Friday, April 8, 2011

Palo Duro Canyon

For much of this past week we have been in the panhandle of Texas. The combining factors of a drought and strong southwesterly winds have created many grass fires. We were in the town of Andrews (which is west of Odessa, Texas) on Wednesday and the wind there brought in whiffs not only of petroleum from the oil wells, but also the smell of burning grass. We learned that there was a grass fire occurring that evening about nine miles out of town. This area of Texas is called the Permian Basin and is famous for containing vast amounts of oil and gas. Driving from Andrews on Thursday, going further north into the Panhandle, we started seeing less of the dry plains and more of lush green land.  Fields of peanuts and cotton seemed to have adequate water. We also saw large feedlots of cattle grazing on green grass. Apparently this area has a couple of underground aquifers which is providing needed water. Our location now is in Canyon City, about 17 miles from Amarillo, Texas.  We are also 10 miles from Palo Duro Canyon, one of the most picturesque areas in Texas. It is the second largest canyon in the United States, measuring 120 miles long and 1,000 feet deep. Over the years the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River carved its way through the canyon. The first trail we took today in the canyon was along this river.
It was exciting to see a river bed that has water in it! The water level is low, but at least there is some present.
We hiked about three-quarters of that trail (roughly a mile) and then decided to go against the directions of a park ranger and try for the Lighthouse Trail instead. We wanted see more of the rock formations of the canyon. There are signs before the trail head warning that heat exhaustion can occur while hiking it. We started out on the trail during the hottest part of the day and was successful in at least walking about four miles of it. A cool breeze kept us from getting too hot and there were juniper trees and ramadas which offered shade and a place to rest. A ramada is pictured below.
We managed to see the Lighthouse rock formations off in the distance. I did not get a good picture of them, but did get one of the Capitol Peak. It has a hoodoo at the south end which you may see also see in the picture below.  The canyon walls are quite beautiful with their different rock layers (layers of shale, clay, sandstone, and gypsum) which have subtle hues of yellow, blue, purple, gray, red and white. The colors are even more awesome when contrasted against the green vegetation of the mesquite, juniper and cottonwood trees.

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