Palo Duro, the Grand Canyon of Texas

West Texas is flat. Really flat. And treeless. It’s easy to imagine thousands of buffalo roaming the plain, or tornadoes barreling across the horizon. Amidst all this flat emptiness, it’s tough to believe there’s a canyon anywhere close by.

West Texas Windmill

But there is a canyon, and it’s the second largest canyon in the country.

Palo Duro Canyon

This past weekend some friends and I camped in Palo Duro Canyon in preparation for our trail race there in October.

Camping in Palo Duro Canyon

Jay loved camping in his new tent. Because of it’s McMansion dimensions compared to the other two tents, it was quickly dubbed “The McTent.”

New Tent

Some places in the country have snow drifts. In West Texas, we have mud. Flash flood warning signs are everywhere in the park. It’s obvious Palo Duro had a significant rain event in the canyon sometime before we got there.

Palo Duro Water Crossing

But it wasn’t as significant as the rain and flooding they had there in 1978.

1978 Flood Sign in Palo Duro Canyon

Though not deadly, spiders as big as your hand are nevertheless scary. There are tarantulas in the park. Supposedly they jump.

Tarantula in Palo Duro Canyon

Looking for evidence of other animals in the canyon is easy in the soft sand. Other than these raccoon tracks, we saw other evidence of deer, hogs, coyotes, and lizards.

Animal Tracks in Palo Duro Canyon

It was extremely hot during the day in the canyon. 114 degrees was the highest we saw. We had been hoping to have cooler temps, but at least it was cool in the mornings and evenings.

Thermometer in Palo Duro Canyon

Even Shasta felt the heat.

Hot Dog in Palo Duro Canyon

To avoid the intense sun, we stayed under our shade shelter and played Uno, Monopoly, read, snacked, and played with the dogs.

Playing Uno in Palo Duro Canyon

Hari is like the overindulgent grandparent when it comes to Shasta.

Hari and Shasta

Kurt braved the elements and went for a ride.

Cycling in Palo Duro Canyon

One morning we got up before the sun and went for an eleven mile trail run on the Givens, Spicer & Lowry Running Trail. It was the best trail run I’ve ever been on. It was exhilarating to run through such amazing scenery.

Early Morning Trail Run in Palo Duro

Our trail took us to the Lighthouse formation, which is an iconic Texas landmark.

Lighthouse Formation in Palo Duro Canyon

Hari and I took a break at the top of the Lighthouse. Kurt took photos.

On Top of the Lighthouse Formation in Palo Duro Canyon

The trail winds through the canyon. We had it to ourselves for hours.

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon

We took the Little Fox Canyon Trail loop for a few extra miles. It was starting to get warm, but it was nothing like the humidity we’re used to running in.

Little Fox Canyon Trail in Palo Duro Canyon

Tired, dusty, trail legs after a run are never pretty. Even Jay was impressed enough to take a photo.

Dusty trail legs in Palo Duro Canyon

Our last morning, Kurt and I got up once again before the sun and took a short 3.5 mile hike on the Rojo Grande and Juniper Trails. I love the desert light in the early mornings.

Juniper Trail in Palo Duro Canyon

West Texas is a dangerous place. On the way back to Dallas, even stopping at a rest area (which also doubles as a tornado shelter) can be treacherous.

Rattlesnake Rest Stop in West Texas

It was a great trip. From the coyotes howling in the middle of the night, to the full moon rising over the ridge, to the turquoise blue collared lizard I thought was a bird, and the Milky Way and Big Dipper stretching across the night sky, Palo Duro Canyon is beautiful. And of course, everything is more fun with good friends. I can’t wait to go back in October for the trail race.

Lighthouse trail run photos courtesy of Kurt Cimino.

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31 comments

  1. Jenny Turnage

    Fun read and beautiful picture views as always. Remind me to stay away from West Texas. I hate snakes!
    The cabin in Brown County, IN where I lived alone 18 months after my first husband died, had a cooperhead inside the house one night hiding. I beat it to death with the large end of an aspen walking stick while screaming like a banshee the whole time. I was scared witless.
    We also had timber rattlers in the same area ….. plus a lovely family of deer on our property. Of course, where there are deer, there are mangy coyotes. Gary and I have well fed coyotes here with evil eyes the color of their fur.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      I don’t like snakes, either, but thankfully we rarely see them on the trails. I know they’re there, but they seem to stay hidden away under the rocks–and I’m glad.
      I actually like coyotes! We have them here in the city in our neighborhood and at the lake, and see them quite often. They never bother us.

