We are veterans of the trail now, and after covering more than eighteen hundred miles we’re beginning to feel the fatigue that accompanies our slow progress across the continent. Gizmo and I have left the Rocky Mountains of northern New Mexico behind as we enter the vast prairie of the Texas Panhandle. The rough country that surrounds the headwaters of the Canadian River in northeastern New Mexico becomes our gateway to the flatlands of Texas. The mesas have gradually yielded to the pressures of erosion and the geomorphic results of rain, snow, and wind, as their edges become progressively softer and smoother. We are crossing the great grassy plains where buffalo once traveled in herds so large that it took several days for them to pass by. My horse and I leave the mesas, standing in the distance like sentinels, and begin to drop steadily in elevation.
The sky is huge here, and once we reach the flat panhandle country in Texas, it feels as if I am back in the Navy at sea. The horizon is a three hundred sixty-degree flat border between the grass and the sky, and the only interruptions are the tall grain silos in the distance and the occasional windmill pumping water at a gallon and a half a minute in the Texas wind. Trees are scarce here, and where a copse can be seen, there will be people. The land is stingy with its water out here, and the trees and people live side by side because they both need it. Birds have a long way to go to find homes out here, and some build their nests atop telephone poles and road signs along the highway.
The night sky comes alive with the Milky Way and its distinct teapot constellation, Sagittarius. I love the great summer triangle of stars—Altair, Deneb, and Vega—that spread out across the sky. I smile when I see the familiar Cygnus, the swan, which I also know as the Northern Cross. Scorpius, the great scorpion, dances in the sky and its brightest star, Antares, looks like a shining broach upon its chest. As always, the Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) can be seen rotating around the star at the end of its handle. The star is Polaris, the North Star, and all the heavenly bodies rotate around it. Two stars that form the side of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) point toward it, and its handle points to Arcturus, the great red giant in the constellation Bootes.
Once on the flats, we make good time. Gizmo covers seven to eight miles per hour at his smooth trot, and the twenty-miles-per-day limit I have set will usually be met before noon, even with a break to unsaddle at the halfway point. I am left with many hours to fill, and I spend them reading, playing my harmonica, writing in the logbook, practicing gun tricks with my single action Colt revolver, and having long, one-sided conversations with my horse.
Camped at a little roadside park. I found an unopened bag of lemon crème cookies on the picnic table. Gizmo and I ate it for dinner. He got the lion’s share, though.