Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States, lies in the heart of the Texas Panhandle near the city of Amarillo and it is a fascinating slice of scenery and history.
Water erosion over the millennia has shaped the canyon’s geological formations. Palo Duro Canyon was formed by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. The water deepens the canyon by moving sediment downstream. Wind and water erosion gradually widen the canyon. Palo Duro Canyon is presently 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of more than 800 feet. Its elevation at the rim is 3,500 feet above sea level. It is often claimed that the Canyon is the second largest in the United States with the Grand Canyon being the largest at 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 6,000 feet deep.
At every turn, there are dramatic geological features, including the multicolored layers of rock and steep mesa walls similar to those in the Grand Canyon. Notable canyon formations include caves and hoodoos. One of the best-known and the major signature feature of the canyon is the Lighthouse Rock. A multiple-use, six-mile round trip loop trail is dedicated to the formation.
While Palo Duro is almost indescribable, the painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who lived in nearby Amarillo, wrote of the Palo Duro:
“It is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color.”
Hard to argue with that description. Humans have resided in the canyon for approximately 12,000 years, and it is believed to have been continuously inhabited to the present day. Native Americans were attracted to the water of the Prairie Dog Town Fork, Red River, as well as the consequent ample game, edible plants, and protection from the weather the canyon provided.
Early settlers were nomadic tribes that hunted mammoth, giant bison, and other large game animals. The first European explorers to discover the canyon were members of the Coronado expedition, who visited the canyon in 1541 and dubbed the canyon “Palo Duro”, Spanish for “hardwood” in reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees.
Apache Indians lived in Palo Duro at the time, but they were later displaced by Comanche and Kiowa tribes, who had the advantage of owning horses brought over by the Spanish. They had contact with traders, called Comancheros, in nearby New Mexico. A United States military team under Captain Randolph B. Marcy mapped the canyon in 1852 during their search for the headwaters of the Red River. The land remained under American Indian control until a military expedition led by Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie was sent in 1874 to remove the Indians to reservations in Oklahoma. Soon after, in 1876, Charles Goodnight and a wealthy Ulster Scot named John Adair established the JA Ranch in Palo Duro Canyon. Col. Goodnight helped manage the ranch until 1890. At its peak, the ranch supported more than 100,000 head of cattle. Goodnight operated the ranch until 1890 and, although only a fraction of its original size, the JA Ranch remains a working ranch today.
The Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930’s constructed most of the buildings and roads still in use by park staff and visitors. Palo Duro Canyon State Park opened on July 4, 1934, and contains over 29,000 acres of the scenic, the northern most portion of the Palo Duro Canyon.
Unlike its big brother, the Grand Canyon, the bottom of this canyon is accessible to vehicles so the rugged beauty can be enjoyed from top to bottom. There are more than 30 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails so the beauty and wonder of Palo Duro can be explored by foot, mountain bike, horse, or vehicle. Other options include geocaching, studying nature, and bird watching.
While we missed out during our summer tour, the outdoor musical drama TEXAS is performed during the summer camping season. Park information notes that TEXAS runs Tuesdays through Sundays at the Pioneer Amphitheater and tells of the stories, struggles, and triumphs of early settlers. The family-friendly show has singing, dancing, fireworks, and lots of Texas humor. RV campsites are served with water and electricity. Visitor options include drive-up sites, equestrian sites, backpack camping areas and cabins on the canyon’s rim and on the canyon floor. The exceptional Visitor Center on the canyon rim offers amazing canyon views and the opportunity to learn more about the park. The park store at the Visitor Center sells books, pottery, jewelry, and more. There are also souvenirs, snacks, and meals available at The Trading Post on the canyon floor.
If horseback riding is desired, there are trails through 1,500 acres set aside for horseback riding or share two other trails with hikers and mountain bikers. Ranger programs include presentations on the park’s history, natural features, the park family of Longhorn cattle and there are opportunities to take a driving tour with a park ranger.
It’s not likely that you will find indescribably beautiful scenery, history, peace, and quiet, mammoths, Native Americans, Coronado, Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Goodnight, Texas, and Longhorn Cattle in any spot so don’t miss an opportunity to visit the incredible Palo Duro Canyon.
