I took a trip to Palo Duro Canyon to ride off-road in June 2017. Wanted to take a week-long trip to a the Pacific Northwest, but with two daughters getting married this summer, the investment (of time and money) in a mountain biking trip was curtailed.
So I planned a short trip where I could take a car-ride, and spend less time and money. I had been to Palo Duro Canyon many years ago (short half-day, non-biking trip) with my family. So I checked out the Palo Duro Canyon State Park off-road trails on the park’s website and planned the trip.
Through the magic of Facebook, I recently re-connected with a college friend who rode mountain bikes. I met David Connel at the University of Texas at Austin. We had lost touch after college, but 33 years later re-connected on Facebook. He and his wife Amy are very active in outdoor activities (hiking, biking, skiing, camping, etc), and so I invited them to go with me to Palo Duro Canyon. David and I had not seen each other for 33 years, and I had never met Amy.
We loaded up our bikes and camping gear and drove out to Palo Duro Canyon. David and Amy drove their 4-wheel drive, extended-cab pickup truck with a bike rack on the back. We visited on the six hour drive from Plano, Texas to Palo Duro Canyon, beginning to catch up on the last 33 years of life. It was wonderful to share all the stories, joys, and sorrows of our lives.
Arriving in the mid-afternoon, at Cactus Camp, we unloaded our bikes and gear. I brought a Specialized Carve hardtail mountain bike with 29 inch wheels and disc brakes. We rode out to explore the canyon’s off-road biking trails for the first time. We rode the Lighthouse Trail, a moderate trail, hiked from the trail’s end to the park’s iconic Lighthouse rock formation, and back down the trail to our campsite. The ride was a good short ride to check out the park (about 9 miles).
After the exploratory ride, we made dinner and visited. I slept in my hammock, while David and Amy slept in the bed of their pickup truck. Went to sleep listening to the night sounds of a light breeze in the mesquite trees, crickets chirping their rhythmic song , a few raccoons rummaging through camp, and coyotes yip-yip-howling into the night. It was good to be camping in God’s creation.
The next morning we woke up to the sound morning sounds of many species of birds – doves cooing, woodpeckers tapping, wild turkeys gobbling, sparrows chirping, roadrunners, swifts, and swallows. A few wild turkeys would roam through our campsite several times over the next few days. We ate breakfast, geared up our hydration packs with water and supplies, and mounted up.
It was a warm, sunny day. We rode the Capitol Peak Trail, the Juniper Cliffside Trail, and the Juniper Riverside Trail back to our campsite. Ate lunch at our campsite. Amy stayed at camp while David and I and headed out to ride the Sunflower Trail, the Rojo Grande Trail, the Paseo del Rio Trail, the Givens Spicer Lowry Trail, and the Lighthouse Trail. We returned to camp on the Rojo Grande Trail and recovered, getting rehydrated and eating recovery food. I rode about 20 miles that day (see trail maps for details).
We changed into fresh clothes and took the truck to the outdoor amphitheater in the canyon floor. We bought tickets to the barbecue dinner and the Texas Outdoor Musical. The barbecue dinner hit the spot after a day’s ride – beef brisket, pulled pork, sausage, beans, potato salad, cole slaw, bread, peach cobbler, cherry cobbler, and other fixings. The musical was held in the outdoor amphitheater that held about 1,000 people – it comprised colorful costumes, lively dancing, singing, splendid fireworks, and drama about Texas and the local canyon. We returned to camp, showered and slept the night.
The next morning we awoke, ate breakfast, and saddled up for a hard day’s work – a ride from the canyon floor to the canyon rim. We rode the steep climb up the Rock Garden Trail to the Palo Duro Canyon Rim. The climb was filled with rock, boulders, and gravel – a rise in elevation of about 900 feet. Several places I got off and pushed the bike up the steep inclines, trail switchbacks, step ups, and rock structures. Had one fall near the top of the climb to the canyon’s rim. There was a large boulder encroaching onto the side of the thin singletrack trail along the canyon wall’s edge. My handlebars hit the boulder and I fell downhill into some bushes. I was thankful for the bushes – I landed on them (rather than on hard rock) and I was able to grab hold of them to keep me from tumbling down the steep slope of the cliffside. I extricated myself from the bushes, checked for injuries (minor abrasions on my lower legs), collected my bike and rode upward. I was glad for the cloud cover during the ride, keeping the temperature relatively cool (mid-80’s F) for most of the morning. We reached the rim about 10:30 am and rode the relatively flat Rylander Fortress Trail along the rim’s edge.
Then we headed back down the Rock Garden Trail from the canyon’s rim to the canyon floor. The ride down was technical and fun, riding both brakes to slow the descent speed, negotiating the trail’s switchbacks, step downs and rock structures. I got off the bike a few times to walk a few of the tougher obstacles.
We returned to camp, ate lunch and recovered from the morning ride. David and I rode Rojo Grande Trail, Paseo del Rio Trail, Givens Spicer Lowry Trail, Lighthouse Trail and returned to camp via the Rojo Grande Trail. I rode about 23 off-road miles that day.
We ate dinner, visited, showered and went to bed. I went to sleep thankful for good friends, grateful for the health God has given me, and amazed at all that God created at Palo Duro Canyon!
The next morning we awoke, packed up and left Palo Duro Canyon for the drive back to Plano, Texas. If you get a chance to ride Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas, it is worth the trip.