Caprock Canyons State Park

Distance: 7 miles round trip on trail
Location: Quitaque, Texas
Date: February 27, 2014

Typical terrain at Caprock Canyons

On my third visit to Caprock Canyons State Park I hiked a loop through the very scenic "upper canyon" part of the park. On my previous visit in 2012 I did another loop hike that shared about half its length with this hike, but that hike was along the South Prong. On my two previous visits I didn't see another person on the trails or even cars at the trailheads, and this time was the same. I began my hike at 10:20 from the North Prong trailhead, and after less than a half mile of hiking on Canyon Loop Trail, I turned onto the Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail.

View north from the Haynes Ridge Overlook

The trail up Haynes Ridge is quite steep and poorly maintained as it gains a few hundred feet in elevation. But once the trail reaches the ridge it much more gently gains elevation for much of its length. However, the most scenic part of the ridge trail is right where the trail ascends the ridge, as well as at the official overlook point shortly thereafter. There are a number of good views from the ridge along the rest of its length, but they are much more limited in scope while the trail primarily passes through brush on the flat top of the ridge.

This is what much of the Haynes Ridge Trail is like

View of the North Prong on the descent to Fern Cave

After 2.5 miles on the ridge the trail reaches an intersection where you can turn to descend to the South or North Prongs. I turned to the north and made the descent towards Fern Cave along a very scenic stretch of trail with great views of the canyon. Before reaching the bottom of the canyon I turned on to a side path that is not an official trail and continued up through the canyon.

Looking into the canyon above Fern Cave with the slot canyon hidden directly below

Descending towards the slot canyon

I had suspected that there would be a slot canyon just above fern cave, but getting there requires a bit of bushwacking, plus I wasn't sure if I'd actually be able to enter the slot canyon. From what I could see, the lower canyon walls just above Fern Cave were very steep slick rock that I couldn't climb down. So I continued up the canyon until I was find a point above the slick rock where I could easily enter the wash. There was a bit of flowing water in parts of the canyon, and as I made my way down the canyon I suddenly ran into just what I was looking for: a slot canyon. There was a sudden, narrow 25-foot drop into the slot canyon that I was unable to descend. Later I looked further along the slot canyon's edges, and could only find one other point that almost appeared like I could descend into the slot from, but in reality I couldn't. Overall, the slot canyon appeared to be a few hundred feet long and perhaps at most 50 feet deep, and I suspect that there are many other similar slot canyons along the edge of the caprock in West Texas.

Upstream end of the slot canyon

This is the second point where I tried to enter the slot canyon from its side (there are steeper dropoffs below this)

After leaving the upstream end of the slot canyon, I continued to bushwack along stream/wash up the canyon. I found two more places similar to the fern cave, albeit much smaller, that would be waterfalls if there was more water. Getting past these dropoffs required a bit of scrambling around the sides of the canyon. I eventually returned to the trail and continued down to the fern cave, which isn't a cave at all, but rather the point where the stream would form a waterfall at the bottom of the slot canyon. There was very little water dripping from the canyon walls compared to 2012, and none of the ferns were green yet.

A dry waterfalls above the slot canyon

Fern Cave

Along the Upper Canyon Trail

From the fern cave the Upper Canyon Trail travels 2.5 miles to its intersection with the Lower Canyon and Canyon Loop trails. The entire four-mile trip from Fern Cave back to the trailhead is a fairly easy hike, and there are good views of the surrounding canyon walls. However, just before the intersection with the two other trails, the Upper Canyon Trail crosses a wash where a number of gypsum layers are exposed. I followed this wash downstream as it entered its own slot canyon-like feature that was easily accessible, and it was a fun few minutes exploring its twists and turns. On my way out of the park, I stopped by the black-tailed prairie dog town near the Honea Flat Campground that was created since my last visit as well as to look at the bison at Theo Lake.

Gypsum layers in a wash (above the slot canyon-like portion)

Black-tailed prairie dogs

Along the Canyon Loop Trail
The bison at Theo Lake

View south from Haynes Ridge

© Copyright 2017 Matthew Pintar. All rights reserved.


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