Sunday, August 24, 2014

Palo Duro Canyon and Summer's Last Hurrah

Today was back to school prep day- I made 3 days worth of dinners, shiny new backpacks and lunchboxes were made ready for their big debuts, and Monday's uniform is the cleanest and brightest it's ever going to be. We are READY for this. Summer is great and all, especially with the pool, but I much prefer the school year's steady routine to the craziness of June - August (it's mostly JP's craziness, but it bleeds over). So yay first day of school, bring it on!

But before we close out on summer and move on to fall (if a 105 degree forecast can be called fall), let's go back in time to Wednesday morning when we piled our children and lots of carefully planned food, two hiking backpacks, some baby gear, a bunch of sunscreen and bug spray, and Landon's gigantic size 5 hiking boots (size 5!!)and drove for 6 (actually 6.5; we missed an exit by about 20 miles) to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. I booked a 2-room rim cabin back in April when I decided I had lied when I justified our February ski vacation by promising we wouldn't go on a vacation this summer and then polled co-workers for a trip ideas that would be inexpensive, no more than a half-day drive, not involving the beach of water (JP is waterlogged by late August), and with good hiking. Palo Duro it was, and because no one wants to go camping on a Wed-Fri in late August, we were able to book our cabin with less than the usual 10 months notice- huzzah!

And oh, our the cabin. This was our view when we opened the tall gate separating the cabin from the road.

The camera phone can't come close to capturing it, but it pretty much took our breath away. I can't believe I grew up camping all over Texas and never heard of this place. It's the second biggest canyon in the US and spectacularly beautiful.

The cabin was built into the rim of the canyon by the CCC in the 30's. It had a flat roof edged in stones the kids could climb up and they thought it was the most amazing thing in the whole world- screw the geological wonder before them, they get to play on the roof of a house! And their bedrooms had full-sized bunk beds, so this was basically the greatest vacation destination of their lives.

We quickly unloaded the car and headed out for our first hike. Dubbed "Rock Garden" and rated "difficult," it was basically a windy path through the canyon that ended in an explosion of boulders seemingly thrown down from the heavens. As you know, there's nothing the Lag Liv loves more than a pile of rocks to climb on. So climb we did.

Cora was all, you put me in a car seat for 6.5 hours so that you could put me in a hiking backpack for 2 more? Awesome.

We all bought hats for the trip, making this the first time I think I've ever worn a hat in my life, but Claire adored her little baseball cap and she wore her heart-shaped teal sunglasses on every hike.

This was the first trip she had to hike on her own instead of freeloading in the backpack, but she did SO great. She was pretty sure that hand-holding was essential to hiking, and given that she hiked a total of about 10 miles in 3 days without whining, I was happy to oblige.

Cora was happy to take the sacred seat in the hiking backpack. Giddy'up Daddy!

We got back to the cabin in time for cocktail hour and some scaling of the walls.

The kids got to stay up past dark so they could run around with glow stick necklaces and we could make s'mores. Except the s'mores plan had to be abandoned in the face of crazy high winds, so we enjoyed back-up chocolate chip cookies and tucked the kids in bed before heading back out to our patio to watch the stars, which were truly spectacular. I counted 9 shooting stars the first hour.

On Day 2 we woke up to a bald headed baby who was DELIGHTED to find us sleeping in her room and began our preparations to tackle Palo Duro's signature hike to Lighthouse rock. 2.72 miles each way (which was a lie, more like 3.2), the last bit quite vertical, with a 105-degree sun and no tree cover. This is how we vacation people.

We loaded up our two hiking backpacks: JP's with Cora, 2 big water bottles, my camera, and a diaper changing pad and supplies; and mine with a gallon of water strapped securely in the baby holding area, a bunch of snacks, and a first aid kit. I was the supply cart in the wagon train and our plan to put Claire in JP's pack and Cora in mine when Claire got too tired and our water jug was empty worked out perfectly.

Claire was such a trooper. She made it 5 whole miles on her own, which was great, because as it turned out, it nearly killed JP to have a 40-lb. Clairebear on his back for the last 1.5. As she noted frequently throughout our hike, "I'm a really good hiker, but sometimes I need a little help because I'm four."

