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" A daylong horseback ride or challenging hike will take you
to this home of the famous Lighthouse rock formation."
~ Texas Parks & Wildlife Dept. State Park Guide, p. 28

Each of the Texas state parks has at least one feature that makes it unique or memorable.

At Brazos Bend, for example, the outstanding attraction is the large population of American alligators. You'll find symbolic alligators in all sorts of places -- on park signs and brochures, wooden cut-outs on the screened rooms, furry 'gator toys in the park store. Ditto the bison at Caprock Canyons.

The unique feature becomes a trademark of sorts, the thing that people remember first when telling their friends about their visit to the park.

At Palo Duro Canyon, the main attraction is the spectacular canyon itself, the second biggest in the country. The whole canyon is a little hard to depict on promotional materials and products, however, so one particular landmark has been chosen as the iconic symbol that defines the park -- the distinctive Lighthouse Peak rock formation:

Getting to the formation itself takes more work than finding alligators at Brazos Bend or watching the bison at Caprock Canyons.

Although the trail that leads to the Lighthouse is rather tame by Jim's and my standards, it's definitely not a smooth, flat, paved path that an untrained person can easily negotiate by foot, bicycle, or horse.

It's an undulating, sometimes rough and rocky, dirt trail through hot, dry desert terrain. You can't drive any sort of motorized vehicle on it nor is it wheelchair-accessible. It's a six-mile round trip, not including the steep rock climb at the end that requires cyclists and equestrians to tie up their wheeled or four-footed steeds and negotiate the last quarter mile with their own hands and feet.

Yes, hands. If you want to see the Lighthouse up close and personal there's a rock climb. It's not just a walk in the park.

Jim checks his GPS before beginning the steep part of the descent below Lighthouse Peak.
You can see a little bit of the Lighthouse Trail in the upper right third of the picture.

Most trail users don't do that climb to the base of the Lighthouse itself; if they're like the folks we saw on our run yesterday, they turn around when they see the trail go almost straight up!

This is the view most hikers, cyclists, and equestrians get of Castle Peak and Lighthouse Peak if they walk back the trail at least two and a half miles:

Many people are satisfied with that view and turn around right about there. Jim and I were more curious and wanted to see just how close we could get to the Lighthouse. Turns out, you can climb right up on the base! I don't know if rock climbers are allowed to climb to the top of the two pinnacles or not.


Of all the trails in the park, this one was our first priority to navigate in the short time we were here. It was a good choice; we loved it.

Here's a detailed map of the area:

The Lighthouse Trail, in blue, is about three miles out and three miles back. Note the location of Capitol Peak, Castle Peak, and Lighthouse Peak. There will be a test!

Just kidding. That's for reference in the photos that follow.

Connecting or nearby trails are the mountain bike trail (black), Givens/Spicer/Lowry Running Trail (orange), Paseo Del Rio Trail (yellow), Juniper/Cliffside Trail (purple), and Rojo Grande Trail (red).

When we ran/hiked the trail yesterday, Jim started from our campground, ran half a mile on the park road until he got to the northern trailhead for the Juniper/Cliffside Trail, followed it for three miles, then ran/walked out and back on the Lighthouse Trail.

Part of Capitol Peak, which is too big for one photo. Note the mini "lighthouse" pinnacle on the left.

Cody and I drove to the trailhead and hiked only on the Lighthouse Trail. Jim caught up to us about a mile before the Lighthouse, kept on running, and climbed up to the rock formation to wait for us. We walked/ran most of the way back to the truck together. Jim's total mileage was about 10 miles, mine about 6.

Please come along for a virtual tour of the Lighthouse Trail from the trailhead to the end and back.

Trailhead warning: "HIGH HEAT DANGER.  6-Mile Round Trip.  Minimum 1 Gallon Water
per Person or Pet. Sun Protection Essential! Do not attempt if you have medical problems."
The temperature was already at 70F. when we started about 9AM.



Approaching Capitol Peak (R)


Quarter-million year old Quartermaster formations are very prominent in the lower half
of Capitol Peak (above) -- red sandstone and shale stone with white gypsum stripes.


All four ancient rock epochs (Ogalalla, Trujillo, Tecovas, and Quartermaster)
are evident in this close-up of the "front" of Capitol Peak. See diagram below.



The eroded pinnacle on the left side of the formation is called a "hoodoo."
The mountain bike trail intersects the Lighthouse Trail from that side.


Multi-hued center section of Capitol Peak


The Lighthouse Trail curves around the right side of Capitol Peak (above and next three photos).







One of two covered benches along the Lighthouse Trail



Many dry creeks cross the trail; we saw no water in any of them.


First views of the Lighthouse formation (above and below)


Continued on next page so it's easier to load the photos . . .

Happy trails,

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, and Cody the Ultra Lab

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2010 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil