April 20th: The Canyon Country of Northwest Texas
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
We got an early start out of Albuquerque - around 6:30. We were glad to bid the Crappy Motel 6 good-bye and be on our way.
Click on the photos below for a larger image.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is one of many pubic recreation facilities which the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) had a hand in building. And here we see classic CCC work. Use of local materials, superior craftsmanship, and built to last - the hallmarks of the CCC.
This 1930s era structure was originally built as a water tank which held 10,00 gallons. It serviced the former El Coronado Lodge (now the Visitors Center) until 2005 when a new water line made it obsolete.
In 2011 it was converted to rest rooms thus saving this historic structure.
There is a good park history page here if you would like more info.
By the way - Palo Duro is Spanish for strong stick. This alluded to the tough and durable (duro) wood of the mesquite tree.
Before starting out on our hike we stopped at the office to get some trail details and find out about local hotels.
I mentioned to the contact person we were planning on hiking the Light House Trail which our trip advisor Donna had suggested. Upon hearing this the park staff person asked if we were experienced hikers. I said yes. She then suggested we take an alternate route which would be much more interesting, all be it a bit longer by several miles. She suggested the Givens, Spicer, Lowery trail out to the Light House Trail to the end of the trail and then an about face. We took her advice and were mighty glad we did.
The faint pink line is our route.
By the time we got to the trail head it was about 12:30 - a late start for an 80 degree day under full sun. Fortunately a cooling breeze made it seem less torrid.
After a hasty lunch of peanut butter sandwiches we got our packs in order with lots of water and food and headed down the trail.
Here is some typical scenery along our trail route. Lots of Juniper, Mesquite, Yucca and tons of Prickly Pear (Opuntia) cacti.
The spring rains had worked their magic and we saw many wild flowers in bloom.
In some areas the Opuntia was a nearly solid ground cover. There were thousands of developing flower buds in evidence.
In very short order we began to understand why the park staffer had suggested this trail.
Obviously a heavily used trail. We were glad it was dry or the trail would have been a slimy, slippery mess.
Soon the scenery was looking more and more Sedona like.
A Happy Hiker.
Betsy dubbed this formation "Cock Rock".
Nearby was "Nipple Peak". Nice!
The trail lost and gained elevation which made for constantly changing views - often of the same formations.
A short break and we were again on our way.
As you can see, the scenery was gorgeous and it just kept getting better.
We recognized most of the wild flowers we saw but for the most part the names eluded us.
We love that red rock! And the contrasting bands of quartz (?) made the red color really pop.
We finally figured out that all the rock slabs lying about must have been on eroded pillars as well.
There were few birds about and it was tricky getting the glasses on them.
My, oh, my - oh my!
Was there a "forest" of pillared slabs here at one time?
Palo Duro Canyon is relatively small but some of the views were quite expansive.
It was hard to quite snappin'!
We saw very few tree remains and this was conveniently right along the trail.
More lovely wild flowers.
Here we are at trails end doing what we should not do - feeding the wildlife.
This Scrub Jay was obviously used to being fed.
We had planned to chill at this rest spot for a while longer but were constantly pestered by small biting flies so we moved on.
I got snap happy on the way back as these photos will attest.
Another nice view of Nipple Peak.
The sign says "Buena Vista". As if one needed to be told this.
We got lucky and came across this Collared Lizard enjoying a bit of trailside basking.
He seemed not too worried about us getting close. I guess the rocket speed with which they can move allows them to wait until they really need to move.
You lookin' at me??!!
I finally got close enough for him to bolt - but only a few feet to a nearby boulder.
We arrived back at the van tired, sweaty and hot. We had been out for just over 4 hours. By now it was 5:00 and we had missed our Happy Hour. But we would make up for that later at the Buffalo Motel in Canyon.
I stopped on the way out of the canyon to get some snaps. Quite a beautiful place.
And with that we drove the 12 miles into the town of Canyon, picked up a couple of MickyD's salads, checked into the hotel and then enjoyed the last remaining rays of sun with our Happy Hour.
Cap Rock Canyon State Park.
