Palo Duro Canyon
Preston and I rang in 2019 with a trip to the Palo Duro Canyon in west Texas. The drive from Houston is a long, flat nine hours. The canyon appears so suddenly out of seemingly nothing. Rusty oranges, reds, and tan colors striped the canyon walls, and steep jutting rock made for a remarkable view while driving in. We camped out the first night in the bottom of the canyon at the Fortress Cliff campsite.
The weather was a bit chilly, 45 degrees, so waking up to some hot (instant) coffee was nice. The new day brought sunshine and clear air, so off to the Rock Gardens hike we went. This 5-6 mile hike takes you up to the top of the canyon, along some ridges, and of course around some big rocks. It is an out-and-back, and at the turn around point (or at least where we stopped) there is a great overlook of the park.
While driving back to our Airbnb for the night, we pulled off on the side of the road and wandered around dried up river bed. This portion of the canyon looked different; striking red dust and sharp canyon edges bordered the trail, some leftover snow still hiding out in shady pockets.
Our lodging for the next two nights was a lovely little Airbnb in the nearest town, Canyon. It had a complete kitchen, private bathroom, living room, study room, and bedroom. The hosts were fantastic, the place was only about 10 minutes from the park, and it was very decently priced.
Day two (New Year’s Day) brought even colder temperatures, with the high hovering around 29 degrees all day. We awoke to cloudy skies and fresh snow falling. For breakfast we went to the Ranch House Diner. It’s a cute western themed place, and it’s customers nearly all had on cowboy hats.
Our hike for the day was the Lighthouse Trail, a mostly flat 6 mile out-and-back that winds through the canyon. It finishes at two big rock structures visible from quite far out on the hike. Again there were lovely views of the colorful canyon walls for the entire hike, this time with some added ice. It was neat to sit on top of the large rocks, for we could see what seemed like miles of canyon. The only obstruction to our view was canyon walls. There were about 12 mountain goats scurrying up the side of the canyon wall, which was a remarkable site.
After thawing out, we ordered pizza from a nearby Domino’s and prepared to wake up early for the drive back to Texas.