Palo Duro Canyon Tailwinds

Wouldn’t you know it?! Texas has a Grand Canyon of its own in the middle of its panhandle called Palo Duro. And the best way to see it is from the saddle of a horse while riding at the bottom of the canyon floor.

We’d been wanting to go horseback riding for the past few months, but something always interfered with our plans, or time wouldn’t allow. But Leah was determined.

“If you can ride in a balloon, then I get to ride a horse,” she declared.

And true to her word, reservations made on Thursday got us an early ride time with Jennifer at Old West Stables inside the state park.


stables1 (2)

We mounted Buster and Lloyd,

our ride

and rode along an unmapped equestrian trail that took us along the foothills of the canyon walls…

on the trail2

and through the hills and ravines of a basin carved by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River over one million years ago.

We passed colorful rock formations resulting from a geologic compression of four distinct periods layered over the course of 250 million years.

canyon wall.jpg

While I enjoyed the scenery, and the quiet of the canyon,

canyon peak

canyon strata

I had the disadvantage of riding behind Leah’s horse, Lloyd.

Leah and Lloyd

Lloyd was a farter who always positioned himself behind the lead horse.

on the trail3

And no matter how many times I tried to hold Buster back…

on the trail4

…we would always find our way back behind Lloyd’s swishing tail,

Buster follows too closely

where Buster was always greeted with a slow and steady current of foul wind, followed by an evacuation.

The hour passed as easily as Lloyd’s breakfast, and we found ourselves back at the stable, in time for Lloyd’s lunch.

back at the ranch

Once finished, we took a ride back to the lodge at the top of the canyon for a better perspective of the second largest canyon system in America,

canyon vista1

overview detail

before returning to the basin’s scenic road to explore the Big Cave,

BC trail

an opening in the red rock that’s not as big as it’s unusual.

cave entrance

cave mouth1

Big Cave inside out

cave opening (2)

The Texas panhandle is as flat as a cowpie, and wide as the open sky.

Airstream sunrise1

Thankfully, Palo Duro Canyon provides some variety to a linear landscape, and adds some color to a pale prairie palette.


Here T(w)oday, Guano T(w)omorrow–the Sequel

If you love the smell of ammonia (and who doesn’t), then Stuart Bat Cave in Kickapoo Cavern State Park should be on your bucket list. When approaching the entrance, the acrid smell of guano is omnipresent, and for good reason, since Stuart Bat Cave is home to 1 million Mexican free-tailed bats from spring through fall.

Each day at dusk, a stream of bats can be seen circling the mouth of the cave– approximately 25 feet across–around and around and around, accelerating to speeds of 60 mph until they explode from the darkness…

co4.jpgbat hole (2).jpg

best bat2.jpgand into the twilight, fluttering en masse, up and over the trees.

Bat sky wide.jpgA continuous and frenzied swarm pours from the cave in a procession that could last up to two hours.

Bat silhouette.jpgWith the exception of some rogue bats that fly off in scattered directions, the mother lode hooks right and follows a path 50 miles due east to Uvalde in search of mosquitoes and corn earworms, a tasty moth that wreaks havoc on a number of Southern crops.

By the time they return at dawn, each bat will have eaten up to three-quarters of its body weight, which is collectively equivalent to 10 tons of insects, and easily explains the pungent odor by the cave.

Best 3.jpgHistorically, the Sergeant family, who farmed this property from the early 1900’s, protected the cave entrance with fencing in order to mine the accumulated guano, which provided important income to the ranchers until 1957 when sold as premium fertilizer and an explosive constituent.

bat sky.jpgHaving over-nighted for three days in the park, I can testify that there is no shortage of annoying bugs here. Not to be selfish, but I’d like to propose that some of the bats stay behind and clean up inside the park’s perimeter. If the bats only knew that they could dine closer to home–forsaking the 100-mile round-trip–then I could better enjoy my outdoor dinner plans as well.

flash bat (2).jpg

Indebted to the Internet

BREAKING NEWS: Three days at Kickapoo Cavern State Park in Brackettville, TX without cell service or WiFi signal…

“Really?”, I asked the ranger upon check-in, afraid of her confirmation.

“That’s right,” she responded. “Who’s your carrier?”

“Does it make a difference?” I didn’t want to belabor the point. “Verizon?”

“Then you’re screwed,” she said emphatically. “The only reason I asked,” she continued, “is if by chance you had AT&T, then maybe there’s a slight chance that if you hike to the ridge, you might get a weak signal.

“Great!” I conceded with resignation. I noticed a “FREE WiFi” sign by a monitor playing video of the park’s activities, and I think I felt a bit of a rush.

“What about WiFi?” I asked eagerly.

“Well, yeah, there’s WiFi here during the day when the ranger station is open and it’s not raining. Otherwise, you can probably pick up the signal at the bathhouse, and nowhere else,” she proclaimed.

My heart sank. The purpose behind this trip was to enjoy the outdoors when the weather allowed. But after learning that the park’s internet connection would be available at precisely the same time when I should be out experiencing nature, I am left to choose between which of the two necessaries is more meaningful. While not as devastating as “Sophie’s Choice”, I know I must surrender one for the benefit of the other.

I had psychologically prepared myself for this situation; it was inevitable. I knew that once we headed into wide-open spaces of rural Western states, there would be limited or no service. And where we are now certainly feels remote. After 40 miles on a winding road without traffic, we reached the park’s welcome sign. Another four miles in and we reached our true destination. This place is a rolling bust-line of shrub and sagebrush-covered hills. But best of all–for the first time in a month there is ABSOLUTELY NO SOUND OF TRAFFIC!

As I type this on my laptop on a picnic bench in view of the Airstream, I glance at the WiFi icon sitting on the left side of the task bar. As a lark, I position the cursor over the icon, and up pops the message, “WiFi connections available”. Incredulous, I click on it and sure enough, I have the option of opening a channel called “TPWD—PUBLIC”.

I waste little time activating the signal. I am immediately redirected to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Wireless Acceptable Use Policy (Effective date: December 15, 2005). I am ordered to read the entire policy before proceeding.

Accordingly, in order to utilize wireless services, I must hit the “I Agree” button at the bottom. Criteria to consider before agreeing are: Content Prohibitions, Content Harmful or Offensive to Third-Parties, Unlawful Content, Infringing Content Impersonation, Content Interference, Deceptive Content or Spam, Unapproved Promotions or Advertising of Goods or Services, Off-Topic Content, Content Harmful to Other Systems, Network Usage.

After perusing all the “CYA” jargon that Texan lawyers are obliged to disclose, I hold my breath and push the “I Agree” button. I figure if Trump can get elected, then surely I can get a connection to internet. By the way, wasn’t that part of his platform–improving infrastructure across America?

Behold! The clouds part, the planets align, the angels sing, and a faint and intermittent internet connection is born! Hallelujah!!

So what’s the point of this post if I no longer have to measure the merits of being cut-off from the main-streaming world?