See you then - Mike and Betsy
Part 5 - April 21st
The Wrap Up - A Quick Look Around Quitaque TX
and Cap Rock Canyon State Park: The Hike that Wasn't
When last we spoke we had just taken a gorgeous hike in Palo Duro Canyon (see above) and then gotten settled into our somewhat overpriced ($80)motel in Canyon the "Historic" Buffalo Inn. The Buffalo is one of the many "rescue operations" we have seen. What is a "rescue operation" as it relates to a hotel you ask? It is when a run down, ready to be closed or already closed motel is brought back to life - generally by Indians from the state of Gujarat. These motels are sometimes referred to as "Patel Motels".
The "Patel hotel" or "Patel motel" phenomenon, as it is popularly known, has made a major impact on the American hospitality industry.
A sizable number of Indian immigrants to the United States came in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of them worked in blue collar jobs and saved up to buy undervalued or dilapidated properties, turning them into businesses. As many as 50% of mid-sized motels and hotel properties all over the US are owned by people of Indian origin. Of this nearly one-third have the surname Patel—a popular one among Indian Gujaratis (those that came from Gujarat).
To read a fleshed out article by NPR on the "Patel motel" phenomenon see: "Here To Stay: How Indian-Born Innkeepers Revolutionized America's Motels".
Not unexpectedly there has been some backlash and resentment about "forriners buyin' up our country". The most common representation of this we have seen is motels with large signs or banners proclaiming "American Owned!". Pathetic.
At one such establishment we got a pleasant surprise - the owner was Indian and American which of course is generally the case.
There are those who would proclaim these Patel Motels are "Typical Indian owned trashy motels". It has been our experience any motel can disappoint, regardless of the owner's ethnicity. We have found Indian motels no better or worse than comparable motels. Sure, some can be rough around the edges and a bit shabby, but that is usually reflected in the low cost of staying at such a place, Indian owned or not.
OK. Let's move on.
We did not leave the motel until around 10:00. This happens when I get engrossed in my web work. Time flies when at the keyboard!
Unlike the day before there were now thick low clouds and the sun was nowhere to be seen. Boo...
As you can see from the map below it was a short drive to our next destination: Cap Rock Canyon State Park.
We rolled back down to I-27 south and exited at Tulia. By now the low clouds had turned to dense fog and mist. Not too encouraging.
This is what it looked like by the time we got to Cap Rock Canyon SP. It was drizzly, breezy and cool. We hemmed and hawed and finally decided to save this park for another day. We don't mind hiking in a lush woods when the weather is wet, but we knew the trails here would be messy and the views would be obscured by the low clouds.
OK. Now what? No hiking for us today so where should we go next.
We headed back to town - that town being Quitaque, the gateway city to Cap Rock Canyon SP.
As you drive into our little town, you pass a sign that reads “Welcome to Quitaque, (“kitty quay.)” You will find other folks who pronounce it “kit-ta-kway.” But no matter how you pronounce it, you are coming into our small town of 432.
Charles Goodnight bought the Lazy F in 1880 and introduced the name Quitaque, which he believed was the Indian word for “end of the trail.” According to another legend the name was derived from two buttes in the area that resembled piles of horse manure, the real meaning of the Indian word. Another story is that the name was taken from the Quitaca Indians - Handbook of Texas Online, whose name was translated by white settlers as “whatever one steals.”
Quitaque is no metropolis - as of the census of 2000, there were 432 people in this tiny town. Quitaque bills itself as the "Bison Capital of Texas".
As part of a restoration master plan to return portions of the canyon escarpment to its original grassland ecosystem, 74 head of Southern Plains Bison, coined the Official Texas State Bison Herd, were released from captive pens inside the park, into a 700-acre prairie grassland that stretches from the park entry road, to the visitor center, to Lake Theo.
Before looking over the road maps we decided to stop for some grub. We spotted a BBQ place and Betsy was ready to order before you could say "pulled pork".
We paid 7 bucks for a BBQ sandwich that came on a hamburger bun with no cole slaw or extra sauce. Pricey, but tasty. We split it between the two of us and it ended up being more of a snack than a meal.
We ate our snack and headed downtown. I spotted this nice mural and took a few snaps.
Cool painting of a Texas horned lizard. I would love to see one in the wild.