After reading the 65 warning signs about dehydration and heat stroke, we were very good about hydrating. And it says something about the dehydration risk when all that water guzzling didn't result in a single request for a bathroom.

When we finally got to mile 2.72, the alleged "end" of the trail, we discovered it ended in a view of Lighthouse Rock, not with our feet actually on the formation itself. That wouldn't do, so we pressed onward and upward. Seriously upward.

But we made it!

Totally worth it. Even Cora was like, I guess this is nice, you crazy crazy people.

But then JP and Landon discovered a side trail that would get us up even higher to the very TOP of the formation. So of course, up we went.

JP even boosted Landon the last 5 feet so they could walk across the top of the world. Or at least the top of Palo Duro Lighthouse trail.

And then, kids refueled and re-watered, we headed back down.

The last 1.5 miles were a little rough. Cora had finally HAD it with this non-crawling, non-napping hiking nonsense and yelled in my ear the whole time I carried her on my back. Claire was delighted to be in JP's pack and Landon was still a cheerful trooper who did so much extra running and climbing I think his hike was 9 miles long, but JP and I (and Cora) were pretty goddamn happy to get to the car. Not that I regret it- the pictures don't come close to doing justice to how beautiful it was to stand on top of that rock and look out at the canyon below, I just wish you could park about a mile further along the trail...

(later, post-nap)

But we got home and kids played on roofs and babies napped in their pack 'n play. The kids and I walked to the Visitors' Center, where Claire made many dubious bobcat sightings from the tourist telescope and Landon diligently filled out his Junior Ranger Packet and earned his first badge. And then he filled out one for Claire so she could have one too. He's basically the best. We rounded out the day's adventures by driving in to Canyon, Texas for dinner and a much-needed margarita, only to find out that it's a dry town (nooooooooooo) and 3:30 is too early to eat. We explored the largest Texas history museum in the state (so we were told) and ate at a tasty diner with a lot of senior citizens before driving all the way in to Amarillo to get the kids their promised ice cream. We got back to "our new little house," as Claire called it, and played some more. I did yoga. Claire helped, and Cora once again thought everything was awesome.

Day 3 dawned cool and windy and beautiful. I may not miss the semi-functioning "air chiller" window unit that got the cabin down to a not-quite-comfortable 80 degrees, but I do miss waking up to that view. It never got old. We packed up a little and set out in search of a last great hike. We spied a cave a little ways off the road and pulled over to go explore it.

Cora was all, "LET'S DO THIS!"

The cave was quite a bit further away than it looked, of course, but we made it! In this picture, Claire is telling us, "Um, I'm pretty sure there's a bear in there and I do NOT want to see him." Love her.

JP took his traditional "jumping over something carrying kids" picture, now with three. I think this might be the end of Landon's inclusion in the series because he's getting really heavy.

As it turned out, there were lots of caves to explore and rocks to climb, so it was a pretty perfect end to a pretty perfect trip.

We got back to the cabin for the last time, let the kids play on their roof for the last time, and then took one final picture with all three on top of their world.

New desktop background!

I was doubting this trip in the days before we left- summer is so exhausting and suddenly just staying home sounded lovely, but I am so so glad we went. I love family vacations with our kids, and if possible, JP loves them even more than I do. I actually love all of our days, but there's something extra bright about vacation memories. This was a short one, and all told we spent $450 including lodging, food, and the gas to get there, but it was glorious. We head to Steamboat Springs in November for a hike-filled Thanksgiving, and then I have to figure out where we're going next. 2015 is our 10-year wedding anniversary, so I think we need to do something big. Maybe even involving airplanes and non-state-funded lodging. Maybe beachy, and definitely with an all-inclusive swim up bar and drop-in kids camp. Suggestions welcome, and if you are a hiking/camping enthusiastic (or "camping", I'm not sure it counts when you're in a cabin with electricity, mini-fridge, and surprisingly nice bathroom), definitely add Palo Duro Canyon to your list. Maybe not for August, but sometime- it's beautiful and I think we saw 5 people the whole time we were there. But that's probably because no one likes hiking enough to go to the Texas panhandle in August except us.


