12.13.2008,8:24 AM
Palo Duro Canyon: Rock People
Everybody loves a hoodoo. A what?

The famous landmark of Palo Duro State Park and the canyon itself is the Lighthouse, a tall hoodoo on a shelf. Standing naked like a beacon, it attracts visitors to the park motivating them to get out of their cars/RVs/trucks and walk in the canyon.

Hoodoos are tall vertical spires of rock. The base is usually a soft sedimentary rock which is topped by a slab or mound of harder rock. Water and wind erode the perimeter of the column's softer rock while the hard rock on top offers protection from the elements. Imagine an upright finger balancing a match book on its tip. Both made of rock. They are like short and tall straight rock men wearing caps on their heads. Those are hoodoos, and the Lighthouse is a big one.

Having seen hundreds of unbelievable hoodoos, many of colossal size, in Utah, Palo Duro's shining red glory doesn't do it for me. But other landforms nearby do.

Nearly five miles passed by under our feet when we approached the hardest section of the hike: a steep slope up a cliff side. I recall the climb barely challenging the last time I was there. This time I was out of breath halfway up and I was painfully reminded that my right ankle/foot/leg has not fully recovered. But I bit the bullet (wincing) and climbed up anyway; nothing was going to stop me short of a bolt of lightening.

The steep and sandy trail is in the foreground. Yes, it's there. Now look closely and you can see the trail from the middle to the right background in the photo. That's on the canyon floor.

The trail led to the left and the base of the Lighthouse. That's where everyone goes. Not me. I followed a deer path to the right and below, alongside the canyon rim and behind the tall hoodoo. The views below into the canyon from the rim are awesome. You can see the ancient river that sculpted this canyon: the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River.

The canyon floor along the river was inviting and I wanted to fly down like an eagle and explore or climb down. I had to be content then with gazing down and imagining the herds of bison and hundreds of Indian lodges and tepees. 'Some day,' I told myself, 'some day I want to hike down in there.'

Behind the lighthouse, hidden in a shallow draw is what I call 'Little Moab.' It's like a ghost town of little hoodoos, all sizes and shapes. This area was more enticing to me than the park's celebrity.

A hoodoo on the right in the photo:

Close up and personal with the sedimentary rock of hoodoo columns:

The sky was threatening rain, cold rain. Time to head back.
Now for the descent; it was worse than the climb up.

Scenes like this just grab me and make me want to stay. Up in the blue sky was a flock of geese, their honking like music in the canyon bottoms.

On the way back, we were nearly the only humans on the trail. Despite the cold temps and brief shower, it was all good.

In all, we hiked close to (if not slightly more than) ten miles round trip. My foot and ankle were swollen inside my hiking boot; a camp chair, hot coffee with cocoa and a blanket were my rewards at home base. (plus four Advil)

I slept like a rock that night. Even through the rain. Sort of......

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posted by Macrobe
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