Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Palo Duro State Park

Palo Duro State Park is a beauty. At over 20,000 acres, it is one of the largest parks in the state park system. Although we had just come from Caprock Canyons SP, we found Palo Duro to be more dramatic, with steeper, more sharply defined canyon walls.

View from the rim

History abounds in the canyon. There has been human activity in this area for about 12,000 years. This was the last stronghold of Native Americans in Texas. In fact, the canyon floor was the site of the last major Indian engagement in Texas when Colonel Ranald MacKenzie led his troops into the canyon to attack an Indian camp there in 1874 during the Red River Wars. Although the battle resulted in few casualties on either side, MacKenzie and his men were able to capture all the clothing, food supplies, and other possessions of the Indians, including their valuable horse herd. As winter settled in, the Indians had little choice but to come in to the reservations and surrender, thereby ending all resistance in Texas. Later, Charles Goodnight and others ran ranching operations in the canyon.

Cowboy dugout. It was a rough life

The park is beautiful, and it is a great contrast to the surrounding flat, treeless terrain of the High Plains. The Prairie Dog Fork of the Red River carved this masterpiece, and numerous trees follow the river bed. Wildlife is plentiful. Each night, numerous deer would approach our camp just before dark, coming within feet of us and exhibiting little fear but great curiosity as they calmly grazed. We also heard coyotes each night. Since Palo Duro is far away from highways, it is quiet and easy to hear all sounds. Woodpeckers and hawks were also plentiful within the park, as was other wildlife.

A little friend came to visit each night. I did NOT zoom in for this picture
Wild Turkeys. Look just below the turkey on the far left, and you'll see a rabbit. Guess the poor little fellow has identity issues.
Woodpeckers were numerous. This one was in a tree near our camp.
We had hoped to do some hiking while there, but due to recent rains, the trails were quite muddy. We set off on a trail one day but turned back after a mile or so due to heavy mud. And to be honest, after our grueling hike at Caprock Canyons, our heart and legs weren't really into hiking.

Several campgrounds in the park offer various facilities and shade. We stayed in Hackberry Camp Area (site #24), and the best collection of trees can be found there. However, because of the large trees, which include cottonwoods and chinaberrys, views of the canyons are somewhat restricted.

Our campsite, #24 in Hackberry
View from our campsite

Cabin in the Cow Camp Camping Area

We had absolutely no cell phone service in the canyon. I inquired about WiFi and was told that the tower had been damaged. Even so, I would imagine service would be limited to the office area as with many other parks. There are no full-hookups in the park.

We were blessed with continued cool weather during our stay in the park. I believe we ran our AC for a while late one afternoon and then some the last day we were there. We did not need AC at night, though. We also had a bit of rain one night. Because of the heavy rains earlier in the week, several of the 6 low-water river crossings in the park were closed the first day we were there. Crossing #6 remained closed our entire stay.

Palo Duro is a gem in the state park system. It still gives a sense of the wildness of nature, and it is easy to see why the Indians camped here. It provided water, wood, and game, as well as protection from cold north winds in winter.

For the feint of heart, be forewarned that the drive from the rim to the canyon floor can be a bit unnerving. It is 1.5 miles in length, with the final mile being the most taxing. Our neighbor was in a class C motor home pulling a small car. She felt the drive up might be too much for her RV pulling the small vehicle, so she drove the motorhome to the office on the rim, then caught a ride back to drive her car up. I had no problem pulling my 30 foot trailer, though.

The way in. Falling rock possible along this slope.

Palo Duro's most notable formation, the Lighthouse. Since we did not hike the trails, we had to settle for this long-distance shot. Notice the tall trees in the foreground, uncommon for this part of Texas.

Cave in the side of a canyon wall. Look closely and you will see 2 people, one in the cave and another at the bottom of the scree.

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