Hiking Palo Duro Canyon

Hiking the LIGHTHOUSE TRAIL in Palo Duro Canyon Texas
Janie outside the amphitheater
It is a short drive from Canyon, Texas to the Palo Duro Canyon State park.  The entrance fee was $10.00 and we made our way to the trail head.  We first stopped at the amphitheater for a photo opportunity.  This was our first trip to the Canyon and we would love to return to see the play that is preformed here.  My parents went to see the canyon years ago and I have wanted to go but just never took the time.  I took Janie's picture then she took mine.
I don't know who these people were in that photograph on that wall but I sure want to be on their side when the fighting starts.
Janie took this picture of a flock of wild turkeys by the side of the road
We visited the trading post next and picked up some souvenirs.  It was cold and windy so we bought a couple of hooded sweatshirts to keep us warm.  I wore mine for the first mile and then took it off.  It was perfect for the occasion and I am sure I will use it again soon.  Janie kept hers on most of the time removing it only once when we were about 3/4 of the way to the end of the trail.
Janie in front of the replica dugout
We left the trading post and drove to the first river crossing.  The water was low and the crossing dry.  Just after the first crossing we saw a flock of wild turkeys by the road and stopped to take a picture. They were not afraid of us at all.  Before reaching the second river crossing which is very near the trail head we came upon a dugout which was a replica of the one used by the man who was an early explorer of the canyon.  There was nobody home and no furniture in the dug out whatsoever.  
The Second Water crossing
Me at the Lighthouse trail head
The second water crossing was also dry.  We stopped to take a picture of the water.  I was glad that it was a sunny day and no chance of rain.  I could see that if a flash flood should come that way it would be a little trouble getting back out of the park.  Just beyond this second crossing and to the right is the parking area for the Lighthouse trail head.  There is a map of the trail and two thermometers.  One is just above the map and the other is at the start of the trail.  There is a warning there about taking plenty of water with you on this trail.  I suppose this is for the summer hikers and I would not want to hike this trail in the summer time.  It was in the 40's when we arrived and we took three 20 oz. bottles of water with us and had water left over when we got back to the car.  
The trail leads to the wall at the far right then turns right
The tip of the outcropping of the canyon wall .3 miles from trail head
The trail is very well marked and proceeds from the parking lot and winds its way to the base of the canyon wall.  It is a beautiful sight.  The trail turns right and leads around the end of this massive red wall obstacle.  It is not massive when compared to the Grand Canyon but I certainly would rather go around than have to climb over this outcropping of the canyon wall. Up to this point it was very cold and windy.  The hood on the sweatshirt really helped keep us warm.  The walk thus far is easy and the view is outstanding.  There is a warning along the way to stay on the trail.  It was wasted on us for we had no intention of leaving it.  When we reached the end of this outcropping of the canyon wall I departed from the trail to have my picture made.
Cactus by the trail
The steep climb at the end of the trail
The trail continues with lots of cactus on each side of the trail.  The trail itself has been well worn and is very red in appearance except for a place or two where there are traces of white.  The only animal tracks we saw on the trail were those made by a small deer.  There were a lot of bicycle and shoe tracks on the trail, most of them fresh.  We did not see anyone on the trail until on our way back when we saw two young ladies heading for the Lighthouse.  I gave them some words of encouragement saying, "If two 57 year olds can make it so can you."  There were some small birds all along the way and we could hear birds in the distance.  Besides these we encountered no other wildlife.  I can see that if you were hiking this trail in the summertime you might very well encounter a rattle snake.  I assured Janie that we would not be seeing any of these in February. 
Janie almost to the base of the Lighthouse formation
Yes, Janie had to climb this twice once for her picture and once for mine
The trail continues offering little challenge to the hiker until it brings you to a picnic table.  There you may sit and rest in the shade and contemplate whether or not you want to continue up the steep, and I mean steep, rugged climb to the top of the ridge to reach the base of the Lighthouse formation.  I left Janie taking her shoe off to check her feet and went up the steep trail a bit and returned to report that it was not going to be easy.  She wanted to press on and I admired her courage.  The sandy soil on top of the steep rocky trail was very slippery.  We made our way with me in the lead very carefully step by step mostly on all fours up the steep trail.  I was not as worried about getting up the trail as I was about getting back down again.  This part of the trail needs to have steps installed or some sort of rope or rail for assistance. This section of tough climbing was about 150 feet long.
