Palo Duro Canyon State Park and Other Stories, Part II

Read Part I here!

We stepped out of our tent the next morning into a world of impossible colors. Nature seriously cranked the saturation up to 11 that day. The sky was so intensely blue that the horizons looked like bad photoshops.

This “hoodoo” is one of the first notable rock formations you see on the iconic Lighthouse Trail. To me it looks like a muppet wearing sunglasses:

Lighthouse is an easier and more pleasant hike than Rock Garden, and has a much better payoff at the end.

The mapped trail officially ends at a small clearing with a picnic table and a bike rack, some distance from the eponymous rock formation. From there, a few desire paths lead up from the clearing to the Lighthouse itself. This time we had accounted for the dry desert air and brought extra water, so we chose a path and kept climbing. This ended up being my favorite part of the whole trip.

You can go a bit higher here and get some great views of the canyon.

When we were ready to go back down we took a different, more direct path than the one we had come up on.

We reconnected with Lighthouse trail at the clearing and backtracked to the trailhead.

The only thing left on our Palo Duro to-do list was the Cave.

It’s not deep, but it’s a world of fun to climb around on.

Once we’d worn ourselves out at the Cave, we treated ourselves to a surprisingly fresh and tasty supper of burgers, fries, onion rings and root beer floats at the park Trading Post. Then we returned to our campsite and called it a day.

We woke up early the next morning, broke camp…

…and drove back up into the flatlands.

On the way home we got to see all the scenery that we had missed during our night-time drive out to the canyon. Still mostly just corn, cotton, cows and wind turbines, though. Our next home has to have mountains. We are not flatland people.

Since I’m apparently blogging again, I might post a few of my favorite Austin pics from the past year. Or maybe not; this might be my last post for another year, who knows. I’ll leave you with a few lines from Cohen’s “Anthem,” which is basically my theme song these days:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

That’s how the light gets in.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, food, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Palo Duro Canyon State Park and Other Stories, Part I

Fun fact – the second-largest canyon in the US is right here in Texas!

Palo Duro Canyon is about 120 miles long and up to 20 miles wide in places. It ranges from about 820 feet to 1,000 feet deep.

Full disclosure: I didn’t really expect to be continuing this blog. With Luke and Elizabeth both over 18 now and the custody issue no longer looming in the background, I’m less motivated to keep a public record of their good health and general wellbeing. But Palo Duro is too pretty not to share.

So, some quick catch-up: Austin has been good to us, I’m glad we moved here. It’s such a beautiful city. I don’t know if we would have been happier in San Antonio, but I doubt we would have found the same opportunities there. Maybe things really do unfold the way they’re meant to.

In an earlier post, I described living in DFW as “a slow death of the soul.” That wasn’t hyperbole; if we had stayed in Bedford we would eventually have lost ourselves, or lost everything of value inside of us. Living in Austin has given us back our sense of joy and our appetite for life. And ironically, we’ve become mentally and emotionally healthy enough here to recognize that Texas is not the right place for us to put down roots.

Albert Schweitzer once said, “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” I was fortunate enough to encounter two such people in Austin, at different times and in unrelated settings. Neither was from Texas originally, and both were on their way to better places, but I am inexpressibly thankful to have crossed paths with both of them. They reminded me that those kinds of people and those better places still exist in the world.

In a different post, I described my long journey to the realization that I needed to stop trying to heal broken people. That epiphany was certainly true, as far as it went, but I’ve since figured out that I had drawn the wrong conclusions from it. I thought the solution was to keep the broken people at a safe distance. But apparently if a person isn’t at least a little broken, I have a hard time relating to them at all. Like the Japanese art of kintsugi, it’s all about how they have repaired themselves along the way. Strength, wisdom, compassion, courage and humor make the best scar tissue. Other, less-noble materials can occasionally produce some delightfully interesting results as well. In all instances, the key to keeping these encounters enjoyable is to maintain rock-solid personal boundaries and to make no attempt at any kind of healing or restoration on the other person’s behalf. That’s their journey, not mine. I have my own kintsugi project to work on.