  1. Wow! Totally blown away by these pictures and the amazing views.

  2. Oh my word. This is all so (SO) beautiful but that picture of JP jumping just about did me in. You are one brave woman to watch and take a picture of that! :)

  3. Try the Franklyn D resort in jamaica. Very family friendly-every family gets a nanny, but plenty for adults to do, including doing nothing. My daughter and her family have been there three times. Lots of kids activities, beach and pools etc.

  4. I grew up near Palo Duro Canyon (Hereford) and it was definitely a happy part of my childhood. Love that you went there! :) Such special family memories.

  5. Yeah, if ever there was a post highlighting the differences between your parenting and mine, this is the one! I nearly had a panic attack looking at the picture of JP jumping with the 3 kids. (3 kids who I have never met!). And I'm not even kidding... that picture made me anxious! And you were able to take a picture of it! I would be screaming at my husband, "DO NOT DO THAT! OMG, ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL MY BABY???"

    And, just to be clear, this is in NO WAY a judgment on your parenting. I'm neurotic as hell, and I know that. I definitely am more cautious, and I actually wish I wasn't... but I've always been that way, and I'm guessing that won't change. My brain very quickly leaps to worst case scenario all. the. time. It's exhausting.

    1. My brain did that, too. But I'm pregnant with my first and kind of terrified of that I'll do something to screw it up. I am anxious for the kid to get here so my husband can share in the potential to screw up-ness. My neurosis, no judgment.

    2. Hey Wendy! I can't tell you how many people have told me that, to the point where I almost left it out of the blog post, but there will be a day when I pull this blog offline and print out the posts for our family memory book and I needed that picture in there :). But I promise- no children were at risk. JP did the jump about a dozen times with just Cora, then a few with Cora and Claire (he likes jumping), then he had Landon come over and do it by himself (he could; it wasn't far), and then he picked him up and asked for a picture. But despite repeated efforts I couldn't get one with both his feet in the air- his legs are too long and the rocks too close together, and the rocks sloped down, so even if he'd missed, he would have stayed vertical and just slid down on his feet.

      So while we are pretty adventurous with the kids and are definitely not high-anxiety (or really even low anxiety...) and are generally trying to raise them to be the same, this wasn't actually one of our riskier moments of the trip. Not that I'm going to point those out ;).

      And good luck on the pregnancy Angie! I'm certain you're not screwing anything up ;).

  6. LL, where did you get your hat? After having a basal cell removed from nose I really need a good sun hat and haven't been happy with any of the ones I've seen. Yours actually looks cute! Not too big and floppy and not straw (too itchy at swim meets and on hikes)!

    1. Aw thank you! I really hate how I look in hats, but I must admit I wouldn't have survived the hike without it and now I'm rather fond of it. JP actually picked it out for me at Academy! He said it was the only one that said "ladies" on the tag, and that's about how much he agonized over the selection :). I'm sure I'll be wearing it more now- it was amazing how nice it was to have direct sun blocked from hitting your face! It's like I suddenly understand why people have been wearing baseball caps for all these years...

  7. Go to Hawaii for 2015! You can hike (volcanoes! rain forests! waterfalls! canyons! - seriously there are so many great hikes in Hawaii) and you can also swim up to a pool bar all on the same vacation. Not to mention the weather is nearly perfect all the time. To me it's the perfect combination of adventure and relaxation. Oahu is nice, but I personally think you would enjoy the other islands more - less crowded, more wilderness.

  8. That picture of you and Cora drinking is my favorite :) (Although I will admit to being guilty of a gasp when I saw the jumping picture. Thanks for the explanation. Maybe you should put a watermark of "Don't try this at home!" over it ;))

  9. You guys are so brave! I'm not even talking about the jumping picture -- I'm talking about the vertical hike with three little kids! I'm impressed.

  10. That jumping picture is great - it looks much scarier at first glance than it really is. I love how adventurous you and JP are, and how much freedom to explore you give the kids. My dad was like that when I was little, and I think it made me a much more physically confident person, but also a safer one, because I knew what my limits were. I always try to step back and let H do his thing in situations where I know he's not going to seriously injure himself, because if I'm always hovering over him telling him not to do this or climb that, he'll never figure out what he can actually do and not do! I think he's much more likely to get hurt when I'm not there to step in, if I'm helicoptering when I AM there, because he won't know his own limits.

    So sad that it was a dry town! A margarita sounds like the perfect way to cap off that day!