Speg's Black Mesa/Palo Duro Canyon Trip

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According to the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum, Captain Randolph Marcy explored the Palo Duro Canyon in 1852, wrote "We all, with one accord, stopped and gazed with wonder and admiration upon a panorama which was now for the first time exhibited to the eyes of civilized man. It was as if it had been designed and executed by the almighty artist..."

Tuesday, October 21, 2003 - Black Mesa Trail

9 mile round-trip hike, ~640 feet elevation gain
Black Mesa Trail Vertical Profile

I started the day in Guymon OK after taking the 6-hour drive to Guymon on Monday. I drove two more hours west this morning to the extreme western edge of the Oklahoma panhandle. I would be hiking up the Black Mesa which is visible here from a couple of miles to the southeast. I arrived at the Black Mesa trailhead at 11:00 AM, loaded up with water and hit the trail. The first 2 1/4 miles was relatively flat hiking west along the north side of the mesa. Most of the elevation gain was in the next mile, then almost a mile of relatively flat terrain on top of the mesa to get to the monument making the high point of Oklahoma. The hike up took an hour and a half. The sky was clear and visibility was great. Sierra Grande, an 8,700 foot peak about 50 miles southwest in New Mexico was visible on the horizon, as was Rabbit Ear Mountain (6,000/5,500 foot twin peaks about 30 miles southwest). The highest elevation in Oklahoma is officially 4,972.97 feet at the monument. A 1/4 mile detour west from the monument got me to the Oklahoma-New Mexico State Line. After messing around a little more than a half hour at the monument or the side trip to New Mexico, I started heading down. The view down from the edge of the mesa is seen here just before the climb down. I had the entire trail to myself and did not see one other person for hours.

After getting back to the car, I went to find the reported dinosaur tracks in a nearby arroyo, and the tri-state boundary of Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico which was only a few miles to the north. About 900 feet north of this in Colorado was the surveyors first attempt to mark the tri-state boundar. The new one wins on both asthetics and accuracy.

It was time to hit the road and start heading south to Amarillo TX to prepare for tomorrow's exploration of the Palo Duro Canyon area.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003 - Lighthouse Trail (Palo Duro Canyon)

6 mile round-trip hike, ~320 feet elevation gain (although it seemed like a lot more)
Lighthouse Trail Vertical Profile

The main target today was to do the Lighthouse Trail, a 3 mile hike to a feature called Lighthouse Peak. It was supposed to get very warm today (into the upper 80s) so I wanted to hit the trail as early as possible to get much of it done before it got too warm. I didn't get started as early as I would have liked. I stopped briefly at the scenic overlook near the entrance of the park (where even the Lighthouse Peak is visible 3 miles away with a strong zoom lens) before driving down into the canyon, but otherwise went straight to the trailhead and started at 11:45 AM. I made it through the first 2.8 miles of the hike in just over an hour, stopping a couple of times for photos of Capitol Mesa as the trail went around this peak.

According the Palo Duro park map, this trail is listed as 5.5 miles round trip (thus about 2.75 mile each way), and the topographic map I had taken with me indicated I was near the end of the trail at about 2,980 feet. So I was a little suprised to find myself with a continued trail making a significant rise up a ridge. While I sat a moment to rest and drink some water, another hiker headed down the trail and told me there was about 300' vertical climb above me. It was getting warm and my legs were making themselves felt after the 12 miles of hiking in the last 26 hours, and the thought of a 30-story climb wasn't too appealing to me at the moment. But after a minute or two, I thought "What the heck" and started up the ridge. Man, am I glad I didn't wimp out. A few minutes later after starting to crest the ridge, my jaw dropped with the Lighthouse Peak right in front of me. For some reason, I was thinking that the trail would lead to a nice vista of the formation, not necessarily right to it. But there is was. SPECTACULAR! (And fortunately, it was only about a 150 feet climb at the end instead of 300 feet). I took some photos of various angles at the base of the formation before I started hiking back to the trailhead. I was glad to get back to the car as the temperature continued to increase and I drank most of the 2.5 liters of water that I had packed. I explored the canyon area a bit more during the afternoon, but wasn't up to any more long hikes, and visited the scenic overlook again on my way out of the park when the sun angle was a bit better for the canyon below.

Thursday, October 23, 2003 - Random stuff on the way home

Did a little looking around the city of Amarillo and various places in the Texas panhandle on the way home, including the famous "Cadillac Ranch" just west of Amarillo, and the not-so-famous (but quite humourous) "VW bug ranch" near Conway TX.