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Heralded as “Texas’ best kept secret,” Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a state park that is full of geologic wonders and a panorama of colors nestled in the Texas Panhandle.

Sure, we’d heard of Palo Duro Canyon State Park growing up, but had never made the trek to the panhandle town of Canyon to check it out. Until recently, that is, as we returned home from our maiden voyage in Jambo! (our Airstream) to Breckenridge, CO. Trying to escape from the Denver New Year holiday-makers who had descended upon Summit County, we decided to pack up, hitch up, and move along.

Palo Duro Canyon seemed a good stopping point along the road home, so off we went. (For the record, we went through Denver and we were on the road for about 12 hours with a few quick stops along the way for food, water, gas, and to let the fur babies stretch their legs.)

Sunset driving in West Texas. Photo by Louellen Coker

We arrived in the area as the sun was going down. And if you’ve not seen the sun set in the Texas plains, you’ve missed something spectacular. It’s flat, so you get a long and expansive sunset. The sun had made its exodus for the day by the time we got to the park, so we had no idea what to expect the next morning. We had an inkling that it would be something spectacular by the long and winding 10% grade road we took down into the park.

Our thoughts of researching what we should do while here were dashed the moment we entered the park and our phones went into “No Service” mode. There are worse things that could happen.

After getting Jambo! set up, I whipped up a nice little turkey and vegetable stew with our leftover Christmas turkey and some veggies that we had picked up along the way at Trader Joe’s. After a day of fast food, a healthy stew hit the spot and we were down for the count.

There is something about the peace and quiet of a campground that allows for a deep and peaceful sleep that you can’t get anywhere else. I woke up later than normal the next morning with Duane handing me a cup of coffee, the smell of breakfast cooking, and the chatter of a rafter of Turkey wandering through our campground. Definitely not a bad way to start your morning.

Watching the turkeys make their morning stroll through the campground. Photo by Duane Coker

 

The Park Itself

We were beyond delighted by our first glimpse of the park the next morning. The view was simply incredible and we were not disappointed by the 10% descent! We had descended to the floor of the canyon and awoke to stunning views of red, green, yellow, and brown that ebbed and flowed throughout the day as the sun made its trek across the sky.

According to the park’s interpretive guide, “Palo Duro Canyon is a place where erosion shapes the land, four bio regions intersect, cultures have met and clashed and change is the only constant.”

Palo Duro Canyon, 120 miles long and 6-800 feet deep, was formed less than 1 million years ago when the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River first carved its way through the Southern High Plains. The erosion tells a geologic story that began 250 million years ago with its panoramic splendor.

Palo Duro Canyon is simply breathtaking!
Photo by Louellen Coker

The original parkland of what is fondly known as the “Grand Canyon of Texas” was deeded by private owners in 1833 and more recently the purchase of the Canoncita Ranch make the park’s total footprint of 18,438 acres.

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), part of Truman’s New Deal initiative, sent seven companies of young men and military veterans to develop access to the canyon floor and to develop the initial infrastructure of the park: the visitor center, cabins, shelters and the park headquarters. And while they worked from 1933 until 1937, the park officially opened on July 4, 1934.

Wildlife is abundant in the park. Endangered species include the Palo Duro mouse that is only found in the Red River canyon lands and the Texas horned lizard. Other species one might see include mule deer, road runners, wild turkey, cottontail rabbits, coyotes, barbary sheep (introduced), bobcats, and diamond-back rattlesnakes. Birdwatching is a popular park activity.

Winter cactus at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.
Photo by Louellen Coker

Juniper trees are a common sight throughout the canyon have given the area its moniker: Palo Duro is Spanish for “hard wood.” Other species include mesquite, cottonwood, salt cedar, willow, western soapberry, and hackberry. Indian blanket, star thistle, sunflower, paper flower, Blackfoot daisy, tansy aster, sideoats grama, buffalograss, sage brush, yucca and prickly pear cactus area month the flowers and grasses one will encounter.

Should you want to drive through the park, you can drive the 16 miles of paved roadway through the canyon. Alternatively you can ride a horse (rentals are available), hike, or ride your bike along the park’s trails to get an up-close look at the breathtaking scenery.

