Palo Duro Canyon is not what you’d expect to see out in the middle of the vast prairie land of northern Texas. It comes as a startling surprise after driving through mile after mile of flat out prairie land to the “all of a sudden” sheer drop into wild canyon country.
On first impression I looked out from one of the several canyon overlooks and saw below-the-ground mountains; the canyon is truly in its own little world. The mountains are mostly bare, multi-colored triangular shapes called “Spanish skirts” because of the rock layers of red, ochre, magenta, white, and brown. Those and the mesas like “Fortress Ridge” rival each other in an all-out competition to be the forerunners in being oohed and aahed over. There are also unique weather and time shaped “hoodoos,” which are free-standing rock columns topped by an overhanging “hat” of harder rock.
During my two month stay in the canyon, I acquired the name “ Annie Hackberry” from the park staff because they could never remember, let alone pronounce, my more difficult real name. Hackberry Campground was the area where I served as a park host.
A typical winter in the canyon is usually quite mild with only an inch or two of snow falling at one time which melts away during the sunny days. This was not a typical winter. Snow and ice both enjoyed reeking havoc with the steep entry road on more than one occasion.
One morning after a snow and ice storm made the road impassable either by campers wanting to leave the canyon or anyone wanting to come in, I got a call on my two-way radio from the park rangers up at the main gate asking me to drive over to the bottom of the road with some road cones. The roads were all sheer ice but my Subaru maneuvered through them easily. I love that car!
On the way there I had to stop and pick up the big, orange road cones in a storage area. When I got there, I found a stack of nine cones from which I needed only three or four. I soon found that they were frozen together. So I pushed the stack over and started rolling them around in the frozen parking lot to loosen them.
Then I started to slide on the ice and fell forward onto the now horizontal stack of cones. As I lay across the cones trying to regain my footing and restore my dignity, the stack loosened and I was then able to pry apart the few I needed. How’s that for a fluke!
After placing the cones, I returned to my campsite and made my rounds to soothe the campers who thought they’d be stranded in the canyon for longer than the half day it took to clear the road. Like being stranded in paradise would be a bad thing!
(aka Tin Can Traveler)