2011 RUNNING & TRAVEL ADVENTURES

 

   
 
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   CAPROCK CANYONS TRAIL SERIES, Part 3:
LOWER CANYON LOOP (Trails D, E, F)

SATURDAY, MAY 14

 
"The bottomland sites along the Little Red River and its tributaries 
support tall and mid-level grasses including Indian grass, Canada wild rye, 
and little bluestem, cottonwood trees, wild plum thickets, and hackberries."
 
~ from the park interpretive guide
 
 
This is a scenic 6.6-mile loop through the lower canyons in the north central part of the park. It is open to hikers, runners, cyclists, and equestrians. I marked it in gold on the map section below.

Most of the loop was new to Jim and me this year. Last year we went out and back on the Canyon Loop Trail (D) and one to two miles west on the Upper Canyon Trail (not shown, off to the top left of map below) but not on the Lower Canyon Trail (E) or Little Red River Trail (F).

To see this trail in context, check the full-sized pdf. map at this link.

Jim incorporated these trails into his various long loop runs through the park. Cody and I hiked the loop just once, in the clockwise direction. All the photos in this entry are from that hike -- another beautiful day at Caprock Canyons!

This loop can be accessed via the park road at either the Wild Horse campground or the North Prong parking area, or by trail from several other locations.

On the day I took these pictures I drove the hilly park road out to the North Prong parking area. The drive itself is quite scenic, with views of the canyons in all directions before descending to the Little Red River and one of its tributaries:

That's one of the two very steep hills on the park road (16% grade). There is an equally tough descent and ascent -- if not steeper -- on the Little Red River Trail to the river itself and back up again, but the rest of this loop is mild in comparison.

CANYON LOOP TRAIL (D)

Some of the best scenery is right at the trailhead for the Canyon Loop Trail:

This is a popular trail because of its easy access, gentle grades, and great views of the rock formations all around them.

Folks who are unable to hike the trail for any distance can see some beautiful scenery in just the first half mile or mile of the trail -- or even from the window of their vehicle in the parking lot if they don't have the time or ability to walk, run, or ride their bike or horse.

 

 

The trail is wide, hard-packed, and mostly smooth for about half a mile as it ascends gradually to what I call "the portal" between the two fluted hills below:

 

The trail remains wide and undulating for another mile past that opening as it heads north and intersects with the Upper (C) and Lower (E) Canyon Trails:

Soon after the "portal" there is an intersection with the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail (B) that basically goes straight up to a ridge that bisects the Upper Canyon Loop in the western part of the park (more about that in the next entry). Neither of us has gone up that trail yet, partly because it is marked "extremely steep and rugged" on the park map.

Beyond that intersection is a short trail to the North Prong primitive camping area.

These photos are a little farther along the Canyon Loop Trail going north:

 

 

Did I mention the park is extremely dry this spring?? Note the cracks in the trail:

This trail is more like dried clay than sand. The surface was very hard this week.

The intersection of the Upper, Lower, and Canyon Loop trails is well-marked and has a bench. Some trail users turn around here and return to the parking area for a nice three-mile trek. Others continue to the right or left for more adventure.

This sign warning trail users to have adequate water before proceeding can be found in several locations around the park:


"No water? You should turn back."

LOWER CANYON TRAIL (E)

Cody and I turned right at the intersection onto the Lower Canyon Trail, which heads in a general  southeastern direction toward the equestrian campground for about three miles.

The trail surface is similar to the Canyon Loop Trail but flatter for the first half mile.

The rangers were busy in this part of the park with controlled burns during the winter. This is another "schizo" trail where one side was burned and the other wasn't:

 

Burned yuccas (above) and non-burned yuccas (below)

 


Crispy cacti

Pretty soon the Lower Canyon Trail started roller-coastering through about a dozen dry stream beds:

 

 

It's mostly the same creek or river that courses through the canyon; the trail goes up and down each time it crosses the streambeds and sometimes follows the beds for a short distance. Every one of the crossings was bone dry in this section of the park.

Equestrians would probably have more fun just following the stream beds when they're as dry as they are now. The water has cut some interesting rock walls. Because of the rocks and sand in the streams, however, the trail is easier to negotiate if you're on foot or wheels (bicycles only; no motorized vehicles are allowed on these trails, thank goodness).


Stream bed (L) or trail (R)?  It's your choice.

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

Happy trails,

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

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2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil

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