Alibates Flint Quarries is one of the least known NPS units in the West - and the least visited, as it has an isolated location on the lonesome plains of the Texas Panhandle, can only be viewed as part of a ranger guided tour reserved in advance, and, historically important as the site may be, if truth be told there is not very much to look at.
The monument covers an area of just 1.7 square miles, adjacent to the much larger Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, and contains the remains of many flint quarries that were used by the native inhabitants of this region for up to 12,000 years, though these are now just small depressions in one of the grass topped mesas on the east side of the lake, next to occasional, weathered outcrops of the same flint rock. But the surroundings are suitably lonely, and quite scenic - low plateaus with mesquite trees and scattered boulders, split by scrub-covered canyons - and the two hours spent visiting the quarries is time well spent.
PDF format maps of Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument (and Lake Meredith), from the National Park Service:
The land around the national monument is undeveloped grassy prairie, crossed by many small ravines, though all is privately owned and fenced off, part of large cattle ranches. Alibates is well signposted, starting from nearby highway TX 136 from Amarillo to Fritch, then along a paved side road which soon forks; left is to McBride Canyon, within Lake Meredith NRA, while right descends into the wide valley of Alibates Creek and to a new visitor center for the monument completed in 2006, where all visitors must park. The center is unmanned apart from when tours are arranged, which must be reserved in advance (by email to email@example.com or phone to 806 857 3151). The maximum recommended group size is 25, and one or two tours take place each day. Current visitation is on average around 4,500 people each year, somewhat increased on account account of the new facilities; for national monuments, only the extremely remote Aniakchak preserve in Alaska sees fewer visitors.
From the visitor center, guests drive 2 miles northeast, following the ranger, to a carpark near a few of the best preserved quarries; in total, the monument has over 700 identified excavation sites. The last part is unpaved though fine for all vehicles. The surrounding mesas and hillsides are mostly grey-green but enlivened by occasional splashes of color from outcrops of deep red shale and sandstone rocks. Plants here include soapweed yucca, opuntia
and small mammillaria
cacti. The grassy valley of the Canadian River is visible in the distance - this is at times covered by Lake Meredith though usually the upper edge of the waters are several miles downstream. A 0.5 mile path climbs 300 feet to the mesa top, past 3 shaded rest stops, where the ranger relates details of the history of the quarries and of life on the high plains. The quarries are reached after about 45 minutes, followed by a much quicker walk back down. Besides the quarries, the monument contains ruins (12th to 15th century) and petroglyphs in less accessible locations, which may be visited by special arrangement. Unusually for the national park service, there is no fee to tour Alibates National Monument.
The circular quarry pits were dug to depths of 10 feet or more and some were up to 25 feet across but, filled with debris, are now just 1 foot deep. Small flint chips are found all over the mesa and nearby hillsides, and various larger blocks protrude above the flat mesa top. The flint is silicified dolomite rock from the Permian period and has similar agate-like characteristics to the petrified wood of Utah and Arizona though is not as colorful, and less bright, occurring in white and muted shades of maroon, red, blue and orange. The flint fractures in the same way as the wood, forming very sharp edges, so had similar uses for arrowheads, spear points and axe heads. The rock is found in an area 6 miles across, including large deposits around Plum Creek on private land on the west side of the lake, and implements made from it have been identified in places 500 miles in all directions. There are no artefacts in the Alibates region as the fabrication was done elsewhere, after the flint had been traded with neighboring tribes.