Trail of the Month: April 2005
Caprock Canyons State Park Trailway, Texas
Caprock Canyons Trailway serves as positive evidence for the saying, "everything is bigger and better in Texas"—at least when it comes to recreational trails. This 64-mile rail-trail stretches through three counties, crosses over 46 bridges and surges through one of the last railroad tunnels in the Lone Star state. Located in the 15,313-acre Caprock Canyons State Park, the trail has it all—dramatic scenery, rich history and amazing wildlife. So whether you choose to hike, horseback ride or mountain bike this rugged trail, you are certain to find a real Texas adventure along its path.
Caprock Canyons Trailway begins in South Plains and traverses 64 miles along the caprock escarpment to its eastern terminus at Estelline. The trail is easily broken down into several segments all ranging from five to 17 miles long, and can be accessed by using any of the eight trailheads along the dirt path. A quick reminder before you hit this rail-trail—pack plenty of water, food, a cell phone and an extra tire repair kit for emergencies along the way.
Beginning in South Plains head east on the first segment, the Quitaque Canyon Trail, for about 17 miles. This area is one of the most picturesque and interesting throughout the entire Trailway due in part to Clarity Tunnel at mile 12. The sense of history with the 582-foot passageway makes it easy to imagine a train chugging through this massive tunnel on its way to Fort Worth. Today, 16 years after the rail line was abandoned, this tunnel still provides plenty of activity for those who visit its dark halls. Every evening from April to October, this area becomes a prime spot to watch more than 50,000 Mexican free-tailed bats flying into the air in search of their insect dinner. If you are interested in witnessing this amazing phenomenon first hand, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department offers guided tours of the event during peak months.
From the Quitaque Canyon Trail keep heading east toward the town of Quitaque and at mile 17 jump on the Los Lingos Trail for approximately five miles. This portion of the Trailway crosses the Valley of Tears, a narrow swale at the intersection of the Cottonwood and Los Lingos Creek. According to legend, the name of the valley was suggested by an unknown person who heard the wailing of mothers and children who were kidnapped by Comanche Indians and brought here in the mid-1800s, only to be separated and sold off to the comanchero traders and taken west into New Mexico. Interpretive signs detail this and other historical trail facts along the entire Trailway.
Continue east past the town of Quitaque and take notice of the sparse vegetation of prickly cacti and hackberries on the 10-mile Kent Creek segment of the trail. This area presents pleasant views of a hushed creek connecting the towns of Quitaque and Turkey.
The Kent Creek segment of the Trailway leads you directly into the 12-mile Grundy Canyon Trail. The segment runs from Tampico Siding to Parnell Station and provides incredible views of the caprock escarpment and down into the bank of the Red River. Grundy Canyon Trail, along with the last segment, the Plains Junction Trail, provides the best areas to spot wildlife. Herds of pronghorn antelope and the Texas state bison are often the main attractions here, although you will often see African Aoudad sheep, white-tailed deer, coyotes, bobcats, opossums, foxes and the rare golden eagle throughout the last portion of the Trailway.
As you round out the last segment of the trail and enter Estelline, the western terminus of the trail, tip your cowboy hat to the steep red sandstone canyons, calming sounds of nature and wandering wildlife as you mosey off into the great Texas sunset.