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Palo Duro Canyon

July 19. The plan calls for spending a full day at Palo Duro Canyon. When entering the park the night before, I asked the ranger about a nice 5-8 mile hike. She recommended I hike to the Lighthouse Formation—the signature geologic feature in the park. I consult the rudimentary map I was given at the entrance station, and it appears that I can hike to the Paseo Del Rio trail from my campsite. After a little more than a mile, the PDR trail intersects the Lighthouse trail head. So I set off at 8:00 a.m. The trail is fairly easy (though without shade) with a thin layer of sand underlain by sandstone. The trail crosses a number of washes, however, where I have to pick my way through with some care. After a couple of hours, including stops to enjoy the scenery, I finally reach the base of the Lighthouse. Here the trail turns nearly vertical—or as nearly vertical as it can and still retain a thick layer of pea-sized scree held tentatively in place by irregular large rocks and boulders. The last tenth of a mile is a four-legged scramble, hands and feet, before reaching a narrow ledge overlooking a 50-foot drop-off. I shimmy along the ledge—thankfully only about 5 feet long—before reaching the basketball court-sized sandstone table upon which stands the Lighthouse.

After 15 minutes rest, I’m ready to start back down. The return leg turns out to be more interesting than the hike up. The heat is extreme. I brought 4 liters of water with me and have been hydrating regularly. But I start to feel dizzy halfway down, and swirls of spots in front of my eyes make it difficult to pick out the path. If I stop walking I have to hang onto an outcrop of rock or something just to stay vertical. So I keep walking, afraid to stop. By the time I reach the PDR trail I’m stumbling along like a drunk and I’m aware that I’m in a bad way. My water is almost gone and what’s left is so hot I can barely drink it without gagging. But I have to keep going. I finally reach the camping area and draw cold water from the first spigot I see. Almost home. Another few hundred yards and I’m there.

I use a pedometer application on my iPhone; it shows I covered 8.959 (let’s just call it 9) miles with 282 minutes on trail. The thermometer I set out by my camper reads 103 degrees in the shade. I should be more careful.

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