Photo Journal: Caprock Canyons Solitude

Caprock Canyons has had my attention for a few years, but I’d always driven just a bit further west to Palo Duro Canyon. A few weeks ago, after several days with a friend exploring the Palo Duro area, I was both tired and excited as I finished a good cheeseburger and departed Braums in Canyon, Texas, to make the 1.5 hour drive east to the thriving town of Quitaque, then just a few miles north to Caprock Canyons State Park. With the exception of leaving the general downtown Canyon area, I think I counted three cars on my entire drive.

Caprock is remote, and the folks who live out there have to be hearty. I enjoy the solitude in places like this. Upon check-in at the Visitor Center, I asked a Ranger about a specific trail – the short spur leading up to the Haynes Ridge Overlook – I wanted to shoot there at sunrise and knew it was steep. She grimaced a bit, sighed deeply, and strongly discouraged it, saying it was a quarter mile and 600 feet in elevation. "Not something I'd do at night." I asked if the trail was visible and she said yes, but reiterated I shouldn’t do it. The next morning, with a headlamp glowing on my forehead and flashlight piercing the darkness, I made my way up the steep switchback path. I've climbed many mountains, and in comparison, this hike up was much easier than I expected, even after a pretty terrible night of trying to sleep. I’ve done much worse. If one is accustomed to hiking mountains, this hike is fine. I’m still irritated by her negative slant, but I guess they may see folks that are not ready for rocky hiking trails. But I digress. And I should note that another Ranger I spoke with shortly afterwards oozed positivity and I could tell he loved the area and offered many suggestions for the best light.

OK... so back to my entrance. I had my camping site and headed into the park to check out where I'd rest my head for the next two nights… which turned out to be inside a fenced in area suited for horses and trailers. Each time I entered and departed, I’d have to open a swinging gate - slightly annoying, but not a big deal. I won’t go into all the details, but don't book a site that is next to the gate inside a horse stable. My sleeping area lit up every time a car came in. And with the temperatures in the low 80s, it was hard enough to sleep.

From here on, I’ll just hit the highlights.

First, I was glad to be in such a remote location when the Draconids meteor shower was taking place. After hiking some along the Upper South Prong Trail and photographing a really nice sunset of pink and blue, I set up my star tracker and waited until dark. About 8:30pm, I turned my camera to the north and began taking long exposures of the stars. The big dipper was clear as it slowly slid beneath the horizon. While the Draconids are not plentiful like some of the other annual meteor showers, the individual meteors are often bright and slow moving. Seen above the cliffs of Caprock Canyon, they make for a pretty amazing spectacle.

Draconids over Caprock Canyons 1008-2

A single meteor, one of the many Draconids that would flash this evening, moved slowly across the night sky in Caprock Canyons State Park. Shot here from the South Prong Overlook, this meteor originated in the northwest sky just over the Big Dipper. The night sky was taken with a star tracker about 45 minutes after sunset, then blended back into the foreground to show what our eyes can see, but the camera cannot capture. It was a beautiful show.

I spent a few sunrises atop Haynes Ridge (the hike up I mentioned earlier). The hike is short but steep. The path is clear and gives you a good stair-master sort of workout.

Caprock Canyons Autumn Sunrise 108-1

Descending a trail from high up on the North Prong Spur, I had to pause and take in this beautiful sunrise. The air was cool, but warming quickly, and all was quiet in this remote west Texas park.

The views from the overlook provide a glimpse of the orange landscape as it stretches out to the west. To the east, more canyon reaches into the distance. The trail continues east and eventually connects with the Upper South Prong Trail. And in all my time in this area, I did not see another person (nor any snakes, as I’d been warned I would).

Caprock Canyons Sunrise Panorama 106-1

From high up on Haynes Ridge, this panorama overlooks the valley below on a warm October sunrise. The colors of the canyon walls turned from dark hues to a beautiful orange over the course of the morning, an amazing sight to take in.

One afternoon, I hiked the Eagle Point Trail, venturing a little off trail to explore some washes lined with gypsum in their walls. The contrast of red and white was interesting, and the cool breeze kept the afternoon heat from rising too high.

Afternoon Colors of Caprock Canyon 109-1

White layers of gypsum fill this wash in Caprock Canyon State Park. If not for the 95 degree temps, you might think it was snow. I did like the contrast of the orange, white, and overhead blue sky on this beautiful morning of off-trail exploring.

Along this same trail is the Natural Bridge. The trick here is taking a side path that runs down beneath the trail to acquire a glimpse inside the tunnel. The glow of sunlight can often turn the rocks a brilliant orange.

Cavern beneath the Natural Bridge 1

The Natural Bridge is not far down the Eagle Point Trail heading south. But few venture beneath the bridge to see the underside of this amazing natural formation. From this perspective, the walls glow in an orange hue from the warming light on an October morning. At the other end of the tunnel, the green leaves of the trees can be seen, as well.

Back at the car when attempting to visit another location, I was held up by a heard of buffalo, and early one morning I saw a huge owl (A Great Horned Owl, I think. If not, it might have been the mothman!).

Buffalo of Caprock Canyons 1

Buffalo are icons of the old west, and in Caprock Canyons State Park, the largest herd of buffalo in the United States roams within the park boundaries.

I look forward to returning to Caprock to explore more areas. It seems the opportunities are endless. And I did love the solitude, for sure.

Thanks for coming along with me on these adventures. I hope to share more soon.

Safe travels, my friends.

~ Rob

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South Prong Trail 108-3

Clouds change from white to pink to darker hues over Caprock Canyons State Park on a cool October evening. This view comes from the beginning of the Upper South Prong Trail.

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