Memorial Day Northwest Texas Camping Trip

We took advantage of JT attending TSCPA Leadership day in Dallas on Thursday and turned the long weekend into a northwest Texas camping trip!

On Thursday we drove up to Dallas at 5:30am.  JT started the drive and Katie finished the drive. JT had sessions from 9:30am to 3:30pm – Katie used this time to read the first third of The Lost World and work on emails.

At 3:30pm, we departed Dallas for Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). We made a short detour to Zaxby’s on the way. 🙂 Our navigation software sent us on more county roads and less interstates than was necessary, but it added some local color to our drive.

Upon getting to Dorris Campground in Wichita Mountains NWR we paid $10 for a non-electric camping site and selected site 23 (GPS coordinates N34 43.083 W98 38.591 (1451′)).  We set up our tent and then drove to the top of Mount Scott (GPS coordinates N34 44.644 W98 31.930 (2504′)) for sunset.  We drove through the Holy City on the way, but did not get out as it was closed and we wanted to get to the top of Mount Scott.  It was too hazy for a great sunset, but we still enjoyed the views and the yellow flowers against the red rocks.  We also saw lots of bison and longhorn cattle, which was pretty neat!

Once we got back to the campground, we got ready for bed and climbed into the tent.  It was a long day – but Katie is really happy to be outdoors and camping again!

We woke around 3am to rain drops, so we hurried out of the tent and put on the rain fly. We awoke again around 8am to rain hitting the rain fly.  We stayed in the tent until it stopped around 9:30am.  We carefully packed up our wet tent and headed over to the visitor’s center. On the way, we made a few detours and saw some more bison, neat birds, and prairie dogs!

As a side note, the people camping in the site across the street were loud the entire night – from loud talking, to doors slamming, to car headlights shining.  They ran after a deer that was near their site around dusk, and left trash in their site when they finally left. Pretty terrible group.

The visitors center has some nicely done exhibits, a 15 minute video, and a nice ranger at the front desk.  We found it to be a worthwhile stop.

We called Palo Duro state park to check on current camping conditions once we got cell phone service, as we were to spend Friday night there. However, upon calling we found their low water crossing were indeed flooded and they were cancelling our reservation! With this information, we decided to go back to Dorris Campground and reserved spot 23 for another night.

We set up our tent again in the dry spot where our tent had sat, and then cooked an egg scramble and fried egg tacos for breakfast. Then we sat at our picnic table for a bit deciding if we should go hiking despite the rain clouds. We eventually did, and decided to drive over to the Sunset area.

We stopped to see the Prairie Dog town, which was an area with lots of prairie dogs. There were lots of them which was neat, but we found it sad that two of them got really close seemingly in hopes of food. Once we got to the Sunset area it started raining harder and harder, so we opted to sit in the car and relax. We both found it peaceful just listening to the rain.

Eventually we decided to drive around for a bit, and ended up getting more ice in Cache. Then we returned to the refuge and opted to go on the short Little Baldy hike. It was wet out, and the scramble up the mountain was not ‘easy’ as proclaimed. It rained some on the hike, but it was a pretty hike – and the view from the top was neat!

We cooked tortilla soup for dinner in the rain, and ate it sitting in the car. Then we retreated to the tent. Katie opted to take a shower after a while, which felt really good as she had been hot and sticky from the day.

We slept decently, but Katie woke many times due to her sickness (sore throat, messed up eyes, painful ears, pounding headache).  Then our neighbors got up early and began talking excessively loudly.  We’ve found through our experience with our various neighbords that the quiet hours (10pm-8am) and alcohol regulations are not enforced at all in Dorris Campground. It seems like most people come to the NWR in large groups to mainly hang out at camp – there didn’t seem to be many couples or people there for hiking and enjoying nature.

On Saturday morning JT prepared oatmeal, bagels, and drinks while Katie put away the items from the tent.  We enjoyed our breakfast and then took down our wet, somewhat muddy tent. Then we decided to go on the 6 mile Bison trail.  However, on the drive over Katie saw the 1.6 mile Narrows trail head was close and she thought it might be cool.  So we went on what we thought was the Narrows trail…

It started out as a simple dirt path through a forest.  We quickly found that the main trail was impossible to follow at many points,and there were many secondary trails.  We eventually saw a sign ahead, so we walked over to it and found that we had actually been on the Kite Trail. We decided to cross over a dam to the Bison trail, and take it back towards our car. Katie saw a snake swimming in the water, and then spotted a baby turtle in a side pond. We ended up watching the baby turtles – we saw at least three – for a while. We also saw a small snake in the side pond. Pretty cool.

We walked on the Bison trail for a while before crossing the river in a pretty canyon area and then scrambling up a cliff to get back to the Kite trail. Once back on the Kite trail we saw multiple beautiful green lizards! They were incredible!  Here’s the GPS log of our hike.

We drove back to the campground to shower, but the showers were being cleaned so we set off on our 3 hour drive to Caprock Canyons state park. We were very happy about how much wildlife we saw in the NWR!

