Where The Trails Are (WTTA) strives to provide a useful database of equestrian trails.  Keep your eyes here for a growing resource guide.   The trails for horse back riding are unfortunately dwindling and it can be hard to find places to ride. The best resource for knowledge of equestrian trails are the trail riders themselves.  It is the hope of Where the Trails Are that riders will contribute information about trails they know with their fellow equestrians.  Watch for our articles in The Horse Gazette and “like” us on WTTA’s Facebook page.

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If you would like to contribute information about riding trails then please check out the Submit A Review Tab for more information. You are encouraged to include pictures of the trails, you and your riding buddies on the trail, and of the facilities, but they do need to be at least 800 pixels wide.  Getting a shot at the trailhead or facility entrance with you and all your riding buddies always makes for a super photo and helps people know what to look for when they are trying to find the park/ranch.

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Thanks so much and happy trails!

Kelly Hurd

Send me an e-mail at: hurdkn@gmail.com

Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.


HEYNE RANCH © 2015 Lin Sutherland

Contributor:  All content & pictures provided by contributor Lin Sutherland – owner of Onion Creek Ranch   in Austin, Texas. Thank you Lin!

Mr. Peter Heyne, owner of Heyne Ranch.  Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

Mr. Peter Heyne, owner of Heyne Ranch. Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

Heyne Ranch Location: Southeast Texas, slightly south and west of Houston.

Website: None at this time.

FaceBook Link FB page Heyne Ranch Link

Contact/Owner: Peter Heyne #713/504-3141 Email: writer@peterheyne.com

Address: 10010 FM 960, Glen Flora, Texas 77443

Directions: Look for a Big sign on front of the drive. Please note, the ranch address is not exact on Google Maps. The best thing to do is Google Glen Flora. The ranch is one mile south on 960, just over the Colorado bridge, on the left. Call Peter Heyne if you have any questions or problems: 713-504-3141.

Hours:  By appointment only. This is a private ranch, you need to make arrangements before showing up.

Cell Phone Service: Good.

Dogs: Dogs are allowed if well behaved and under control.

Lin's puppies, having a blast at Heyne Ranch.  Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

Lin’s puppies, having a blast at Heyne Ranch. Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

Equestrian Camping: Allowed!

Fees: Fees are subject to change, please ask the owner, Mr. Heyne, for current rates.

Day Riders: $20 per person for day riding (when not camping but only riding for the day) or $15 for day riding that is 4 hours or less.

Camping Fee: $20 per night per rig. (there are no electric hook ups yet)

Pens: $15 per horse.

Farm House Rental: $125 a night.

Guest ranch house for rent when available.

Guest ranch house for rent when available. Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

Facilities: 

Ranch House: The ranch house has electricity, running water, central heat/air. This home is located in a Beautiful setting. Big cottonwood and sycamore trees overlook the 1920’s farmhouse, surrounded by a large, trimmed yard.  An old barn sits nearby.  The house is a two bedroom one bath facility.  It can sleep five (two full sized beds and a fold out couch).  A new refrigerator and stove is provided.   Centrally heated and air-conditioned, the house is comfortable and pleasant, with old ranch photos and books. The front porch, complete with rocking chairs, is a perfect spot for wine and conversations.  Cost: $125 a night.  The ranch house is rented on a limited basis when Mr. Hayne is not using it.

Bathhouse: There is a nice newly built bathhouse with running water, showers, toilets, and heat/air.

Bathhouse with air & heat! Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

Bathhouse with air & heat! Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

Pens –  Good pipe pens (full of spring grass), two water troughs in the camping area.  A hose and faucet are available for washing up.   Owner requests you muck out your own area if needed.

Camping: I saw no trailer electrical hookups but understand Mr. Heyne is working on that.  For now it appears to be “dry camping,” but it’s under a large set of deep-shade trees near the pens. You are welcome to run your generator.

Heyne Ranch barn.

Heyne Ranch barn. Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

Mileage: Approximately 10 miles of trail.

Map: Provided by the Ranch.

Trails/Terrain: This is a 400 acre ranch with 10 miles of trails.  The 10 mile estimate is word from the owner. It seems about right.   There are few gates to go through.  Existing gates have horseback friendly openers. The  trails were mowed when I was there. Shoes are not required. The soil is basically sandy.  It’s solid, soft and mostly grassy footing. There is cattle/longhorn on the property.

The River: Two river trails are gorgeous with winding trails through the trees. Big plus: Large sandy beach on the river.  Owner suggests not entering the river by horseback as certain spots seem to have quick sand.

Enjoying the Colorado River at Heyne Ranch.  Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

Enjoying the Colorado River at Heyne Ranch. Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

Coggins:  A current Coggins is required.

Pests: BUG SPRAY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.  There can be sudden gnat invasions so DO NOT FORGET your bug spray both for you and your horse.  It’s southeast Texas and on a river.  A fly mask is also a good idea.

Ranch Lin

Lin Sutherland at Heyne Ranch, April 2015. Photo provided by Lin.

 

Description: HEYNE RANCH © 2015 Lin Sutherland

Heyne Ranch is an old private ranch in Southeast Texas that offers 10 miles of grassy, no-rock trails through scenic woods, farmland and rolling pastures. The land lies along the Colorado River and includes shaded parking, water troughs and pens.  Peter Heyne, the owner, has opened the ranch to trail riders and overnight campers.  He’s recently built a nice new bathroom/shower house that’s heated and air conditioned.  The old farmhouse on the place is available for rent on a limited basis. Check with the owner for availability.

We took our two gaited horses to Heyne Ranch and it was perfect for them. The trails at the ranch are maintained by frequent mowing.  We liked the trails that wind through the woods along the Colorado River and the open cantering trails through the fields where we could really move out.  I also loved cantering on the smooth, long dirt road through the cultivated corn and cotton fields. Our horses are barefoot and never had a problem since rocks and tough terrain is virtually nonexistent on the ranch.

At Heyne Ranch.  Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

At Heyne Ranch. Photo provided by Lin Sutherland.

Nearby Towns: Close to two towns: the small community of Glen Flora with its Antique Emporium, and Wharton, which is loaded with trash and treasure stores, as well as a Wal-Mart and Buc-ees and a terrific Mexican food restaurant called Los Cucos Café

In Summary: I loved riding this ranch. I found I could really get up and go or just plod along and enjoy the scenery. For endurance riders, the trails do form a loop so you could do two loops with only two gates to open. There is one gas pipeline bridge you have to go under, but the owner has put in a go-around if your horse is wary of it. Our horses had no problem with it.

This trail post is courtesy of WTTA contributor
Ann Sides – Thank you Ann!

logo

Websites:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Caddo National Grasslands website link

Caddo Trail Riders Association link

Caddo Trail Riders Association Facebook page link

Location:  Caddo Grasslands is about an hour and a half northeast of Dallas. When you come to Caddo Grasslands, plan on getting away from it all and enjoying some of nature’s beautiful scenery and great horseback riding.

Just FYI, in case of emergency Paris, TX is the nearest large city with emergency facilities.