The ledge leading to the plateau, I'll stay right here thank you.
The trail got better for a little while and then it turned steep and slippery again as it reached the base of the Lighthouse.  We sat down on the ledge with our backs to the wall and the slippery slope beneath our feet.  It was a great sense of accomplishment and very worth the view.  As I sat there with Janie I saw the 2 foot wide ledge to my right leading to a plateau between the lighthouse and another formation behind it.  There was a 60 foot drop off next to the ledge and I felt it was not worth the risk to strive for a closer look.  Walking a ledge with a rock wall on one side and just 2 feet to the other side lies eternity is not my cup of tea.
Janie and I sitting on the ledge at the base of the Lighthouse formation
As far as Janie and I are concerned reaching this point was just like reaching the summit of Mount Everest.  Had I been even 20 years younger I might have stayed longer and taken more risk but not now. I would not have been disappointed had we not made it all the way.  I kept asking Janie if she wanted to turn back but she was determined to continue.  I am glad we made it the top.
The canyon as seen from the Lighthouse ledge
The view strait ahead from the Lighthouse ledge
We lingered, sitting on the ledge for just a few minutes.  Janie was praying the whole time that the Lord would help us make it back down that dreaded 150 foot section. I took a couple of pictures from the ledge and then we started our journey back.  The first picture I took was the view of the canyon to our left.  The second was the view strait ahead of where we were sitting.  The picture of the ledge was to my right.  
Janie coming down the most dangerous section
Janie being very careful on her way down
We made it fairly easily down the steep slope from the ledge to the top of the dreaded section.  I went down first placing the downhill foot carefully in place and testing it before transferring my weight to it.  Using both hands to steady and support myself I made the first few feet and then stopped to make sure Janie was managing the descent.  I was prepared to stop her from sliding all the way down the slope if she should stumble.  She came to one section where she tried a new method which worked well for her.  She sat on her heals and slid in a fairly controlled way holding on to the sides of the path.  It was a real relief to have this section of the trail behind us.  Janie stopped at the picnic table to remove a pebble from her shoe.  Her feet did not give her any trouble at all.  She did have a pain in her left leg that got worse the closer we got to the car.  It was not serious and was gone the next day.  On the way back she did not walk as fast as I did and we did not stop for very long on our way back. I frequently stopped to let her catch up.  The trail has mile markers along the way at each 1/10 of mile from the trail head. I had brought along my GPS and it was nice to know how far we had come. I had marked the coordinates of where we were sitting on the ledge at the Lighthouse.  I also saved the track in my GPS for when I return to this place some day. 
Janie and I at one of the covered benches on the return trip
There were two covered benches and two uncovered ones spaced along the trail.  We stopped at both of the covered benches to rest and eat a snack and drink some water.  There we let our feet dangle and rest.
One of the sights we saw on the way back to the trail head
There is a interesting thing that happens on a trail like this one.  It is a new trail going out and most of the time your looking always ahead.  On the return trip you see things that you did not see when you passed by before.  We took several pictures on the return trip.  There are layers of white rock in the walls of the canyon and also thin layers of white can be seen on the trail itself where it climbs up hill.  It really stands out against the red wall.
The Capital Peek formation
Janie was walking slower the closer we got to the trail head. Her leg was hurting but she declined my offer to carry her the rest of the way.  She was very glad to see the car coming into view.  This was a great hike and I want to do it again with my children and grandchildren.  I mused to Janie that the grandkids would not hesitate at all at that ledge and would sit with their feet hanging off the edge of eternity for a picture.  One I would love to take from my relatively safe perch.   
On our way out of the canyon we stopped in at the visitor's center and gift shop.  Janie wanted a magnet for the refrigerator.  There is an amazing view of the canyon from the window of the visitor's center. I took a couple of pictures which would be our last in the canyon.
The canyon as seen from the visitor's center
A good view of the ledge, lighthouse on the right castle rock on the left
This hike was outstanding and I hope to do it again soon.  I believe that Janie likes hiking and is even now on her computer looking for our next adventure. 

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