Thursday, November 23, 2017

Finding Flint and Family

We left Palo Duro Canyon and made our way out of the state park on that steep 10% grade to the high plains of Texas. Our next destination is Panhandle, Texas, where Mark's 92-year-old Aunt Eva lives. We should have taken a picture of Eva, who still lives by herself in her home. But we weren't there very long before it was time to go to the pep rally. It's the last football game of the regular season, and Eva's great-granddaughter is a high school cheerleader. She's up on stage encouraging the entire student body to give the football boys the loudest send-off possible. It's been a while since we've been to a pep rally, so it was a fun bit of Texas football fun.

But our final destination is a special camping spot overlooking Lake Meredith.

Our cousins Kent and Lynn have a full-hookup RV site beside their house overlooking the lake. They backed up their motor home so we could fit our rig beside the electric plug and we were set for the night!

We got a tour of their acreage overlooking the lake before a west Texas sunset lit up the sky. Then we went inside and had a wonderful meal and lots of good visiting.

This little piece of the Texas panhandle has a special resource not found anywhere else, and we're headed to Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument to see it for ourselves. We called the visitor center to make a reservation for the ranger-led hike at 10:00. It involved a two-mile drive, and then a one-mile hike through these hills.

After a mile of mostly up-hill walking, the round common-looking stones turned into these jagged flint rocks.

We had never seen a big flint boulders before. This flint was better than gold to the Indians that lived on these plains hundreds of years ago. Flint is a very hard rock that can be shaped into arrowheads and spears for hunting. It will hold a razor-sharp edge that can be lethal. Before the days of metal, it was the best cutting edge available.

With mineral deposits that have added streaks of color in the stone, Alibates flint is also beautiful.

Most of the flint we are finding on the ground are pieces with cracks or impurities that make it unfit for fashioning it into a tool. The Indians from this area mined the best pieces, chipping it into a flat blank about the size of a deck of cards. That piece was then traded to other tribes for the beads or shells or pelts prevalent in other areas. Because of this trading process, this Alibates flint can be found among native American artifacts hundred of miles away.

We love it when our travels weave together stories. Last week we visited the Blackwater Draw Museum in Clovis, New Mexico, seeing hundreds of arrowheads made from the flint mined from the quarries where we are now standing. Similarly, a month ago we visited the Navajo National Monument and saw weapons made from this flint mine. We also read about the "Long Walk" of the Navajos, and then weeks later traveled to Bosque Redondo where the walk ended. It's like reading a history book with field trips that bring it all to life for us.

We are enjoying some fine weather for November. This snake was also enjoying the sunshine, even though he wasn't moving very fast on our trail. This little guy was less than two feet long, but he was centered on the trail to absorb as much warmth as possible.

We only had four people in our ranger-led tour of the flint quarries, and it was fun to exchange stories with the other two avid hikers. The ranger told us that it is fine to pick up and look at the flint on the national monument, but it is illegal to take any home. The area is very closely monitored with locked gates and rangers to preserve this piece of history for others to experience.

Again, we enjoyed a little-known national monument. Even though we are getting very close to where we lived most of our lives, we had never even heard of Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument. Between the flint and family, it was a great stop for us in the Texas panhandle.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Hiking to Palo Duro Canyon's Lighthouse

On our last day at Palo Duro Canyon, we were greeted by this roadrunner. We've seen several of these guys running down the road, but today he was meandering through our campground in the nice weather.

We too are enjoying the warmer temperatures and sun shine. Mark has been looking longingly at that hill behind our camp site since we arrived. As you can see from the picture below, he has decided to climb it today. He's standing in front of that large boulder close to the top.

From there we can see the motor home and our neighbors in the campground below. We are enjoying plenty of space, and a private covered picnic table here in Mesquite campground at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. We also have found that this is about the only place down in the canyon that has AT&T phone service and an over-the-air television signal.

Mark looks good up at the top standing against that bright blue sky. He assured Denisa that it was an easy climb, so she joined him up there.

That hill is made up of round clay pebbles that we disdainfully call "roll-ders." Trying to hike downhill is akin to rollerskating at an 80-degree angle. It was tough getting down and we entertained several of our neighbors who were pretty sure we were nuts for trying it.