Latitude:  33.7372   Longitude 95.9738   If you are using Mapquest etc. type in Telephone, TX (closest town)

Contacts:

Ranger station at Caddo:  903-378-2103 (is NOT answered 24 hours)

Ranger headquarters of Caddo & LBJ Grasslands:  940-627-5475

Caddo Trail Riders Association: President Phil Haley 903-583-3902 and Mike Durbin 903-664-2618 CTRA@K5MJD.US

 

Caddo Grassland map

Directions:

Through Bonham:   (Ann’s favorite route)

Go out North Hwy 69 to Leonard.

Turn right at Hwy 78.  Stay on 78 through Bonham to FM 1396.

Turn right on FM 1396 and go 9.6 miles

Turn left on FM 2029 approx 3-4 miles.

Turn right on FM 409 and go approx 2 miles.  You’ll see a brown sign that says Bois d’Arc Trailhead.  Entrance is on the right side of the road, with a cattle guard crossing.

Note: 

Mapquest will show some little FM roads that skirt around Ladonia and one after Bonham, especially on the FM around Ladonia (twisty and narrow). It is a much better drive pulling horses to stay on the bigger roads.

 

Equestrian Camping: 

Overnight equestrian camping is allowed.

Fees: 

$2.00 for day riders or day visitors

$6.00 for overnight camping

*There is free day use area which has no water or bathroom

Coggins: 

Current Coggins is required but is not usually checked.  There is no ranger station at front gate.

 

Caddo 4 edit

Photo provided by Ann Sides.

Facilities: 

The road in the camp is gravel and all campsites are shaded. There are approximately 20 pull through sites and 10 pull in sites. Each campsite on the outer side of the loop has a large picnic table, and either a single pole to tie horses to or a steel highline with a cross piece. The single poles are being replaced with highlines. Other amenities at the campsite include a large covered pavilion with picnic tables, a composting pit toilet, a large water trough, a horse wash rack and a mounting block for handicap riders. All campsites have frost free faucets with water available year round; however there are no showers or electrical hookups. You can tell this camp was designed by horse people, for horse people, as all facets of the campsite are horse friendly. There is day use parking down the road from the main trailhead. It is primarily used when there are large group meetings. The work on the campsite began in 2000 by a volunteer riding club, Caddo Trail Riders Association, who still maintain and improve the trails and campsites today. Their website (Caddo Trail Riders Association link) contains up-to-date maps and phone numbers of members you can check with about weather and controlled burns (more on this later).

Dogs:

Dogs are allowed but must remain on a leash. 

Cell Phone Service: 

Cell phone service is fair.

Trail Users:

This is a multi-use trail for Equestrians, hikers, hunters, and bicycles.  However, due to the sandy trails there are rarely if ever bicycles on trail. Hunters typically hunt. in areas away from the trails.  Trail users are required to wear orange during dear season. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the trails..

Mileage: 

There is approximately 30 miles of trails.

Trail Map:

Click the map to enlarge it.  According to Caddo Trail Riders Association, trail maps are available at the campgrounds.  CTRA also reports that the trails are well marked. Caddo trail map

Photo provided by Ann Sides.

Photo provided by Ann Sides.

Terrain: 

The terrain is sandy, heavily wooded, and hilly to flat. These are barefoot friendly trails.

Description:

When most equestrian folks hear “grasslands” in Texas they think of the Grasslands in Decatur. However, there is another grasslands area that together with the Decatur area comprises the Caddo-Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands. It is located near Honey Grove and called Caddo Grasslands. Caddo Grasslands has nearly 18,000 heavily wooded acres and three pristine lakes. It is open for hunting and fishing (following TX Parks & Wildlife seasons), camping, hiking, picnicking and horseback riding. Equestrian riders will find 30 miles of shady, sandy trails and a comfortable campsite at Bois D’ Arc Trailhead. There is additional acreage near Ladonia but it has not been developed for recreational use.

Trails:

Trail 1 is 11.0 miles and for years I was warned this trail was very rough. I finally rode it with some friends who had ridden it before and found it’s a wonderful trail!! It had lots of up and downs which I really like. To access Trail 1, go out Trail 2 and take Trail 4. You’ll cross a small road into a camping area with horse gates on both sides of the road. After about a quarter mile you’ll come to another horse gate that goes out toward the road. Go out this gate and ride by the fence to the right. You’ll need to cross the bridge on the highway and go a short distance to another horse gate on your right. This is not a busy highway and has good visibility. This is a long trail and it is ideal to bring along a lunch and stop at the lake overview to eat, where there is a picnic table. The 11.0 miles includes the portion of Trail 2 and Trail 4. If you desire to shorten your ride back a little, you can ride along the highway all the way back. It’s pretty boring and is not maintained for horses, so be wary of holes or other hazards.

Trail 2 is the shortest trail at 3.6 miles.  However, it is very scenic with a stop by the lake and a trek through a large stand of pine trees.  This is a very nice trail and is relatively flat.

Caddo Bridge 2

Trail 3 is the next longest at 6.2 miles. It is similar to Trail 1 but has more up and downs. There is a cut through on the trail to use if there’s been a lot of rain and is shown on the map. There is a very sturdily made bridge on this trail that is good training for your horses.

Trail 4 is 8.9 miles. This trail is located across the highway from camp but there is good visibility at the crossings. The west side of the trail has some areas that are not shaded. On the north end of the trail is a new trail that’s been recently opened, called 4b. I’ve been told it’s the best trail there.  With the weather bumping the 70s a group of us went up to Caddo Grasslands and decided to ride Trail 4 and 4b.  We didn’t have any trouble closing gates as we had a pro side passer ride with us, who not only side passed with ease but did so while ponying another horse!!!   The road crossing went well with gates on both sides of the road.  The terrain is gently rolling hills, with moderate ups and downs and most of it was through lovely forests with sandy trails.  One of the really nice things about Trail 4 is if you have a group that some riders want to do a short ride and some want to do a longer ride, it’s easy to split up and one group do the inner circle and the other group do the outer circle.  Our group stayed together but we found some of us getting a little tired so we cut off part of Trail 4b by riding a gravel driveway, shown by the red arrows.  From there it was an easy 1 mile back to camp.  The trails were VERY well marked and maintained.   The area shown in the red circle is across an open field and if there had been a recent rain it would have been very boggy.  The trail itself was dry but one horse got off the trail and it was boggy even though there has not been rain in several weeks.

Trail 4

Trail 4

Note on controlled burns. Occasionally the National Forrest Service determines the forest is getting too dense with underbrush and they’ll do a controlled burn. In a controlled burn the flames are only about a foot tall and they basically cut through small trees and bushes and clear out the undergrowth. Sometimes the trees are supported by other trees’ branches and do not fall. This can be a hazard immediately after a burn; especially if it’s windy. Also, as you can imagine its not real pretty after the burn. If you’re planning a long stay and/or a long drive, be sure and check dates for controlled burns with the Forrest Service at Decatur (940-627-5475) or with the Caddo Riders Association.

Andrew, Ann, Julie and Judi on Trail 4.

Andrew, Ann, Julie and Judi on Trail 4.

 

Photo provided by Ann Sides.

Photo provided by Ann Sides.

About the contributor: 

Ann Sides, WTTA’s newest contributor, lives near Greenville, TX with husband, J.Paul, who is head of security and composting, 5 horses, and 3 dogs.  Ann works at L-3 in Greenville and hopes to retire in a couple of years.  But until then she’ll keep riding and camping every weekend she gets the chance.  She and J.Paul have one daughter, Lauren, son-in-law Clint, and one adorable grandchild, Ryan Moore, who live close by in Royse City.  It doesn’t get any better than this!!!

