My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Palo Duro -Texas' Grand Canyon

"It is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color."

So wrote Georgia O'Keeffe who lived in nearby Amarillo and Canyon, early in the 20th century and visited and painted Palo Duro Canyon.  It  still is filled with drama, mystery, light and color. 

 Fortress Cliff
I arrived at the Park after stopping in Amarillo, TX for a really delicious Thai dinner.  I never found the packet left for me by the staff, but I did know that I was at site 70 in Cactus.  After about an hour of wandering around in the dark I found it, shortly before the beautiful crescent moon set, allowing the sky to become crowded with stars.  The night was so hot, I decided to just sleep in my hammock.  But the mosquitoes there so hungry, that they were willing to sample me, so I didn't get much sleep.  I finally fell asleep around five o'clock and then didn't wake up until eight.  I had to go back and finish registering, so quickly made some coffee and started out.  It took me almost two hours to make it back to the office.  Then I kept taking pictures until the light was way too harsh to save them through editing. 

Because I arrived in the dark, I missed the wonderful feel of looking across a relatively flat prairie, then driving down inside the canyon and finding myself in the mountains. This wonderful canyon has some of the same clays, and thus the same colors and formations of the John Day Fossil Beds, in Oregon.

Moon upon my arrival at my campsite

Canyon Walls

Decorated hill

Lonely little hoodoo


These small formations almost looked like they were boiling out of mud but were rocks

Not everything here is clay

Beautiful Spanish skirt formations

Just me and my shadow - one of my camp visitors

Possibly my favorite formation
A long view up into the canyon

More skirt formations

Another camp visitor

Natalie and I may the only two paddlers that can claim to have paddled the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. Mostly it is just a tiny, muddy stream, only suitable for toy canoes.

View from one of the low water crossings

Often flash floods fill the canyon floor and make the stream leap out of it's banks while hauling an extra load of clay. There are five low water crossings on the main road and one more on the side road. These become impassible in the floods that change the tiny stream into a raging slurry of red mud.  Many years ago -  I can't remember the date but it was 12 - 14 years back - I joined Natalie on her vacation.  We planned to spend several days at Palo Duro Canyon and got a campsite that required us to cross the river three times.  Our second morning there, we packed up a lunch, put the two dogs into their crates after giving them food and water, and left to go to the Pandhandle Plains Historical Museum. (This should also be on your bucket list.) We  were totally engaged most of the day, only coming out of the museum to eat a picnic lunch under  sunny skies.

One of the low water crossings

 But when we reached the park, a ranger told us we could not go back to our camp, because the crossings were impassible from a rain many miles away.  Fortunately, we had my canoe on top of the van, just in case we found a place we just had to explore from it. And we also had Natalie's daughter, Suzanne, who helped our negotiations by crying for her dogs.  

After we persisted in insisting we had to rescue our dogs, we agreed not to sue the park if we damaged ourselves, and the ranger agreed not to see us canoeing, and allowed us to proceed to the first crossing. There we unloaded the canoe, put Suzanne in charge of her sister, Ellen, and set out. The crossing was only about two and a half canoe lengths wide, but the paddling sure felt funny, pulling a paddle through that red slurry of mud.  And when we stepped out of the canoe, we stepped into knee high mud.  We looked like we had  red knee socks on for a few seconds until the mud sloughed back off. 

We had to carry the canoe about a quarter of a mile to reach the second crossing. When we made it across that crossing, we found a group of people stranded in their camps.  One guy watching the crossing had a truck and offered to haul us to the third crossing. So Natalie and I climbed in back of his truck and held my eighteen foot Kevelar canoe down in the truck.  

By the time we paddled across the third crossing, we were pros.  We landed and  walked to camp where we gave the dogs water, then packed up their stuff as well as clothes for us. Then we packed everything back into the canoe and returned, again getting a haul in the back of the pickup. We went to Amarillo and rented a room in a motel for the night.  The next day we had to wash our clothes before returning  to the park the following evening. We moved our campsite to the first camp, which is before the first river crossing so we would not be stranded again. 

I was reminded of this incident when I saw the Texas Department of Transportation scrapping clay off the river crossings and hauling truckloads of it away. The 6th river crossing was still closed but had lots of prints of animals who had visited there, including bare-foot humans. The mud was at least a foot deep there.

Raccoon was here

Map of the canyon in the visitor center

 Designated as a protected State Park in 1934, this canyon is the second largest canyon in the U.S. next to the Grand Canyon. Measuring 120 miles long, 20 miles wide, and a maximum depth of more than 800 ft., Palo Duro was formed by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River while sediments being carried by the water deepened it. You can experience the canyon by hiking one of the park's comprehensive 30 miles of trail, riding horses, camping, or taking a scenic drive.

All these pictures were taken from my campsite or the road.  But I did have time to take a short hike up the Rock Garden Trail.  I was running out of energy and daylight and didn't finish it but I did get to the most beautiful part. I'll have to edit several  more scores of pictures before I show them to you.

I have the total set of pictures from this tour here.