Monday, October 19, 2009

10/16-17/2009: Palo Duro State Park, TX

On my list of things to do before moving away from west Texas was to do a long exploration of Palo Duro’s backcountry. Of particular interest has been to get back into the North Ceta Canyon drainage and then try and make a loop up over Mesquite Park and back to the developed area of the park.

I left Dimmitt around 12:45 after finishing up work on Friday. I was excited about the trip as it was my first real backpacking trip without having the kids along in quite some time. The park was pretty busy as the annual trail run was scheduled for the next day. I picked up my permit and drove out to the trailhead.

The day was sunny and in the upper 60’s. I started east along the banks of the Prairie Dog Fork of the Red. Unofficial use trails provided intermittent paths as I waded through the frequently chest and head high grasses along the flood plain. A couple of miles into my walk I left the river and struck off to the southeast to try and shave a few miles off my journey into North Ceta Canyon. The walk took me through dense juniper and mesquite thickets, eroded clay badlands and upland prairie.

Around 5:30 I arrived in the North Ceta drainage and turned west. The large drainage felt like traveling a highway after the bushwhack getting there. I made good time heading west. I passed what looked like a good swimming hole at the junction with South Ceta Canyon. Around 6:30 I climbed up onto a small knob and tossed out my sleeping bag. I pulled out a precooked “Uncle Ben’s” rice meal and some power bars for dinner and fell asleep to the distant songs of coyotes.

Saturday dawned to overcast skies and the now familiar howls of coyotes. I was up before sunrise and had packed my gear and started walking. Today would be the crux of the trip, an ascent up and over Mesquite Park and down Red Canyon. The stream bed began getting more difficult to traverse as I encountered more water, and with the water came the slick clay.

I turned north and entered an unnamed canyon by which I hoped to climb up to the rim. I spooked a herd of 10-12 aoudads and watched them nimbly climb the walls. The walk quickly turned into a climb as I encountered numerous large boulders obstructing the bottom of the canyon. Complicating the climb was the small creek with numerous water holes which I tried to avoid. I had the thought more than once that a helmet would be comforting given my remote location. Near the headwall of the canyon I came across two narrow slot canyons. This prompted me to dub the area “Utah Canyon”.

A difficult scramble up the crumbling sidewalls of the canyon brought me out into an open bowl of eroded badlands. I spooked a few mule deer bucks as I traversed the eroded buttes up to the flat expanse of Mesquite Park. I was relieved to have made it up, but I feared descending Red Canyon was going to be more difficult. The topo map gave the impression of a large ring of cliffs just below the 3200’ elevation line. I mentally mapped out a few possibilities in case I “cliffed out” and began my descent.
The canyon started off quite benign, my only real obstacles were the thick vegetation. I made good time heading down. Eventually I encountered a large pour off. I scouted around to try and find a route down and realized that it was not one, but rather two large pour offs in succession. I was able to found a bypass around to the east of the first drop. I did have to rig a short rappel, but in the end managed to scramble down and around the pour offs and into the lower section of Red Canyon. From here I knew it would all be easy.

I made my way out of the canyon and back to the park road. I had hoped to follow the Juniper Trail back to the trailhead, but it was being heavily used for the annual Palo Duro Enduro Run, so I was instead reduced to a road slog for the remainder of the trip. I arrived back at the truck around 12:30, having completed about 16 miles.


figolahfamily said...

So inspiring. I've been following your family blog for over a year and enjoy seeing your brave adventures with all the little ones. You should write a how-to book on outdoor adventuring with kids!

Griffis Family said...

I'm glad you've enjoyed the blog. We've sure had fun making it.

Anonymous said...

That one picture is of an aoudad sheep. I used to hunt them alot when my family had a ranch down there. They are a really cool animal to watch. Great trip report!

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I'm a father to seven young children and a husband to my beautiful wife Jennifer. I work as a family physician in a small rural hospital in north central Idaho. We enjoy learning more about our Lord as we explore His creation.