Palo Duro Canyon … A Pleasant Surprise
George and I began our Palo Duro Canyon Loop at the Mack Dick Trailhead. We followed the Comanche Trail south alongside a narrow Timber Creek.
At times the Comanche took us along the base of some high red cliffs with white bands (I would later find out the white bands were a mineral called satin spar gypsum). The biking was so easy I wondered why my MTB Project app classified the trail as a black diamond.
Further down the Comanche trail we came to a sign pointing to something called the Cowboy Dugout. George read me the list of objects which were supposedly inside the structure. But when we went to look through the locked gate the switch for the light was broken and the inside remained dark.
We biked right through the junction where the Comanche Trail was supposed to turn to the east. About a mile later I stopped to take a photo of Timber Creek and check my Trailforks app. Sure enough, we were on the wrong trail (Paseo Del Rio) instead of the Comanche. By using the app we managed to backtrack to the junction. We wondered if we had not paid attention the first time but we found there had been no sign showing us to turn left for the Comanche Trail!
Comanche Trail East
As soon as the Comanche turned to the east it crossed the paved park road and headed up the mountain. We quickly found out why the Comanche had the Black Diamond rating.
The trail went vertical, alternating between large rocks and loose sand. One hairpin turn followed another as we climbed the cliff on the south edge of Palo Duro Canyon. Once we had gained some altitude we began to see the canyon bottom and the opposing cliffs basking in the golden light of the morning sun.
Into and Out of Ravines
After we had climbed 300 feet the trail began to drop into and out of ravines. The physical effort required proved difficult for George, who had been trying to restore his stamina after a recent hospital stay earlier in the month. But he hung tough and kept battling.
We had a difficult time riding out of each ravine because of shadows. After accelerating into each gully we entered darkness just before reaching the bottom, causing us to brake and lose our momentum. Once our eyes adjusted we pedaled hard … trying to clean the opposite side.
We passed several hoodoos and balancing rocks as we rode the Comanche Trail.
At one point we passed a large bluff and then a hoodoo with a desert garden growing on the top … twenty feet above the ground.
As George approached me he said his rear tire was beginning to roll over as he cornered.
We tried just pumping with little lasting results. Finally I handed George a new tube after removing the old one. “Shouldn’t we check the tire for thorns before replacing the tube?” He asked.
“Yup, otherwise this tube will soon be leaking,” I concurred.
We removed several cactus spines from the inside surface and then replaced the tube.
The Comanche Trail eventually dropped us back to the bottom of Palo Duro Canyon and we ultimately located the Juniper Cliffside Trail.
Juniper Cliffside Trail
I knew the Juniper Trail would be a little easier on us as it ran alongside the park road on the western floor of the canyon.
Just a mile or so up the trail we passed a large cavern in the cliffs. I remembered the cavity from the day before, when we had stopped the truck and climbed to investigate. The second and third photos were taken the previous day.
We found a large leaning rock offering some shade and ate a snack. Several mountain bikers passed as we relaxed in the cool breeze. A couple asked if we were okay.
Once back on the Juniper Trail we soon came across a sign for “Red’s Rock.” We both looked at the boulder and then at each other and wondered what made the rock any different than hundreds we had seen just like it.
While mountain biking I have been fortunate to have photographed deer, black bears, porcupines, Gila monsters, snakes, bighorn sheep, wild donkeys, coyotes, beaver, and many types of birds. But one animal had eluded me. I have seen dozens of road runners out riding but have never been able to get a good photo. They always dart off into some brush and quickly disappear.
However, while riding the Juniper Trail I came up behind one. He began to trot down the trail and I knew he would soon disappear. But he didn’t. He stopped running and turned his head. I immediately stopped and we just looked at each other. Then he turned his head back and again began to trot down the trail. So, I once again started to pedal, staying the same distance behind.
But after fifty feet or so he stopped (so did I) and turned to stare at me. The third time he stopped I got off my bike and crept slowly toward him. He never moved. I took a photo at twenty feet, then fifteen, then ten, then five … he never moved! He just kept staring at me.
When I got closer than five feet he finally scooted off into the brush.
Just past the roadrunner we came upon a couple of guys in a gully. The small guy was holding a bandana on his forehead while the larger was asking him if he was okay. At first I saw a lot of blood on his shirt. When the fellow lifted the bandana I could see a gash in his forehead. The larger fellow said his buddy had come down the hill towards us and had somehow ended up off the trail in the rocks. I could see no reason why he had crashed based on the condition of the trail. Maybe he just got going too fast.
After they assured us he would be okay we rode on. Once alone, George asked me why people don’t wear helmets. “Beats me,” I answered. I would like to know if these two wore helmets the next time out.
Paseo Del Rio Trail
After 3 miles on the Juniper Trail we came to a parking area. Near a trail kiosk I noticed another mail box ( I had seen one at the end of the Comanche Trail) urging me to, “TAKE ONE.” This time I decided to see what was inside and found … nothing!
On the eastern side of the parking area we found the Paseo Del Rio Trail, which ran northward along Timber Creek. Soon we were riding the portion of Paseo Rio we had (incorrectly) biked earlier coming the other direction when we lost the Comanche Trail. We passed the Cowboy’s Dugout and the red cliffs and were soon cruising back into the Mack Dick parking lot.
Mountain Biking in Palo Duro Canyon? I found the trails wonderful and challenging, especially the Comanche Trail. I did not get a chance to ride the Lighthouse and Givens trails. I guess I have two good reasons to come back to the Palo Duro Canyon. And I must return to find out what I was supposed to take from the mailboxes.
During most visits I take many more photos than I can place on a page. To view every image I captured on this ride in Palo Duro Canyon … 75 photos in all, please visit my Photo Gallery Site.
The following link can give you all the stats for this ride … just click on the box below.
Would you like to try this ride? You can copy my GPX file from the Strava Link below.