We woke up bright and early once again. Fortunately, today the weather was warm. Our generous hosts provided us with hot lattes, fresh donuts, and homemade muffins. I’ve always heard that Texans were famous for hospitality, but these folks have really gone above and beyond. Their kindness is so touching. As we departed from Anna Street Church of Christ, we made our way to our first ranch visit of the day.
We arrived at Cadillac Ranch to see the sun rising in the distance. Cadillac Ranch isn’t just any ranch. Back in 1974, Stanley Marsh III partnered up with an art company called Ant Farm. They celebrated the “Golden Age” of American Automobiles by half burying ten Cadillacs head first into the ground. Visitors are welcome to embellish the site with cans of spray paint, and we were thrilled to find some paint cans on the ground; we all took a shot at making our mark on the Cadillacs and had fun taking pictures.
From there, we headed off to Adrian, Texas, which claims to be the midpoint of Route 66. After establishing that we were literally in the middle of nowhere by lying in the middle of the highway to take pictures with no threats from passing cars, we headed off to the real ranch, Bridwell Ranch. Not only were we ready to learn about life on a ranch, but were accompanied by a class of kindergarteners from the elementary school in Adrian. To give you an idea of the type of area we were in, their school bus route is 45 miles long.
At Bridwell, we all gained a new appreciation for cowboys and how hard their work really is. We observed the process of calves being branded, castrated, de-horned, having their ears notched, and receiving shots. It was quite a process. This is how it works: the cowboys are divided into two teams of five. One is mounted on a horse and has the task of roping one calf’s two back feet together and dragging it away from the herd and over to the other cowboys. Within about fifteen seconds, the team has the calf on its side, shoves the red-hot brand into its flank, notches one ear, clips off the horns at the base, injects two vaccinations, and castrates the (now) steers. The calves holler at the beginning, but they immediately return to the herd and watch their buddies go through the same thing. It’s brutal to watch, but the timelessness and efficiency of the process somehow makes it all seem okay. It’s just a different world out here.
As we were watching the branding process, we had the opportunity to talk with some of the wives of the cowboys. They told us what it’s like to raise kids on a 120,000 acre ranch and how one of them only goes to town twice a month. When electricity goes out, it’s out for a while, which means no lights, no plumbing and no refrigeration. The kids around us were tough and scruffy – they clung to barbed-wire fences and fell in the dirt repeatedly without making a sound. Pretty different from the kids some of us babysit in Malibu.
One member of our group was brave enough to sample the Texas Oysters (yes, testacies) the cowboys roasted up on site. One cowboy grossed us out by introducing us to Texas Sushi; yes…he ate them raw.
When the branding was over, we piled our dusty bodies back into the van and found some lunch at a Mexican restaurant called Roosters in the town of Vega. The food was delicious. We were charmed to sit next to the town sheriff, complete with a vest, a sheriff star, and a monstrous handlebar mustache. Some things never seem to change.
One of our hosts in Amarillo told us about a very special place called Boys Ranch, and she was able to arrange a last-minute visit for us. I don’t think any of us was expecting such a meaningful experience. Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch is an amazing place. It is one of America's largest privately-funded child and family service providers, which exists to provide housing, education, and an active and loving community for at-risk and disadvantaged children. Many children live on-site in small residences, and many children and families take advantage of the incredible educational and extra-curricular programs available. The facilities were beautiful and state of the art. We got a tour of the facilities by the ranch’s chaplain, and even got to meet a few children. How richly blessed we were by everyone at this place.
Somehow the word got around that we were a singing group (?), and we were asked to lead a group of children in a few worship songs. After a moment of panic and a warp-speed rehearsal session with Hunter at the guitar, we stood on stage and sang some songs for our new friends. As we got ready to leave, one little boy stood at the microphone to say a prayer for us that I know we will never forget: “Dear God, thank you for our friends who sang us like three songs. Amen.” We were all given lots of parting hugs and were walking on air as we left. Our host even treated us to some amazing Texas ice cream before we hit the road – what a stop.
We drove through the evening along a very windy stretch of highway to Albuquerque where we stopped at a Route 66 diner for burgers, shakes, and classic diner fare. We met our hosts at Legacy church and snuggled into their cozy houses in the windy night. We closed our sleepy eyes on another day of new sights, unusual cultural experiences, and being the undeserving recipients of awe-inspiring generosity.