The real hike planned for the day is to the state park's iconic rock formation--The Lighthouse. It's a 2.7 mile hike across the canyon floor on a relatively flat trail. We were really disappointed when we got to the end of the trail, with no lighthouse in sight.

It's a good thing that we had read that this is where the real work begins. We saw other hikers turn around at the "end of trail" sign, but we knew to head straight up the hill in front of us.

It was a tough scramble, but the pay-off was good. We could see the light(house) at the end of the tunnel. We have proof that we made it, as you can see Denisa standing in front of Lighthouse Rock in the picture below.

Once we climbed to this level, there was a nice flat cap-stone walkway that connected it to other rock formations.

It was a grand place to be on a pretty weather afternoon in November!

Mark scrambled up beside another of the tall rocks in this part of the canyon for another grand view.

Mark was pretty sure we could find an easier way down, so we followed the wash for a while. It looks like this wash turns into a waterfall when it rains here in the canyon. So much for our easy way down.

This time of year it's tough to find the pretty flower blooms that Denisa loves. But some of the cactus here have turned a delicate color of pink that is as pretty as a flower.

Those cactus also make a good hiding place for this long bullsnake trying to soak up a little sunshine after several cold days.

We were glad to see his round eyes and thumb-shaped head--indicators that he was a non-venomous snake.

After we scrambled down more roll-ders we finally got back to the trail. But now we were met with another kind of danger--mountain bikers! It's scary to meet one riding fast around a blind curve, or have one catch up with you coming over a hill. An unusually large number of bikers were on the trails today, since Palo Duro is hosting their annual bike marathon this weekend. In fact, we have to leave because all the camping spots have been reserved by bikers. To tell you the truth, after the anxiety of hiking with so many two-wheelers on the trail today, we're content to leave the canyon and the trails to the 200 mountain bikers that will be racing here tomorrow.

As we drove back to our campground, we saw a large flock of turkeys. So we had some good wildlife sightings today. We started and ended our day with bird sightings at Palo Duro Canyon. We've enjoyed our four days here, but we're ready to head down the road tomorrow.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

When the Weather Turns Cold . . .

We had some cool and windy weather while we were camping at Palo Duro Canyon, but we still got out to do some hiking. One afternoon we hiked the Rock Garden Trail, named for the huge boulders littering the bottom of the canyon in this area.

There are plenty of those boulders along the trail, just waiting for someone to scramble to the top for views as we climbed higher.

After a couple miles, we got to the top of the canyon wall, where we could see all around us. We don't have sunshine today, and jackets were greatly appreciated with the winds at the top. The trail continues along this rim for miles, and the only way to get here is up the Rock Garden Trail.

As we hiked along the rim, we saw some movement on the canyon wall below us. Are those big horn sheep?

Once we got a better look, we realized that these were not the big horn sheep we had seen in other parks this year. They are larger, with impressive shaggy hair hanging from their throats and front legs. These are aoudad, a north African sheep. A small herd was shipped to Texas in the 1950's and it is estimated that more than 25,000 now live in the United States.

We feel lucky to see these two big guys, as they blend in well with their surroundings. It was fun to watch them make their way across the steep canyon walls. It's hard to spot them in the picture below, as they are making their way across the rocky top of the canyon rim.

On these windy days, we also spent some time relaxing inside the motor home. Denisa got out our line dance music and got some exercise dancing inside. The picture also represents other rainy-day entertainment. You can see Denisa's piano on the far left of the picture, and Mark's entertainment is that old western movie playing on the television. We were shocked to find we had a reasonable over-the-air TV signal down in the canyon.

On another day, we headed to the nearby town of Canyon, Texas. Mark has been shopping for new tires for our car, and we had them installed in Canyon. Between the miles we drive and tow the car, we are finding that tires wear out fast. 

We were looking for a good indoor activity for a cold day, so we headed to the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum in Canyon. This is touted as the largest history museum in Texas, and we're pretty sure it would take several days to see everything. A large section on the oil and gas history of the Texas Panhandle includes a full-size drilling platform.