Trace Trails entrance sign.

Trace Trails entrance sign.

 

Website: Unknown

Face Book Page: https://www.facebook.com/TraceTrails

Location: 7960 County Road 3914, Athens, TX  75752 (North East Texas)

Mailing Address: Trace Trails, 8543 County Road 3914, Athens, TX 75752

Contact: (903) 258-0054, owner Billy Beeson

Email: Unknown

Trace Trails entrance is on the right off of County Road 3914 in Athens, TX.

Trace Trails entrance is on the right off of County Road 3914 in Athens, TX.

Directions: From the intersection of Texas Loop 7 and US 175 head northwest towards Mabank on US 175 for approximately two miles.  Turn right on Co. Rd. 3918.  Follow this road around a 90 degree curve to the right, then take the first left, which is Co. Rd. 3914 (you will also see signs for Tara Winery).  Co. Rd. 3914 is narrow and curvy. Pass the winery on your left (it’s a two story white house with large pillars and a vineyard — you can’t miss it). Continue on 3914.  After a curve in the road you will see a silver gate on your left — pass this gate and continue on Co. Rd. 3914.  Trace Trails will be on your right and easily seen from the road.  From Co. Rd. 3914 it is approximately 1.7 miles. The campground is in a large tree lined meadow.  There is a wooden sign placed on two metal barrels.

Open field parking offers lots of room and maneuverability for large rings at Trace Trails in Athens.

Open field parking offers lots of room and maneuverability for large rigs at Trace Trails in Athens.

Fee drop box is done by the honor system at Trace Trails.

Fee drop box is done by the honor system at Trace Trails.

Overnight Equestrian Camping: Allowed!

Fees: Fees are paid by way of the honor system.  There is a metal drop box located to the left of the entrance road under some shade trees.  Just drop in your payment and enjoy the trails.

$8.00 per person per day

$7.00 per person to camp overnight

Operating Hours: These trails are normally open 24/7 with some exceptions.  On occasion for large events like an endurance race in which 100 or more riders will participate, the trails might be closed to those not participating in the event.  So it is always best to call before you haul.

 

Shady camping / parking areas at Trace Trails in Athens, TX.

Shady camping / parking areas at Trace Trails in Athens, TX.

 Facilities: Primitive camping grounds are located in a large tree lined meadow.  There is no electricity and there are no designated campsites, so you can pick where you want to park or camp.  There is one porta-potty, a few picnic tables, a fire ring, and two water faucets with metal water troughs. Water hoses were attached to the faucets but I do not know if they belonged to another visitor or were provided by the ranch.  I’d suggest you bring your own water hose. There is one horse pen constructed out of 8 metal panels.  The pen is not covered but is located under some shade trees. You may high tie to trees so long as you use tree savers or something like a girth to protect the trees. You may also bring portable or electric pens.  On the north side of the camping area (to the left as you drive in) there are some shady places to park, otherwise you can park along the tree line or out in the open field.  It is first come, first served with regard to parking and/or camping locations.  The water faucets, pen, picnic tables, fire ring, and porta-potty are located to the left (or north) side of the campground under the trees.

There is a single horse pen at Trace Trails which has eight metal panels and is under shade trees.

Water faucet and trough.

Water faucet and trough.

Campground at Trace Trails in Athens, TX.

Dogs: Dogs are allowed and may be loose so long as they are well behaved… otherwise please keep your dog on a leash. Be aware that some of the trails go near residences who have dogs, and we had two dogs try to chase after our horses.  However, as soon as we turned our horses around facing the dogs they backed off.

Dog & group

During one of our rides at the ranch a fellow equestrian had her well behaved dog tag along down the trails with us and he was having a blast.

Cell Phone Service: Cell phone service was strong and I had no problems using my Verizon cell phone.

Trail Users: Trail users consists of mostly equestrians and maybe an occasional hiker.  There are no motorized vehicles or bikes on these trails.

Mileage: According to the owner, Mr. Beeson, there are more than 50 miles of trails on the 1,000 acre property. The trails are color coded.

Red Trail = 7.5 miles

White Trail = 6.5 miles

Orange Trail = 9.2 miles

Blue Trail = 11 miles

Pink Trail = 16 miles

There are multiple cut-through trails  marked by yellow and green ribbons for which the mileage is unknown.

Maps: Go to the Trace Trails FaceBook page to see additional maps.

Trace Trails Map and Campstie

The green asterisk is where the campgrounds are located (this map is on the Trace Trails Facebook page).

Trail Markers: The trails are well marked with colored ribbons (some colors are faded), white signs with colored arrows, and pie plates.  The property fence line, telephone poles, gas line, blacktop road, and dirt road make great guides to also help you find your way around. The trails heading out of camp are fairly easy to find.  Several of the trails start out north of the water troughs and others start out on the edges of the tree line.  You can also go to the very south of the campground meadow to pick up the trails as well.

Additional information on trail markers provided by Ann Sides (Thanks!):
Trail marking:  the ribbons are on the right side of the trail as you’re leaving camp on the start of the trail as indicated on the maps.   Turns are shown by three markers on the side to make the turn or by an arrow.    Several competitions are held here each year including endurance rides, trail competitions with NATRAC and ACTHA and all of these folks put in LOTS of hours to keep the trails maintained and marked.  Thank you all!!!  Additional thanks to the Beeson family for allowing us to ride on their lovely ranch!!!  And thanks to GOD for creating this lovely place and allowing us to care for it and our horses.

Trail signs at Trace Trails in Athens, TX.

Trail signs at Trace Trails in Athens, TX.

Terrain: The soil is sandy and mostly free of rocks; shoes/boots are not required for your horse. The sand can be deep in some areas.  This is a great place to ride if there has been rain, as the sandy soil drains quickly and therefore the mud and bog dries up fast. The trails can be dusty if there has been no rain.  The trails take you through wide open grassy meadows and thick forests. The terrain is mostly level or gentle rolling slopes.  The Green and Yellow cut-through trails usually cut across thick woods and wind in and out of creeks and gullies providing more challenging terrain.  There are more ups and downs, creek crossings, and deadfall on these cut-through trails.

This stock tank is not far from the campground at Trace Trails.

This stock tank is not far from the campground at Trace Trails.

Water: There are two water faucets with troughs at the campground.  On the trail I saw one stock tank and a few creeks from which the horses were able to drink.

Open meadow group

Trace Trails Description:

Trace Trails in Athens, Texas is a privately owned 1,000 acre working cattle ranch in northeast Texas.  This ranch offers over 50 miles of sandy and scenic trails to enjoy with your friends, family, and horses. Dogs are allowed and may be loose so long as they are well behaved, otherwise please keep your dog on a leash. During one of our rides at the ranch a fellow equestrian had her well behaved dog tag along down the trails with us and he was having a blast.  The ranch often hosts trail competitions, benefit rides, and endurance races.  You are welcome to bring your own horse anytime to ride at Trace Trails, but you might want to call first to find out if there is an organized event also going on. Some of the endurance races held there can have as many as 100 riders. Ranch use fees are very affordable and everyone pays by the honor system by depositing their fees in the drop box. Overnight equestrian camping is primitive in that there are no electrical hook ups or designated camping pads.

