I wrote this place-based essay for my summer “Studies in Language Arts” class. An accompanying 7 minute video is also available.

Situated on the east side of a bustling West Texas city, Yellowhouse Canyon offers a surprising and contrasting outdoor experience for those who venture into its natural beauty. Part of a natural stream that has carved its way through the high plains for millennia, the Yellowhouse river has been dammed in several locations to form a series of lakes that form the centerpiece of the Yellowhouse Canyon Lakes Park in Lubbock. The area is not only rich in its diverse flora and fauna, but also historically important because of the post-Civil war battle fought here by US Buffalo Soldiers and Plains Indians who were both deemed ?expendable? by military leaders preparing for more white settlers moving into the Texas territory in the late nineteenth century.

Arriving just after sunrise in Yellowhouse Canyon, I am struck by the natural beauty and splendor of my surroundings. Parking my car just off of 19th Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard, formerly Quirt Street, I walk west along the southern edge of a lake teeming with wildlife and activity. The early morning chilled air produces a light fog which drifts up from the surface of the lake, giving the scene an ethereal ambiance and making me feel like a videographer for the television program, ?Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt.? Ducks quietly glide through the rising fog on the surface of the water, leaving a gentle, rippled wake as they effortlessly cut a new path through their watery home. A collection of other ducks are gathered at the water’s edge, warily surveying me and deciding hesitantly that my distance, at least for now, is sufficient to permit them to stay earth-borne.

As I look back to see the path I have followed along the lake’s edge, I notice my own footprints marked as dark, parallel tracks in the early morning dew of the Texas morning. I suspect that in less than an hour, this indicting evidence of my human intrusion upon this natural environment will be gone, evaporating quickly and silently into the dry atmosphere of the semi-desert in which I live. I move closer to the lake’s edge, and my actions prompt several ducks to leave the comfort of the shore for the relatively safer environment of the lake. Ducks continue to survey me suspiciously from both the shore and the lake, plainly aware that I do not belong: I am a visitor, an intruder, and a potential threat not to be ignored or regarded lightly.

As I move to the water’s edge, I see numerous rushes and stumps of old trees. I wonder who cut down the trees, or if they simply fell after years of growth and renewal, eventually weakening from toxic content contained in the lake or simply from old age and the passage of time. Close inspection reveals busy and harried activity on the water?s surface, as numerous insects swarm and move across it. A spider?s web joins the stalks of pond rushes together in a haphazard but functional structure. The artist of this dew-covered latticework is not to be seen this morning, however.

Leaving the activities of the shore and the wary as well as watchful collection of ducks, I make my way east and cross the street. I am reminded of the Lubbock police officer I interviewed about this area, who related some history I found both amazing and shocking. For many years, according to laws of our city, black people were forbidden to travel west of the street (then Quirt) after sundown. Apparently, because of this tradition but not because of the law (which has been changed of course) some senior citizens in the area still refuse to remain west of that street after dark. An area school teacher I also interviewed related that some of her students, in different years, revealed that they had never been to the city mall located in the southwestern part of the city. Isolated, generally poor, and amazingly beautiful, Yellowhouse Canyon exists as an enigma in the South Plains. The area reflects the historical diversity, segregation, as well as potential of a people and their geographic environment.

I return two other times to Yellowhouse Canyon, but not again at sunrise to see the majesty of the dew-covered and fog-filled morning. The next times are during the day, with my children, as we walk and bicycle around the lake and tentatively explore our surroundings. An old dock juts out into the lake on the south side, east of Martin Luther King boulevard, and we cautiously walk out onto it wondering if fish or even snakes could be living underfoot. We travel to the easternmost side of the lake, and walk across the dam to see water flowing over the spillway at close-quarters. The prominent ?no swimming? signs hint at the toxic and unpleasant additions to the lake which we can periodically smell but not see. I sigh with disappointment that this natural area is apparently dangerous for swimmers and maybe even boaters, although further up the lake system I have seen boat docks and boats on the water.

Without a doubt, this area must be the most beautiful and compelling region of Lubbock that I have seen and experienced. And yet economically, it is the most depressed and forlorn. What a rich natural treasure the residents of east Lubbock have in Yellowhouse Canyon! It is a place of both beauty and sadness, of potential and historical inheritance. I am glad to have experienced its diverse faces with my senses, and to have shared part of my joy with my own children. We shall return again, but this time it will be at sunrise, when the face of the Canyon is both fresh and buoyantly alive with the expectations of a new morning.


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  • Bob Williford

    Thank you for this piece concerning the Yellowhouse Canyon.

    When I was but a lad….back in the 50’s…I roamed the Canyon bottoms on several occasions. My father and two uncles were in the ready built house business on the south rim and this gave me ample opportunity to go exploring.

    Because of the stories that I had heard on several visits to the old Tech museum, the sounds of those last Indian battles could be heard every time that I was down there. I even ‘saw’ a few buffalo standing on the north rim.

    Your colorful observations of the Canyon Lakes are remarkable, but having known the Canyon before those renovations were made cannot match the stasrk beauty that I recall….and the wildlife that I sometimes encountered on that slow moving creek that I recall.

    Coyotes I did see. There were snakes, insects of every description, lizards (especially the horned toad), the birds and on and on I could go. And, of course, the yellow rock formations, caliche mostly I suppose, were everywhere casting weird shadows of all sorts of varmits, etc.

    But non-the-less your words helped me to recall some childhood memories that I had not remembered until just now.

    Thank You
    Bob Williford

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