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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Palo Duro Canyon State Park north of Lubbock

I realized this morning that I have a four-day weekend this weekend! What to do? Drive to Lubbock to visit my friend Mark, an old army buddy of mine I met in Germany after completing a 50km Volksmarch in 1996. I've promised to visit him since I got back to Texas last November. I called him tonight and he's all for a weekend get-away. I told him about Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo and how I want to see the "Texas Grand Canyon." That state park intrigued me when I first read about it in the Texas State Park booklet printed every year, noting the colorful redrock strata canyon in an area more known for its Panhandle Plains. I didn't think there was anything worth seeing in the Panhandle until I read about Palo Duro Canyon. If there are rocks, canyons, vistas and trails, I am game.

"I've been looking to go there with someone!" he replied excitedly. It was exactly what I wanted to hear, too. Mark knows me as a (former) extreme active/outdoors kind of person who prefers hiking boots over stillettos any day.

He lives about 100 miles south of the state park and had never been there. He's lived in the Texas Panhandle since 1977 and has never visited the park? That is hard to believe. I'd have been there and Caprock Canyon State Park a few times by now and learned all the trails!

Mark has two German Shepherd Dogs but I told him the dogs were welcome in the park as long as they were leashed. The five-mile out-and-back trail to the "Lighthouse," the famous redrock protrusion along the canyon rim, should be ideal if the dogs aren't used to long treks. I'll make sure I have plenty of water in my backpack for everyone.

"It's going to be cold here, though!" Mark warned me before we hung up. And he is right: My research shows the highs will be in the low 50s/high 40s, with lows in the 20s. That's ten degrees colder on both ends than Central Texas right now.

Another park nearby that seems just as intriguing is Caprock Canyon State Park a bit further to the southeast of Palo Duro.

I haven't been to Lubbock since late 2000 when I last visited Mark on my move from California to New Jersey. I don't remember much of the town, other than that it smelled badly those few days because a mill was in full operation. We toured the National Ranching Heritage Museum and ate lunch at a nice restaurant with a real tree in the corner one that was close to the Texas Tech Campus. The depot district, according to some updated city websites, now is home to some campus-friendly eateries, including a new Triple J Chophouse and Brewery...just my ideal post-hike place to eat and unwind.

It's a six-hour drive, maybe longer since I tend to stop to read the many Texas Historical Commission markers along the roads. That gives us two full days of exploring the region. The drive alone on Hwy 84 will be interesting enough. I remember seeing abandoned adobe homes driving that highway to Gatesville back in 2000.

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