Up until a few weeks ago, I had lived in Texas for almost three years and had never so much as set foot in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. On my virgin trip to the second largest canyon in the US, I found out just how much I had been missing.
After getting off work on a Friday afternoon, six friends and I headed out to Palo Duro Canyon State. After narrowly making the 10 PM entrance cutoff for most state parks, we hastily pitched some tents while staring at the moonlit silhouettes of the canyon ridgeline surrounding us. Nature can be such a tease, making you wait until the morning to get a real, sunlit view of the dark outlines playing your eyes at night.
Incidentally, there’s only two things that can speedily coax me out of slumber in the morning–and that’s a beautiful view draped around my tent and smell of fresh trails and routes in the vicinity. After some quick grub and some staring at the surrounding terrain, we hit up some bouldering problems with some locals. The great thing about Palo Duro is that we were able to find the problems before we met up with our knowledgable local friends. While driving along the park road, we found ourselves surrounded by prime boulder, and we immediately knew we were in bouldering territory.
Following an overhung V0 warmup, we moved on to some more interesting problems. For myself, it was my first time on real rock in months. Injuries hurt, they make you weak, and then they make you hurt again when you come back. Regardless, it was relieving to still have a good time climbing V1s, even if it took a lot out of me. There’s nothing like topping out on a problem that both challenges you physically and piques you mentally.
Not to mention it was great to watch my buddies Jarrod and Ryker do their thing on the rocks. After a few climbs I was pretty spent, so watching was about all I was willing to do. My compadres soon moved on to bigger and better problems under supervision from the locals.
While I love rock climbing, it’s more of a recreational hobby–something I like to do with friends when I’m not riding. If my feet aren’t on pedals, rock is an excellent second choice. As you may have guessed, the morning rock climbing session was precursor to the main event, at least as far as I was concerned. So around lunch time, I grabbed my trail bike and hit up the classic Lighthouse Trail, the most popular trail in the park. Now there’s a good reason for the trail’s popularity–it leads to an epic “lighthouse-like” natural tower that affords an amazing view. The problem is that said tower can only be reached by a foot-only climb–no bikes. The trail ends where the climb begins, and there are bike racks for riders to leave their bike.
Naturally, I asked around if I could hike-a-bike up the climb and ride the terrain that clothes the base of the tower. As I had half-expected beforehand, I got a lot of laughs and “if you do, let me get my videocamera because I’ve always wanted to get on America’s Funniest Home Videos.” The general consensus was that there was nothing rideable past the end of the trail. It should be noted that before the trip, I had purposely refrained from bringing my freeride bike, so as to prevent myself from riding any potentially dangerous terrain. It should also be noted that such a tactic is a horrible ideas, because I suddenly found myself hiking/climbing up a steep, rocky trail with a hard-tail trail bike on my back.
The funny thing about the area surrounding the Lighthouse peak is that you can hear pretty much everything that people say around you. As I pedaled around the base of the tower looking for some epic lines, it seemed like everyone was staring and talking about the kid on the pink bike. I ended up attempting two lines–the start of the route up the tower, and a jagged step-like section of terrain nearby.
The tough part about the first line was the sketchy end. Steep lines are often hard not because of the steep part, but because of the transition to flat ground. This particular line required passing through an off-camber point about 2 feet wide sandwiched between the tower and a drop-off in terrain. I decided to play it safe and try to easy my way down the line–I didn’t have the guts to try and blast through the skinny. Sadly, the beginning of the line was too steep for me. I definitely felt out of my element riding a hard-tail and clipless pedals on such a steep line. However, I was able to ride out the bottom part of the line. Sarah Boleslawski was able to get a quality photo even though I only had my feet on the pedals for a few seconds.
The second line I attempted was less steep, but a lot more bumpy. It was essentially a rocky cascade that made me feel like I was riding down a huge set of stairs. Not the most fun line on a hard-tail, but definitely a line I would like to get a shot at on my freeride rig.
While there were many other lines with great potential, I had to call it quits for the day. I try to avoid riding when exhausted and hungry–and continuing would have broken both aspects of the rule.
Back at camp, we enjoyed a classic spaghetti dinner, several games of capitalism (a card game that goes by many names, pretty much a throw-back to elementary school), some guitar strummin’ courtesy of Ryker, and the always welcoming sleeping bag.
Due to excessive school work loads, we had to leave the next morning, which was saddening for multiple reasons, mainly the fact that there was far more to experience, but also because of the five hour drive. It was tough to leave but I can’t wait to return to Palo Duro with my freeride bike. More later on the exact locations of trails within the park; I got a great map from a local that I need to scan and post.