One of the puzzling moments that we sometimes experience as we’re out Adventuring, is waking up in the morning quite in a fuzzy state of *I haven’t had my coffee yet* mind, and not being sure, exactly, where we are waking up at. Have you ever woken up with that moment of perplexed uncertainty?
Why, you might be hearing the distant noise of traffic, as you’ve overnighted in a Wal-Mart, Flying-J or a nearby Casino?
Or perhaps you’re a member of Harvest Hosts or Boondockers Welcome and your surroundings are a little more peaceful.
Perhaps you’re at some spot you’ve found near the local lake, that’s just plum peaceful.
Or you’re in a campground, with all its amenities: Laundry? Showers? Water, dump and power? A firepit! WITH firewood! And SCORE! Campfires are allowed that day.
Or you’re on some Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands, with access to none of the above. **
That particular morning in question, as the outside world connected with the inside mind, we knew we were waking up in our comfy cosy beds in our UnityIB, on BLM land. Quite literally on the edge of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. WOW!
And sometimes on those unclear mornings, as the mind collects its random musings into focus, you realize EXACTLY where you are, and that there may just be an Adventure ahead. The excitement is the fuel that will literally jump you out of bed. Possibly even more potent than coffee?
Adventures are a funny thing, aren’t they? “Unusual or daring experiences” as defined by the dictionary, or perhaps, “a bold, usually exciting undertaking with uncertain outcomes”. I remember once reading: “Go on Adventures to find out who you are”. Isn’t that Spot On? Doing something new (not necessarily unusual or daring) certainly provide for the building blocks of confidence and empowerment in the becoming of you.
We didn’t set out to be Adventurers. With research came knowledge, with time came to experience and confidence. And as we met folks along the way and exchanged tales of “Oh, places we’ve been…”, and “Wow, the things they’ve seen…” Well, we got inspired, and then motivated, and then we kind of just… Became.
We often get asked:
“Well, aren’t you scared?”
Doing something different can certainly bring feelings of fear. And it’s certainly all about perspective. But we answer with a shake of the head:
“Not usually, no.”
I remember the first time we moved to a new house in a new province and walked the streets of our new neighbourhood. It was kind of scary, as we didn’t know anything or anyone. With time, the *fear* dissolved. Even then, when days of routine had set in, I always strived to seek new ways of expanding my horizons. Like taking a different route to work some mornings, *just for fun!* Adventure could be as simple as putting on your sneakers and going for a walk somewhere new to you. When was the last time you did something for the first time?
I remember the first time we stopped to overnight at a Wal-Mart. I have to confess that as both of us sat there, feeling totally weirded out. I mean, who sleeps in a parking lot? At Wal-Mart? Turns out, plenty of people do. As the evening sunset, dusk descended and filled the inside of the van with a bit of anxiety. Our overactive imaginations envisioned the worst of the worst as we peeked out our windows. There were dark shadows behind every person walking around, every moving car, and every noise we heard!
We always spend a few minutes sitting in our seats, feeling the vibe of the area. And if our views and our guts tell us that we’re uncomfortable? We move on! For example, there was this one time we were well parked, feeling comfortable and just settling down for the night when we heard noises just outside our bedroom window. OhOh! A truck had parked right beside us, the loud sounds of upbeat music had permeated our space and were shaking our walls. Shortly thereafter, a car joined the truck, there was a quick exchange of hands, and the car drove off. And then another one. And then a third one. We quickly moved to another area of the parking lot before we could see if there would be any more cars to count. And spent a perfectly comfortable night.
This Season we experienced firsthand the availability of BLM lands. Areas, that somehow, if but for a moment and certainly the first time we tried them, felt in their remoteness somewhat even scarier than the busyness of the box stores and truck stops we’d allowed ourselves to get accustomed to. Because sometimes, there feels a comfort in noise and numbers.
This time the intense sounds of silence, and the shadows of the trees felt just a little spooky.
But with time, that too became the new normal. And so we Adventure On.
It isn’t always all about having an Adventure, and certainly not to any unhealthy limits of your own tolerance. Our Adventures are not your Path to Follow. But we hope, in writing this, that they might inspire you to Adventure on your own Path.
We met fellow travellers on their way to bungee-jump off a bridge. Kudos to them, certainly not something either one of us would do, although we certainly feel the thrill when we helped them toast their achievements, what fun!