Patti terrain

Patti is riding Dakota through the thick woods at Trace Trails.

This is a great place to camp and ride, especially since there are numerous miles of trails.  The trails are diverse with flat to rolling sandy terrain, open grassy meadows, and thick forests.  The yellow and green cut-through trails wind through thick forests and in and out of gullies and creeks; these were my favorite trails.  The trails are well marked with colored ribbons — although some colors are faded — and white signs with colored arrows, and pie plates.  The property fence line, telephone poles, gas line, blacktop road, and dirt road make great guides to also help you find your way around.

Heading out on the trails at Trace Trails in Athens.  The purple beauty-berries were everywhere.

Heading out on the trails at Trace Trails in Athens. The purple beauty-berries were everywhere.

Trail Tale & Review:

 

Photo shot by Donna Taker. Ann and Scout, her long time, much loved, trail companion.

Photo shot by Donna Taker. Ann and Scout, her long time, much loved, trail companion.

Trace Trails Review, Nov 7-9, 2014 – By Contributor Ann Sides (Thanks so much Ann!)

I’ve probably ridden at Trace Trails in Athens 7-8 times, but I haven’t ridden there for a couple of years prior to this trip and have never been brave enough to camp out without electricity!!  So this trip was a welcome return back to a place where I’ve had some great rides.  In the past we had jumped from trail to trail, never going from start to finish, and I always thought I was probably missing a lot of good trails.  I was so RIGHT!!

My friend Jackie and I arrived Friday mid-day and got busy setting up camp; stringing the highline and setting up the generator.  We decided to ride a portion of the red trail.  It leaves out of camp on the north end, crosses a county road that is not paved, and through a gate into a large pasture.  It took a team effort to open and close the gate but at least we didn’t have to dismount!  The trail went through an open pasture and then into the woods.  The trails are sandy, wide, shady and well marked.  We rode the north loop of the trail, probably about 4 miles and it was beautiful; gently rolling hills through heavy forest.  There were some gentle ups and downs, and we passed by a deer stand (no one home).  We stopped by a pond about halfway into the ride for the horses to rest and get a drink.  We took the “scenic loop” and it was a little higher with some very nice views.  The entire trail is through woods, and it was truly a delight.  We were joined in the camp by a local cowboy church, Living for the Brand, and they were great campers!!  They cut up a fallen tree and stacked firewood, started a fire, and invited us for supper, breakfast, and lunch!!!  They were real nice folks and we enjoyed getting to know them.  There were two girls with the cowboy church that were horse crazy and loved on the horses.

 

Photo provided by Ann Sides.

Jax on the right is saying “What about me?” Photo provided by Ann Sides.

The 2nd day we were joined by Brenda and Henry McNair, who are some great folks that helped me start trail riding and camping.   They brought their wonderful horses CJ & Sunny.  CJ is a gray Appaloosa and Walker combination and Sunny is a Palomino QH.  CJ is one of the steadiest trail horses I’ve ever been around.  His only problem is that he sometimes falls asleep while he’s walking!!  After a wonderful breakfast of pancakes and sausage provided by the Cowboy Church we rode out on the Pink Trail from the north end.  We planned to ride 2 hours so we only rode the inside loop of the Pink Trail, which is in the same area as the loop of the Red Trail that we rode on Friday.  This portion of the pink Trail has very heavy woods and sandy, shaded trails.  The south portion of the pink trail includes 3 miles of road riding on very lightly traveled dirt roads.

 

Brenda and CJ in front, Jacki and Frisco, and Henry and Sunny. Photo provided by Ann Sides.

Brenda and CJ in front, Jacki and Frisco, and Henry and Sunny. Photo provided by Ann Sides.

After a big lunch of hamburgers, again provided by the Cowboy Church, and lots of good visiting around the campfire, Henry & Brenda left for their home in nearby Wills Point.  We decided on a short ride and left out on the south end of the Red Trail.  We planned to just hop around on whatever trail took our fancy.  This end of the trails has a lot of ups and downs and is very heavily wooded, but as usual well trimmed and marked.  Jacki spotted a deer not far out of camp.

Trail marking:  the ribbons are on the right side of the trail as you’re leaving camp on the start of the trail as indicated on the maps.   Turns are shown by three markers on the side to make the turn or by an arrow.    Several competitions are held here each year including endurance rides, trail competitions with NATRAC and ACTHA and all of these folks put in LOTS of hours to keep the trails maintained and marked.  Thank you all!!!  Additional thanks to the Beeson family for allowing us to ride on their lovely ranch!!!  And thanks to GOD for creating this lovely place and allowing us to care for it and our horses.

Saturday evening we were joined by Annette Griffin and her two horses, Tally, a Paint and Percheron combination, and Mister Man Griffin, (Mister for short) a Haflinger and POA combination.  Annette competes in NATRAC on Tally and recently won Sweepstakes in their first year of competing together!!  We were joined on Sunday morning by Julie Whitaker and a Paint horse she was trying out named Laredo; a really pretty horse with one blue eye.

We rode the Orange Trail, which starts in the south end of the meadow.  It was spectacular with some good ups and downs; lovely, lovely ride.  This took us way back on the ranch to places I’ve never been.  We went through several large pastures and stopped by a nice sized pond for the horses to drink.   I finally rode one trail start to finish!!!!

IMG_7906

Julie and Laredo in front, and Annette and Mister. Photo provided by Ann Sides.

Saturday evening we were joined by Annette Griffin and her two horses, Tally, a Paint and Percheron combination, and Mister Man Griffin, (Mister for short) a Haflinger and POA combination.  Annette competes in NATRAC on Tally and recently won Sweepstakes in their first year of competing together!!  We were joined on Sunday morning by Julie Whitaker and a Paint horse she was trying out named Laredo; a really pretty horse with one blue eye.

We rode the Orange Trail, which starts in the south end of the meadow.  It was spectacular with some good ups and downs; lovely, lovely ride.  This took us way back on the ranch to places I’ve never been.  We went through several large pastures and stopped by a nice sized pond for the horses to drink.   I finally rode one trail start to finish!!!!

We rode the Orange Trail, which starts in the south end of the meadow.  It was spectacular with some good ups and downs; lovely, lovely ride.  This took us way back on the ranch to places I’ve never been.  We went through several large pastures and stopped by a nice sized pond for the horses to drink.   I finally rode one trail start to finish!!!!

 

IMG_7903

Julie in front, Jacki and Frisco in middle and Annette and Mister, accompanied by our shadow horses!  Photo taken by Julie Whitaker.

 

FullSizeRender (2)

Annette and Mister on left, myself and Jax in middle and Jacki and Frisco on the right. Photo provided by Ann Sides.

 

Trail Tale & Review:

November 8-9th, 2014, provided by contributor Kelly Hurd

I had the opportunity to visit Trace Trails due to last minute changes in our camping plans on account of the weather. Our original destination was a muddy mess, but since Trace Trails is sandy, the water drains through the soil quickly and that means little to no mud after several days of rain. I joined my American Indian Horse riding club, NETASA, to enjoy Trace Trails during a fall weekend in November.

NETASA, American Indian Horse trail riding club, enjoys Trace Trails in November.