The Texas horned lizard (Phrynosoma cornutum) is one of about 14 North American species of spikey-bodied reptiles called horned lizards. P. cornutum ranges from Colorado and Kansas to northern Mexico (in the Sonoran desert), and from southeastern Arizona to Texas. Also, isolated, introduced populations are found in the Carolinas, Georgia, and northern Florida. Texas horned lizards may also be native to Louisiana and Arkansas.
After looking over the map we decided to push on into Oklahoma. Ardmore was about a 4 hour drive and considering the lateness of the day that suited us just fine.
The drive across OK got greener and greener with every mile. We saw square miles of pasture with lush grass that was belly high on the cattle and nearly hid the calves from view.
By the time we got to Ardmore the grass had turned to trees. All of a sudden it looked like June. It was so green and beautiful it did my heart good.
While Betsy went down the road for our dinners of McDonalds Southwest Salad with grilled chicken I sat on the balcony, beer in hand, enjoyed the thunder and watched the rain come down.
That evening we talked about the rest of the route home and where to end up the next day. Betsy decided it might be fun to check out Hot Springs Arkansas.
The center of Hot Springs is the oldest federal reserve in the United States, today preserved as Hot Springs National Park. The hot spring water has been popularly believed for centuries to possess medicinal properties, and was a subject of legend among several Native American tribes. Following federal protection in 1832, the city developed into a successful spa town.
Incorporated January 10, 1851, the city has been home to Major League Baseball spring training, illegal gambling, speakeasies and gangsters such as Al Capone, horse racing at Oaklawn Park, the Army and Navy Hospital, and 42nd President Bill Clinton. One of the largest Pentecostal denominations in the United States, the Assemblies of God, traces its beginnings to Hot Springs.
Betsy noticed this was the home of Hot Springs National Park and so we decide to make that our next stop.
Hot Springs National Park is a United States National Park in central Garland County, Arkansas, adjacent to the city of Hot Springs, the county seat. Hot Springs Reservation was initially created by an act of the United States Congress on April 20, 1832 to be preserved for future recreation. Established before the concept of a national park existed, it was the first time that a piece of land had been set aside by the federal government to preserve its use as an area for recreation.
As we wound our way into Hot Springs city center the traffic became thicker and slower with each block. Then we started seeing people - lots of people. By the time we reached the NPS visitors center we felt like we had ended up in middle of a carnival. People! Noise! Congestion! Ugh...
I double parked in the full NPS lot and Betsy went inside to check out our options. The options were these: fight our way to an overpriced motel and then fight our way back to the historic district and maybe find a place to park and then join the throngs of other tourists who would be our competition. No thanks. It took Betsy and I about 60 seconds to both come up with same plan: "Let's get out of here!" And we did.
Once we got out of Hot Springs we then had to think about a place to stay that night. Not wanting to drive much more we ended up in Lonoke AR, just 80 miles from Hot Springs.
Betsy decided we should stay someplace "nice" so we splurged and spent the $67.63 on a room at the Days Inn. The room and all were nice but the stay was ruined by some jerks who came in around 12:30 and woke us with slamming doors, TV noise and a screaming child.
God I love motels.
The next day we put in about 7 hours and ended up in Crossville TN. We decided to bypass the downtown area and take I-840 which ended up being a round about way to get past Nashville. But we had no way of knowing what the local traffic would be so we played it safe.
BTW - Nashville is a place I first enjoyed in 2005. My tour guide was Bob D who I first met when he was about 11 years old. Since 2005 I have made several more trips to Nashville to see Bob, and now Bob and Carol. There is always much to see, eat and drink in Nashville. I hear they also have some decent country music there.
In Crossville we ended up in a small Patel Motel called the Economy Inn for $52.76. The place was in an interesting location:
Although close to a busy interstate, the Economy Inn was down a wooded lane and surrounded by trees on all sides. Very nice to not be surrounded with asphalt and concrete for a change. And there was an added bonus. When I went for an early morning walk the following day I was greeted with the song of a Wood Thrush, then a Towhee, White-eyed Vireo, Cardinal and Common Yellow-throat. A wonderful spring time greeting to be sure. It was so nice to hear all my old friends again.
