A few weekends ago, I dragged my family 4 hours away from home into the middle of the Texas panhandle to go camping in Palo Duro Canyon, which is about 30-45 minutes south of Amarillo (depending on how lost you get). The weather seemed like it would be perfect and there was only one campsite left for Saturday, so I snagged it on Thursday, we left after my husband got home from work on Friday, and we stayed that night at a hotel in Amarillo. On Saturday morning, we headed down south to the canyon (which actually took us 1.5 hours to find because we got considerably lost).
It was kind of funny to see such incredibly flat terrain, stretching for as far as the eye could see. I'm actually agoraphobic, meaning that I have a fear of open spaces, so it took a lot of guts for me to take this shot. The wind whipping through the grasses made it sound as if the prairie was alive and whispering all around me, and everywhere I turned, I saw nothing but flat land to the horizon. Calming to some, disconcerting to others (cough ME cough cough), and I quickly hopped back in the safely confining van immediately after taking the shot.
So you're driving through this vast expanse of nothingness when suddenly the ground drops off in front of you and you're in front of a breathtaking canyon. It's the second largest canyon in the United States actually.
We promptly made our way down through the only canyon road and I was in love. Something about me that's kind of odd is that I'm an ocean girl at heart, but the desert landscape really does make my heart sing. The striated colors of rusts and oranges and dusty yellows soothe me and I have a particular soft spot for all kinds of cacti (maybe because they're the only flora I've managed to not kill at home?). The air is dry and crisp, the stars twinkle more brightly, and the sunrises are to die for. After setting up our tent, we went out on some hikes and rock scrambling before settling into our hammock for a picnic dinner.
So as you can see from the above pictures, the weather looked rather clear, didn't it? And it stayed clear until the sun set. We checked the chance of rain one last time at 9 PM and it was still holding steady at "30% chance of a light drizzle at midnight." We thought we would be fine, so we piled into the tent, told ghost stories, and began the long process of trying to fall asleep in 85 degree heat.
My husband and kids managed just fine, but I need it cold to sleep, so I was still tossing and turning until the midnight hour rolled around, along with low rumbles of thunder. I didn't think much of it; I was just thankful for the suddenly cool breeze making its way into the tent. Then I heard the soft patter of rain on the top of our tent and I thought, "Oh good, this should lull me right to sleep." Yes, I'm a fool.
About 10 minutes later, all hell broke loose. The rumbling thunder turned into cracks of lightning, the light breeze whipped itself into 75 mph gusts (yes, I looked it up after we survived this storm), and the soothing drizzle morphed into a flash flood and mudslide. The wind ripped off the rain fly and our poor children woke up to buckets of rain dumping on them, watching their father valiantly brace the tent with his body to keep it from collapsing on us as their mother used the flashes of lightning to search frantically for the car keys in a flooded tent, all the while having to scream to communicate over the now deafening thunder.
We knew we had to make a run for it before we got swept away and we sacrificed everything in the tent. Of course, we had set up the tent as far from the van as we could so that we could get a "more realistic" camping experience. So we open the tent and our eldest promptly runs in the wrong direction, screaming her head off. I'm holding our youngest and I still have no idea how I didn't fall. Do you have any idea how hard it is to navigate a mudslide? Granted, it was only shin-deep at the time, but that didn't make your footing any less slippery. The eldest daughter figured out she had gone the wrong way and went shooting past me, still screaming, only to pull the classic Charlie Brown football fall into the mud. She scrambled to her feet, took about 5 steps, and then face planted. Now thoroughly coated in mud, she gets back up and yells at the lightning streaked sky, "I am NOT having any fun!!!" before continuing our dash for the safety of the van.
My husband and I literally throw the girls into the van before getting in ourselves. Everyone is drenched and shivering (because of course, the temperature had dropped 20 degrees in 20 minutes due to the fact that this was a cold front moving through), and my husband and I look at our mud coated children and then at each other before we both just burst out into hysterics. The youngest looks at us like we've lost our minds and the eldest glares before declaring that she'll "never go camping again." We just chuckled at her and moved the van to higher ground. Just in time, too, as the road washed out next to our camping loop and the rest of the campers were stuck until road crews could clear the mud the next morning. So yeah, weather is not something you mess around with in a canyon.
Anyways, below is the sunrise after the storm. So tranquil and deceiving, isn't it? Seriously though, what an adventure! I'd do it again in a heartbeat so that I could have this story to tell to my grandkids one day. And don't worry, our oldest daughter asked just this past weekend when we could go camping again, so I think it's safe to say she hasn't suffered any longterm psychological trauma.
And also, since we were so close to it, we stopped by Cadillac Ranch about 10 miles west of Amarillo. It was definitely unique and worth a stop if you find yourself in the area, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it (unless you have spray paint...then by all means, follow your criminal fancy).