12.13.2008,7:57 AM
Palo Duro: Camp
“Geology loves a canyon the way all the world loves a lover.” –Dan Flores

All my classmates were tripping over long black gowns, balancing funny square hats on their heads and sweating several hours sitting in chairs listening to long speeches and shaking hands. I was hiking and camping that weekend in one of the few canyons the state of New York can claim: Zoar Valley Gorge. This was repeated twice during subsequent higher-education graduations, albeit in other canyons. (Much to the dismay of my mother. After the second time, she gave up.)

Letchworth State Park (Genesee River gorge where I spent many summers)

‘Canyon’, derived from the Spanish ‘canon,’ -a long narrow valley formed by a river- is commonly a regional word of the south and west for deep gashes in the earth; in the east they are known as ‘gorges’. (Some of them quite gorgeous, I might add.) The Genesee River and Zoar Valley gorges are the largest in the New York. A section of the former, in Letchworth State Park, is referred to as the “Grand Canyon of the East”. I guess every state –or nearly every state- has to have a ‘Grand Canyon.’ Oregon, with its old and large rivers and mountain ranges, claims several ‘Grand Canyons.’ Texas has one –Palo Duro Canyon- that is second only to the Great Granddaddy of American Canyons, The Grand Canyon of Arizona.

I spent many days as a child and young adult hiking, exploring and camping in New York canyons. I don’t know why, nor do I even attempt to explain, but I have an innate and addictive penchant for canyons. They’re all Grand Canyons to me. They draw me like a thirsty wolf to water. So it was with anticipation that I returned to that giant gash in the earth wearing ribbons of color.

Hundreds of canyons and breaks comprise the three serrated edges of Llano Estacado Escarpments –the Mescalero, Canadian and Caprock escarpments. The extreme contrast –the endless flat relief of the uplifted plateau and the almost chaotic deep serrations along the eastern escarpment, where the land drops hundreds of feet below- unsettles many people while tantalizing others. All of the landforms along the plateau’s edges were formed by water: canyons, buttes, mesas, arroyos, pinnacles, columns, and ravines. Water, gravity and wind are the sculptors; erosion, their brushes. Their paint: millions of years of rock formation.

Arriving and setting up camp in the darkness, I was eager to see the 'old familiar faces' outside when I woke and crawled out of the tent. Fortress Cliff, right out the tent door.

Our campsite wasn't too bad, considering being set up by headlamps.

This was my favorite spot: somewhat isolated from the rest of the campsites, the farthest from the road, next to a trail but separated by shrubs and cactus, and nearly butting a cliffside. The older gentlemen with a trailing long white beard in the ranger station nodded and smiled when I asked for, without hesitation, the camp site number. I explained it was my favorite spot, where I camped during my first stay and subsequent overnight trips are like pilgrimages to me. "It's available and it is yours!" he said.

I immediately noted the multiple gopher mounds, even a new hole, and that the ground had eroded since the two years I was here last. Then I remembered the stream near-by; this is bottom land and the water can reclaim it any time it wants. Anticipation mounted as I gained consciousness fed by coffee and I looked forward to the day hike ahead.

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posted by Macrobe
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