There’s a lot about Caprock Canyons that people don’t know. If you live in north Texas, Caprock Canyons is probably the closest you could ever get to anything resembling the Palo Duro. It’s very accessible to hikers even if you’re coming from New Mexico or Oklahoma. We had the choice of taking the highway or the backroads. Since we’ve hiked Caprock Canyons several times, consider us pretty adventurous: we actually took the backroads on our last trip this fall! The great news is, we survived.
HIKING BY THE MILE
Many people opt to take the North Prong first and proceed from there. The best time to hike is around nine o’ clock in the morning. Make sure you bring plenty of cold bottled water. By the time you get to the the jewel of this canyon (Fern Cave), it will be around noon and a little hotter. Applying some bug spray before you hike is probably one of the wisest things you can do. It is fun to take pictures of insects up close feeding on the wild plants. In the fall, the cacti are in a transition from blooming in all shades of green, red, purple, and pink to being just wilted or dead. There are more cacti than you could ever count. Up to the first couple miles, you will encounter flaky marble formations. Beware of stepping on these rather gorgeous but weak ground. If you’re not careful, you might trip and break your hip.
THE FERN CAVE AND WHAT LIES…ABOVE
Halfway through the trek, you will encounter the exquisite Fern Cave. A few park rangers have told us that in the decades they have worked at Caprock Canyons, they have never even had a glimpse of this beautiful cave. If you actually get a chance to see it, it doesn’t resemble anything like a cave at all. To get there, you have to follow the trail as it leads you. If you don’t, you are sure to miss it.
The Fern Cave is the oasis of Caprock Canyons. A collection of huge boulders helps you clamber up the top where wonderfully lush ferns carpet the entire ceiling of the cave. As soon as you’re up there, take advantage of little droplets of water falling from the top down to the walls — they are so cold you will forget that you are hiking in the north Texas desert.
Our adventure was sapped by the fact that when we tried to take a glimpse of the top of the cave by climbing higher, we were only faced with formidable gorges and narrow pathways. But the sight of the cave from the top was a beautiful pay-off for our hard work.
CLIMBING THE SUMMIT
If you make the most of your stay at Fern Cave, you will not feel exhausted getting to the top of the Caprock. This is where you have to brace yourself. Try this little trick when you’re surrounded by the grand rock formations: Holler real loud and you’ll hear funny echoes! At the summit, you have to decide whether to hike a little bit more to reach the Haynes Ridge. Here, an even more spectacular view of the canyon can be seen.
Warning: At the summit, there will be several trails to take. Not taking the route to Haynes Ridge can be tricky, since the path going to the South Prong (our final destination) is hidden behind big rocks and plants. Sadly, the park management at Caprock were not keen on putting big signs on trails that will help the hikers find their way. So it’s pretty much a game of intuition. On our last trek, we took the wrong trail which led us to the fenced boundary of the park. We had to turn back. Meaning, we had to battle against more insects and more prickly plants which could scratch the legs real bad.
THE PAIN OF DESCENT
Coming down the canyons is by far the roughest part of the hike. If you don’t have stable footing, you might slip. You can’t trust the boulders you are stepping on. The hike downhill gave us a glimpse of a little bit of wildlife at Caprock. Gigantic millipedes, mad caterpillars, praying mantis, bugs and strange flora you could not even name. It would be a joy to have a good camera with you.
EXHAUSTION IS A SIGN OF TRIUMPH!
I’m embarrassed to say that I almost wanted to quit when we finally got down on the bottom of the trail. The descent alone can drain the power of your leg muscles. The trail towards the South Prong is deceptive. It is not a straight trail. Rather, it is winding. Just when you thought you have reached the end of the path, another curve comes along. I thought maybe it was because I was so tired that the trail felt longer than originally seen on the map.
The best part about coming back to the camp grounds is you get to witness the marvelous reddish rock formations surrounding you along your journey. They are certainly eye-catching. When you have finally reached the end of the trail and look back. you should congratulate yourself. You have conquered the amazing Caprock Canyons!