Sunday, March 4, 2018

The Great Escape - Palo Duro Canyon

I'd had enough. Enough winter. Enough gray skies. Enough wind. Enough cold, dark nights. Enough trainer rides and enough gym nights. Enough.

I had 5 days of vacation to use or lose and I wasn't losing nuttin' except maybe my sanity. I took to the interwebs for weather forecasts and searched for the warmest places within 12 hours drive. In fact, we even lowered our expectation to just be dry. Warm is relative but had it to be dry and sunny. For the love all mankind, there had to be sun somewhere.

RF: "Ever heard of Palo Duro Canyon?"
ME: "No. Is it dry and sunny?"
RF: "Yep."
ME: "Perfect. We're going...where is it?"
RF: "Texas."

Palo Duro Canyon: the 2nd deepest canyon in the U.S. But unlike the Grand Canyon, where one spends most of the time on the ledges looking down, at PDC, one goes into the canyon. It's also quite wide in the actual park boundary, with open meadows full of scrubby evergreen bushes and prickly pear cactus and yucca plants. It seemed more like western Colorodo, specifically like Fruita, with true single track that combined flat and rolling high speed sections on one side with much more technical rock drops and climbs on the other. Of the 26 miles of rideable trails, only a few sections were too steep to climb but that was due to it's proximity to the top of a high cliff. It really had trails for every kind of cross country rider. That's right. You'll have to pedal. This is still Texas after all.

Me and the hubs put the new #vanlife vehicle to the test. It was the first vamping excursion in the mtblimo and we were living in luxury. With lots more headroom (Ryan can almost stand full upright) and having more storage space, we could move around a lot easier. But we did find out one thing; our propane heater wasn't quite strong enough when the temps dipped into the single digits so we'll be making some upgrades. Overall it worked out amazingly.

We spent 4 nights in the canyon. Our campground was primitive but as long as I have a pot to piss in, I'm living large. But the crazy thing was the park put us right next to other campers even when there were plenty of empty sites AWAY from people. We didn't understand it. Then when we were the only ones left on Monday morning, by afternoon, there were new campers DIRECTLY ACROSS from us. There had to have been 20 sites open. It was an odd situation, but we did end up chatting with them and they were a lovely retired couple from North Carolina and even extended an invite to stay at their home and ride the famed trails around Pisgah and REEB Ranch! Schwing!

Our neighbors were not our only visitors in the campground. Every morning, a couple road runners would walk around the site, waiting for us to drop some scraps. I'd never seen one before and they're nothing like the cartoon version (meep, meep). 

And kid you not, there are scads of coyotes in the canyon so now we understand where the concept came from! We only saw 2 coyotes the whole time but man do they crap a lot. There was so much scat on the trails! Other birds began to show up too, like cardinals. We set out a bowl of water and suddenly there were a half dozen birds in our campsite.

With temps in the 50s-60s it was summer kit time! The winds were pretty high so we couldn't have a pit fire but it wasn't the end of the world. We'd get up with the sun and brew up some coffee and down some oats. Then we'd hang out a bit with the road runners and the cardinals before hitting the trails by 10 am and not returning until sometime in the mid afternoon. 

The first day we hit most of the trails to get a lay of the land. One side was easier than the other so by day 3 the harder side was harder still! We did manage to climb all the way up on top of the red rock cliffs via a popular hike & bike trail called Rock Garden. It gave us a great view of the valley but was gnarley going down. My favorite trail was actually on the easier side called Red's Rocks. It was a wide open trail that had some fun flow and technical outcroppings so we always had to stay aware but we could get up some good speed and get a little air here and there.

A few of the trails lead to some cool rock formations. 

The most famous is the Lighthouse Rock. We couldn't ride to it per se. We had to scramble up a deep crevice to get up onto the top of the mesa where the formation was. We didn't climb up on it but kinda wish we would have. The view from the ledge looking back was quite breath taking!

The canyon also had trails that got us close to the topography. It's crazy to get right up next to canyon walls that we usually only see from a distance. The colors and textures were amazing!

On the first day we discovered this little oasis stop along an out and back loop. Before we got there we stopped at at small steep hill with a winding trail and bench at the top. Of course I had to go up there. Looks like it was a favorite spot for someone pretty special.

At the oasis, there was a sign-in book. We signed it and on our second visit, left an R&R sticker on the stand. A little Briar Rabbit figure welcomed us to his patch.

By the last day we were cooked but we had to take advantage of the dry trails warm temps. The sky was a bit overcast but the wind had died down a bit. After our ride we celebrated with a long shower and a hike to the top of the rim for a sunset view. Though the sunset was blocked by clouds while up top, we were rewarded with a beautiful sky before the sun finally set. We spent the remainder of the evening chatting with our new friends and watching the moon light up the landscape at night. It was so bright we didn't even need head lamps!

For anyone wanting to escape the cold up north, Palo Duro was just what our hearts and minds needed. They have a cafe and trading post down in the canyon so you never need to leave. There are ancestral Texas long horns that live at the top when you enter. They are from a lineage of long horns that originated in the area. Though we didn't do it, visitors can zip line up top and ride horses. For a small canyon park, there was much eye candy and areas to explore. This could definitely be a place we get away to again in the future!

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