On the drive we thought about how much of the land around the NWR was divided into homesteads shortly after the NWR was set aside, and wondered whether many of the families currently living on the land are decendants of the land-grant homesteaders.  We also drove through some really small towns, and a few were clearly dying as evidenced by abandoned shops, hotels, and homes. We wondered what, if anything, the towns are trying to do to attract people to stay and/or move there.  And each little town seemed to have its own K-12 school(s) – which seems inefficient from teaching and funding standpoints. We wondered why people choose to live in / not leave small towns for bigger cities – is it just based on family ties to these small towns?  We also wondered what can be done to revitalize these small towns.

We arrived at Caprock Canyon State Park after the visitor center closed, so we headed straight to Little Red Tent camp ground, where we had reserved one of its 10 sites.  There were two sites to choose from when we arrived – we opted for site 64 (GPS coordinates N34 26.540 W101 04.626 (2426′)) between a couple fathers and sons and a couple with a boy and 3 dogs.   The couple had apparently camped at Caprock Canyons State Park over the past 8 memorial days weekends – and although they had their trailer at a nearby campground they had decided to buy camping gear in order to actually camp over the weekend.  The site had awesome views – we’re not sure why it was one of the last two sites left!  Perhaps because it was a farther walk from the parking lot? Caprock Canyon really is like a little Grand Canyon.  So pretty.

We relaxed at our site for a bit after setting up our tent, and then went to Caprock Cafe in Quitaque. We both had Mexican food off their menu and pineapple pudding, but we found it sad that no one else was at the cafe and our waitress said it had been a slow night.  This led us to discuss how hard it must be to live in a declining town.  We left a nice tip on our $18 feast.

After dinner we went to the ampatheter to see the evening program, but apparently it had been cancelled (it had actually been moved to an indoor location, but we only found this out the next day from a sign near the showers).  We stopped at the shower house to shower, and settled into the tent around 10pm.

Around 3am, we awoke to terrible winds attempting to destroy our tent.  After a while, the rough winds gave way to rain. We attempted to help support our tent from inside, but it ended up performing excellently. Katie stayed up and read for a while, and then finally went back to sleep and slept soundly until 8:20am.  We got up quickly, and headed to park headquarters since late arrivals from the previous night are supposed to check in by 9am.

We checked in and found that many trails would be closed due to the rain (and the flooding and mud it caused). JT inquired where the bison herd was, and we learned that they are shy and were likely hiding due to the number of visitors this weekend. We decided to go back to camp and cook our final egg breakfast. Then we lounged around camp and read.  We also set up guy-lines on our tent in case the coming day or night posed as much wind as the previous night had.  Both of our neighbors opted to pack up and leave. Eventually we decided to drive around and see if the bison herd could be seen, check out the other areas of the park and hike most of the Eagle Point trail into the canyon (2.66 miles each way). We especially enjoyed studying the rock layering of the canyon walls.

We headed back to camp and cooked grilled cheese sandwitches to go with our leftover tortilla soup for dinner. After dinner we enjoyed watching the setting sun change the color of the canyon walls. Once the sun set, we headed to the shower house and then settled into our tent for the night around 9:45pm.

We had considered taking the rain fly off, as the evening seemed nice.  But we decided to leave it on, mainly because it was already on and it had rained every night so far.  Katie awoke to a few pretty windy and rainy storms during the night, but generally slept well.  She is looking forward to being home though, so she can hopefully get over her current cold. We awoke around 9am due to being too warm, as the sun was beating down on our tent and we were both still in our sleeping bags.

Upon exiting the tent, we noticed that although it was sunny over us a terrible-looking storm was approaching quickly.  We abandoned plans of cooking breakfast and instead focused on carrying things to the car and getting the tent down before the storm came.

We stopped by the visitor center on the way out of the park to buy post-cards and drop off an economic impact survey the park asked everyone to fill out regarding the economic impact of our visit on the surrounding community and Texas.

The rain, flooded nature of the fields, and rough road conditions during the first couple hours of our drive were crazy – and really underscored how much rain the area had gotten over the long weekend! JT did great driving on the rough roads.  We stopped at a rest area, set up our camp stove, and made grilled cheeses.  By the time we reached Austin the sun was out.

We cleaned all our gear after arriving home, since the hikes in the red mud of Caprock Canyon and the nightly storms led to all of our gear being muddy.

 A buffalo at Wichita Mountains NWR

Bison at Wichita Mountains NWR.  Just a glimpse at what the plains historically looked like.

 Sunset on Mount Scott

 Cooking breakfast at Dorris Campground

JT’s breakfast of fried egg tacos and egg scramble

Campsite 23 at Dorris Campground

 A prairie dog at Wichita Mountains NWR
 Pretty canyon near the Little Baldy trailhead
A bison as seen from Little Baldy trail

Katie at the top of Little Baldy
 A rabbit we saw on Little Baldy trail

 A longhorn licking its child

 A wild turkey seen in Wichita Mountains NWR

 A roadrunner seen in Wichita Mountains NWR

 Views from our hike on the Kite and Bison trails

  Overlook from the crossover between the Kite and Bison trails

 Very young red slider seen in the Wichita Mountains NWR

Small water snake seen in the Wichita Mountains NWR

Lizard seen in the Wichita Mountains NWR

Pretty canyon on the Bison trail

Lizard seen in the Wichita Mountains NWR 

Prairie dog at Caprock Canyons State Park

 Caprock Canyons State Park

 Canyon layering at Caprock Canyons State Park

 On the Eagle Point trail

Our tent at Little Red Tent campground site 64

 Caprock Canyons State Park

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