Palo Duro Canyon: Adventure on a Grand Scale

     I thought that when people referred to Palo Duro as the “Grand Canyon of Texas” they were probably overstating things . . . until I saw it for myself.

     The second largest canyon in the United States, Palo Duro is 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and up to 820 feet deep. It’s the second largest park in the state park system – 28,000 acres (over 45 square miles) with 28 miles of hiking, biking and horse trails. That’s a lot of territory!

     People have inhabited the canyon for about 12,000 years, and its history includes exciting chapters like Comanches and the Goodnight Trail. But This time around our family just focused on the absolute beauty of nature.

     Texas bought the land for the park in 1933. Civilian Conservation Corps workers spent five years creating the park, a cabin for their home base, the winding road to the canyon floor, the CCC Trail, and the El Coronado Lodge (now the Visitor Center). The craftsmen used local stone and wood for building materials and furniture, and forged decorative metal ornaments.

Boots were definitely more appropriate for riding horses than walking the canyon!

     After our morning ride along the rim of Palo Duro Canyon (more about that in my last post)  we headed to the state park, ready to see more of the stunning scenery. Initially, we intended to swing in for a short visit since we knew the clothes we were wearing (long sleeved shirts, jeans and boots) were perfect for riding, but not for hiking. Once there though, the views lured us further and further into the canyon, anxious to see what was next.

    Just a couple of miles inside the entrance, we made our first stop at the visitor’s center (the original the El Coronado Lodge) that was built by the CCC, so it was fitting that exhibits included some fascinating relics of the Corps’ days in the canyon. There’s also a small gift shop, though I’ll mention a more “souvenir-y” option  later in this post.

 

     The vistas from the vantage point outside of the lodge were so enchanting, we knew we had to go at least a bit further into the park.

     We took Park Road 5 which winds down to the canyon floor, circles clockwise in a 16 mile loop and slowly climbs back up to the rim.

Be sure to pick up a copy of a map of the canyon and its trails before leaving the Visitor Center.

     The first, short trail we ventured out on was relatively easy, but it was quickly apparent that at 11:00 a.m. it was already too hot (in addition to inappropriate clothing) for us to take on any of the longer trails. We were still fairly close to the rim, and the canyon floor would be about twenty degrees hotter!

     The view from even the least challenging trails are more than worth the effort and heat!

     Each one we investigated offered increasingly impressive scenery.

     Some of the trails were quite rocky and others were red dirt that I would have expected more in Oklahoma.

    Four geologic layers are exposed on the canyon walls, that seem to change color depending on the time of day and season of year – just one of the reasons Palo Duro draws so many amateur and professional photographers.

     Once I heard the erosion features referred to as “Mexican skirts” it was hard to get that image out of my mind. It’s really appropriate, don’t you think?

“Mexican Skirt” erosion feature

     The park provides enough diversity in its habitats to be a comfortable home to quite a variety of wildlife, in addition to part of the state herd of longhorns. Coyotes, bobcats, white-tailed and mule deer, and many species of snakes and lizards. We saw several roadrunners darting across the terrain, which reminded me of living in El Paso when I was little – and the birds seemed to be everywhere.

Palo Duro Mouse…look at those adorable ears! Photo courtesy of WTAMU.
Lots of creatures large and small make their homes in the canyon.

     You might even spot some wild turkeys. Did you know that a group of turkeys is called a “rafter?” There’s your trivia for the day!

 

 

 

 

 

     Two threatened species also live in the canyon: the Palo Duro mouse (which only lives in three Texas counties) and the Texas horned lizard (the State Reptile of Texas).

     Along our driving route we passed several picnic and camping areas. When I return for my next visit (and make no mistake about it…there WILL be a next visit!) I’d love to stay in one of the cabins on site. Imagine waking up to these views.

 

 

     One of the most pleasant surprises we encountered was fields or wildflowers, as well as individual flooring plants that had stubbornly pushed their way up through the dry dirt. In central and south Texas many wildflowers were already past season in June.

    Indian blanket, American basket-flower (shown in photo), sunflower, paperflower, blackfoot daisy, tansy aster, sideoats grama, buffalograss, sand sage, yucca and prickly pear cactus decorated the canyon floor and made the area appear to be more of a place for living creatures than desolate and empty.