NETASA, an American Indian Horse trail riding club, enjoys Trace Trails in November.

The leaves were starting to turn and the bright purple beauty berries were everywhere. This is a working cattle ranch so there are roaming cattle throughout and gates to open and closed as you ride through the property. During our short weekend visit to Trace Trails I ran into some old friends (Shirley & Vern) by chance, which was a pleasant surprise.

Vern and Shirely live nearby and enjoy riding their Rocky Mountain horses with their riding club, Trail Gaiters and Friends, at Trace Trails.

Vern and Shirley live nearby and enjoy riding their Rocky Mountain horses with their riding club, Trail Gaiters and Friends, at Trace Trails.

Vern and Shirley had brought their Rocky Mountain horses to the ranch and were meeting up with their riding club “Trail Gaiters and Friends.”  Our two clubs met together to ride some of the trails and we had a fun time. Overall it was a great weekend with cool weather for a campfire, good friends and family, good horses, super trails, and good food!  I’m looking forward to riding at Trace Trails again. It is definitely worthy of a return trip.

Curtis George riding Dragonfly, shows me rock formations which are hiding in the shadows of the forest just off the trail.

Curtis George, riding Dragonfly, shows me rock formations which are hiding in the shadows of the forest just off the trail.  This terrain is unusual for the ranch as most of the ground is sandy with little to no rocks.

During this trip Curtis with NETASA showed me all sides of the ranch.  Since this was my first trip to Trace Trails and because we didn’t always stick to one trail in particular (as it was fun to ride the cut through trails and jump around to different trails), I don’t have a good description of each individual trail.  If you know these trails well and can give a good description of each of the colored trails then please email the info to me and I’ll add it on this page.  I also invite others to share their reviews of the trails as well and I will share the information here.

Additional Pictures: 

Riding clubs NETASA and Trail Gaiters and Friends ride through a forest trail in Athens, TX.

Riding clubs NETASA and Trail Gaiters and Friends ride through a forest trail in Athens, TX.

 

There are several deep sandy trails at Trace Trails.

There are several deep sandy trails at Trace Trails.

A new friend made at Trace Trails, Ann Sides, shows me a neat trick she learned from other trail riders to get your high tie nice and tight.  Thanks Ann!

A new friend made at Trace Trails, Ann Sides, showed me a neat trick she learned from other trail riders to get your high tie nice and tight – use a come along hoist.  Thanks Ann!

A post oak tree is highlighted by the early morning sun at Trace Trails.

A post oak tree is highlighted by the early morning sun at Trace Trails.

 

Scott & Curtis meadow

Curtis and Scott enjoying the open meadow trails in Athens, TX.

Emily kindly opens the gate for us at Trace Trails.  Due to cattle on the ranch it is important to always close the gate once everyone is through.

Emily kindly opens the gate for us at Trace Trails. Due to cattle on the ranch it is important to always close the gate once everyone is through.

 

Paul and Doreen enjoy their American Indian Horses, Who Are You and Sing, with NETASA at Trace Trails.

Paul and Doreen enjoy their American Indian Horses, Who Are You and Sing, with NETASA at Trace Trails.

A wide sandy path at Trace Trails.

A wide sandy path at Trace Trails.

 

 

 

Opening

Saturday morning view of the canyon rim and setting moon from our equestrian campsite.

 

pdcsp-signWebsite: 

http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/palo-duro-canyon

Contacts: 806/488-2227 or park information at 1-800/792-1112

Reservations: Made by phone 512/389-8900 or on line

at: http://texas.reserveworld.com/Home.aspx

Location: 11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, TX 79015

Latitude (degrees, minutes, seconds) N: 34° 59′ 04.84″

Longitude (degrees, minutes, seconds) W: 101° 42′ 06.51″

Directions to Park Headquarters:

South of Amarillo and 12 miles east of Canyon on State Highway 217

Link to location on Google Maps

 



Directions to Equestrian Trailhead: The Equestrian trailhead/campsite is located on the southwest side of the park, south of the circular turnaround. From the park entrance/headquarters, follow Park Road 5 down into the Canyon. Be cautious as there is a 10% grade for two miles as you descend to the canyon floor. At the split we kept left due to park road construction. It is about an eight mile drive from the park entrance to the equestrian site. There are a few low water crossings that will have water over the road after a heavy rain. The equestrian campsite is located behind the equestrian day use area. If hauling a larger rig you will need to be cautious when turning into the trailhead, by taking it wide or circling around in the day use area to come from the opposite direction and get a better angle for your turn from the day use area to the campsite area. Our visit in June of 2014 coincided with park road construction and bridge repairs which made for some very narrow bridge crossings when hauling a three horse living quarter trailer.

Entrance to the equestrian campsite is located behind the equestrian day use area on the south end of the park

The equestrian campsite entrance at Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located on the south end of the park and behind the equestrian day use area.

Camping: Overnight equestrian camping is allowed!

Fees (fees are subject to change, please call the park for most accurate and current fee rates):

Seniors, Texas resident age 65 and up – $3.00 a day

Adults or children ages 13 and up – $5.oo a day

Children under age 13 – free

Equestrian Campsite – $12.00 Nightly (up to eight persons per campsite)

Non Equestrian Campsites with water/electric – $24.00 Nightly

** parking fees are added on for sites with more than two vehicles, your trailer is counted as a vehicle

Horse Unloading Areas: Horses can be unloaded at the Equestrian campsite and day use area located at

the south end of the park south of the circular turn around and at the Light House Trail parking area; you

cannot park on the road.

Equestrian campsite at Palo Duro State Park.

Equestrian campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Equestrian campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Equestrian campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Equestrian Campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park on a Monday after everyone left to go home.

Equestrian Campsite at Palo Duro Canyon State Park on a Monday after everyone left to go home.

The equestrian campsite does have some washouts and uneven ground as you can see in this picture.

The equestrian campsite does have some washouts and uneven ground as you can see in this picture.

 

Equestrian Trailhead – Campsite Facilities: There are 12 primitive and reserveable equestrian

campsites. These sites are not marked. The area is open and you just pick a spot to park your trailer.

It is not an overly large campsite so maneuvering larger rigs is mildly difficult depending on how many

other trailers are there. The ground is red dirt; there are no gravel or concrete pads. Some areas along

the outside brush/mesquite tree line are not level and there are some washouts in spots. There is

almost no shade.

Pens

Equestrian pens at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Pens3

Metal pipe horse pens at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Horse pens at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Pens: There are four large connected pipe pens about 24 by 24 feet in the shape of a square. These

are nice sturdy pens. There are no chains or latches to secure the pen gate with, so be sure to bring

something to tie or chain the gate closed. No more than two horses are allowed in each pen. The pens

seem to be on a first come first serve basis. The pens are not covered and there is no shade. You may

also bring portable panels or tie your horses to the trailer or tie to the outside of the pipe pens. The park

asks that you do not tie your horse to trees and that you do not leave your horse unattended. You may spread

manure.

The water pump and trough is in the middle of the horse camping area at Palo Duro State Park and there is also a water pump/facet by the horse pens as well.

The water pump and trough is in the middle of the horse camping area at Palo Duro State Park and there is also a water pump/facet by the horse pens as well.

