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Caprock Canyons State Park: Mountains Beneath the Plains

Yuccas and grasses abound at Caprock Canyons State Park, which encompasses roughly 14,000 acres near Quitaque.

Scores of cliff swallows billow out of the canyon, forming a swirling, 100-foot column above the rim. Just beyond the tips of my hiking boots, the blood-red canyon wall, bathed in late-afternoon light, drops 160 feet to the broken string of shallow pools that make up Holmes Creek.

Every spring, I’m drawn by these remote, labyrinthine canyons that change color and character as the sun moves across the sky—dark red in early morning, brightening to rose and ochre toward midday, then deepening again as the sun drops toward the western horizon. The park’s trails wend through grassland and along wooded stream terraces, and switchback up canyon walls to the High Plains Caprock. Most days, circling birds of prey outnumber hikers. I come here in search of solitude, wildness, and a sense of Southern Plains history; I’ve never been disappointed.

I’m tempted to linger at Holmes Creek, but the yuccas cast long shadows. Caprock Canyons State Park’s 3.5-mile Canyon Rim Trail leads me through mesquite and midgrass prairie. Indian blanket, prickly pear, toadflax, ground cherry, yucca, and countless other wildflowers, emboldened by recent spring rain, color the little bluestem grass with shades of red, yellow, violet, and brilliant white. Westward, gentle prairie gives way to a broken, juniper-studded badland. Beyond that a mile or so, the Caprock Escarpment abruptly rises some 700 feet, marking the transition from the Rolling Plains ecological region to the High Plains.

A few hours later, in the park’s Honey Flat Camping Area, I warm my tired feet by my campfire and gaze at a night sky unpolluted by artificial light.

Essentials

Caprock Canyons State Park lies in the Texas Panhandle, 3.5 miles north of Texas 86 in Quitaque via FM 1065. The park opens 365 days a year. Hours: Sun–Thu 8-5, Fri-Sat 8-8. Entrance fee: $2 per day age 13 and older, free age 12 and younger. Write to the Park Manager, Caprock Canyons State Park, Box 204, Quitaque 79255; 806/455-1492; www.tpwd.state.tx.us/park/caprock/. For reservations, call TPWD at 800/792-1112. Park staff occasionally lead birding and bison tours; call the park for more information.

Camping Campsites range from $7/night for primitive backpacker sites to $12/night for sites with water and electricity. Wheelchair-accessible restrooms, picnic areas, and campsites are available.

Rentals Quitaque Riding Stables offers guided and unsupervised horse tours and tack rental. Call 806/455-1208.

Special Considerations Spring and fall are the best seasons for hiking in the park; summertime temperatures can be dangerously high. All hikers should carry at least 1 gallon of water in the summer season. Pets must be kept on a leash at all times.

Nearby Attractions Caprock Canyons Trailway, 806/455-1492; Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, 806/651-2244; Palo Duro Canyon State Park, 806/488-2227.

For more information about area attractions, lodging, and restaurants, call the Quitaque Chamber of Commerce, 806/455-1225.

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