  2. The Infinite Journey

    What a beautiful area! I’m going to be near there next year. How far is it from the city? We’re passing near San Antonio I believe. Amazing photos. I had no idea this was even there!

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      It’s 12 miles from Canyon, a small university town that has hotels, restaurants, and grocery stores, and is about 30 minutes south of Amarillo, a much larger city. It’s pretty far from San Antonio, but there are a lot of great things to see in that area as well, being so close to Hill Country. Palo Duro isn’t very well known, especially outside of Texas, but it really is worth a visit.

  3. bashothegreat

    That’s a very cool place, but I wonder how Texas deals with having the SECOND biggest something!

  4. monica

    we went to palo duro before kids and can’t wait to take the kids back. it’s so gorgeous. 114 – holy smokes, girlie. y’all are brave ones! hubby did the hotter than hell ride one year and it was 114. at around 112 my brain starts to fry and i can’t really have coherent thought. good luck with the run – i’m sure it’ll be great. p.s. – my favorite photo – dog on lap. i love it.

  5. skippingstones

    “A short 3.5 mile hike…” Oh-kaay. And I can’t motivate myself to walk on the mini trampoline for 5 minutes. Well, I will look to you for inspiration!! You’re so great 🙂 And as always, I love the pictures!

    Also…SHASTA!! I am really loving your dog! That’s my favorite photo, too, that big dog acting like a lap puppy. So cute and sweet.

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Shasta is like a cartoon character, our very own Marmaduke. She’s very high energy, and I think she’ll keep us young. She’s a lot of fun, but she’s also a born pack leader, so we have to really keep her in check. I think she’ll always be a 6 month old puppy trapped in an adult dog body!

      • Mind Margins/Run Nature

        Nevada went with us, too, she just didn’t make the photo cut. She really struggles with the heat. Shasta can be very irritating (in your face, licking, demanding attention), but Nevada is the sweet, quiet one. If she knows you, she’ll bring you a bone or a dog toy when you come to visit our house. She’s the cuddler. Shasta just wants to play.

      • skippingstones

        I was just wondering if she stayed home. She’s the quiet type, then. Sitting in the background and watching it all happen. I struggle with the heat, too, and I like to sit in the background and watch all the other people. Nevada is my kind of people!

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      I have camped and hiked most of my life, a huge chunk of it in the desert, and have only seen less than a handful of snakes from afar, never up close. I’ve never seen a rattlesnake. I know all the snakes are there, because once I went to the Ft Worth Zoo snake exhibit and was horrified and amazed at how difficult they were to locate because of how well they blend in with their surroundings. It was a good reminder to pay closer attention on the trail.

  6. SeniorRunner

    Nothing like a dress rehearsal for the big event! You are really going to be ready!
    And you certainly have a magnificent stage for your “performance.”

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      I hope you’re right. Our 26 miler this past Sunday was really tough–but it was maybe a tougher course than Palo Duro. My goal for this first 50K is to finish before the cut-off. Hopefully, everything will fall into place on race day. My favorite marathon was in St. George, Utah. Obviously, I love the desert, and look forward to running a race in beautiful Palo Duro Canyon.

  7. jodysjourneys

    If you hadn’t shown that spider first, I’d put this on my “must see” list…rofl Heck, those photos are so gorgeous I may have to go anyway!

    • Mind Margins/Run Nature

      Bring that bike of yours down south, Jody! There are also quite a few mountain biking trails in the canyon, or you can stay on the road. I’m actually more scared of the rattlesnakes and scorpions, but thankfully we didn’t see either of those this weekend.

  8. ldsiebs

    Wow! Palo Duro Canyon is beautiful and your pictures are fantastic! I am betting an October visit will be much cooler! Good luck on your run and thank you for sharing such a wonderful post! We will have to make an effort to get out there soon!

  9. ArWalther

    Very interesting. I used to live in Amarillo and spent many days in Palo Duro. I always found it amazing how the earth opened up like that in such a flat, desolate place.

  10. Thomas

    Great pictures! …as usual. I was just telling my wife this morning about Palo Duro. I’ve been reading this book about the Comanche in Texas and Palo Duro figures prominently in that history. I’ll have to get out there to try to put it all into some perspective. I’d really like to do a short camping trip; I might even give that trail run a shot!

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