Luke and I have slipped the surly bonds of customer service and gotten regular weekday jobs, which has improved the quality of our lives by about a billion percent. Elizabeth is still working in the food industry, but she likes her current job well enough and she was able to request the Labor Day weekend off without too much trouble. When the big weekend arrived, we napped through the worst of the Friday afternoon and evening commuter traffic, and then rolled out of Austin at 12:30 a.m. Seven hours later the sun rose on a flat world of corn, cotton, cattle and graceful white wind turbines. Around 8:00 a.m. we arrived at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

The canyon does not reveal itself until you are right on the rim. Its bluffs and spires and whimsical formations all sit beneath the surface of the surrounding flatlands, invisible from even a slight distance. Driving down to our campsite on the canyon floor, we got no real sense of the scale of it. We set up camp in warm morning sunlight, leaving the rain-fly off the tent to let the clean desert breeze drift through, and took another short nap to catch up on missed sleep.

Rock Garden Trail is billed as Palo Duro’s “most difficult and most scenic hike,” with “the best views of the canyon,” so naturally that was first on our list. It certainly is a pretty hike.

But Rock Garden Trail’s best scenery is on the way up. The vista from the top is, in our opinion, rather underwhelming. It does connect with a rim trail at the top that probably leads to better views, but by then we were running low on water and had to head back down. We still hadn’t gotten a really good look at the canyon, and we were starting to wonder if Palo Duro were overhyped.

Back at camp, we checked our park map and found a main overlook right off the paved road near the park entrance, so we drove up to have a look. That finally offered the view we’d been looking for.

There is a visitor’s center with big windows and a telescope, which gave us a rare glimpse of an Aoudad sheep in the far distance. If my camera lens and the telescope lens could have played more nicely together, this would have been a postcard-worthy shot:

On the drive back down to our campsite, we found another nice overlook.

We stopped to check out an old cowboy dugout, a remnant of the canyon’s cattle ranch days.

By then we were getting tired, so we headed back to camp and settled in for the evening. Nightfall brought us a slender crescent moon and the faint splash of the Milky Way across a glittering wealth of stars. Lightning flashed on the horizon, and we debated whether to enjoy the starscape or put up the rain fly just to be safe. After some debate, we decided to put up the rain fly.

That turned out to be the right call. We were awakened in the middle of the night by crashing thunder, howling winds and an absolute deluge of rain. I can’t even imagine how miserable that would have been with no rain fly.

Read Part II here!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Reflections in Water

Luke is in California for his final court-ordered summer visit. He’s a little too close to the wildfires for my comfort, but it looks like Anza is in no real danger.

A few days ago Elizabeth and I decided to cool off after a hike with a swim in our apartment pool. The water was perfect, just cool enough to be refreshing.

After maybe five minutes, Elizabeth said, “Now I’m cold.”

Me: “How can you be cold? The water’s barely lukewarm!”

Elizabeth: “You’re fat.”

Me: “….”

Elizabeth: “You have a protective layer of blubber protecting you from the cold.”

I burst into laughter so hard I might have sunk if the pool were deeper. Partly at the absurdity of her statement (I could probably stand to lose five or ten pounds, but I’m hardly into manatee territory), but mostly because she sparked a flashback to the years of my life when no one – and this is literal fact, not hyperbole – no one was allowed to utter the words “old” or “fat” in any context within earshot of my mother. The farther I get from that madness, the more bizarre it all seems in retrospect. Most of my response to Elizabeth’s comment was just relief at how far we’ve come.

While I’m here, I guess I’ll share some pics that don’t really need whole posts of their own. Here are some from the Fourth of July, when a storm almost rained out the fireworks…

…some local flora and fauna…

…and Elizabeth crossing creeks on logs. No log is too low or high or long or narrow or wobbly for her, she’s drawn to them like a cat to cardboard boxes.

I think that’s everything in my random-pic pile. I’ll get back to writing real posts eventually.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, kids, Life, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , | Leave a comment

New Stomping Grounds

Luke graduated!

And then we packed up and moved to Austin.

And moving is expensive, yo. So while we get our finances restabilized, most of our recreation has consisted of exploring Austin’s many free local parks and trails. Our favorites so far have been the Pennybacker Bridge clifftop trail…


…Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park…

…Bull Creek District Park…

…and Shoal Creek Greenbelt Trail in the heart of downtown.

There’s so much life in and near the creeks.

Along the limestone banks of Walnut Creek there were these clumps of what we thought were some kind of moss, until we got up close to one and realized that each one was a colony of harvestman spiders!

Elizabeth’s hand for scale:

How cool is that?

We moved down from DFW in the first week of June, and just today we finally got our tv set up and plugged in. I guess that’s a testament to Austin’s ability to lure us out of the apartment and keep us entertained outdoors. We’re still kinda in the habit of comparing everything to San Antonio, but Austin’s parks and trails get three solid thumbs up.

