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Mesa Vista & The Livin’ Is Easy – Pingin’ Pickens’ Place

September 4th, 2019 · Tags:Arts · Cities · Hotels

Can you think of any blog other than PingWi-Fi.com that would lead into a Texas ranch story with a “Star Trek” analogy? Well, here it goes … In one of the Star Trek films, “Star Trek III: The Search For Spock,” the plot centers around a “Genesis device” — a technology that has the power to create life from lifelessness … turning a barren, wasteland of a planet into a veritable garden of Eden.

 

Pickens Waterway

Well … you should see the Texas Panhandle ranch of T. Boone Pickens! … That’s Pickens, the oil/gas billionaire, philanthropist and corporate raider and/or ultimate defender of the American shareholder, depending on who is telling the story.

Regardless of perspective, this much is certain.  Mr. Pickens is one of the most successful, self-made men in the history of business, period. Yet his humble beginnings include a rural upbringing in the heart of Oklahoma, and then later a stint as a high school basketball star in Amarillo, Texas during his formative years.  And today, his one-of-a-kind ranch property is the crowning jewel, atop the top of Texas in Roberts County.

Among all of Mr. Pickens accomplishments, his ranch may be the most impressive legacy.

 

Pickens’ spread —  Mesa Vista Ranch — is bordered by 24 miles of The Canadian River, and entails 100 square miles of what might have been fairly mundane ranch land in one of the most ruggedly handsome corners of The Lone Star State. (That’s 64,809 acres, for my Metroplex friends who call 100 acres a ranch …) Just across the river from Mesa Vista lie huge, picturesque geological escarpments, sweeping vistas in the shapes of battleships, plateaus with great changes in elevation, bluffs and iconic rock formations, everywhere.  But at first glance, the terrain of Pickens’ property is less dramatic … more like pleasant rolling hills, endless grassland, native brush and the telltale green, shimmering leaves of cotton wood trees that pretty much are synonymous with the path of The Canadian.

“People who don’t know talk about it being flat here,” Pickens says. “That’s a joke.” (A quote regarding the real North Texas … The Panhandle … from a 2017 piece in The Dallas Morning News, by Alan Peppard.)

However, The Canadian — a sometimes-seasonal “river” that runs or perhaps at times is also just dry, sandy creek bed for 900 miles from its Colorado origin to its confluence with The Arkansas River in the region where Oklahoma and Arkansas borders kiss — for the most part is nothing like the miles of beautiful waterway derived from the property line of Mesa Vista and augmented with well water.

As if Pickens had some Genesis device, his portion of the sometimes sad little Canadian River Valley is made of lush, deep channels — a far cry from the narrow, meandering, mere footnote on the Texas map. T-Boone’s terrain is transformed into pristine blue water with lakes and well-stocked fish ponds and cattails and wildlife and a thick stand of native, century-old cottonwoods and thousands of transplanted trees as well.

On the day that the Ping entourage toured Mesa Vista, about 30 minutes north of Pampa, Texas, we saw the unmistakably fresh, black, powdery, scarred ranch land from a formidable grassfire the night before — a fire that snubbed out 1,000 acres of grassland, before firefighters subdued the flames some time in the wee morning hours.

But before happening upon that burned-black acreage along U.S. 70, The Panhandle ranch land appeared a dry, yellowish green/grey blend as the land eagerly awaited the next, all-too-scarce rainfall.  It’s difficult to imagine or describe that dry backdrop juxtaposed with the more scenic parts of the Pickens place. Much of the Mesa Vista spread is so green and manicured and landscaped it could rival most metropolitan botanical gardens … or a PGA event.

Despite the night-and-day difference between the charred grassland and the emerald look of the heart of the Pickens property, we learned that the grassfire — conceived by a lightning strike from a storm that did little to water the grass — actually had hit the perimeter of Mesa Vista, albeit a more characteristically dry southern portion of the ranch, and also a neighboring property … And, our tour guide, Mesa Vista Ranch Foreman Keith Boone, had been one of the firefighters on the previous night, and now was hosting us after scant shuteye.

