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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!).
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.