I awoke to the sound of a jackhammer nearby. Wait? A jackhammer? Where was I? I opened my eyes and looked through the mesh tent over me to identify the source of the noise. A woodpecker had found it’s way to the metal shade structure covering the picnic table at our camp site. WOW that was loud. Once I had woken up enough to figure out what was going on, the bird flew off. This would become a pattern on this trip.
We made our coffee and instant oatmeal, then cleaned up the camp area while having a smoke. The morning light was beautiful, and we decided to take advantage of it to drive around the park with the helmet cam on. (As soon as I get access to a computer to do some video editing on, I’ll have video of this trip I can share). The bike feels so light and nimble unloaded. Though we never weighed it, I estimate we had minimum of 300 pounds of gear strapped to that bike in one fashion or another. Additionally, I figured that since we wouldn’t be going faster than 30 miles an hour, I could get away without wearing quite as much safety gear as I pack on for the highway. So, leaving the heavy armored jackets behind, we set off to cruise the canyon. As it was still morning, the dry desert air was still relatively cool, and it felt wonderful on my skin as we rode around. Probably at least a dozen other people had decided that day was a spectacular day to go ride around Palo Duro as well. It took most of an hour to complete the loop of road that goes around the park, and then we headed up the top to get ice.
Palo Duro State Park has a general store type of thing in it that serves short-order food, and sells basic camp supplies, such as propane. They also have a soda fountain that dispenses ice, which was the main reason for our visit there this particular day. By the time we arrived, it was well after noon, and the day was really heating up. But damn those burgers smelled good. We ended up breaking down and buying a couple cheeseburgers, with the rationalization that this would be one of the last chances we would have to eat Texas beef for a while. Some of you here in Texas may not realize how spoiled we are on beef quality. I would encourage you to travel to other states, or if you’re daring, other countries (exceptions being Japan and Argentina, apparently), and see what other people consider beef. In my travels to Colombia in 2010, I found the beef to be nearly inedible in comparison to even moderately priced beef back home. A cheeseburger and a Dr. Pepper later, we were feeling fat and happy. Our camelbacks loaded down with ice and water, we headed out to find the cave we’d been directed to the day before.
It took us about 30 minutes of searching to find the unmarked trail leading to the cave, but it was definitely worth it. About 20 minutes down the trail a large sandstone formation jutted out of the ground, and we thought we could see a cave up at the top of it. We began to climb. Once we reached the top, we discovered a very small opening almost out of reach that seemed like it could have been a cave. Maybe this wasn’t what we were looking for after all. Regardless, the view from up here was nothing to scoff at. After a few minutes of absorbing the desert panorama before us, we scurried down the formation, and decided to wander up the trail a bit more. Sure enough, after another 15 minutes of hiking or so, there was a fairly large cave opening, and almost at ground level. I excitedly dashed up to the entrance, apparently startling a lizard in the process. The lizard rose up on two legs and sprinted across the path before coming to rest on a rock to my left. I’d seen the two-legged lizard run on national geographic before, but it was really impressive to behold in person, nevertheless.
We spent the better part of 20 minutes examining and taking pictures of an amazingly cooperative lizard, before heading on into the cave. 3 feet into the entrance, and the temperature difference was incredible. From the 98 degree heat outside, we entered a cool, dim 70 degree paradise. Small holes in the roof of the cave let in striking columns of sunlight, exposing the beautiful and intricate texture of the sandstone walls. We made offerings through a glass alter to the oasis. A lone bat fluttered softly past us and on deeper into the cave. We spent probably the two hottest hours of the day relaxing in the cool shady cave, talking about the beauty of nature, and what a good example this was of why air conditioning would ultimately be made obsolete by passive solar structures. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passive_solar_building_design)
As the afternoon grew late, and our water reserves grew low, we ventured out of our cave and into the blistering desert heat once more. 35 minutes back to the bike, and then a 15 minute ride back to camp. It was time to get started on dinner. We ate quickly, as we wanted to go out for another ride to view the sunset before bed. We ended up finding a nice mile-long hike out to a mesa top where we could view the whole canyon in an unbroken 360 degree view. We watched the sunset over the western walls of the canyon, and the stars rise out from the east as the sky turned that lovely shade of blue that it does. We walked back as it started getting dark, stopping to examine more lizards along the way.
By the time we arrived back at camp, we were pretty exhausted, and sleep came easy under the stars. Last night in Texas. Tomorrow: Taos.