Caprock Canyons State Park

Distance: ~5.7 mi (9.2 km) round trip
Highest elevation: ~3100 ft (945 m)
Elevation gain: 710 ft (216 m)
Date: 26 February 2012

The beginning of the hike near the South Prong Campground

Caprock Canyons State Park is located in the panhandle of Texas southeast of Amarillo and northeast of Lubbock.  The park sits on the edge of the Caprock Escarpment, which marks the boundary of the Llano Estacado.  Caprock Canyons are part of the same complex as Palo Duro Canyon, but much less visited.   During my visit on a sunny and calm 70 degree Sunday I only saw two other small groups of people.

Canyon walls

The Texas state bison herd makes it home at the park, and these genetically pure bison (no cattle genes) are the last remnants of the south bison herd.  There have been recent efforts to expand their range in the park, with the hopes that they will one day roam the entire park.  Currently, their range is near the entrance to the park and Lake Theo where they often cross the road and forage near the visitor center.

The canyon along the descent to Fern Cave

I began hiking from the trailhead at the South Prong camping area where I took the Upper Canyon Trail A for about 2.25 miles through this canyon.  I was surprised to see some water in the stream in the upper reaches in this canyon.  After about 2 miles the trail turned up a very steep and rocky section until it reached the canyon rim.

Fern Cave

The trail crossed the ridge until it reached the intersection with trails B and C.  I decided to go to the Fern Cave, which isn't a cave but rather a location in one of park's side canyons that is shaded enough that there is  a nearly perennial water supply and ferns can grow.  This water seeps from the canyon walls on the streambed where there would be a waterfall after significant rain.  There was some water seeping from the walls, but only a few ferns were green.

View from Haynes Ridge

I had planned to take the Haynes Ridge Trail back rather than the Upper Canyon Trail C, so visiting the Fern Cave meant descending into and then ascending out of the upper canyon.  I returned to the junction with Haynes Ridge Trail B, which for most of its length had few good views and was surrounded by juniper and Gambel's oak.  However, just before this trail made its final descent it reached the Haynes Ridge Overlook, which had great views of the valley below.

View from Haynes Ridge

I then hiked out on Upper Canyon Trail C to the North Prong parking area and completed the loop by walking the road back to the trailhead at the South Prong Campground. For more about Caprock Canyons read about my 2014 hike.

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