 

Ping Tour

Our group of six met Keith Boone — or K. Boone as this blog will call him to point out the coincidence of his name — at the ranch security gates, and we formed a dusty caravan of pickups and SUVs over rocky but decent ranch roads among hills and down through gentle draws, hardly noticing the oil/gas holding tanks along the way …  tanks painted in the earthy colors of desert camouflage, similar to the outfits of many a bird or deer hunter who has visited the ranch.

The group consisted of Courtney Westerfield (the former PR coordinator for PingWi-Fi.com), her boys Grayson and Asher, her daughter Hadley who quickly took the reigns of the tour guide; a VIP … a very important Pingel, Brad Pingel, the mayor of nearby Pampa; and one old blogger.

Hadley, K. Boone

In preparing for the visit, I noticed various magazine features throughout Mr. Pickens’ career tell of his love for bird hunting, a love that began as a boy hunting with his father. It is said that one of the first goals or personal marks of success for Pickens was to some day own fine hunting dogs.  Despite horse racing lore, a young Pickens believed that bird hunting was truly the sport of kings.

 

Fittingly, one of the early stops on our ranch tour took us to an attractive, ranch-style building, encased in flag-stone masonry … a country architectural design complete with what looked to be hayloft doors on the second floor.  As we parked and approached the building there wasn’t much indication of what was inside, until we opened the door and entered a small entryway office. Further inside, we entered doors to a large, wide-open facility with high ceilings and about a couple of dozen or more spacious and modern dog pens — pens in two long rows for hunting dogs, on either side of the long concrete walkway.  The sound of the excited hounds was deafening.  The younger members of our group actually had to cover their ears to block out the noise and excitement.

“‘Pick me! Pick me!’ … That’s what they’re all saying,” said Foreman Boone over the shrill yelps and loud barks.  “Pick me!  Pick me!”  … Their pleas lobbying to be selected for the next hunt they thought imminent, as the ranch foreman systematically worked his way up one row of pens, and back down the other, stopping to pet each dog and share a little treat — dog collars rattling, ears flapping in the air … stirring and tails wagging. And in turn, each animal simmered down, settling for a nibble of food consolation prize, and in about 10 minutes, the 12,000 square feet of kennel was somewhat quieted.

One old dog in the kennel knew his number would not be called. He has been retired from active duty … but only after he had died … twice.  K. Boone is not only a dog whisperer, he is a dog healer.  The dog in question had been lifeless on two instances, but the rancher had performed mouth to ‘mouth’ on said occasions, and also did doggy CPR, bringing the lifeless dog back in Lazarus fashion.

“With dogs, you close their mouth and cover it tight with your hands, and then breathe into their nose,” K. Boone instructed us.

If any animal advocates are wondering, it was obvious that no dogs ever had a better life than the dogs in the ultra-modern kennel — even the ones who had lived but once.

What dog would not want to roam among what has been called “The world’s best quail hunting?”

Logically, our tour of the kennel actually was prefaced with an interesting discussion of the wildlife management techniques enforced on the ranch, ensuring a balance between selective hunting and the potential of overpopulation on the remote property.  Outside the kennel, one of the adjoining rooms is decorated with more than a dozen hunting trophies — beautifully preserved, mounted heads of game animals taken on the ranch.  Much conversation about the animals’ maturity and full racks or antlers ensued.  The facility also houses the hunting trucks, with special separate compartments for the hunting dogs and guns … all vehicles parked beneath the watchful eyes of the trophies mounted high above.

 

Inside the offices and garage of the kennel, our guide shared specific information about several of the deer on the wall. … The most interesting, the story of two deer mounted side by side near the corner with their antlers forever intertwined.  The second deer of the pair was shot after the first deer was already dead, killed and ravished by coyotes.  The two animals racks had been entangled at the end of their lives, and the scavenging coyotes were eating at one dead deer, while the remaining live deer was trying to fend them off or escape. Hunters took the remaining animal while it was fending off the pack and so the animal racks are still together.

