Photo Journal: Palo Duro Layover

Palo Duro Canyon

Several weeks ago, I set off for Colorado, eagerly anticipating photographing Autumn’s splendor in the Rocky Mountains for ten beautiful days. But I also recognized that I’d be driving right by Palo Duro Canyon as I made my way north. I’d planned on camping at PDC both going and coming and shooting a few sunrises and sunsets.

My goal for the first evening was Red Star Hoodoo and the Devil’s Tombstone – about a mile apart and both along the Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail (GSL). After a 7.5 hour-drive, I checked in at the Ranger Station and drove to my camping spot, a fly-infested dirt pullout at the Fortress Cliff Camp Area. The site was fine. The flies were a problem.

I made my way about a mile to the trailhead. After some mulling over which exact trail was the GSL, I made an semi-educated guess and started the mile up and down and around bends and ridges across the red-dirt landscape. I did stop a few times to check the GPS because the GSL trail is not clearly marked at the beginning (or at least I missed it). Even with a large sign, there were two trails and neither were marked as far as I could tell. Perhaps they were and I was too tired from staring at the road to notice, but I did check. Nevertheless, about 30 minutes later, Red Star appeared three-fourths up the ridge to my right.

Here’s where the fun began. Red Star Hoodoo is an impressive rock formation set between the trail and Red Star Ridge. While I could photograph this hoodoo from the path, I wanted something more unique that captured its beauty as well as the surrounding red-rocked canyon. So up the slope I went. The rock and dirt were not too slippery. They did present some challenges, and my ascent up the slope to gain the plateau on which Red Star rested was not without a few slips and choice words. Almost unscathed, though, I eventually stood at the side of this large structure and enjoyed the view in the late afternoon.

Red Star in the Late Afternoon 928-1

It’s a little sketchy climbing up to this point, but the view of Red Star with the rising cliffs in the distance was worth it. This is an often overlooked hoodoo, but worth exploring when you are in the area. Just a mile further is also the Devil’s Tombstone, and the two make for a nice walk to see the unique landscape in this corner of Palo Duro Canyon.

While in this area, I scouted out some sites for sunset photography, as well as some nighttime and star photography (more on that in another blog).

After this, I started the walk to the next goal – the Devil’s Tombstone. From there, I’d decide where to shoot at sunset.

A mile later, this unique formation came into view – a hoodoo with a large slab of rock precariously balanced on its top. The trail to this point is pretty easy – just lots of ups and downs and arounds. To gain a better view of this hoodoo, and a better angle for photography, a little scrambling was required. So I set out heading up an eroding, sketchy slope that could have just as easily been loose marbles rather than rock. It was a frustrating endeavor. Even when I set my tripod in the rock/dirt, it would often slide, sometimes slowly, sometimes more quickly. About half of my RAW files from this slope came out slightly blurred (insert angry face here). Still, I had a few I liked.

Devil's Tombstone Late Afternoon 928-2

The iconic Devil’s Tombstone sits just off the Givens, Spicer, Lowry (GSL) Trail in Palo Duro Canyon. A hoodoo that balances a large flat rock on top, it is a sight to see. Climbing up the slope seen here to capture the image offered a great view, but the rock was like loose marbles - slippy with every step.

Devil's Tombstone Panorama 928-1

From a precarious slope near the Devil's Tombstone, this panorama shows the iconic hoodoo as well as the vast, rugged landscape in Palo Duro Canyon. Just off the GSL Trail, this area is beautiful and worthy of some exploration.

A skinned knee and bleeding wrist later, and after exploring both sides of the Devil’s Tombstone, I decided Red Star would be better for sunset and headed back down the trail to set up for the last light of day. Here are a few photos from that area as the sun briefly tinted the clouds with some nice orange and pink hues.

Red Star Hoodoo at Sunset 928-1

Red Star Hoodoo is one of the lesser known gems of Palo Duro Canyon. This image was taken on a warm September evening as the sun settled behind Red Star Ridge. The last colors of daylight seemed to paint the landscape in dark hues of red and orange.

Red Star Hoodoo at Sunset 928-2

A ways down the GSL Trail in Palo Duro - and a bit off the beaten path - Red Star Hoodoo stands tall in the evening light. Though not as popular as its famous neighbor, the Lighthouse, Red Star is still a. magnificient structure - and the trail is far less crowded. I only encountered one biker the entire 3 hours I was out.

After sunset, I moved further away from Red Star and took a few images with various contraptions to capture both Red Star and the night sky. I’ll share those later when I finish editing them.

The night was hot. It was 86 degress when I pulled back into my campsite. Flies were everywhere so I stayed in the back of my 4Runner (I had a nice air mattress so it was comfortable enough – just hot – but at least the flies were kept at bay.

The next morning I’d planned on another hike before sunrise, but with an 8.5 hour drive in front of me, I decided to take the low-hanging fruit and photograph sunrise from the visitor center above the canyon. This is an easy place to photograph and has been done a zillion times, but it is still nice.

September Sunrise in Palo Duro Canyon 28-1

With a little touch of fall colors, this photograph shows a chilly late September sunrise looking over the famous Texas canyon. Autumn can be beautiful here, and the cold mornings make it feel even better!

A few snaps of the shutter and I was on my way to cooler weather and beautiful fall colors.

Happy Travels, Texas

~ Rob

Images from Texas

Red Star Hoodoo is one of the lesser known gems of Palo Duro Canyon. This image was taken on a warm September evening as the...

Red Star Hoodoo at Sunset 928-1

Red Star Hoodoo is one of the lesser known gems of Palo Duro Canyon. This image was taken on a warm September evening as the sun settled behind Red Star Ridge. The last colors of daylight seemed to paint the landscape in dark hues of red and orange.