A large room explains the advent of the windmill. It was a perfect instrument to use the prevalent wind to bring water to this desert landscape.

There were rooms of dinosaur skeletons and Indian artifacts. We have been impressed with the immense size of the bison we have seen on several occasions this year. But the bison head on the far left looks small when compared to the skulls of its relatives that used to roam this Texas panhandle.

It looks like Denisa has sprouted horns, but she is really there to show just how big the Bison Latifrons was.

We've had some temperatures in the upper 20's at night, so we are running our gas heater to keep our water pipes from freezing. With day time temperatures in the 50's, fall is reminding us why we are usually heading south about now. But we see a trend of warmer temperatures coming, and we have one more hike planned in the canyon before we leave.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Visiting the Second Largest Canyon in North America

Just a few miles down the road from our campground in Clovis, New Mexico, we crossed another state border into Texas. Just like the welcoming sign, we are driving friendly--the Texas way. We were also crossing into the central time zone. We lost an hour moving time zones, but gained an hour with the daylight savings time change. So we didn't even have to change our clocks!

It seems that as soon as we crossed the Texas state line, the dairy farms turned to feed yards. As we drove through towns with names like "Bovina" and "Hereford," we would agree with the sign that proclaims this as the beef capitol of the world.

As we drove across the flat high plains, it's hard to imagine that the country's second largest canyon is right in front of us. We have arrived at Palo Duro State Park!

We stopped at the ranger station to pay for four nights of camping, then headed down into the canyon. The warning sign lets visitors know they are going down at a 10% grade.

It is a narrow, winding, steep road, but is definitely do-able for RVs. We were glad that we didn't meet anyone coming out of the canyon on the switch-backs.

There are four different campgrounds at Palo Duro Canyon. We chose Mesquite--the furthest from the entry and perhaps the prettiest. Our first assigned site wasn't level enough for a motor home, but we really liked our second site. The only thing we don't like about Texas State Parks is that they assign the sites when you enter. Changing it meant a drive all the way up to the entrance at the top of the canyon wall.

While we made that drive, we also took one of the hikes close to the entrance. You can do this hike from the top or the bottom of that 600-foot-tall canyon wall. Because we like mountain climbing over canyoning, we drove to the bottom and then hiked up. Then it felt like we were mountain climbing! This gave us a birds-eye view of the amphitheater, seen in the bottom left corner in the picture below.

In the summer, a talented cast brings to life the play "Texas" in this amphitheater. We saw it 28 years ago. We know the year because our oldest son was just a year old at the time. Mark's delightful cousin, Matt, lives in Canyon. He offered to baby-sit not only our son, but our nephew as well. We still laugh at the picture of him holding a howling one-year-old in each arm while we were enjoying the play. We got to visit Matt, reminiscing about that trip. He hasn't had a baby-sitting experience quite like that one in the last 28 years.

The hike took us to Goodnight Peak, for some of the best views of Palo Duro Canyon. Most people would be content with this view at the summit of the hike. But not Mark--he was looking longingly at that unobtainable peak over his right shoulder.

Yes, he would find a way to climb down off the steep ledge to get closer.

Yes, he would climb across the ridge. So he is standing next to the sheer wall that should prevent him from getting to the top of that next level.

Yes, he would make it all the way to the end of that tricky scramble. You can barely see him proudly standing on the edge of that "unobtainable peak."

Since he took a camera with him, he could take a picture back towards where the sane people stop hiking. That's Denisa standing on the peak where everyone else would be happy to stop.

The only thing harder than scrambling up to that peak, is finding a way to get back down. While Mark was working on that feat, Denisa took pictures of the "Spanish skirt" rock formations at the bottom of the canyon.

We continued our hike on the CCC Trail, named for the work done in the 1930's by the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps. They built many of the trails and cabins still used here at Palo Duro Canyon.

We hiked all the way to the top of the canyon and the end of the trail, then looked through the museum housed in another CCC building. We had to hurry back down to the bottom of the canyon, as the sun was getting low in the sky. Darn this time change and these short days. We barely made it back to the car before we caught our first Palo Duro Canyon sunset. I think we're going to like it here!