Category: Hiking

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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Punch Bowl Falls Hike in the Columbia River Gorge

My last day in Oregon my daughter and I spent an afternoon hiking in the Columbia River Gorge. We stopped off at Multnomah Falls and then did an easy four mile round-trip hike to Punchbowl Falls. Usually I would choose a longer, more challenging hike, but I was still sore from Sunday’s half marathon in Eugene and needed something tame.

After two days of rain and temperatures cold enough to keep me curled up on the sofa under a down blanket, the day of our hike was dry and somewhat sunny. I was amazed you could leave your house in Portland, hit the freeway, and be on a secluded forest trail within thirty minutes.

The freeway runs right along the Columbia River–the same river that took Lewis and Clark to their final destination, the Pacific Ocean. Even though we were on a major highway the scenery was lush and green, and there were numerous waterfalls cascading off the sides of the gorge. I think we must have seen close to twenty waterfalls the entire day.

We made a quick stop at Multnomah Falls. Lovely.

Multnomah Falls

At the base of the falls

Multnomah

After that, it was a very short drive to the Punchbowl Falls trail head. I was surprised that you have to pay to park, but I suppose the trail can get crowded on the weekends being so close to a major city like Portland. On a Wednesday afternoon, we only saw three other people on the trail.

I don’t believe I’ve ever seen so many different shades of green in one space. I loved the moss growing on the trees.

Moss covered trees on the trail

I have a potted fern on my front porch. It’s always shriveled and dried up. It doesn’t like living in Texas. Now I know why.  They grow wild here in Oregon.

Ferns

The trail parallels Eagle Creek the entire way.

Eagle Creek

We saw several of these guys on the path. The forest was so moist and mossy, it must be paradise for a slug.

Huge slug–Yuck!

I’m always amazed at how tall the trees are in Oregon. I can only imagine how tall the old growth forest was before the settlers arrived.

Beautiful trees

I was glad I wore my raincoat when the trail took us through a small waterfall.

Spring runoff

Behind the waterfall

There were many varieties of wildflowers, including the delicate Columbine, which tends to grow on the sides of wet cliffs and along the banks of shady rivers, lakes, and streams.

Columbine and my lovely daughter

Wildflowers on the trail

A small spur off the side of the trail leads to Metlako Falls. Apparently it’s been a very rainy spring, even for Oregon, and the waterfalls are extra spectacular this year.

Metlako Falls

After an easy two mile hike, which included some scrambling over a small stream, we reached Punchbowl Falls. I’m sure it’s named as such due to the round basin the waterfall spills into. I know people must jump off the cliffs into the pool because there was a sign warning us not to.

Punchbowl Falls

After the hike, we drove on part of the old highway along the Columbia River to find Bridal Veil Falls. For some strange reason we found the bridge named after the waterfall, but not the waterfall itself.

My specialty is missing what’s right in front of my face, and apparently I’ve passed the trait on to my daughter.

We decided to console ourselves with post hike beers at McMenamin’s Edgefield. It was a great way to celebrate a fantastic hike and my last day in Oregon with my truly wonderful daughter. Though I hate that she lives so far away, she’s chosen a great place for me to visit!