Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Palo Duro Canyon (Texas): Winter Break 2016 part 1

Town of Quannah

Palo Duro Canyon

Myself, Moosie, and H2Camo

My old Appalachian Trail friends H2Camo, Moosie and I decided to get together for winter break this year. It's been just over a year since the three of us finished the Appalachian Trail together. After some discussion, we decided to head to Texas and New Mexico to do some hiking. Moosie and I work in public schools in our respective areas, and Camo is in grad school in Texas, so the timing worked out perfectly to get together for a week.

Moosie suggested we check out Palo Duro Canyon which is located in the Texas Panhandle. It is considered the Grand Canyon of Texas. I was very excited about this suggestion because I just finished reading 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 camping area for the Comanches, and the site of their final battle with the United States Army before being forced onto the reservation. The book follows the story of Quannah Parker in particular, the mixed-blood Comanche who became their last and greatest chief. The book was a real eye opener, and I found myself at times identifying with the plight of the Comanches, as well as the Texas frontier settlers, and with the army generals. What would I do if I were in their shoes? The brutality the two sides waged against one another was shocking, the original size of the Comanche empire was staggering to comprehend (240,000 square miles), and the outcome of the culture clash left me feeling battered by the time I finished the book. Visiting Palo Duro Canyon and driving through the Texas plains allowed me to visualize various scenes in the book, and connect to some of the characters.

Moosie and I took planes and arrived in Dallas on the 26th of December. Camo picked us up at the airport. After spending the night at Camo's parents house, we were off first thing in the morning. It was about a six hour drive from Dallas to Palo Duro. Looking out across the Texas landscape, it was hard to comprehend the size of the place. Once we reached the plains, it was a little easier to imagine buffalo once wandering in huge herds across the grasslands. Mostly I remember looking at the occasional ranch, and the giant wind powered windmills along the highway. Moosie, Camo, and I caught up on life after the trail, listened to music, and several episodes of Radiolab. The open skies, warm air, sunshine, and good friends were just what the doctor ordered at this time.

We reached the canyon an hour or so before sunset. We secured backcountry permits for two nights. Shortly before dark, we began our hike into the canyon. The canyon is 120 miles long, and we would see just a sliver of the place. It felt great to put the backpack on again, and walk along the trail. Moosie, Camo and I followed the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, the waterway responsible for the carving of the canyon. It was one of the strangest rivers I have ever seen, looking like a muddy irrigation canal more than a river, thinly slicing through the canyon. The ranger told us not to drink the water as it contains waste from the nearby town of Amarillo. By the time the sun set, we were still looking for a place to camp. We decided to climb up from the floodplain and the cottonwood trees and camp amongst the junipers, prairie grass, and cactus. We found a nice spot with a juniper windbreak, and the three of us chose to cowboy camp under the bright stars.  Day one was coming to a close and I couldn't have been happier to be where I was...

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