And after we saw how well man’s best friend can live, our tour continued, showing us how “the other half lives.” On to the guest houses, the libraries and eventually the residence Mr. Pickens calls The Lake House.

In the midst of a four-hour tour, when we saw the view from the balconies of The Lake House, it was then that our guide said, “This is the prettiest view on the property.”  But first, K. Boone had strategically shown us the other three or four prettiest viewpoints in succession, revealing the best last.  The Chapel was an early favorite with its Panhandle green stained glass, outlining a traditional decorative church window frame, with distant mesas and the river showing through the glass, behind an alter.

 

 

But well before seeing that most impressive view, the property and the many structures and gardens and kitchens began to run together in my mind.  The kitchen was fit for the five-star restaurant of choice, yet I remember little more than the chef-like gas burners of the stainless steel stove and the wonderful home-made cookies that were offered to us (and accepted) several times during the day.  Yes! We were “forced” to run astray of our dietary constraints when we toured the commercial-grade kitchen.  Blame the cookies. And for the record, Mr. Pickens is said to have a sweet tooth rivaling my own, but I think our things in common probably end right about there.

 

So much to see …

Years ago as a newspaper reporter, I interviewed a cowboy friend who had spent time working on ranches in Australia — or “stations” as they are called on that continent — and I never forgot one of the anecdotes.  My friend Rob told me that the advice is simple.  If you get stranded on the station.  Walk to a windmill and stay there until help arrives.

Hell! At Mesa Vista, after only a couple of hours into our tour, I was totally turned around and lost in just about every mansion-like structure we entered.  It was tempting to find my way to an easy chair near the water purifier or perhaps one of the bars and just wait there until help arrived:)  No seriously, there were several times during the tour when I would have been hard pressed to find our SUV that we had parked outside on the opposite side of the building.

Opulence!  Opulence with a western flair.  I don’t know how else to describe the things we saw. Mesa Vista has to rival the spender of some oil sheik’s palatial compound, but with decidedly Western accoutrements. For the record, my hometown of Fort Worth has some of the most impressive collections of Western heritage artwork by sculptor and artist Frederic Remington and the like, and museums dedicated to the genre.   And although that motif might not be my cup of tea, I am at least educated enough to realize the immense value of those highly collectable pieces.  Original works by Remington, Charles Russell and N.C. Wyeth were generously available in various rooms and libraries and grand entrance ways of the structures we visited.

 

The other thing that caught my untrained eye were the magnificent oriental rugs throughout the homes and guest areas.  I would estimate that in the larger rooms that some of the rugs may easily have been 60 or 70 feet long  and 50 feet wide or bigger … and there were dozens and dozens, if not hundreds of these finely crafted, beautiful pieces of art of all sizes, on the floors under our feet.

Then there is the easy-life simplicity of the rocking chairs on the shady veranda of The Lodge …

Numerous times during the tour, I daydreamed about the unlikelihood of me ever attaining a fraction of this kind of wealth … and the more realistic thought that if I had somehow ever been that wealthy that I would lack the imagination to have assembled the art and furnishings and fixtures decorating even one of these guest rooms, or dining halls, or foyers.  I have no words …

One of several libraries was perhaps even more impressive than the other libraries, because it had a very unique circular stairway that allowed book lovers to circle on up to the second floor where exquisite woodwork adorned a catwalk design all around the second floor, overlooking a beautiful chandelier and thousands of books on the two floors.

 

Ha … I didn’t see my one published work on the shelves, but was drawn in close by an oversized Bible — probably two and half feet tall, and two feet wide — propped up on a stand, and open to the Old Testament book of Esther, for whatever reason. (Esther, of course, the Biblical account of a beautiful woman who married a Persian King, and in so doing, saved her people.)

Everyone in our group was pretty much blown away by what we saw, and I know personally, I have no idea of the scope of wealth and art and furnishings displayed in each and every corner of the massive property.  But then again, for the majority of the tour, things were not what one might call “showy.”  The masterpieces or finery or whatever worked so well and somehow still had a welcoming, comforting, relaxed feel.  Does that make sense?  Is that even possible?  