Water: A water pump/facet is located directly in front of the horse pens and a second water pump is

located in the center of the equestrian campsite area along with a water trough. A second water trough

is also located in the day use equestrian parking area. I’d recommend you bring a water hose.

Picnic areas: Two picnic areas with tables and rustic wood awnings for shade are located at opposite

sides of the equestrian campsite. Each area has a fire ring.

This Picnic area with two picnic tables, a wooden awning, and a fire ring is at the horse camping area near the pens at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

This Picnic area with two picnic tables, a wooden awning, and a fire ring is at the horse camping area near the pens at Palo Duro Canyon.

This picnic area is close to the entrance of the horse camping area. It has one table and a fire ring.

This picnic area is close to the entrance of the horse camping area. It has one table and a fire ring.

 

Bathrooms/Showers: The equestrian campsite is primitive so there is no bathroom or shower at the

campsite. However a 1/3 mile walk or drive on a slight uphill to the Mesquite Camp Area will take you

to the closest bathroom/shower location. You are not allowed to ride your horse to this area.

Park Store: This state park has a store which provides some supplies , ice, souvenirs, and it has a small

restaurant which serves hamburgers and sandwiches.

eva-cave3

Eva, our Shepard mix at False Cave along the Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Pets: Pets are allowed if kept on a leash no more than six feet in length. Pets are not allowed in the state park buildings. You are required to pick up your pet’s waste.

Pests: When the weather is warm be prepared for large biting flies. My fly spray seemed two work for about ten to fifteen minutes against these terrible critters. Some horses had less of a reaction to the bites than others. I could actually see the fly dig its awful head deep into my horse’s flesh. Angel was one of the horses that had a reaction to the bites. She had swollen welts which you can see in some of the pictures of her. I really regretted not having a fly sheet for her and I will not return to this location again during warm weather without one.

Cell Phone Coverage: There is no cell phone coverage on the canyon floor.  We had to drive back up out of the canyon to the park entrance for cell phone service.

Mileage: The park offers approximately 16-18 miles of designated equestrian trails. Trail riders are allowed only on the following trails – Equestrian Trail, Juniper Cliffside Trail, and the Lighthouse Trail.

Trail Users: The trails are shared by hikers, bikers, and equestrians. Equestrians are restricted to the Juniper Cliffside, Lighthouse, and Equestrian trails only.

Recommended Reading:
Trails & Tales of Palo Duro Canyon State Park
by Richard Lamaster


MAPS:

 

Please note that North is not at the top of this map but is at the bottom right corner.  The Equestrian Campsite/Area is at the south east end of the park.

Please note that North is not at the top of this map but is at the bottom right corner. The Equestrian Campsite/Area is at the south east end of the park. – Click map to enlarge  -

 

PDC trail map

Click this image to see the full size map.

Trail Markers: The Juniper Cliffside and Lighthouse trail (north trails) are decently marked but

the Equestrian Trail and its branches (south trails) are not marked.Finding the trailheads leading out of the

campsite was a challenge as there were no signs in the equestrian campsite to direct us to where the trails begin.

JC trail marker

Juniper Cliffside Trail Marker

Terrain: The ground consists of red gritty caliche, clay, and sandstone dirt that glitters in the sun. It is

rough and rocky in many areas of the park. Shoes/boots are recommended. There is little to no shade

along the trails.  The wind can kick up a lot of red dirt which manages to get everywhere. I was cleaning red dust

out of my LQ trailer for a while after returning home from our trip.

NETASA riding north on Juniper Cliffside trail.

NETASA riding north on Juniper Cliffside trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

The Trails:

       North  Trails

The north trails (Juniper Cliffside and Lighthouse Trails) are a little less challenging and

decently marked with milder ups and downs.

Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

From the equestrian campsite the Juniper Cliffside Trail runs north approximately three miles and then

connects to Lighthouse Trail and is decently marked once you find it from the campsite. To get on this

trail leaving from the equestrian campsite go north to the equestrian day use area so that you are facing

the main park road, head left (northwest) from where the water trough is in the day use area and follow

the unmarked trail. From there you will come to the creek and make a slight right following the creek.

The creek will be on your left. From there you turn left before hitting the main road and cross the creek

near the main road, or if the bridge is completed on the main road you might be able to ride over the

bridge. During our visit in June of 2014 the bridge and main road was under construction here. After

crossing the creek stay to the left of the road and you will see the Juniper Cliffside trail sign which when

coming from the equestrian campsite goes northwest and is parallel to the main park road. This route

will eventually connect to Lighthouse Trail.

(See pictures below for an idea of how to get to the Juniper Cliffside trailhead from the equestrian campground and

day use area).

Heading to the Juniper Cliffside trail, the creek is on our left.

Heading to the Juniper Cliffside trail, the creek is on our left.

 

Crossing the creek near the bridge/road construction to get to Juniper Cliffside trail.  The best crossing seemed to be on the other side of the tree then through the creek near the new bridge construction.

Crossing the creek near the bridge/road construction to get to Juniper Cliffside trail. The best crossing seemed to be on the other side of the tree then through the creek near the new bridge construction.

 

Crossing the creek to get to Juniper Cliffside trail.

Crossing the creek to get to Juniper Cliffside trail.

 

After crossing the creek, on the left is the first trail sign for Juniper Cliffside trail when coming from the equestrian campsite.

After crossing the creek, on the left is the first trail sign for Juniper Cliffside trail when coming from the equestrian campsite.

Once you cross the creek (which has gentle sloping banks but can also be pretty boggy after a heavy rain) there

will be no more watering opportunities unless a heavy rain recently poured down on the park. This trail is marked

with wooden signs and blue metal steaks with “JC” and the mileage written on them.

curtis-horseback3

Curtis riding his American Indian Horse, Dragonfly, on Juniper Cliffside trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Juniper Cliffside Trail starts out grassy with lots of cedar and mesquite trees. However, the grass soon

disappears and there is very little to no shade for the remainder of the trail. Juniper Cliffside trail

consists of red clay, sand, and rocky patches. This one track trail weaves through hills along normally

dry creek beds and gullies. On Juniper Cliffside there are two wooden bridges which appear to be made

for hikers and not horses. I would not recommend riding over these bridges. The first bridge has a very easy

detour, just ride beside it and through the shallow dry creek. The second bridge is over a deep gully and requires

a short detour to the main park road to skirt around it.

This foot bridge can't be skirted around as the gully is too deep.  Ride to the main park road and along the park road for a short distance to get around this bridge.

This foot bridge can’t be skirted around as the gully is too deep. Ride to the main park road and along the park road for a short distance to get around this bridge.

Paul and Doreen are riding on the main park road to get around the foot bridge on Juniper Cliffside trail.

Paul and Doreen are riding on the main park road to get around the foot bridge on Juniper Cliffside trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

 

Curtis, Patricia, Paul, and Doreen in front of False Cave on Juniper Cliffside trail at Palo Duro Canyon.

Curtis, Patricia, Paul, and Doreen in front of False Cave on Juniper Cliffside trail at Palo Duro Canyon.

