Saturday, June 24, 2017

Palo Duro Canyon

The famous "lighthouse" peak in Palo Duro Canyon.  (photo courtesy of the park website)
At the end of April, we took a little trip to Palo Duro Canyon, located in Canyon, Texas. Called the "Grand Canyon of Texas, it is the second largest canyon in the country and lies in the heart of the Texas Panhandle.This place was amazing, and as promised in my Facebook and Instagram posts, I decided to blog all about our experience there.  Sorry for the really long delay!  Obviously, as you will see, I highly recommend visiting this glorious place!

We booked one of the cow cabins at the bottom of the canyon for our stay.  It is one of only 4 limited use cabins in the park, so if you are interested in booking one, you need to book many months in advance.  There are three other cabins located on the rim, but they are more expensive, at $125/night (and I honestly preferred the location of our cabin.)  But, the other 3 cabins have showers, toilets and sinks.  The limited use cabins, which are $60/night include an AC unit, a space heater, fireplace, table and chairs, refrigerator, microwave, and two full size bunk beds.  There is also a nice patio with a picnic table and grill/fire pit.  And, the views at each of these cabins is simply amazing!   They are so private and secluded as well.  You feel like you are out in the gorgeous canyon all by yourself in these cabins.  Here is a tour of our cabin, cow cabin #4.  I highly recommend that one! 

Our cabin.  :-)
When you first arrive at the Park, you check in at the top of the canyon at headquarters.  Don't forget to grab a park map and a trail map here.  Also, if you have kiddos, make sure to grab an explorer backpack (they have 4 at the park).  This pack is great and include all sorts of guides for the specific area (wildflower guides, scat and animal track guides, spider guides, snake guides and more), as well as a journal, pencils, crayons, magnifying glass, binoculars and more.  It takes about 15 minutes from the park headquarters to get to the bottom of the canyon where we stayed.  On the way down, we stopped at the Visitor's center, where there are amazing views of the Canyon;  you can even look inside a telescope and see the "Lighthouse".  Other than seeing it with this telescope, the only way to see it is to hike the trail to view it.  There is also a little museum and goodies to purchase.  If you have children, don't forget to grab a Junior Naturalist Program guide.  If you complete it, you can turn it in for an awesome patch.  Also, on the way down, we stopped at the general store and bought some firewood.  Inside the general store are great souvenirs.  There is also a little cafe, that serves burgers, fries and other sandwiches.   I can't review that, however, because we cooked our own food and didn't try any of theirs.

We snapped this photo right outside our cabin.  You can't see any other campers or cabins or campsites!  It was like it was our ownlittle canyon!

Once we arrived at our cabin, we were very excited to start exploring!  There are so many trails to explore here.  In fact, there are over 30 miles of trails to explore, each with their own personality. In our 3 days there, we didn't get to explore nearly enough.  So, we are looking forward to going back someday soon.


We loved checking out all the neat rocks.  We have a couple of Junior Rockhounds in this family.  And, I absolutely love rocks too. There were several layers of rocks that we could see and that created the gorgeous colors of the canyon.  Cloud Chief Gypsum is the oldest rock exposed in the canyon and can only be seen in a few areas.

From the Palo Duro Canyon educators site: Immediately above this layer, the red claystone and the white layers of gypsum and shale from the Quartermaster Formation can be seen. The red color was created by the iron oxide present in the rocks. The greater the content of iron, the redder the color. The next ascending layer is the Tecovas Formation and is composed of gray, yellow and lavender mudstone. Together with the Quartermaster, the triangular layers of the Spanish Skirts are formed. Further up the canyon slopes, the Trujillo Formation can be seen. At this layer, red mudstone is predominant. The remaining layer, the Ogallala Formation, is located toward the very top of the canyon wall. This hard layer is composed of sand, silt, clay and limestone.

Here is a video of one of our hikes where you can see our favorite layer--the white gypsum.  You can tell the kids were so excited about exploring on this hike from the sounds of their voices!

The kids were so excited to explore the area.  Here they were examining the vast area that was out there for us to explore.
It was so extremely peaceful there.  There was absolutely no city noise.  The only noises you could hear were birds, the wind, coyotes and other animals.  We saw lots of wildlife while we were there at the park.  Roadunners, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, rabbits and more roamed freely!  Here is a video we captured of a Wild Turkey crossing the road:

Here is a short video clip of a roadrunner hanging out outside our cabin.

Climbing on a mound of red claystone.

There was so much beauty to take in!

I just kept snap, snap, snapping photos with my phone camera.


The scat and animal track guides came in handy.  Drew and Abbey had to take a stop to look at the scat guide and determine what type of scat we just came across on one of our hikes. 

Hooray for hiking!

You can see the lighthouse formation there in the distance on the right.
Here is a short video from our Lighthouse Trail Hike.  This hike is a 6 mile hike roundtrip, but one of the only ways to see the lighthouse formations, which is one of the things the park is known for.  With all the awesome hiking, we highly recommend visiting in cooler months so you can enjoy all of it and not have to worry about the heat.  It looks like the best months are mid-late October, November, March and April.  My pick would be November.

It was amazing how many different wildflowers we saw there.  I loved the black-foot daisies!


We saw some neat trees there as well.  Palo Duro actually  is Spanish for hard wood in reference to the Rocky Mountain Juniper trees found throughout the canyon.

If you want to see a video of us enjoying playing games outside of  Cow Cabin #4 please click here.  You will get a good idea from the video of what the area looks like.

Here you can see what one of our hikes looked like there.  The area is just so pretty! 

We also did some horseback riding at the Old West Stables, which is located just before the entrance to Palo Duro Canyon.  We highly recommend these stables!   By riding their horses, we were able to see a private canyon that you can't see within the state park.  There are stables within the park as well, but we figured that we could hike those trails.  It was nice to be able to "hike" on horseback on some private canyon trails.  During our horseback riding, we were able to see some Big Horned Sheep.  They were brought over from Australia many, many years ago.  Unfortunately, with no natural predator, they have actually become somewhat of a nuisance in the area for the ranchers.  But, they were really neat to look at!  Here is a video from our ride.  I couldn't believe how well our kids handled their horses.  

Abbey rode "Peek-a-Boo", who had gorgeous Blue eyes!  Drew rode "Coyote".  Luke rode "Red" and I rode "Sissy." 

Before we left the park, the kids completed the work necessary to earn their Junior Naturalist Badges.  They were pretty proud of those!

While we were there at the visitor's center turning in our completed paperwork for their badges, we decided to take a look at their little museum.  It is free and definitely worth the look.  It is so interesting and there is so much to learn.  They tell you all about the history of the park, the wildlife and the geology of the park.  They have examples there of all the rocks that you can see in the park and indicate their names.

The sunset just outside our cabin.

We highly recommend visiting Palo Duro Canyon State Park!   We can't wait to go back again.  Next time we visit, we are bringing our bikes so we can travel on even more trails!

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