The Common Yellow-throat was one of the first birds I learned as a child. Its call is a distinctive one and was easy to recognize and remember - even for a kid. You can hear its song here.
Today, April 24th, we would be back in West Virginia, but not quite home. We still had a coupla stops to make. Thankfully these would not involve motels. Now we are on our way to Charleston West Virginia to visit long time friend Julian Martin. By long time I mean 50+ years. I met Julian when I was around 12 or 13 years old. I consider him one of my mentors. When ever we talk I learn something from him. You can find out more about Julian here, here and here.
Our route north into Kentucky would take us up US 127 to Mt Vernon. It was glorious in all its verdant springtime beauty. Every time we came around another bend in the road there was more lush greenery enveloping us. Heaven. I was so happy to be back in the woods.
We arrived at Julian's around 3:00. He was not home but arrived around 5:00. As I mentioned, I always learn something from Julian. This time I learned about the evils of drinking Yuengling beer. Shame on me! How could I??!!
We had a good visit which was made better by Julian's friend Martha showing up with a tasty Spinach Quiche which we washed down with several beers - mostly Yuenglings!
The next morning Julian and I had a nice rainy walk through the neighborhood. When we got back Julian fixed us an omelet complete with triscuit and bruschetta sauce. Different! Unique! Memorable! Just like Julian.
The final leg of our trip would take us up I-79 through the heart of West Virginia. We saw mile after mile of Dogwood and Redbud in bloom. There is nothing quite like Spring time in the mountains. Amen!!!
We arrived at Sandra's hilltop place in Morgantown around 3:00. We beat her there but we had not long to wait. Sandra is Betsy's friend - but I have adopted her as mine as well.
The plan had been to go to Black Bear Burritos for dinner which is in downtown Morgantown. Heidi and Tom were going to join us. When Heidi and Tom arrived I lobbied hard for a delivered pizza instead of heading downtown. I love the TLTs at Black Bear but I knew it would be noisy and busy there - not very relaxing or conducive to visiting. The others concurred and we had a long leisurely visit. BTW - Heidi is another one of Betsy's friends I have adopted. Tom as well.
Gosh, we are so lucky to have each other! ;)
The next morning was cool and foggy and delightful. I went out for a walk and Sandra and Betsy got caught up.
Then it was the short drive to Wheeling and home.
View the Google maps route here: Caprock Canyon State Park TX to Wheeling WV
And before you know it our new Lawn Girl was getting the yard spruced up and the whole drive was just a fading memory.
See you then...
~~~~~~ ADDENDUM ~~~~~~
In my write up for Petrified Forest National Park I asked the questions:
"I wonder how tall this tree might have been. What kind of tree? What were the shape and size of the leaves. The texture of the bark?"
Not surprisingly I heard from Larry Osbourn who is a Research Associate at the WVU Appalachian Hardwood Center about my query. Among other things Larry is a specialist in wood anatomy and classification and more generally a lover of trees. As am I.
Larry has sent me info or commented on my previous queries or observations about our Woody Friends. Here is the PDF info he sent this time around.
Tom passed on the following paper which you can download as a PDF. It is an interesting read and includes distribution maps, historic photos and a really cool drawing illustrating what Araucarioxylon arizonicum might have looked like.
ABSTRACT. Examination and measurement of many of the trunks attributed to Araucarioxylon arizonicum Knowlton eroded from the Late Triassic Chinle Formation in the Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona demonstrate that the living tree did not closely resemble any of the present-day Araucaria trees of the southern hemisphere as postulated in past reconstructions. The research indicates that it was a tall monopodial tree with branches occurring in a disordered manner on the trunk from the base to the crown.
Calculations using the allometric method of Niklas indicate that the trees were of considerable size. The largest recorded trunk has a basal diameter of nearly 3m and may represent a tree 59m high, when living. The root system of the A. arizonicum tree consisted of a ring of four to six steeply inclined lateral roots and a massive, vertically directed tap root. Many of the trunks still have their root systems attached, a circumstance that indicates their felling by the cut-bank operations of the local river system. The massive roots of these trunks, particularly the large tap root, are consistent with growth in soft, deep, alluvial soil, and the thin scale bark is to be expected in a tropical climate free from frost.