Once you get around this bridge you will ride by False Cave which is on the left. This is a high traffic area with

lots of little trails from the road to the cave. To stay on the main trail and follow the wooden posts. You will

pass the “Red’s Rock” sign, and you will pass other trails to your left that says no horses allowed and you will

pass the Capitol Peak Mountain Bike Trail sign on your left. In this area Juniper Cliffside runs very close to the

road. Juniper Cliffside trail ends or runs into an open area. This is the parking area for Lighthouse

Trail. Ride to your left on the edge of this parking area and you will see the sign for Lighthouse

trail, which also has a white mailbox with red writing that says “Take One.”

Riding north from the equestrian campground on Juniper Cliffside will take you to Lighthouse trail.  JC trail is almost three miles and dead ends into the Lighthouse trail parking area.  Go left at this junction through the parking area to get to the LH trail head.

Riding north from the equestrian campground on Juniper Cliffside will take you to Lighthouse trail. JC trail is almost three miles and dead ends into the Lighthouse trail parking area. Go left at this junction through the parking area to get to the LH trail head.

 

This is a picture of the Lighthouse trailhead when coming from the Lighthouse parking area.

This is a picture of the Lighthouse trailhead when coming from the Lighthouse parking area.

 

Lighthouse Trail is wider and provides no shade. This is a one way trail that is almost three miles,

making about a six mile round trip. Along this trail there are some wooden benches with wood awnings

for shade to rest if needed. Lighthouse trail is also more popular with hikers and bikers, most likely

because of the amazing views. Because I rode this trail on a very early Monday morning I was fortunate

not run into many other trail users.

LH Capitol Peak

View of Capitol Peak from Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

LH trail road

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

My recommendation is not to miss this trail; it is too gorgeous not to see. To get to Lighthouse Trail you will

either have to ride from the equestrian campsite up Juniper Cliffside Trail which is about three miles or you can

trailer to the day use Lighthouse Trail parking area. You will see several trail junctions but stay on the main

trail. Trail markers are wooden signs and bright green metal stakes marked with an “L” and the mileage.

Wooden trail sign along Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Wooden trail sign along Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

LH trail sign angel

Lighthouse trail marker with mileage.

 

Lighthouse Rock formation viewed from Lighthouse Trail.

Lighthouse Rock formation viewed from Lighthouse Trail.

Watch out for large holes on Lighthouse Trail due to washouts.

Watch out for large holes on Lighthouse Trail due to washouts.

 

Along this trail you will have amazing views of Capital Peak , Lighthouse, other rock formations, and the canyon.

You can even ride right up to the base of Capital Peak and see your shadow on this monumental mass of exposed

sedimentary rock.  The trail dead ends into a shady area which has a picnic table and bike rack. From here a narrow

hiking only trail that has several rocks across where it starts winds up to the Lighthouse formation. Regulars

informed me they have left their horses tied here so they could hike up to Lighthouse.

LH end of trail

I’d recommend if you want to do this to have one volunteer with you to stay behind with the horses. I did not get

to hike up this trail as I did not want to leave my horse tied up unattended. Park regulations also request that

you do not leave your horse unattended. So plan ahead and bring someone to look after the horses if you want to

explore this hiking trail and see Lighthouse up close.

Link to state park handout about the Light House Trail

 

Heading out on the southeastern Equestrian Trail.

Heading out on the southeastern Equestrian Trail with Palo Duro Canyon regulars, Chris and Christie Shippy.

South Trails

The terrain is fairly challenging along the Equestrian Trail south of the campsite. This trail opens

up to lots of additional unmarked branches and loops. You will have a few creek crossing to gain access

to additional trails. The creek in this part of the park is narrow and has steep banks for several of the

crossings, so it can be a challenge. During our visit it had just rained so it was also boggy. Be prepared

for some steep grades and rocky areas here. However, once you cross the creek and go through the hills

it opens up into a lovely flat meadow quite different from the rest of the park terrain.

Chris Shippy is navigating one of the Equestrian Trail creek crossings at Palo Duro Canyon.

Chris Shippy is navigating one of the Equestrian Trail creek crossings at Palo Duro Canyon.

Open grass meadow along the southeastern Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon.

Open grass meadow along the southeastern Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon.

 

To get to these trails from the equestrian use area once you come to the creek go left/southeast with

the creek on your right. This will take you behind the horse pens and into a large area of unmarked

trails to explore, labeled as the Equestrian Trail on the maps, but there are no trail signs. You can also

get to these south trails by riding out of the campsite between the picnic area and the horse pens. This

area starts out very hilly. There are no trail markers in this area either. You will eventually also have

to find a safe place to cross the creek. If you get squeezed between the beautiful red canyon wall and

the creek on a trail which continues to become narrower and washed out then back track to find your

creek crossing. This area is gorgeous but I could not find a safe creek crossing and had to back track.

Fortunately riders who frequent these trails showed me where to cross.

pdc29a

Do not ride in this area if there is a chance of stormy weather, as the meadow and creeks can quickly flood during

a storm. There are indian pictographs in the hills and large rock formations you can use as landmarks. This

southeast side of the park is also where the Battle of Palo Duro occurred.

Unusual rock formations and boulders along the Equestrian Trail are not only gorgeous to look at but make good landmarks to mark the trail as well.

Unusual rock formations and boulders along the Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park are not only gorgeous to look at but make good landmarks to mark the trail as well.

Chris and Christy Shippy take me to see Indian drawings which are located on the other side of this large rock off of the Equestrian Trail.  We also noticed there appeared to have been a small fire in this area.

Chris and Christie Shippy take me to see Indian drawings which are located on the other side of this large rock off of the Equestrian Trail. We also noticed there appeared to have been a small fire in this area.

 

You can see the red pictographs hiding in the shade of this huge rock.

You can see the red pictographs hiding in the shade of this huge rock.

 

Indian Pictographs off of the Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Indian Pictographs off of the Equestrian Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Cactus Rock is another boulder type landmark that can be used to help you find your way along the Equestrian Trail.

Cactus Rock is another boulder type landmark that can be used to help you find your way along the Equestrian Trail.

 

Palo Duro Canyon State Park visitor's center view.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park visitor’s center view.

Trail Tale:

Riding at the Grand Canyon is a dream of mine and on my bucket list of places to see from between

my American Indian Horse’s black tipped ears. This past June, we hauled to the next best location, the

“Grand Canyon of Texas,” Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Palo Duro is the second largest state park in

Texas and the second largest canyon in the United States. Encompassing over eighteen thousand acres,

the park is 120 miles long and 800 feet deep. It is an eyeful of brilliant shimmering colors and geologic

wonders to behold; a stark contrast to the surrounding Llano Estacado. Entering Palo Duro Canyon for

the first time is a shocking experience of converging landscapes. As you easily cruise through the flat

treeless high Texas plains, also known as the Llano Estacado, then suddenly you find yourself descending

down a 10% grade from the canyon rim trying hard to watch the precarious road while your eyes tempt

you to sneak glances of the colorful canyon walls. Imagine the sheer force of water, Praire Dog Town

Fork of the Red River to be exact; creating such artistry out of what once was a little gully.

behind the pens

The name “Palo Duro” is Spanish for hard wood, which Native Americans used to make arrows from

Juniper tree branches in the canyon. The park’s history was a big draw for our little riding club (NETASA)

of Spanish Mustang/American Indian Horse enthusiasts. Arriving on a full moon was carefully planned

in hopes of witnessing the legend of Indian Horse spirits running free through their canyon home on

moonlit nights. These mustangs were massacred in the Red River War. Over one thousand Southern

Plains Indian mounts were shot dead by order of Colonel Ranald Mackenzie of the Fourth U. S. Cavalry

after the battle of Palo Duro Canyon in September of 1874. Our full moon arrival also happened to land

on Friday the 13th.

