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Texas: Caprock Canyons State Park, Part 1

Bison on the plains in Caprock Canyons State Park

Normally, we escape the hot and often humid summers of Texas by heading to the mountainous region of Taos, New Mexico. There, the mornings are much cooler, even in the dead of August, and the high afternoon temperatures are cooled by the gathering clouds and soft breezes of the monsoon rains that squelch the warmth By sunset, the mercury has dropped considerably with the sinking sun, and it’s time to grab a sweater. 

Unfortunately, this year, Mother Nature delayed our departure by well over a month. First, we watched with trepidation as the historic Calf Canyon–Hermit Peak Fire burned over 341,000 acres across Northern New Mexico. Such devastating losses for so many! In late August, thanks to an early monsoon season, fire officials announced that the wildfire had been 100% contained. 

But with Texas in a drought (in fact 2022 was the driest year on record in the past 128 years) and with no rain for well over 67 days, we decided to delay our departure once again. The 100-degree temperatures continued and started to nudge forty-seven consecutive days of triple-digit heat. Lawns turned a crispy brown and the trees began to drop their leaves – a sign of stress. 

During August, two wildfires broke out within less than a mile of our Texas home and later in the month, a fire broke out in a warehouse at a chemical filling and packaging plant within miles of us. As a precaution, neighboring homes and two schools were evacuated. But thanks to the sixty firefighters who responded to the four-alarm blaze, it was soon contained without threatening any of the surrounding homes. 

By mid-September we finally felt comfortable about leaving Texas for New Mexico. To break up the long trip – a twelve-hour drive with an hour gained when crossing the border of the two states – we took a friend’s suggestion to stay  overnight at the halfway point and recharge, the halfway point being Amarillo, Texas. Our friend wasn’t suggesting staying in town, but recommended reserving a cabin at Doves Rest, practically a stone’s throw from Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Palo Duro is the second-largest “grand” canyon in the US, and I had always wanted to explore this natural attraction. So after thirty-two years of living in Texas, we decided the time had come to see Palo Duro rather drive past it as we had for years on our way to New Mexico.

As research, I watched a few virtual tours of the area and decided it would be a mistake to bypass Caprock State Park, especially since it was quite near  our destination of Palo Duro. But with only one day to explore Palo Duro, a three-hour roundtrip detour south to Caprock didn’t really fit our plans. It made more sense to leave home early on departure day and see Caprock on the outbound trip before check-in time at our Palo Duro cabin.

Cruising through all the small agricultural towns that dot US-287 slows down the drive, but it’s the most direct route, and you can full-throttle your engine as you leave the outskirts of the rural towns, hitting the open, four-lane, divided highway where the speed limit is 75. Personally, I love winding my way through the ranches and farms of the Texas Panhandle. It plays to my love of the land. 

In Estelline, Texas, we left US-287 and steered onto State Highway 86, a two-lane road in good condition. Although it’s a fairly straight shot, the 75-mph speed limit on the narrower road surprised me. With no vehicles in sight, I puttered along at 60, enjoying the terrain. In the town of Quitaque, “end of the trail,” we turned onto Ranch Road 1065 and headed north. We had some doubts about our directions as we appeared to be in the middle of open rangeland nowhere near a state park. Then we spotted the sign for Caprock Canyons State Park. We pulled into the parking lot at the visitor center and waited until the staff returned from their lunch break. 

Minutes later, park maps in hand, we set out to explore. Caprock is located along the eastern edge of the Llano Estacado in Briscoe County, and at 15,314 acres in size, it’s the third-largest state park in Texas. We rumbled over the cattle guard and kept watch for the local bison herd. In 1996, the park started their herd with 32 bison. Today the number has grown to around 150. Photographing them was one of the reasons I had put Caprock on my “must do” list. 

