At first it seemed as if I would be the only person on the two o’clock tour of Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, but soon another car pulled up and a family of four got out. Blinking in the sunlight, they entered the visitors’ center, a beige mobile home in a corner of a nearly empty parking lot. “Looks like we’ve got more customers,” said Wes Phillips, the ranger on duty, sounding relieved. Alibates, 35 miles north of Amarillo on the edge of Lake Meredith, is not the kind of vacation spot people flock to, at least not on a day like this in late summer, when the new black asphalt radiated visible heat waves.
Only three to four thousand people come to this isolated Panhandle location each year. Compared with well-developed public archaeological sites—such as the Caddoan Mounds of East Texas or even Lubbock Lake Landmark, 160 miles to the south—Alibates is a remote, seemingly impoverished place. Yet it yields some of the richest archaeological history in Texas and is one of the most important prehistoric sites in the Western Hemisphere.
Alibates was, in a sense, the Spindletop of its day. The resource found here—flint—was the foundation of a culture. The entire Canadian River region of the Panhandle is sprinkled with traces of prehistoric Indians, but Alibates is important because in this region the flint lies just below the surface in an