Red Sky

On this evening the skies turned a vicious red and ominous clouds hid all celestial

bodies after we settled in at the Canyon’s floor. We saw no full moon that night. Unfortunately, our

friends were riddled with bad luck; flat tires, a fender bender, and a distraught U joint on their journey

from east Texas. To top it off, as they descended into the stormy canyon their trailer awning was

partially ripped off by strong winds. The night was full of lightening, thunder, and rain. My thoughts of

being on the canyon floor during a storm were a little unnerving. In the early morning hours the weather

cleared and a full moon beamed proudly just above the canyon’s rim. The moon’s glow was true and full

for all to see the remainder of our stay. During the nights at Palo Duro, I heard a frightening rush of wind

pouring down from the rim and crashing into the canyon walls creating an eerie sound, unlike I’ve ever

heard. Could it be the Indian Horse spirits or was it just the wind?

JC heading out

NETASA riding club heading north to Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Saturday morning after being treated to a hearty breakfast of pancakes and sausage we were ready

to hit the trails despite the slippery red mud from the previous night’s rain. Temperatures were

uncharacteristically low for the month of June due to the blessed rain. Finding the trails leading out

of camp was a bit tricky as there are no markers or signage from the equestrian area. Our horses

were fresh and ready to get moving due to the abnormal crisp air and were frustrated with our lack of

direction. We soon learned that in order to get anywhere, a creek crossing was inevitable. The hard rains

made this normally simple task a challenge as the creek banks consisted of thick mud. I dismounted

and trudged through the mud to find a safe crossing. During our stay conditions improved and our sure

footed American Indian Horses prevailed. That first day we explored Juniper Cliffside trail which runs

north from camp along Red Mesa.

group-trail3a

Sunset ride on Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

 

On Sunday morning I had the pleasure of tagging along with Palo Duro regulars, Chris and Christie

Shippy, who showed me the rugged unmarked southwest trails of “The Equestrian Trail”. We rode

through the hills and up to Cactus Rock, which is one huge specimen of a rock with a head of cactus.

Palo Duro Canyon regulars, Chris and Christie Shippy, show us the trails.

Palo Duro Canyon regulars, Chris and Christie Shippy, show us the trails.

They took me near Tub Springs to see faded Native American Pictographs which were almost hidden

in the shadows along the bottom of a large boulder. Near the end of our ride we rode to a grass filled

meadow which the horses truly enjoyed. Christie is also one of the talented wranglers in “TEXAS”, an

outdoor musical production in Pioneer Theater. I’d recommend making time to see this show while

visiting. The outdoor theater with its natural 600 foot canyon wall is what makes all the visual effects

a great success. That night we watched Christie in the spot light gallop her horse down the canyon

wall with ease while carrying the Texas Flag. Be prepared for heart pumping canon fire and brilliant

fireworks.

The stage of Texas, a musical drama which runs during the summers in the Pioneer Amphitheater at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

The stage of Texas, a musical drama which runs during the summers in the Pioneer Amphitheater at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Christie’s family also helped improve one of the creek crossings and helped out one of our NETASA

members who had a trailer problem. Also camping in the park was Doug and Claudia Sloan. Doug is

an animal wrangler and stuntman who has worked on over 40 films. A better group of fellow campers

would have been hard to come by.

An early morning view from Lighthouse Trail at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Gorgeous early morning view from Lighthouse Trail, notice the moon is still out (upper right corner of the photo).

 

Admiring Capital Peak from Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.   To the left is a hoodoo, a a tall, thin spire of rock which typically consist of soft rock topped by harder stone. They generally form within sedimentary rock formations.

Admiring Capital Peak from Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. To the left is a hoodoo, a a tall, thin spire of rock which typically consist of soft rock topped by harder stone. Hoodoos generally form within sedimentary rock formations.

My favorite ride was on Monday morning. Everyone was packing up to head home. Fortunately, I was

able to get a few extra vacation days which meant we had one more full day at the park! At dawn, Angel

and I headed out solo up Juniper Cliff to Lighthouse Trail. The sun bathed, Capital Peak and Lighthouse

rock formations as the moon still hung translucent in the blue sky. Angel and I shared the trail with

the park’s natural inhabitants; only until our ride back to camp did we bump into a few park visitors. I

believe Angel enjoyed the peaceful ride and scenery as much as I did. I felt a strong connection with her

as we enjoyed our freedom on the trail. Riding during the magic hours of dawn brilliantly highlighted the

canyon as sun rays projected onto colorful million year old layers of geological history.

Angel reads about the the sedimentary layers of Capitol Peak off Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

Angel reads about the the sedimentary layers of Capitol Peak off Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

 

Lighthouse trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

 

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

Lighthouse Trail in Palo Duro Canyon.

 

Angel and I returned in time to say good bye to our friends before they began their journey home. That

hot afternoon I took our dog Eva to explore False Cave and play in the creek. Chris relocated the trailer

to the best spot in camp and we had the entire place to ourselves. I took Angel out for one last ride

to explore the nearby south Equestrian Trail. Chris and our dog LB tagged along for a while but then

turned back at the creek crossing.

Equestrian Trail creek crossing, located behind the equestrian campsite pens.

Equestrian Trail creek crossing, located behind the equestrian campsite pens.

 

Equestrian Trail creek at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Equestrian Trail creek at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Angel hopped over the narrow steep banked creek and we followed it down to a dead end. This side of the stream came

to a red canyon wall and we either had to cross once more or head back. It was peacefully quiet here and a thick

grove of mesquite and oak trees lined the canyon wall. A strange feeling came over me as Angel grassed by the

creek. The sun was setting and it was time to head back. Angel became full of energy and at every break in the

trail she opted to try and take the route which lead back to the canyon wall instead of our campsite. I wanted to

explore more as well but we could not be out alone on unknown trails in the dark. It seemed something was really pulling

Angel back down the trail. At every turn I had to give a little extra push with my aids to keep Angel back on track

to camp. I could not help but wonder if she was feeling the spirits of her ancestors and was that why I also had

such as strange stirred up feeling inside. Later I learned we were very near the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon

which took place on the southeast end of the park.

JC Angel's ears

View between Angel’s black tipped ears as we ride north up Juniper Cliffside Trail in Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

Palo Duro Canyon offers approximately 16-18 miles of designated equestrian trails. Trail riders are

allowed only on the following trails – Equestrian Trail, Juniper Cliffside Trail, and the Lighthouse Trail.

All of the trails are spectacular in regards to scenery. Although the campsite is primitive and the biting

summer flies are persistent, don’t miss an opportunity to visit Palo Duro Canyon, as the scenery far

outweighs any small annoyances.

Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River is the main tributary of the Red River and one of the main water forces that slowly carved Palo Duro Canyon into what it is today.  This Photo was taken from The   Equestrian Trail.

Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River is the main tributary of the Red River and one of the main water forces that slowly carved Palo Duro Canyon into what it is today. This Photo was taken from The Equestrian Trail.

 

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