a stop in Adrian and the Midpoint Café. It is about 10:45 am and I am one of two tables in the café. I have a cup of coffee and the Elvis pie, a peanut butter, chocolate, and banana slice of pure bliss.
The Midpoint Café sits on a lonely strip of Route 66, but it does have a certain warmth and comfort about it. I watch out the window – cars stop, photos are taken, faces peer into the window, and then return to the road. I should go outside and tell them to come in and have a piece of pie.
Texas towns, like Adrian, dot the Texas map and are more numerous than the stars in an urban sky. Small towns whose arrested development and progress stall is apparent in not only infrastructure and development but in the citizens’ attitude. An attitude of the community that embodies the posture, perspective, and position that epitomizes the idea of small-town Texas.
Charles Smith was from New Home, Texas, south of my current location in the panhandle. Miles away on a map, but as close as my nose, when it comes to similarity of community.
Community is easy to define in New Home, Texas. With a population of around four-hundred Texas Tech Red Raiders alumni, family, and fans that know each other by name and neighbors who still look to help each other out.
This sense of community would ultimately create what is known as the Quanah Parker Trail Arrows. Over eighty-eight arrows pierce the Texas Plains. Each denotes a particular site of Comanche and Quanah Parker’s history.
It all began in The Spot Cafe in New Home.
Gid Moore, New Home’s local insurance agent, was looking to create an area for local school children to learn more about literature. He imagined a yard full of art that allowed the children to experience words through a large three-dimensional permanent art display.
He shared with Charles his idea to materialize Longfellow’s, The Arrow and The Song and Inspired 88 with a large arrow. Charles, a welder and metal worker, loved the idea and got to work. This was 2003.
Charles Smith’s one-off piece would stand in New Home, Texas, for many years before being discovered by a group of individuals looking for that particular piece that would become the monuments on the Quanah Parker Trail.
In 2010, his creation would become the model and inspiration that would become the Quanah Parker Trail markers.
The hunt for arrow number one
A couple of miles of interstate later, I am in Vega. Excited to find my first Quanah Arrow, I make a right toward the courthouse. Still early in the day and the rumble of the bike’s exhaust vibrates the small-town square. Looking right and then left I travel a block or two past the town square and began to feel a bit uneasy about how successful I will be on this arrow hunt.
I make a loop around the courthouse and there it stands. Proudly protruding from the ground and seeming somewhat out of place. While not hidden, the arrow is placed behind a renovated Magnolia Gas Station, a currently utilized tourist information center.
I park the bike and take my photo.
One down, two to go.
I pass the Cadillacs that are digging their way to China. My peripheral vision picks up the trail of tourists marching like ants toting cans of spray paint to leave their mark while building layers of paint. Paint like a sarcophagus or possibly a chrysalis, surrounding and protecting the Caddies for a possible new life. Maybe someday I will pass by and see the iconic American iron breaking open and exposing a morphed, magnificent, modern, machine.
Traffic is light and I can maintain a constant speed until some construction gets in the way on the east side of town. The Big Texan Steak Ranch is calling, but I avoid the trap and take a break at the Texas travel information center. The sun is high in the sky and my oil temp is holding steady.
What lies ahead is pure Texas plains, some serious heat, a relentless dance with semi-trucks and two more arrows. I lean the bike into the wind and let the speedometer increase to inappropriate numbers to get to my next destination, McLean, Texas.
McLean is full of Route 66 stops and photo opportunities. The Phillips 66 station and the Devil’s Rope Museum along with several shut down and decrepit relics and road signs of yesterday.
I am looking for one thing in McLean, and that is the arrow. I am so excited to find that this one is not hidden behind a building. It is set out in a field at the crossroads of Ranch Road 2695 and “Route 66”.
The quickness of this find was a bit bittersweet. I only had one arrow left to find. The last arrow was somewhere in Shamrock, Texas.
One arrow to go.
I exit off the interstate. The long grey stretch of business 40 depresses me with decay and dilapidated buildings overtaken by mother nature. An icon soon appears ahead, The U Drop-In.
The U Drop Inn and the work that the community has put into developing and maintaining this incredible art deco masterpiece is appreciated by this Route 66 traveler. I circle around the station and drive up and down the streets of Shamrock.
No arrow to be found.
I finally stop to ask a local. I follow the main street south and there it is thirty yards off the road in a freshly mowed field. I pull into a parking lot and walk over to the arrow.
Looking up at the faded arrow I become overwhelmed with the vastness of Texas and time but satisfied with the ability to celebrate the freedom of our American highways, the past cultures, and diversity that has created the state I call home.
Or it could just be the heat.