Thursday, October 25, 2012

Palo Duro Canyon - Running the Wild Frontier

One day last week I was able to escape from the job site I was working on in the Texas Panhandle and spend the morning running through Palo Duro Canyon. My memories of this area go back to family camping trips when I was very young, and it had been many years since I've been here.

 Since those early visits, I've developed a love for exploring desert landscapes, especially those involving canyons, to an extent that comes close to rivaling my love for the mountains. I've spent long hours running through the desert canyon areas of Utah and Arizona, among other less notable areas, and have come to consider the wild places in northern Arizona and southern Utah to be the standard to which I compare every other similar place that I visit. By this comparrison, Palo Duro Canyon does not come near the same level as Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, or the Grand Canyon; however it is by far the best canyon area there is in Texas, and is beautiful and rugged in its' own right.

The developed trail system within Palo Duro Canyon state park is extensive enough to accomodate a run lasting several hours without re-visiting any trails, and the trails are arranged so that many different combinations of loop routes can easily be pieced together. On this trip, I primarily ran on the network of developed trails in the central section of the park. Along the way, I identified a number of other primitive trails, game trails, and dry washes that could be followed if a longer expedition venturing into some of the more remote areas of the park are desired.

The red sandstone formations which rise up along the canyon walls give relief to the sometimes green, sometimes brown growth of cedar trees which line the bottoms of the canyons.

In the dry times of the year, the vast majority of the creeks within the park dry up and leave exposed their sandy and rocky paths like the one shown below, which can be followed all throughout the park to access some of the smaller, more remote side canyons.

Many of the developed trails in the park see heavy use by mountain bikers. The Little Fox Canyon trail is one of these, and along a remote portion of this trail a rustic rest stop/meditation area of sorts has been built within a small grove of cedars, and features dozens of toys and trinkets hung from the branches of the trees. This must be the type of thing that only mountain bikers can truly appreciate, because I just found it sort of creepy.

Possibly the most notable natural feature within the park is the Lighthouse - a 300' red sandstone tower with a high bench connecting it to a prominent fin that I don't know the name of.

The connecting bench between the Lighthouse and the large fin was a fantasic area to sit and admire the surrounding beauty. I felt like a kid, full of energy and free of worry, running around the smooth sandstone formations and the soft sandy slopes in this area.

The mostly dry wash below was just too intriguing to avoid exploring, and I spent some significant time off-route exploring the path of this interesting little canyon.

The perfectly cool fall weather I experienced during my run provided an excellent setting for this adventure. In an area of the state with few things that I consider worth seeing or doing, taking a run through Palo Duro Canyon stands out as an anomoly in the most positive of ways. I'm hopeful that during one of my upcoming trips to this area that I'll be able to take some additional time to escape to the canyon and explore some of the more primative and remote areas that I did not get to visit on this trip. Until then, I guess running around Black Canyon and Moab will have to suffice.

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