My next post will probably be all about the new Central Library, because that shit is amazing.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, environment, Family, kids, Life, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plot Twist

A few weeks before Luke graduated high school, the company I work for announced the closure of one of their San Antonio locations. It wasn’t the store I was going to transfer to, but the people who were losing their jobs in the closure got preferential placement in the other nearby stores. The position I had planned to step into was filled locally by someone else.

This complicated our relocation plans. I reached out to my district manager, explained that my kids and I had no desire to remain in DFW but that I would prefer to remain with the company, and asked if he could offer any guidance or suggestions. He said that due to the closure there were no openings at my job grade in San Antonio, but there were openings in two Austin stores.

So the kids and I discussed that. We really wanted to move to San Antonio. But the thought of starting over from scratch at some other company was unappealing, and Austin does meet our basic list of requirements: public transit, plenty of wild green spaces, garden-friendly.

Cost of housing was almost a dealbreaker. I did a quick apartment search and didn’t find anything in our price range. So I contacted a local apartment-finder service and explained our situation, and an agent got back to me right away with a very decent apartment in a nice location. After another family council, we agreed to give Austin a try. Elizabeth and I drove down from Bedford a few days later so we could take a look at the apartment and I could interview for the new position.

The apartment was super cute, but its lack of washer and dryer hookups was less than ideal. I do not miss the laundromat life at all. Almost everything else about it was good though, especially for the price, so we agreed to take it if the job offer came through.

A day or two after that, I got a call from the man who had shown us the apartment. Not the apartment-locator agent, the actual dude behind the desk at the leasing office. I clarify this because the reason he called was to say that he had noticed how concerned we were about the lack of washer-dryer hookups, and that he was about to go on his lunch break and would be happy to run out to some other places that his company operates and see if he could find a better fit for us, unless we really had our hearts set on that particular apartment. Once I got over my astonishment, I gratefully accepted his offer, because laundromats suck.

So a couple hours later I started getting photos of apartments texted to me by this splendid fellow who had gone forth on his lunch break to find us a place that fits our needs and budget. And he found us one, and we signed the lease online based on his photos, and it turned out to be everything we needed.

There was a time when I would have been deeply comforted by how smoothly everything transitioned in mid-stride from a move to San Antonio to a move to Austin. I would have felt like everything was falling onto place exactly as it was meant to; like the hand of God was moving in my life to keep things on track. Old Me would have felt securely validated in her faith that things always work out for the best.

New Me was…not comforted. New Me felt slightly railroaded and mildly resentful at the collapse of my well-laid plans. New Me would still prefer to live in San Antonio, despite my very real gratitude for everyone who helped to make our departure from DFW possible.

I’m not going to list the people who helped us, because a decade of blogging has taught me that there’s a baffling number of misanthropes out there who have nothing better to do than harass people who are identified on the Internet. But I’ll happily recommend A+ Apartment Locators to anyone looking for help finding the right Austin apartment. And a big shoutout to Einstein Moving Company as well. We hadn’t planned to use a moving company, but packing and loading up the U-Haul was more of an ordeal than we expected. So many books. So much solid oak furniture that should not live in an upstairs apartment. So many trips up and down stairs. Getting my oversized front-loading washer down the stairs almost did me in, and the thought of dragging it up another set of stairs in the Austin heat made me want to weep. So we called ahead and hired movers to unload the truck into our new apartment. A few hours after I made the reservation, I got this email:

Due to availability issues with our car dolly, on the morning of our move we were sent to a different DFW U-Haul location than the one we usually use (which I also recommend if you’re in that area and need a U-Haul). The new location was a logistical clusterfuck that put us a couple of hours behind schedule in getting out of town. But instead of cancelling, Einstein Movers accommodated our new arrival time by sending out different guys later in the day. Great company, great service and they unloaded the 20′ truck into our new second-floor apartment faster than I would have thought possible. 10/10, would use again.

We have just begun to explore our new city, but so far we’ve found more to like than to dislike about it. The water tastes good right out of the tap, which is a luxury I will never again take for granted. Compared to DFW the people here seem less polite but more authentic, which I prefer. The green spaces are lovely and plentiful. Our apartment patio is perfectly suited for a small potted garden. My work commute is short and easy. Elizabeth has already begun to explore the local bus routes. The brand new Central Library is amazing.

The kids and I are still sort of pining for San Antonio, but I’m hoping that we’ll learn to love living in Austin for as long as we end up staying here. We’re all about embracing the new experiences. I think this will be a good one for us.

Categories: Family, kids, Life, Travel, Work Life | Tags: , | Leave a comment

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