Like mother- like daughter. My girl doing what it takes to get the shot!

     Even though we traveled the majority of the distance by car, we drank a LOT of water. Staying hydrated in the canyon (which can reach 130 degrees in summer) is non-negotiable!










     But if you think this vast canyon, however arid, couldn’t possibly be romantic I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. Sharing this grandeur (not a word I use lightly) with the ones you love is a memorable experience.


     We pulled over one last time at the base of the canyon to check out the trailhead for the famous Lighthouse formation.

“Lighthouse” in the distance

     The Lighthouse Trail is the most well-known trail in Palo Duro Canyon. It’s considered a moderate hike ( 2.72 miles each way) but having arrived during the heat of the day without the proper shoes, we vowed to return at another time to venture off to see unusual 310 foot tall formation. I walked just around the initial bend of the trail to take a photo (though far away) of the lighthouse, which looked small in the distance.

     The park has posted multiple warnings about the danger of heat and dehydration at the head of the trail, and even staffed a tent with a ranger to provide information and advice to people before they set out. Although I certainly didn’t envy her, it was impressive how seriously they took visitors’ safety.

     By that time we had worked up an appetite and exhausted our water supply, so we headed to the Palo Duro Trading Post on the rim for a late lunch. They don’t serve anything fancy, but you know those times you’re so hungry everything taste like the BEST (fill in the food blank) ever? Yep, it was one of those days. The staff was friendly, service fast and tables clean. Hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and hot dogs seemed like the find of the day. And the ice cream? C’mon…what do YOU think?

     The Trading Post also offered a fun variety of souvenirs from T-shirts to mugs to jewelry, all very reasonably priced.

Happy with our visit and satisfied appetites, we left the park to go back to the hotel to take off those boots and give our feet a rest before heading out to see more of Amarillo.

     If you only have time to visit one place in the Texas Panhandle (and that would be a shame), Palo Duro Canyon State Park should be that place.

     When you go, remember to:

  • Bring and drink water

  • Wear sunscreen, a hat and protective clothing

  • Have your camera ready

  • Bring and drink water

  • Pick up a map before you head out

  • Wear comfortable, supportive shoes

  • And…you guessed it…bring and drink plenty of water!

     Do you prefer to hike, bike or drive through sites like this beautiful state park? I’m interested to know!

 

Test Your Dia de los Muertos Trivia IQ

 

Stacy Anderson Photography


If you think that Dia de los Muertos is a creepy holiday, or the same as Halloween . . . think again! This Latin American holiday is rooted in the love of family and traditions.

     My friend Stacy, from the Hurried Hostess blog, and I got to visit with Houston Life TV and share a bit about this special tradition.

     Here are the trivia questions that I posed to the hosts. Give them a try to see how you do!

How many days does the celebration of Dia de los Muertos span?

  1. one

  2. two

  3. three

  4. four

Dia de los Muertos coincides with which two Catholic holidays?

  1. Halloween and All Souls’ Day

  2. Assumption and Good Friday

  3. All Saints Day and All Souls Day

  4. Halloween and Our Lady of Autumn

What is the traditional flower to leave on graves during the Day of the Dead celebrations?

  1. roses

  2. marigolds

  3. tulips

  4. mums

Dia de los Muertos was originally celebrated in what month?

  1. December

  2. August

  3. March

  4. January

The iconic woman skeleton character in a dress and hat is known as:

  1. la Madre

  2. la Madrina

  3. la Muertida

  4. la Catrina

In the United States, pumpkins are associated with Halloween. What traditional food does Mexico associate with Dia de los Muertos?

  1. corn

  2. beans

  3. potatoes

  4. butternut squash

Which people were the first to practice the beginnings of this tradition?

  1. Spanish

  2. Hondurans

  3. Aztecs

  4. Mayans

Answers:

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.

.

Did you peek?

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How many days does the celebration of Dia de los Muertos span?

Three. October 31 is All Hallow’s Eve, a day of preparation for the return of the spirits. November 1 is El Dia de los Innocentes (day of the children). On this day celebrants welcome the spirits of lost children. The last day is November 2, or Day of the Dead, when the rest of the family members and friends who have passed on are reunited with their loved ones for one day.

 

Dia de los Muertos coincides with which two Catholic holidays?

All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls Day (November 2)

 

What is the traditional flower to leave on graves during the Day of the Dead celebrations?

