Palo Duro Canyon Part 1

The Park Rangers called the day before to warn of an approaching snowstorm. Cody and I were excited to see snow for Christmas. The Park wanted to offer lodgings for the third night of our camping reservation in Palo Duro Canyon. We declined and stayed up late to pack extra clothes, more blankets, plenty of food, firewood, two mountain bikes on loan from friends and additional cold weather gear. A few hours of sleep and we stole away like thieves in the night. To reach the second largest canyon in the United States takes approximately 10 hours from Houston (or nearly that from practically anywhere). Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located in the Panhandle of Texas and is relatively unknown by Texans and Americans alike. Cody and I drove the back country roads extending the trip by a couple hours. We arrive late afternoon. The sun is low on the plains in an endless sky. The rumor of a snowstorm continues. The State Park is warning visitors of the potential weather and encourages us to take lodging the last night of our 4 days of camping. We listen, consider the danger, and pay the $5 per person entrance fee eager to step onto the edge of an extraordinary landscape.

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, Panhandle, Texas Travel, Palo DuroFirst Glimpse

Palo Duro Canyon is 120 miles long, 20 feet wide and 800 feet deep. This jagged scar in the surrounding relentless plains was produced over 300 million years by the Red River. A delightful museum at the Visitors Center narrates the geological history in wall size maps and landscape dioramas of the various sedimentary layers. Sweeping views of the canyon help participants relate the scenery to history. The State Park occupies the northern most 28, 000 acres of the canyon system with over 30 miles of trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding. To reach the canyon floor, the road descends nearly 800 feet. After hundreds of miles of flatlands, the brilliant-hued layers of sediment festoon the canyon walls energizing our spirits. We arrive with enough sunlight to set up camp and climb the surrounding rocky hills for a splendid sunset.

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, Panhandle, Texas Travel, Palo Duro

Rock formations from wind and water erosion.

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, Panhandle, Texas Travel, Palo DuroLast bit of light. Later that night an owl flew to this tree and asked questions like who, who?

The next day on our borrowed bikes, we swiftly covered 3 out of 5 bike trails in one day. All the park's trails are for hiking from easy day hikes to more intense canyon rim hikes across ancient rock slides. Throughout the day, the clouds arrived covering the sky. Later, the brightly painted sunset was a perfect end to an amazing day.

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, Panhandle, Texas Travel, Palo Duro

A snowstorm moving in from the west.

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, Panhandle, Texas Travel, Palo Duro, camping

Sunset from our campsite as we rest by the fire after a full day of hiking and biking.

By the third day of our trip, a severe storm was rapidly approaching. Time to find lodging with few options remaining. The first was a $60 a night stone built cabin down in the canyon.

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas, Panhandle, Texas Travel, Palo Duro

Cow Camp cabins have heat, electricity, water, bunk beds and a full facility restroom located across the road. Quite charming, especially in a snowstorm, however, what was not an option was remaining in the canyon for up to a week once the main road ascending was snow covered and iced over. We decided to gain elevation and explore the nearby town of Canyon, Texas only 12 miles away. One might ask, why didn’t we leave the area altogether? Well, we wanted to experience a blizzard and see the plains of Texas covered in snow.

Stay tuned for Part 2, A West Texas Snow Storm

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published