Trip dates: Jan 1-2, 2020
Caltopo map here
I first heard of Palo Duro Canyon back in college at UT-Austin. There was a song called "Palo Duro" on Milton Mapes' album Westernaire. I actually didn't care much for that particular song (this one is better), but the mood set by the album, its title and the phonetics of the word "Palo Duro" were intriguing. There's always been something appealing about the idea of frontier and I imagined I could get a sense of that if I went there.
A note of the concept of “frontier”: I realize the historic reality of the Western “frontier” is more than a little problematic. Palo Duro Canyon, a major water resource in the Texas panhandle, was in reality, the site of the last great battle in Texas between the US government and Native Americans. The Cheyenne, Arapaho, Kiowa had banded together to keep their land but were routed in a surprise attack, ending the Texas-Indian wars. The majority of Native Americans were forced to go to a reservation. The history page of the state park website is disturbingly brief. When I say the frontier is appealing, I'm thinking about the feeling of seeing a landscape for the first time. I'm thinking about explorers like the first people to cross the Bering Strait, Ernest Shackleton or even modern explorers like Roman Dial (btw, this is my favorite Roman Dial anecdote).
I was driving back to Colorado after seeing family in Austin for Christmas, and Katherine was driving back to Colorado from Alabama. Amarillo turned out to be a good place to meet up. We'd do a day hike on New Years Day and camp that night in a campground. It was my first time camping with Katherine. It would also be Charlie's (Katherine's dog) first time camping. I was a bit nervous...
I was impressed to see a chart sign telling people about UV index. This responsible viewpoint seemed quite different than what I saw when I was an undergrad at UT-Austin more than a decade ago. I bet the park rangers get tired of rescuing dehydrated and severely sunburned people. They even had free sunscreen dispensers everywhere, which I've never seen in a state or national park before.
We chose to go to Lighthouse Peak, which is arguably the most popular destination. We left from the the Givens, Spicer Lowry TH (which was across the road from the Hackberry Campground where we were staying). We went through Rustler's Draw first before connecting with the actual Lighthouse Trail several miles later. The first section had virtually no people but the Lighthouse Trail was moderately crowded.
We both wanted to camp that night, but I knew I should probably alter my approach from how I do this stuff by myself.
It was the middle of winter and the overnight lows were predicted to be in the high 20's. When we arrived in Amarillo, it was unbelievably windy (30-40 mph?) up on the plateau. I was hoping the wind would die down in the canyon (and luckily it did) but it still seemed like this could easily give a very bad first impression of camping with me (and backpacking). Foremost in my mind was the memory of when I told her for the first time that I often go winter backpacking in Colorado mountains. She stood mouth open with a silent expression that said "but...why?". (When I have to get out of my sleeping bag in the morning, I sometimes I ask myself the same question).
I brought her the same sleeping pad and sleeping bag I use for overnight lows around -10F. But I still had a problem. Even though I go backpacking all the time and have a quiver of tents and shelters, none of them will sleep more than one person. Luckily there's a "gear closet" where Katherine works that had a two-person tent we could borrow.
I'd prepared extra meals in Boulder when I was prepping for my trip to Big Bend NP. I didn't force her to eat my typical meal beans, rice, cheese and Fritos, so I made the more visually appealing Pesto Noodles.
Even though Katherine still slept with gloves on, she seemed genuinely smile-y in the morning, so I think it was successful.
Not everybody liked camping though...
The urban summer season seems to suit her much better.