We went on what we thought would be a short walk three miles down the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. As we navigated the switchbacks, walking straight downwards, we got hotter and sweatier, knowing full well that when we turned around? We’d have to come straight back up! What a challenge lay ahead of us.
And that’s when we crossed paths with a group of ladies who were on their way up, looking just as hot and sweaty, and just as exhausted, if not more.
As our Paths crossed for a moment, we exchanged stories. Once a year the group of them get together for An Adventure, something they’ve been doing for years. This year? They were on their last legs (pardon the pun) of hiking the Rim-to-Rim Trail of the Grand Canyon. These ladies had started at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, descended down to the depths below, and were now emerging on the South Side. What an accomplishment! And who knew *that* was even a thing? Being avid hikers, we were certainly intrigued. With further research and planning, not to mention some training, *that* might just end up on our Bucket List!
Whenever we’re about to head out to do something new and different, we feel the familiar twinges of butterfly wings in our tummies. And although those twinges can be a little unnerving at first, they’re a great reminder that you’re alive. Heading out on an Adventure!
And as you go, you might notice that your breathing quickens. Sure it’s uncomfortable, you don’t know where things are, you’re not sure if you can do it. But your senses wake up!! Your muscles might be tense at first, but then somehow, they relax and you know what? That flutter of butterfly twinges? They’ve disappeared. As your eyes settle on what they’re seeing, you might notice that things seem brighter, more colourful? And perhaps later, at the end of it all, in the telling of tales and ensuing conversations with family and friends and fellow travellers? Why they might notice something different about you. They might just comment how you have a jig in your step, a hint of a song in your voice, an enthusiasm that is catchy!
Adventure is a Passion that’s Contagious.
One of the items we received from Leisure Travel Vans for writing our story was an LTV JournalBook.
And as I held the black-bound hardcover book in my hands, the empty lined pages stared solemnly back at me, I wondered just what I would do with it.
As boat owners & cruisers, one of the tasks of our Passages is to keep a LogBook. Mine happens to be a digitalized columnized record of departures and arrivals, miles travelled, places stayed. Engine hours, issues dealt with, and such. And that’s when I knew! I would do the same for our Adventures on Land!
I keep my JournalBook readily available on the Dash and I note the date we left, and where we stop. I record the Fuel Cost, and if I’m industrious enough, I’ll note the financials of that day. I note the cost of the campground. Or a Big Fat Zero with a smiley face gets jotted down if we’ve been Wally-Marting or BoonDocking. All of which will *someday* allow me to input those numbers and calculate just how much we’ve spent in a day, month, year or trip.
I also keep a record of maintenance *stuff*: for example, when we topped up with propane. And will highlight the day/place we crossed borders into the USA / Canada to make it all easier to find when need be.
But the best and my most favourite part of my JournalBook? When we’re spending time with folks, perhaps around the campfire sharing stories of respective Adventures, and I inevitably hand them my book and a pen, asking them to write a little something-something.
Sometimes they simply write their names and the date. And sometimes I get paragraphs full of words of times shared.
Inevitably sometime later, as I’m perusing the pages of my well used, dog-eared JournalBook? I find myself stopping to read those words… what great memories of great times, meeting great people, all of us out here living Adventures.
We look forward to crossing paths with you. And if we do, you can rest assured that we might just ask you to sign our Journal Book. And perhaps, you might just ask us to sign yours?
** Note: Some of the BLM lands we’ve been in, actually have allocated spaces and fire pits!
En route to Silver City to meet Bobby T, one of our wonderful 10-year head counselors. The area is gorgeous with the mountains in the background—the Guadeloupe, and the San Andres. They shine beige and gold in the sun, and brown and black when a cloud covers the sun. But the signs of drought are everywhere, with stunted growth of trees, brown grass (if there is any), parched earth, and desert.
I’m learning geography as I go. Somewhere between Jamaica Plain and Brookline, when I moved from fifth grade to sixth, I missed geography. But travel is broadening and I now know that New Mexico borders Texas. The time just changed from 8:15 a.m. to 7:15 am, which should make the trip one hour shorter (on the clock, not on the bottom.) We made a stop in El Paso at a Mercedes dealer (hard to find in this neck of the woods) to check a display that Allie gets as he’s driving. We can’t find a thing about it in the book, so figured a Mercedes mechanic would know. Alas, it was Saturday and he wasn’t working. We’ll leave it for CA where we’re sure to find a dealer. What the man in the shop did tell us was that an intermittent signal is not serious. If it were, it would be continuous. Sounds good to me. El Paso, a city built right into the mountains, was gorgeous.
