Photo Journal: Thankful In Palo Duro Canyon - November 2019

The week before Thanksgiving, a friend and I set out for a quick hiking and photography trip to Palo Duro Canyon. This gem in the Texas panhandle is one of my favorite areas as well as one of my best-selling locations for prints.

My friend, Dave, is not a photographer, but was very patient with my photograph-making. He’s a former military guy, so he’s keen on exploring and doesn’t mind getting up well before sunrise or staying out long after sunset. For his patience, his company, and our time to explore the amazing area of Texas, I am thankful!

We set out on Sunday morning at 6am from the Hill Country and made the long drive up to Canyon for a mid-afternoon lunch. I try to get out to Palo Duro a time or two a year, and one of my go-to places for food is Feldman’s Wrong Way Diner. So of course, we made the stop here for a burger – our last real meal for the next 36 hours.

Good food; good talk. Then we drove the 10 miles to the state park, made our way to a campsite where Dave set up his tent and I readied my gear.

While I’ve been out to the Lighthouse several times, Dave had not, so we planned an evening hike to shoot this iconic location at sunset. The Lighthouse Trail starts out leading directly to Capitol Peak. We paused here for a few minutes as the summit of Capitol Peak would be our destination for a sunrise shoot the next morning. We walked to the left and back of the small rocky mountain (would you call it a mountain?). After some discussion, and based off suggestions from my friend, the Caprock Canyoneer, we figured the best route was the direct route up. From there, we set out to make the nearly 3 mile walk to the Lighthouse.

The walk out to the Lighthouse is easy. The last quarter-mile is more uphill but still relatively easy. From the small plateau at the base of the Lighthouse, the views are amazing. Here are a few images from our time there, including a few sunset photographs showing the brilliant sunset we were able to experience.

Late Afternoon at the Lighthouise 1124-1

The Lighthouse stands above the beautiful valley in Palo Duro Canyon State Park on a cool November afternoon. The hike to this point is easy - covering around 3 miles, and the views along the way are colorful and spectacular.

November Sunset at the Lighthouse - Palo Duro 1124-3

The last light of daylight fades over the iconic Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon.

Lighthouse at Sunset Panorama 11-1

The last light of sunset turned the sky a beautiful orange and blue at the iconic Lighthouse in Palo Duro Canyon. This November evening was cold, but the landscape stunning in this hidden Texas gem.

This panorama from Palo Duro Canyon is available in larger sizes.

One of the more humorous sights I’ve seen in a long time occurred here, as well. While Dave and I were taking in the views before sunset, a Japanese family arrived. The mother of the group of five seemed to be wearing a pink onesie outfit and that looked very much like a pink bunny costume. But she didn’t have footsies on. Instead, she wore flip-flops. We tried to converse with them (we’re generally friendly folks) but I do not think they spoke English. Alas, we tried.

The walk back to the car was quick and uneventful, though the temperature quickly dropped after sunset and fell into the low 30s. While Dave was in his tent, I had spread out a few sleeping bags in the back of my 4Runner and slept there. I ended up double-bagging myself and shivered through the night, but that made it easier to get out of the sack and get moving.

Back to the Lighthouse Trail – and we found ourselves looking up the dark crevices of Capitol Peak. Upward we went. Most of the way was loose rock but fairly easily navigate. A few places required using hands, and in one spot I had to remove my backpack, place it up on a higher ledge, then pull myself up to that ledge. At last, 350 feet higher, we stood atop the summit, enjoying an amazing view back east and the orange glow on the horizon. Here is a photo of Dave at the top:

As an added bonus, the crescent moon floated just above the horizon and about 30 minutes ahead of the sun.

Moonrise from Capitol Peak, Palo Duro 1124-1

The waning crescent moon rises over Palo Duro Canyon on this cold November morning. Seen here from the summit of Capitol Peak, the vally is still asleep in the sub-30 degree weather.

It was such a sliver that it soon disappeared as the daylight took over the morning sky. A few views below show the beautiful colors of the canyon as it glowed red and orange in the soft new light.

Capitol Peak Sunrise - Palo Duro Canyon 1125-1

The first rays of daylight stream across Palo Duro Canyon on a cold November morning. Seen here from the top of Capitol Peak, the valley below is still sleeping and coverd in frost.

Palo Duro from Capitol Peak before Sunrise 1125-1

From the top of Capitol Peak, this photograph shows the amazing colors of both the rock and sky about 15 minutes before sunrise over Palo Duro Canyon.

Panorama from Capitol Peak at Sunrise - Palo Duro 1125-1

Palo Duro Canyon is one of the gems of the Texas State Parks system. From the parking lot to the summit of Capitol Peak, the hike is only about .7 miles, but the last quarter mile is an 350’ uphill scramble over loose and crumbling rock. But the views are unforgettable. With layers of the canyon walls showing off their morning glow of orange, the landscape changes its tones and hues over the 30 minutes before and after sunrise. While the temperatures on this November morning were in the high 20s and the hike up in the dark was a bit sketchy, I was glad I made the journey.

This panorama is available in larger and custom sizes.

Here are a few photos of us in action - me shooting from the top and Dave on his way down:

After sunrise, it was back to the car with a seven hour drive home in front of us. I am thankful for the time out in this magnificent area - and for good friends. We’re already making plans to return and explore more of the secrets of Palo Duro. In the meantime, safe travels, Texas!

~ Rob

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November Sunset at the Lighthouse - Palo Duro 1124-1

A beautfiul sunset highlights this iconic rock formation in Palo Duro Canyon. As the payoff of an easy 3 mile walk, the Lighthouse serves as one of the most well known sights in the Texas panhandle.

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