Lighthouse of Palo Duro Canyon
Submitted by Brian Dowsley
The first rays of morning sunshine bathed the tallest buildings of Amarillo and within minutes the colorful reds, oranges and yellows had descended to ground level. Another brilliant day had arrived atop the Llano Estacado. Deep within Palo Duro Canyon, 20 miles to the south, all was still in muted shadow. That was exactly how I wanted it as I prepared to set out on the six mile round trip hike to one of Texas most stunning landmarks: the Lighthouse.
Sunrise that May morning was at 6:50. By leaving then, I hoped to capture some scenic photos in the brilliant colors and contrasting shadows of a morning sun. I looked forward to peaceful solitude as day visitors had to wait until 8:00 to enter the state park. Having camped the night before, I was under no such restriction. I parked my Harley at the trailhead, strapped on a webbed belt with two canteens and hoisted a small day pack containing my tripod and a first aid kit. My camera, I kept at hand.
It was a pleasant 50, completely windless and silent as I strode forward over the well maintained, packed dirt trail. With its twists and turns, and short climbs and drops, I could understand the trails draw to bicyclists.
A half hour and one mile after setting out (the trail is marked at tenth mile intervals), I stopped for my first water break. It might have been cool out, but the air was bone dry. The sun had yet to reach the canyon floor, but the many red, yellow, orange and blue-gray tiers of its western face were beautifully illuminated.
I picked up the pace and over the next half hour or so, got my first glimpse of the Lighthouse (mile marker 2.2) and then arrived at a sort of base camp (mile marker 2.7). By then, sunlight had reached the canyon floor. My shadow was now a constant companion.
The final three tenths of a mile were steep at times, on the order of 45 to 50, but by taking it in 10 to 15 foot segments, this 56 year old made it without risking a heart attack. There was a level spot complete with wooden bench just shy of the Lighthouse itself. I stopped for a final water break.
There might be easier routes to the Lighthouses saddle than the one I took, but mine had the advantage of being the most direct. By using the mountaineer three point rule, I was able to keep my anxiety meter in the green.
The climb was worth it. What a view!
As I reversed course and started my return journey, I noted the sky had clouded up. Photography-wise I had made it just under the wire. Ooh-rah!