Welcome to New Mexico: the Land of Enchantment. A stone bridge in the desert—colors of coffee and raspberry jam—did the welcoming. And then we drove to Silver City. The speed limit in NM was 75, and the roads were straight and boring. Nothing to see but feed lots for cattle, slaughterhouses, a sign: Prison Facilities in this area. Please do not pick up hitchhikers. Ok with me. Pecan and walnut orchards peaked out of the landscape, bringing a welcome change to green. The Border Patrol broke our boredom-trucks to the right, cars to the left. We drove up to the guardhouse wondering if we needed passports, but were disappointed at the casualness of it all. A guard looked at Albert, nodded, and waved us on. Finis. I asked Bobby T about it later and he said, “Ev. He saw Al’s complexion, he saw the Mercedes logo on the RV, and he said to himself. “Ain’t no way this old couple is transporting anything dangerous.” So much for excitement. I think our license plate, treasured by Allie, helps. It’s a purple heart, earned during his stint in World War II. Mostly, when stopped, Allie gets a salute or a handshake and a “thank you for serving.”
Before we could even begin to enjoy Silver City we had to find our RV park. Neither Sally Mae of the GPS nor we could find it, but we did find the neighborhood and we said NO NO this is not for us. Fortunately there was a KOA nearby, but with no room at the inn. My “little old lady with membership in KOA” came to the rescue and a lovely man said not to worry, he would come to rescue and guide Allie in. Just as we pulled in, up came Bobby T with his friend Codi and we were off.
They took us to a wonderful Mexican restaurant and then the scenic tour of the Trail through the mountains that Bobby reveres. He has biked on the roads, he has bicycle raced, and he has hiked on the trails, and it soon became clear to me that he couldn’t live anywhere else and be so happy. He and Codi were off for a 45-mile hike through the mountain trails for the next week and were kind enough to spend the day with us instead of packing. So he was not a hermit, hiding away in a ghost town, he was an outdoorsman athlete having the time of his life. He knew every turn, every switchback, every view and we had a wonderful, exhausting day. We kissed them goodbye, wished them a wonderful trip, and flopped into bed. During the night, when the temp went down to 40 degrees, I thought of them in the woods, hopefully cuddled under a very warm sleeping bag. Thanks, Bobby and Codi, for a day to remember.
En route to Apache Junction, AZ. We passed the Continental Divide (6355 feet altitude), leaving NM and entering AZ—Welcome to the Grand Canyon State. It too, warned us of dust storms, visibility, high winds, and asked for caution. But we had a gorgeous day with none of the above. Orchards of pecans and walnuts, which also offered homegrown wine dotted the road. Homes struggling for a patch of green in the little towns we passed. No grass to speak of, a few yuccas, some cactus, and the Joshua tree all over. We stopped at politically incorrect Walmarts, where I have to admit we could buy everything we needed and park anyplace we wanted: Hand wipes, a very small hand vac to clean up the cabin, a huge loaf of French bread for a dollar, and all the food we needed in one quick stop.
We passed mountains, which had been stripped for their copper, and felt the way we did when Bobby showed us one yesterday. The mountain is left barren, striped with different mineral colors, and layered with roads for the big trucks to move on. We talked about how we felt about it. It’s heartbreaking to see the mountains desecrated, but it’s also easy to see that without the copper industry these towns would be left with no jobs and no way to make a living. It’s complicated.
I never tire of the mountain roads: the Tonto National Forest was magnificent, rugged and awe inspiring. Allie does tire of them, he being the driver negotiating the switchbacks. Runaway trucks have an exit ramp they can climb; runaway cars, not so much. But we arrived in good shape and are settled in Apache Junction.
Just talked to Carole Wacks, my niece. We’re going to meet in Indie, CA tomorrow to spend some time with Carole and Michael. Will do the Joshua tree Park, see their new house in Palm Springs, and have dinner. What fun picking up with old friends and family. We appreciate the RV more each day.