Here and there were hunting scenes depicted in paint on canvass and in bronze statues and in photos of family and associates and visiting dignitaries.

Something I do understand a little bit about — being a fan of gizmos (a.k.a. nerd) — was the impressive value of the ranch’s home theater.  Well, Mr. Pickens, I salute you!  No “crib” I have seen in youthful media has a leg up on the personal theater where T. Boone eats cookies and popcorn during movies … A theater where he also hosts watch parties for his beloved Oklahoma State Cowboys as they represent his alma mater … a campus with the Pickens brand proudly displayed on various educational and sports facilities in Stillwater, Okla.  By the Way, Bijou Boone, as I want to call it, was equipped with plush theater seating for 30 and a giant television screen — all state of the art, I am sure.

There is an additional guest house of sorts called The Pub. Almost a sports bar/road house in its design — dedicated to entertaining guests with libations and decorated with sports memorabilia — both Dallas Cowboy signed footballs, bowl games and various souvenirs focusing on the home team — the Oklahoma State Cowboys.

As the tour continued and we left one guest house and headed up a hill toward The Lake House — we saw in the distance, a castle-like stone mansion — a showpiece that you might expect to see in the most scenic wine country of southern Italy … 

 

 

 

And as the stone structure became closer and closer, we were more emerged in the grandeur of the water wizardy that runs through Mesa Vista. This ranch is more than some upscale trophy property featured in so many lifestyle real estate magazines … Mesa Vista is a hydrology/engineering marvel. Mr. Pickens and his team of engineers and managers have taken 45 years of planning, selective purchases, land management, water management and created something that exists nowhere else … and a place, that frankly, could not exist in The Texas Panhandle without genius … and ambition … and tenacity.  A magical place that has entertained presidents and politicians and other billionaires … and guys who sing about “Amarillo By Morning.

As we drove, I laughed as I recalled the misguided words of one of my favorite physicians in Fort Worth.  When I told the doctor that I was taking some vacation time in The Texas Panhandle, he said, “Oh … I’m sorry.” And after an awkward silence — as I debated defending the place I love or just letting it go — the doctor backpedaled, and said, “Well … The Panhandle is just not a scenic place … you know where you typically think of vacations.”  I bit my lip and let the doctor straighten my spine, but I didn’t straighten him out.

“Doctor,” (I said to myself) … “If you only knew the grand, natural treasures hidden throughout the Panhandle ranches … most closely associated with the Canadian River Valley … and then there’s this!”  I digress …

 

To get to the Lake House, our vehicles drove across a massive stone bridge leading up to the circle drive way.  As we climbed out and walked around the property, we could better appreciate the dramatic drop in elevation, behind the manicured terraces and reflection pools and waterfalls surrounding the structure. The grounds were covered in perfect, green grass, beautiful pink flowers in huge tera cotta pots, ornate water ways and fountains, balconies, and rich blue ponds of water … and then a few hundred yards down the hill in the distance, K. Boone pointed out a scale-model stone replica of one section of Stonehenge, at the edge of the water.  Now that’s a nice timeless, European touch.

 

Ping Rings Bing Door

The front entrance of the home was shrouded by a meticulously ornate metal door that was as much an artistic treasure — perhaps of Moroccan or Mediterranean influence — as it was a barrier to the outside … A door that was once owned by Bing Crosby. (It was almost like having Bing and Ping in the same room … I digress …) Good to know!  The balcony was furnished with the most comfortable outdoor seating, all focused toward the best view of the property.  The interior circular stairwell of The Lake House was highlighted with a priceless, artistic skylight masterpiece.  And of course there was more western artwork juxtaposed with modern technology that could systematically draw the drapes or regulate the temperature from other control panels in the heart of the ranch’s information center.  There were long stonework hallways separating studies and guest rooms and grand living areas … and a modern wine cellar that’s content and climate controls surpassed my lifetime gross natural product, exponentially, I am sure.

