Palo Duro State Park was the primary destination of our seven-night, Palo Duro/Caprock Canyon/Abilene State Park adventure in May, 2011. Palo Duro is about 500 miles NNW from Austin, Texas. To make the driving more bearable, we decided to break up the trip by staying at a KOA in Abilene the first night.
When we arrived at Palo Duro, we were greeted by very friendly and informative park staff. They provided us with a map of the park that included the hiking, biking, running, horse trails, and points of interest - like directions to the famous lighthouse formation.
Since all of the camp sites are located inside the canyon, you have to descend down a 10% grade road to get to your assigned site. Along the way the views were incredible!
Within 30 minutes of arriving at our camp site, a deer (not more than 4 feet away) startled me as I rounded the back side of our RV. The empty camp site across from us was occupied by a full grown tom turkey. We saw over 25 female and younger toms since we have visited the park.
We spotted several species of birds (cardinals, woodpeckers, and even a painted bunting). Needless to say, there was plenty of wildlife in the park.
From the trail head to the lighthouse and back is about 6 miles. The terrain is very rocky and dessert-like. The trail is mostly gentle slopes made up of red rocks and very fine red dirt. (we're still trying to get the red dirt out of our white socks)
Our hike began around 10am - much later than we had planned. The sky was clear, the temperature was about 75 degrees and the wind was calm. We started out with one 16 ounce water bottle each and a small bag of trail mix.
At the trail head, there was a map and sign that recommended a gallon of water per person. We felt hydrated and decided we had enough water, so we ignored the recommendation and headed out.
The topography was very beautiful and we stopped frequently to take pictures of everything. After about an hour of picture taking, we realized that we had only gone about 1 mile. We thought we'd better pick up the pace if we were going to make it to the lighthouse.
Along the way, we didn't see much wildlife, but we spotted this colorful aqua lizard that I believe is called a Mountain Boomer.
As we approached mile two of our three mile hike to the lighthouse, the sun began to warm the air, but all is well and we continued on.
We didn't see many people along the way. Most of the time you could look a mile in any direction and not see a soul. We had the place to ourselves.
When we approached the base of the lighthouse, an older woman was sitting on a bench in the shade. We greeted her and made small talk about the weather and such while we prepared ourselves for the final leg of the hike up to the lighthouse.
The trail up to the peak was slippery due to the fine red dirt covering the smooth rocks along the steep trail. We carefully made our way to the top and it was definitely worth the effort. There was a beautiful breathtaking view no matter which direction you turned.
We ascended to the platform that separates the two formations, and it was time to relax and take in the fabulous views.
At the top of the lighthouse formation, the air was dry and very breezy. If felt good for a while, but we knew that we should be heading back soon. After all, we still had three miles of hiking left and we drank almost all of our water. We were going to have to make it back on our own internal reserves.
The hike back was hot, dry and difficult. The temperature had climbed into the 90s. The only shade along the way was this small tree overhanging the trail. We took advantage of it for a few minutes before continuing on.
When we hike this trail again, we will take about 3-times the water that we took and maybe some more trail mix too!
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is an excellent park and extremely interesting. During our three day visit, we hiked over 20 miles of trails, saw an abundance of wildlife, and ate a delicious hamburger at the park store.
See the map below for the location of Palo Duro State Park