Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Palo Duro Canyon (Texas): Winter Break Day 2

Early morning sunrise

Morning camp

Camo finding his way up the canyon

Camo and Moosie find clean water in the canyon


A Prehistoric kitchen used for grinding food

Hiking south

Miles and miles of canyon privately owned. This was as far as we could go in the park.


Camp for the night
I woke up the next morning early. Day two in Palo Duro Canyon had begun. I think I was still on Maryland time as my body naturally woke up an hour before sunrise. Moosie and Camo were still sleeping so I decided to look around the area and take some sunrise photographs. I slept pretty comfortably and peacefully during the night. When camping, I never know what to expect. My dreams can be pretty vivid, and many times somewhat traumatic. I had many nightmares while hiking the Appalachian Trail last year. Later in the morning, Camo commented on having a vivid, stress filled dream.

While taking my morning stroll, I was thinking about the book "Empire of the Summer Moon: Quannah Parker and the Rise and fall of the Comanches, the Most powerful Indian Tribe in American History." Palo Duro Canyon was a favorite winter camp ground of the Comanches and the site of the last battle between the United States Army and the remaining Comanche tribe before being escorted onto the reservation in Oklahoma. The book describes in detail the trials and tribulations of General Ranald S. Mackenzie and his troops to hunt down, and eventually surprise attack the remaining Comanche Indians wintered down in Palo Duro Canyon, who were led by their last great chief Quannah Parker. Mackenzie and his men killed only four Comanches after marching down the walls of the canyon, but destroyed most of their winter lodges, supplies and killed over 1,000 Comanche horses. This was the final blow which led to a Comanche surrender. Without their horses and supplies, the Comanches could not continue their resistance and way of life.

While the sun was rising above the horizon, I tried to imagine the scene. Did Mackenzie and his troops come down the canyon walls where we were now camped? How many Native Americans camped where we now found ourselves? The canyon has been used over 10,000 years by various Native American tribes, are there any signs of their presence on the rocks and grounds nearby?

By the time I returned to camp, Camo and Moosie were finishing their breakfast and packing up. We decided to spend the day bushwhacking up a random side canyon. Camo immediately took a high route and found himself way up on the surrounding cliffs. I was about midway up and traveling across sketchy, steep washes. Moosie, perhaps the most wise, was traveling along the canyon floor, where eventually Camo and I would meet her. We continued up the canyon for a few hours before turning around due to time. The entire canyon appeared as if it could completely wash away in a single rain storm. There was evidence all around of traumatic water movement, where flash floods appeared to destroy parts of the canyon sweeping down tons of mud and large boulders.

By afternoon, we decided upon another place to camp. We still had an hour and a half of sunlight left so we decided to get one last quick day hike in. We walked as far as we could along the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River before reaching the park boundary and barbed wire fences of private property. There were still miles and miles and miles of canyon beyond those fences. Camo, Moosie, and I soaked in the serene scene before us. By the time we returned to camp the sun was already setting. I wondered what the night would bring. General Mackenzie's slaughter of the Comanche horses had spawned a legend: A phantom herd could be seen riderless, galloping through the canyon, their hooves kicking up red soil along the trails. Would we hear them in the night? Would they appear in our dreams?

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