We were making our way up the hill toward Lake Theo when a small herd of four bison descended the incline and came toward us. As they drew closer, they left the grassy shoulder of the road to use the pavement as their hoof path. We stopped our SUV to give them the right of way, and I waited, camera in hand, to photograph them. Then the unexpected happened. The four grew to ten, twelve, fourteen, as they crested the ridge and surrounded our vehicle, close enough for us to touch them through the open windows. Not that we would. We held our breaths and hoped Bullet wouldn’t bark at them. They slowed to a crawl and then moseyed on by, a herd of twenty making their way down the road. In retrospect, I’m sorry I didn’t think to video them. In the moment, though, I was more concerned about startling them and risking harm to human, canine, or bison

One of my reasons to visit Caprock Canyons was to photograph the bison herd, which wasn’t as successful as I’d hoped. But the other reason was to film the rugged beauty of the rocky terrain, and I think maybe I was more successful there. In my next blog post I’ll share some shots I captured of the red cliffs and let you be the judge.

For a history of how the Caprock bison herd came to be: https://www.wewillnotbetamed.org/the-bison-of-caprock-canyons-state-park/

 

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Texas: The BAD

I had visited Dallas on many occasions after moving to Texas to dine, shop, or attend art shows at the DMA—Dallas Museum of Art. But I had never been to the BAD, and quite frankly I had no idea what the acronym stood for, until my brother, a recent transplant to Dallas, said he would meet me for Sunday brunch in the BAD. 

Only after I plugged the address for Hattie’s restaurant into my map app did I realize that the BAD—Bishop Arts District—was located in the heart of North Oak Cliff, an area I did know to some degree, as I had been patronizing a local grooming shop on West Davis Street for a few years. 

This is what you miss when you go from point A to point B and never bother to explore your surroundings. If I had continued down Davis toward Beckley I may’ve stumbled upon this quaint hidden-gem with its indie shops, eclectic restaurants, and colorful street art. When I arrived in the BAD my reaction, like many other new visitors, was “I had no idea this kind of place existed in Dallas.” 

But the Bishop Arts District, simply North Oak Cliff to the locals, has been there for more than a hundred years, and is the largest trolley-era shopping district dating back to the arrival of the streetcar line in 1904. The historic buildings grew up around the trolley stop and have managed to survive demolition as Dallas developed and freeways were constructed north and east of the unique community. For me, it was love at first sight, and it soon became a new go-to spot for eating, shopping, and hanging with friends, especially when our giant schnauzer group received an exuberant welcome from the outdoor cafe owners. 

After these K-9 gatherings, to take the energy edge off my wired female Shotz, I routinely walked the streets of the BAD, drinking in its casual vibe. Slowly, I branched out into other neighborhoods of Oak Cliff. On one of these jaunts I found myself in the Tenth Street Historic District Freedman’s Town—a treasure threatened by demolition. Although I love modern architecture, I have a deep appreciation for the old and feel it should be preserved for its history.  

Speaking of history, one of the first settlers in Oak Cliff was William Henry Hord who had come west to “assist with Native American issues.” He was granted 640 acres to farm and set about building his homestead. 

In 1886, developer Thomas L. Marsalis landed in the Dallas area. He purchased hundreds of acres including most of Hord’s 640-acre farm—Hord Ridge—with the intention of realizing his dream to create a settlement in the area. 

Partnering with John Armstrong, another enterprising developer, the two planned to market “this cozy farming settlement” as a prestigious residential community. They advertised it as the “Cambridge of the South,” and the settlement flourished. Marsalis changed the name from Hord Ridge to Oak Cliff, supposedly for the stately green oaks on the cliffs (the bluffs) that overlooked the Trinity River.

In time, disagreements between Marsalis and Armstrong soured their partnership, with Marsalis staying in Oak Cliff and Armstrong going on to develop a community north of the Trinity—Highland Park. 

In 1893, due to a financial downturn, the money-strapped Oak Cliff voted to annex itself to the City of Dallas. So Oak Cliff and Dallas are now one? Not really, for the Trinity River physically separates this quaint southern suburb from the rest of Dallas, and today the area has retained much of its identity as a separate community within Dallas. 

Before we leave, you may wonder how Dallas got its name. This is probably one of the biggest conundrums in the city— no one really knows why it’s called “Dallas.” 

Side Note: I am sorry to say that Hattie’s in Oak Cliff has closed.