Amenities-wise, this is what you can expect at Palo Duro Canyon State Park:

  • Camping: Backpacking, equestrian sites, tent sits and RV sites with water and electricity.
  • Cabins: CCC-built rental cabins (CCC=Civilian Conservation Corps from the New Deal).
  • Picnicking: picnic tables at a variety of locations.
  • Trails: 35 miles of hiking and biking trails. Equestrian trails available.
  • Old west Stables: Guided horse back rides.
  • Interpretive Center: Exhibits about the history, geology, and wildlife of the Canyon and the Park Museum store.
  • Nature Observation: Birdwatching, “textbook” geology.
  • Palo Duro Trading Post Restaurant and Park Store: Souvenirs, camping supplies, firewood, ice, restaurant, and catering.
  • Theatrical entertainment: “Texas” and outdoor drama, is performed in an open-air theatre nested at the food of a high cliff.

Getting there

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located in Armstrong and Randall counties, 12 miles east of Canyon on Texas 217. Specifically (should you want to have Amazon deliver something to you…provided you leave the park itself to order it!), 11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, TX 79105 or www.palodurocanyon.com; or give the friendly park rangers a call at 806-488-2227. Other information is available at the Texas State Parks’ website, To talk to a real person about rates and reservations, call 512-389-8900. If email’s your thing, try info@palodurocanyon.com. To learn more about Texas, the outdoor musical drama, call 806-655-2181.

But whatever you do, I don’t recommend waiting 48 years to take a visit to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It truly is one of Texas’ best kept secrets.

Jambo
Jambo! and the dogs.

Let me introduce you to the newest addition to the Journey Monkey family… our 2017 Airstream International travel trailer, Jambo!

While, we have always thought it would be kinda cool to own an Airstream, it’s not been on the top of our list of things to pursue. We’re kind of accidental Airstreamers. Our journey started, quite simply, because our dog sitter of 6+ years thought it would be a good idea to graduate from high school and go off to college. (Priorities, I tell you!) Rather than trying to find someone new, we opted to try out this travel trailer thing.

We started out with a Casita, but that lasted all of one rainy weekend for us to run the Oilman 70.3 triathlon. Getting two sore adults who left everything out on the course, two triathlon bikes, two sets of triathlon gear, and two large-breed dogs into a 17-foot trailer, was a bit of a rude awakening. There is a lot to love about a Casita, but that weekend, we learned that it wasn’t quite what we were looking for. Our love affair with the Casita, though spicy, was short-lived.

It wasn’t her, it was totally us!

The next week, we found ourselves in the area of a local Airstream dealer and decided to stop in and actually take a look at the silver beauties lined up along the sales lot. Our intention, of course, was to just check things out and wait and dream and see if we would actually use the lovely little Casita that was sitting in our driveway at home. We’d thought we’d give our cute little Casita six months to a year. Besides, we only had a few minutes to look before we moved on to our next appointment of the day. We were so committed to our mission that even the Airstream salesman didn’t even take us seriously at first and kept offering us cookies that were sitting on the counter. (Granted, the latter may have been a self-defense maneuver!)

In regards to window shopping, yeah, whatever.

We did have in mind what would work for us and we asked to see what was on the lot. He walked us out to take a look at what he had available. Once we walked in, we knew. In the way that you just know. We were offered a great trade-in and, that, as they say is history.

A week later, our cute little Casita was replaced by a regal Airstream. We hope that whomever our Casita ends up with will enjoy her as much as we (did and) thought we would.

Apparently it is a “thing” to name your Airstream. There’s even a website where you go to register your chosen name. As we talked about whether we wanted to name her—we’re really not much for naming cars, but have named boats; we decided that, SHOULD we name her, the name should live up to three criteria:

  1. It needed to have something to do with monkeys.
  2. It needed to have some nod to silver.
  3. It should be welcoming.

Silver monkey didn’t seem to have the romantic appeal that we wanted, so went to the “googoogalizer” to see what we could come up with. All I have to say about that is, “Thank you, Google!” And with that 30 seconds of throwing the line out, we came up with the perfect name for our sexy new addition to our family…. Jambo!