Marigolds! The brilliant color and strong fragrance of this flower is thought to attract the spirits and lead them in the direction of the celebrations.

 

Dia de los Muertos was originally celebrated in what month?

The celebration originally fell in the ninth month of the Aztec calendar, which was around early August.

 

The iconic woman skeleton character in a dress and hat is known as:

La Calavera Catrina (the skeleton Catrina), also known as the elegant skull, comes from an etching created by Mexican cartoonist and illustrator Jose’ Guadalupe Posada around 1910. Wearing her fancy hat, she serves as a reminder that death does not discriminate between classes and comes even to the wealthy.

 

In the United States, pumpkins are associated with Halloween. What traditional food does Mexico associate with Dia de los Muertos?

Butternut squash is traditionally candied and enjoyed as a dessert, but squash recipes of all types can be found during the holiday.

 

Which people were the first to practice the beginnings of this tradition?

Aztecs. The origins of the rituals practiced during Dia de los Muertos can be traced back 3,000 years!

 

     So, how did you do? Share the quiz with your friends to see how their Day of the Dead knowledge matches up!

 

Watch Courtney Zavala And Derrick Shore of Houston Life TV

try their hand at the same questions, here!


 

     To find ideas for how to celebrate with a party of your own, see my previous post, here.


Pumpkins and Corn and Pies…Oh My!

‘Tis the season to enjoy some outdoor fall fun!

When I’m traveling, I keep an eye out for local farmer’s markets. They’re a great resource to pick up fresh fruit and veggies for car snacks or, if wherever I’m staying has a kitchen, cook for an easy meal.

My favorite local spot to hit for this is Froberg’s Farm in Alvin.

Pie, oh my! Froberg’s has one of my family’s favorite (and most decadent) treats: fried pies! Of course they have full-sized pies too, but the smaller versions? Too tempting and good. Let’s see: peach cream, chocolate pecan, apple raisin, coconut…how’s a girl to choose? Our solution is usually to get a few different ones and cut them into “sampler plates” when we get home. But it’s fun to get one and take it outside under to the trees to enjoy while its still warm, too. Ah, decisions, decisions.  


Froberg’s also has the best variety I’ve seen of small autumn pumpkins, gourds and Indian corn. It’s a great stop to pick up an assortment to use for decor, or let the kids decorate. What is it about tiny pumpkins? They’re just so hard to resist!

The Froberg family has created a kind of fall wonderland for all ages in back of the market, too! But it’s only open through November 4, so you’ll want to get it on your calendar.

 

My girlfriend and I were eager to check out the new “Flower Picking” option, because…well.. fields of flowers! For three dollars, you get a good old fashioned red Dixie cup, and are set loose in the fields to fill it with as many flower as will fit in the cup. Want more flowers? Just buy another cup.

 It’s a great place to take families to run off some of that weekend energy, too. They have a cornfield maze, Berry Fun Land (with slides and climbing obstacles), bean bag toss, strawberry planting booth, basket toss, face painting, “Bee Coaster” ride, rubber duck races, a trailer ride farm tour, corn cannon, gemstone mining and more. Check out their website for details and prices: https://frobergsfarm.com




What fall fun have you found?

 

Roses for Eternity: Gravestone Symbols

Valentine’s Day isn’t the only day that roses represent love. Some carved in stone symbolize an eternal affection for a lost loved one.

But did you know that how the roses are represented on the grave marker can tell you a bit about the dearly departed?

Roses symbolizing love for a lost one.

The rose itself symbolizes love, hope and beauty.

The stage of bloom of the rose indicates the age of the deceased. A bud would have represented a child, a partially opened flower would indicate someone was a teen or young adult, and a rose in full bloom would symbolize the departed had reached maturity.

No matter which stage of bloom the flower portrays, the stem is often depicted as broken as a sign that the person was lost too soon – a life cut short.

Two roses joined together stand for a strong bond such as marriage, and often appear on the joint marker of a couple.

A wreath of roses symbolizes beauty and virtue.

A garland of roses, which may be held by an angel, indicates sorrow, and a bouquet of roses stands for condolences, sorrow or grief.

So the next time you see the depiction of a rose on a gravestone, take a moment to decipher what information it can share.

Happy Valentine’s Day!