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Mr. Toy Man

One day, shortly after we relocated to Texas, I was driving from Keller to Grapevine on FM 1709 when I noticed an elderly man walking slowly down the sidewalk. Behind him he dragged a dog. I had to do a double take to be sure the dog was a stuffed toy and not real.

I saw him many times in my crosstown journeys from Keller to Southlake or Grapevine, and one day in Roanoke. I never knew anything about him except that he was a tad scruffy and always had either a stuffed dog or toy truck tagging along behind him.

I never gave Mr. Toy Man much thought until now, while digging into the history of the region for a more in-depth understanding of how the area was settled. When I came across several articles about him I wanted to know more, so I did some research.

Lesley Allen Scribner will be remembered by most as a kind man who once gave a crying child a stuffed bunny rabbit to quiet his wails, or the countless other times he brought joy to children through toys. But Mr. Toy Man had a sad and dark past. 

The events in this post are a recount of his life from various news articles as Mr. Scribner is no longer with us, and therefore can’t speak for himself. He was a simple man who, along with his five brothers, grew up in what people called Shantytown, an off-the-grid section of north Southlake located on land which is present day Bob Jones Park. 

The Scribner family inhabited Shantytown, a camp of trailers, shacks, and trash piles for most of their lives and could often be spotted tramping down to Grapevine Lake to fish. Other times, he and his brothers were seen, shotguns over their shoulders, trekking to trade at the local flea market, or busy hanging hogs for slaughter from trees on their property. The decades-old chain marks can still be found on the lower branches of certain trees in Bob Jones Park. 

Mr. Scribner dropped out of school around age 13, not long after he saw his father get killed by a car. Some say Mr. Toy Man was “…mentally disabled…about the 12-year-level.” But he was certainly “capable enough” to care for himself and his family, affording them the basics. 

The “Dark Side.” The story goes that in March 1990, Scribner sat on the front porch of his little wooden house drinking beer with Joseph Opry, who lived in a bus up the road. What caused a fight between the two no one knows, but Scribner went inside and brought out his shotgun. He slapped Opry upside the head with it and Opry fled.

When the Southlake police arrived they ordered Scribner to come out of the house, but Scribner’s wife said he refused, so she invited the police in. According to the police report, Officer Robert McAmis, one of the officers on the scene, saw Scribner on the bed with his shotgun leveled at the door. McAmis fired first and ducked, narrowly escaping Scribner’s shotgun blast. 

Simon Salinas, a hog farmer who lived across the road from Shantytown remembered the incident differently. He claimed that Scribner only shot his gun once that day and it was up into the air as Opry fled the scene. The only gunfire Salinas heard came from McAmis’s semiautomatic as he shot Scribner. He sustained gunshot wounds to his elbow, leg, and through the chest. 

Scribner left the hospital weeks later, pleaded guilty to beating Opry, and says he shot at McAmis. They gave him 10 years probation. To this day, Salinas swears Scribner was innocent of shooting at McAmis.

One by one, the Scribners passed away to age or illness. Lesley Scribner’s wife died of diabetes and his only child, a daughter, died of cancer in 2005. Left completely alone, Scribner began to wander around the area where he always lived, refusing the room Salinas offered him in his home. For his remaining years, rumor said Scribner had been bunking with a man named “Blackjack” in a house off of Bob Jones Road near the park.

January 11, 2010. Early in the morning while walking on busy US Route 26, Scribner wandered into the headlights of an Infiniti and was killed, like his father and his grandfather before him. He was 72.

William Tate, then mayor of Grapevine, spoke at Scribner’s funeral to hundreds of Scribner’s fans and friends. He talked of Scribner’s life from youth to his transformation as “Toy Man,” but did not mention in his eulogy anything about that day in 1990—Opry or Officer McAmis.

Mayor Tate later explained that he feared spoiling a legend. “There’s good in us and there’s some bad in us,” he said. For Scribner, “the good came at the end, and that’s how he’ll be remembered.”

Most people don’t know how hard a life he had. They just saw him pulling the toy.

Unfortunately, this is the only photo I could find of Mr. Toy Man, Lesley Allen Scribner.

 

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