Jambo! actually is a multi-faceted name that fits us to a T!

Jambo! The silver-backed protector

A silverback gorilla at the Jersey zoo leapt to fame in 1986 when a 6 year old Levan Merritt fell into the gorilla enclosure. Knocked unconscious from his 20-foot fall, one of the gorillas stood guard over the young boy and stroked him keeping him safe from the other gorillas in the enclosure. As Levan regained consciousness and began to cry, the gorilla was spooked and moved away from the boy allowing for a dramatic rescue. That gorilla’s name was Jambo.

Merritt later attended and cut the ribbon at the installment of a bronze statue in Jambo’s honor. Earlier this year an adult Merritt stated, “I am forever thankful to Jambo as it obviously could have gone one of two ways. It was amazing how he protected me in that way.”

We had found a name that hit two of our criteria: something to do with monkeys and a nod to silver. Being a protector was a bonus!

Jambo! The welcome

Jambo is a Swahili word that we learned when we climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. It means, hello, welcome, good-bye, pleased to meet you. Much like aloha, it is a multi dimensional word that at its essence offers good-will and camaraderie to everyone. And since that is how we feel about people, and our Kili trip was one of our favorite journeys, Jambo is perfect in that sense.

We had found her name! Within a few minutes we had discovered the perfect name for our new protectress. She will forevermore (to us at least) be known as Jambo!

Jambo! Our protectress.

Here’s to many adventures with our newest Journey Monkey!

Christmas is one of my favorite times of year. Not just because of the campy holiday songs, cooler temperatures, classic movies, gathering with friends, or the presents (let’s be real, all of that is pretty nice!).

Christmas for me is a time of reflection and remembrance. Hopes and dreams begin to take shape or reshape themselves. It’s the time of year when I feel the closing out of the waning year and the rising of a quiet anticipation for emerging year.

Much of my reflection centers around the mundane process of unpacking the boxes that were carefully put away earlier in the year. One of my favorite little boxes to unpack is the one that has the accoutrements from the tiny little tree we put up in our apartment during our time in Seoul, Korea.

Korean Christmas Tree
Our little Korean Christmas Tree. Circa 1996.

You see, in the mid-1990s, Christmas wasn’t widely celebrated and holiday decorations had a sparse availability. I can’t quite remember where we got our little 1.5 foot tree, but it was a step up from the poster board one we had in college. But we had one. And we somehow managed to get a few ornaments (mostly hand made) and lights. Garland was a bit more difficult to come by.

For the holidays, our students rallied together and made us a decent number of “lucky stars.” We learned that these cute little origami stars were a symbol of love and well wishes. I gathered these delicate little stars and made a lovely little garland for our tree. This garland has been carefully stored every year and has been lovingly displayed each holiday season.

When this particular treasure is unearthed, it’s as though the love and well-wishes are granted anew. And as I wrap them around my little tree, I return those wishes to those who gave them to me (wherever they may be).

Lucky Stars are like the magic of Santa. May we all enjoy the hope and promise of the season today and throughout the year in all that we do.
Lucky Stars are like the magic of Santa. May we all enjoy the hope and promise of the season today and throughout the year in all that we do.

As I wrap my lucky stars around my tree, I am ever so grateful for the gift that our time in Korea gave to us. I learned that travel, whether near or far, is every bit as magical as the promise of Ol’ St. Nick. There is a bit of joy and hope as one embarks on any adventure.

And with this I share the love and well-wishing sentiments of my lucky stars with you and yours. May we all enjoy the hope and promise of the season today and throughout the year in all we do and all the places we go.

I married Louellen in 1990 and, while I’m no shrinking violet when it comes to adventure, within hours of our nuptials she convinced me to get on a Mexicana Airline flight into a hurricane!  That’s another story, however the pattern has continued these nearly 20 years.

Louellen’s long time dream has been to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, which, at 19,340 feet, is Africa’s highest peak and the world’s tallest freestanding mountain.  I don’t know where this dream came from – I’ll have to ask her sometime – but, on the day after Christmas in 2008, I find myself in Moshi, Tanzania staring at the great mountain from its foothills in this town, which, because of its frequent mists, is named with the Swahili word for smoke.