Palo Duro Canyon

We started our trip on July 2. We drove to Fort Worth. On July 3, we made the long drive from Fort Worth to Palo Duro Canyon. It was looong. I didn’t realize how long the drive would feel, but it felt longer than it was.

Part of the reason was I never had been to this part of the state. Trips always feel longer when everything is unfamiliar. It was also hot, so we didn’t pull over except at a rest stop to eat our picnic lunch, where we were greeted with this sign:

IMG_9048We all had a chuckle over that sign.

I wanted us to have time to explore the park, so that and another stop for gas were the only stops we made. We were only spending one night at Palo Duro Canyon. It would be too hot to explore much anyways, but the plan was to get there by 2pm (We got there around 3pm), drive to the canyon floor, and hike a bit (hopefully it would cool down in the evening). The next day, we had reservations for a horse ride before heading on the road again.

So we’re driving, and driving and driving. We finally get to Canyon, Texas. Now I’ve read about this, but to experience seeing the canyon for the first time is something else. First of all, you turn off the highway and you know you’re not too far away. But you’re still seeing pastures and wondering why the topography hasn’t…. and whah!!!!

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There’s the canyon! I can almost see the first person stumbling up on this canyon and almost falling in. It’s breath taking! The colors are so vibrant! And instantly you realize that it was totally worth the drive.

So we enter the park, park and take a photo at the Canyon viewpoint. Then we head on over to the visitor center. It’s hot outside, so I let the kids linger. We get our junior ranger books. They do some activities and look around. On this day, there an author selling his books and my oldest talks to him for awhile and buys his book. (I give my kids some spending money at the beginning of the trip, plus any money they already have. If they spend it all and there’s no more later, well, they just have to live with that).

We talk to the ranger on possible hikes and we settle on the Comanche trail. It’s one of the older trails, but it follows the river and it’s a bit shaded so it’ll be most comfortable to walk in the afternoon heat.

We drive all the way to the Canyon floor, which is really cool. Palo Duro Canyon, btw, is the second largest Canyon in the U.S. after the Grand Canyon. Being able to drive to the bottom is an added perk.

Okay, it was very difficult to hike. Not because it’s a hard trail but because it was so dang hot! We hiked about 30 minutes and then decided it was just too hot for us. Who decided to visit this place in July? Oh yeah, that would be me.

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So we get back into the car and drive the park road. That way we can enjoy the views from the car. I am so done with the hiking until I see… I BIG CAVE. It’s actually called Big Cave and the kids and I think it’s too cool not to explore. So we park on the side of the road and run/hike up into it. By now, the park has actually cooled down quite a bit. I’m from Houston, and with the humidity that never happens.  This is a nice surprise. It also looks like it might rain. The wind has picked up a bit.

Anyways, we continue up to Big Cave and it was a lot of fun exploring. Of course, my kids want to go to the top; I say no, it looks dangerous or we don’t have time, but then I’m tempted as well and we go ahead and do it. This will happen many times during the trip.

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After that we get back into the car and yes, it does look like its going to start to pour and I don’t know this area so I’m not taking any chances. We head back up the canyon. I had promised my older son that he could stop at this one viewpoint and take some pictures.  Afterwards, we go to the ranger station at the park entrance and the kids get their junior ranger badges. Many people know about the National Parks System, but the state parks also have a junior ranger program. The two younger kids get a badge at every park, I purchase a sticker for my roof rack cargo box and the teenager purchases a pin.

We’re staying in Canyon, Texas for the night. There are various reasons we decided to get a hotel room instead of camping or getting a cabin in the park, but if I had to do it again, I would stay in the park. The hotels in Canyon just aren’t that nice. I won’t call the hotel out by name because the staff in the front was actually really nice, but I just felt we could have saved money and it would have been a better experience if we stayed inside the park.

We checked into the hotel and it was windy and pouring. The rain was torrential! Again, I’m from Houston, so this was kind of scary for me, but the front desk guy said it’s common there and it would stop in a few minutes. We washed up in our room and when we went out for dinner, it had stopped raining!

For dinner, we went to Feldman’s Wrong Way Diner. I was so tired by then. There was a bit of a wait, but the restaurant has a fun atmosphere. There’s a train that goes around the restaurant and my five-year-old enjoyed watching it. The menu was good old comfort food and I got the chicken fried steak. It felt good after a long day.

We went to bed early as the next day we had reservations at Palo Duro Canyon riding stables.

The next morning was cool and clear. A nice surprise for July in Texas. We got to the stables, which is located right outside of the park, before 8am. The family owned company had recently added 1.5 hour ride, which is their first ride of the day. The stables are a little bit pricier than some of the other stables, but it’s well worth the extra price. Even my five-year-old had his own horse. This was the highlight of the trip and even after seeing so many wonderful sights, one of the top activities we did the entire summer. The family that owns the stables are so nice. And seeing the canyon on the horse is just such a great experience. The early morning ride was nice, it was nice and cool and we really enjoyed riding for so long.

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Note: rides fill up, so call in advance to reserve your spot! I called in May, just to get info and then a couple of weeks before to actually reserve.

Once we were done with the ride, it was back in the car and on to Albuquerque.

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