Last month I spent a few days at Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo, TX where I ran out to the famous Lighthouse rock formation.
Read about it here: Lighthouse Run
|View from the Comanche Trail|
I also ran part of the newly built Comanche Trail which, according to a park ranger, is about six miles one way. The Palo Duro Trail Run is held every October and volunteers have been building more trails to eliminate some of the loops in the 50 mile course. The current 50 miler is 12.5 miles repeated four times.
You can pick up the Comanche trail in several locations, one being at the very end of the park road across from the Cow Camp Cabins parking area (look for the sign). Another is near the Givens, Spicer and Lowery trailhead parking and another at the Mac Dick Pavillion. (Click for a map.)
I started at the end of the park road on a cloudy morning where the forecast was calling for showers. Fortunately it wasn’t cold so I attached my rain shell onto my hydration vest and took off hoping for the best. The trail was smooth hard packed dirt and took me past some red, yellow, white and tan eroded hills. Soon I was in a jumble of slanted boulders some resting on a pedestal of dirt. Here you can see how the earth was washed away leaving chunks of the caprock escarpment lying willy nilly about the countryside. Most of the vegetation along the trail is brown grass interspersed with desert plants like sotol and prickly pear cactus; juniper trees dotting the hillsides.
After less than 15 minutes of running a light drizzle started to fall. I ignored it hoping it would soon stop, but then it started to rain harder. I paused to put on my jacket and then continued on where the trail took me higher and higher onto the canyon wall. It was steep in places and my jacket was trapping the humidity inside making me feel very hot. Of course after 10 minutes the rain stopped and I had to take a break again to remove my shell and strap it back onto my hydration vest.
I continued running, much cooler now, and pretty soon was high enough to see down into the beautiful red canyon and across to the other side where I had run the previous day. I ran beneath some high rocky grey cliffs and twisted around some more boulders before climber higher on the escarpment. A trickle of water was coming out of the side of a hill filling a small rock lined pool. I crossed a side canyon that was littered with rocks and boulders that had been washed down in heavy rains.
Shortly after crossing the intersecting Rock Garden Trail, I was close to the top of Fortress Cliff, a prominent rock formation that I could see from my campground of the same name. Eons of geology are revealed in the stratified layers of this flat-topped citadel shaped rock face.
I was under the impression that the trail would continue above the canyon for the entire six miles, but after about three, I started to descend back toward the park road. By this time it started to drizzle which gave way to a full on shower. I reached the park road where I found shelter at the Hackberry Campground. I waited to see if the rain would stop and while I was there a flock of turkeys came strutting through the area. I watched them for a while, but after they left I grew bored of waiting for the rain to stop.
I decided to take the trail that parallels the park road back to my car instead of retracing my steps on the Comanche trail. There was plenty of slick mud in low lying areas and I almost ate it a couple of times. Periodically the rain came down in torrents and sticky mud was balling up on my shoes making them feel three times as heavy. The slippery surface made it difficult to stay upright on a few of the short steep hills and at one point I was running a narrow trail between a cliff and a steep embankment down to the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. (How's that for a name?) I felt very vulnerable as though I was between Scylla and Charybdis so decided to walk lest I end up in a watery grave.
Needless to say it took forever to get back to my car which was only about three miles away and I felt like a drowned rat by the time I got there. The sky really let loose when I returned so I simply took off my wet muddy shoes, threw them in the parking lot, took off my jacket and jumped in the car. I was starving by this point so made some lunch and ate in the car while listening to raindrops pelt the metal roof. My saving grace was that the camp shower room was across the street so I was able to get a hot shower before returning to my campsite.
The rain finally stopped and I enjoyed a peaceful afternoon in the park resting at my campsite and bird watching.
|Fortress Cliff after the rain.|
The next morning I ran the Rock Garden Trail which climbs 600 feet from the canyon floor all the way to the rim (2.5 miles one-way). Once at the top, I ran a short distance on the Rylander Fortress Cliff trail which was totally flat, but had spectacular views of the canyon below. Be careful if you run this one and be sure to stay on the trail proper as it goes dangerously close to the precipitous cliff edge in spots. Several years ago a tourist fell to his death in a similar spot on the other side of the canyon while taking photographs on the CCC trail.
|Rock Garden Trail|
Despite getting soaked one day, I enjoyed running the trails in Palo Duro Canyon. There are plenty of options for varied skill levels from flat scenic trails to steep climbs with twisty single-track. There’s no shortage of scenery and the Palo Duro Trading Post has tasty burgers just in case you work up an appetite. See you on the trail.
|Official Texas Longhorn Herd|