 

Somewhere during the tour, we saw a small, masterfully handcrafted leather saddle in a translucent display case.  The saddle had been specifically made for President Ronald Reagan during his time in office, and then later was a gift from First Lady Nancy Reagan, presented to Mr. Pickens for his 78th birthday.  Wow.

 

 

After beginning our tour with the dogs, near the end we saw the collection of “Panhandle Piranhas,” as K. Boone calls the 5- to 10-pound catfish that breached the surface of a fishing pond surrounded by cattails. They pretty much leaped from the water as he threw them handfuls of feed from a dispenser on the dock.

So, I guess in summary, the tour of Mesa Vista was nothing like I expected nor like anything I could have imagined.  I had hoped to hike up rock-face cliff with my camera and tripod in hand to capture some rugged canyon photos. From what I saw at Mesa Vista, there aren’t lots of scenic rock formations. Perhaps there are no ancient canyons, cutout by a glacier or some massive violent river, adorned with the ochre paint masterpieces of cave-dwelling indigenous types.  The beautiful mesas in the distance are across the Canadian River and are the property of another land baron who resides in Perryton, Texas.  The most interesting natural land feature we saw was Red Bluff, a sand or limestone formation rounded off on one end — the product of wind erosion and perhaps water erosion at one time …  standing out above the grassland and cottonwoods.  Native grapevines grow up around fence posts at the edge of ranch roads — reminders of nature’s history on this ranch and its limitations … along roads on a spread so large, a full-time road maintainer is required.

 

Mr. Pickens was not on site during our tour, but was scheduled to arrive the following day, as he has done most weekends for decades, to spend time out of his Dallas office and in his favorite place on the planet.  As a last option of our tour, we were invited but passed on the opportunity to see the private runway and elaborate aircraft hangar that make the ranch accessible for Pickens, his family and guests.  Maybe we opted to leave that part to our imaginations, though we were told that the hangar no longer keeps a private jet on standby. Nowadays, Mr. Pickens travels less and a chartered aircraft will suffice.

 

Keith Boone

And to think, the long, indirect journey to visit Mesa Vista Ranch for me began in 1985 with a visit to another Panhandle millionaire’s ranch — The Cadillac Ranch.  As a freelance journalist, I was commissioned to take some photographs and interview Amarillo’s outlandish art financier Stanley Marsh 3 … and then the article and photos combined to form the cover story of a weekend magazine called Texas Weekly, featured in many mid-size newspapers across Texas. Throughout the decades, as my career ebbed and flowed, my editor from that story first progressed to the Governor’s office in Austin, as a press secretary.  And then a few years later, my friend Jay Rosser became a communications executive, working with Mr. Pickens.  And we have stayed in touch pretty well …

So … after seeing lots of fairly recent media coverage of Mesa Vista and its future plans, I decided to make a call to my old friend.  And he said he would present to Mr. Pickens my request to visit and see what happened. 

 

Pickens, Pieratt Twins AHS Sandies

A couple of months went by and I hadn’t heard yes or no.  So, I decided to play the family history card.  I digitized and sent to Jay an old piece of family history.  It was a photo layout of my mother from her Amarillo Sandies High School yearbook, then known as Billie Jean Pieratt … and beside her in the yearbook layout, of course, was her twin sister Jackie Dean Pieratt.  But get this! Immediately to the left of the two twin sisters was a photo of this handsome, somewhat babyfaced young gentleman named Boone Pickens.  That was the attention-getter that  helped to seal the deal … I think.  … A reminder of what a small world it is, and the humble beginnings that sometimes entails.  I don’t know if Mr. Pickens ever saw the photos I forwarded … or if he ever knew the two twins, or even possibly remembered them.  But, Jay assured me that T. Boone would get a kick out of the photos.  I hope he did.

OH … and the score on the PingWi-Fi 1-7 pingometer?  Let’s just say there are not enough pings to represent all the digits in the ranch’s price tag. Seven Pings … perfect sccore!

 

 

Know what I sayin?

 

Mesa Vista Ranch Website:

Mr. Pickens Regarding Decision To Sell: