Palo Duro Canyon, Texas: Where I Did Not Earn My Hiking Badge

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is the second largest canyon in the U.S. (Second to, you know, that other canyon you may have heard of.) It sits about 15 miles south of Amarillo, and is a beautiful spot for camping, hiking, and biking ($22/night for a 30-amp site – look at me, knowing what that is! – plus $5/day access fee).

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas: Where I Did Not Earn My Hiking Badge  It’s also a good spot for animal sightings, and I saw white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, a bobcat, and Longhorns, members of the Official State Herd:

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas: Where I Did Not Earn My Hiking Badge

Yo, what up.

Colonel Charles Goodnight (who did not commit murder in the library with the candlestick) not only invented the chuck wagon, he’s considered the “Father of the Texas Panhandle” and started the JA ranch in Palo Duro. Here’s his first house there, a dugout:

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas: Where I Did Not Earn My Hiking Badge

Little known fact: Charles Goodnight was a hobbit.

Palo Duro is one of those places you can’t stop taking pictures of:

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas: Where I Did Not Earn My Hiking Badge

If you’re someone who can’t get enough red rock, this is your place.

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas: Where I Did Not Earn My Hiking Badge

I happen to be one of those people.

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas: Where I Did Not Earn My Hiking Badge

This is pretty too, though.

The main attraction is the Lighthouse trail, which takes you up to a giant hoodoo that guards the valley. The trailhead said six miles round trip and I thought it sounded perfect for a late-afternoon hike.

It was labeled moderately difficult, and about a mile in I thought, Pish posh, this is easy! It’s mostly flat! And there are helpful blue markers every tenth of a mile!

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas: Where I Did Not Earn My Hiking Badge

The canyon was carved out in the Pleistocene epoch. This will be on the test.

About three miles in I got to the Lighthouse, and it’s a bit of a climb up there, but not terrible. I felt cocky and fit. I took some photos and admired the view, then scrambled down the other side to look for the rest of the loop trail.

Palo Duro Canyon, Texas: Where I Did Not Earn My Hiking Badge

Remember the band Hoodoo Gurus? Yeah, me too.

(Let me stop and say that I’m fine with crawling up, but the getting down part freaks me out a little. And no, I don’t mean that kind of getting down. This kind involved scree and nothing to hang onto. Which may be your kind of getting down, I don’t know.)

All that up and down only put me on some new cliff I couldn’t see a trail from. I stood there a minute, assessing the seemingly hopeless situation and said, with feeling, Crap.

Except I said a different four-letter word. With feeling.

I’d gotten a late start to begin with, and what with all the crawling and scrambling it would be dark soon and I hadn’t brought a flashlight. Plus, my ass and thighs were like, Enough already. Find us a hot tub.

So I gave up the quest and picked my way along the cliffs back to the Lighthouse and followed the trail I’d taken in, disappointed and feeling like a bad Girl Scout. How hard could it be to find the rest of the trail?

Then it hit me: it’s not a loop. And if I’d brought the trail map, I would have realized I was thinking of a different trail that was a loop. “Six miles round trip” meant three miles in, three miles back the same way. I was a dork.

When I finally returned to camp I did some vigorous swinging on the swing set, which made me feel a little better. Then I poured myself a big glass of wine. Because even bad Girl Scouts deserve a treat at the end of a hard day.

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