Steve Martaindale

Author of the JP Weiscarver Mystery Series

Caprock Canyons

lead photo

“I don’t want to go all ‘Walden Pond’ on you,” I said to my wife as we looked out over the rugged beauty of Caprock Canyons State Park, “but I would love to set up a lawn chair out there and spend all day watching what comes and goes and how things transform during the day’s changing light.”

(Honestly, I probably was not quite that poetic, aside from the opening phrase, but the soul was there.)

She stared out at the grasses, weeds and cacti that filled in large gaps among the juniper and scrub oak, looked up at me and said, “Let’s do it.”

This Expedition differs from the others in its scope, but it’s similar in its capability to open a view of the world and oneself.

We were about halfway through what ended up being a two-week mid-October stay on the southern edge of the Texas Panhandle. We had parked our RV trailer in Silverton, population 731, which is almost half the population of Briscoe County. While there, we visited state parks at Palo Duro Canyon to the north and Copper Breaks to the east, but most of our time was spent in Caprock Canyons.

The day I made the Walden Pond statement was our second or third visit to the park. Not too far in, I parked at a scenic lookout. A walkway of more than 100 yards led to an observation shelter. “Shelter” is a loose term since it has only one wall, on the east side, a sloped roof and one concrete bench, but the view was breathtaking in its range and diversity.

Once we made the decision, we set to finding a good spot, locating three camping sites at South Prong Tent Camping Area and one at Little Red Tent Camping Area. Each offered a site that was relatively secluded and from which I could wander a little farther and find almost perfect solitude.

Rain and cold weather delayed implementing our plan, but we showed up the next Sunday afternoon after most of the weekend crowds had left and rented our second-favorite site at the far end of the park.

Now, we had no intention of camping out. We no longer have the equipment – or, to be honest, the inclination – to sleep on the ground, but we didn’t want to be chased away by a rightful occupant. Plus, we get our money’s worth out of our annual state park pass and don’t mind pitching in a few more bucks to help them out.

We spent the rest of Sunday, well past sunset, and returned shortly after sunrise Monday. Leah occupied the campsite. I moved beyond it some 40 yards to a clearing that offered assorted views of everything but people. When I peered back toward the campsite, I could sometimes see Leah if she was moving. Once, our two neighbors scaled a cliffside not too far away and sat there for a while. Otherwise, I saw no people.

I carried with me a plastic basket that held a water bottle (more was in the truck), a few snacks, a knit cap, camera, notepads and pens, a book I barely cracked, sunscreen, first aid ointment, and trash sacks. Leah and I checked in on one another occasionally, including when I made the 250-yard walk to the toilet.

Following are select notes and photos. The former may be slightly edited from what I penned from my chair, in some cases because it’s none of your business but primarily for clarity or brevity. Photos are not necessarily in chronological order.

Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018

3:40 p.m. – After a 1.5-hour hike on the Lower Prong Trail with Leah, I’m sitting in my chair and have taken a couple of photos. The sun is nearing the cliff to my right (photo at top) and I need more sun block on my face. Soon, light should begin slowly fading.

at my post

At my post, taking in the surroundings.

 

4:05 p.m. – Admiring the quiet – except my tinnitus – I hear only wind gusts. I’m then aware of a distant jet engine and I spot the plane high overhead with a general north heading. An occasional butterfly flits by, carried by the wind at much too great a speed. Are they at the wind’s mercy or are they utilizing it?

butterfly

 

5:10 p.m. – Looking toward doing this for several hours tomorrow, I realize that much time may be required to break through mundane thoughts only after wearing them down.

sky

The types of clouds changed often.

 

5:25 p.m. – Rest room run, visit with Leah. Return with jacket; I’m now in shade.

toilet

I’ve seen signs similar to this in many parks the past several years. In Yellowstone, I believe, there were signs that further personalized the message, saying “the Rangers find it extremely difficult to remove.” Surely, the images generated by the words must cause most people to not drop their trash.

 

5:40 p.m. – I’m thinking too much about that bison returning, damn it!

bison hoof print

Caprock Canyons State Park is home to the Texas State Bison Herd and we had seen one or more lone bulls roaming around. Sitting where one previously walked worked on my imagination a bit.

 

6:00 p.m. – Are those mosquitoes?

jumper

Most of my wildlife spotting, to be honest, was very small.

 

6:10 p.m. – An almost-full waxing moon is rising. Most of the canyon is shaded. It’s cooling. Insects are beginning to crank up the volume.

moonrise

 

6i:45 p.m. – As darkness slowly descends on the canyon, I cannot help but feel the life hiding under the brush is anxiously awaiting its time to emerge for the night. Leah said she’s heard coyotes howl on both sides of the canyon. Their pitch might be too high for me to pick up.

sunset

 

7:00 p.m. – I move to the campsite with Leah, waiting for darkness. We hang out there quite a while, watching for a deer, bison or some other critter to walk by, but nothing happens.

prickly

Those not familiar with the prickly pear cactus, soon figure it out.

 

Monday, Oct. 22, 2018

8:30 a.m. – In place, bundled against the coolness. Sun is up but just now clearing the clouds.

greenery

 

8:45 a.m. – Two buck deer – one at a time – seemed headed toward me (I had stood because of grunting noises I had heard). Each was startled by my presence, front legs buckled as he stopped, then bolted toward the rising sun, passing between me and the camp.

prickly pear tuna

The colorful prickly pear tuna.

 

9:05 a.m. – I saw smoke or dust billowing toward the canyon wall. Looked like a vehicle on a dirt road … but not really. Decided it might be a bison wallowing. Texted Leah (who was on a stroll away from camp) and walked that way, carefully watching for bison, as the cloud settled. Reached a little rise and, 50 feet below me, “smoke” was emanating from a shrub. It still took me a few seconds to realize it was pollen blowing on the breeze. Cancel Red Alert.

contrail shadow

I’ve never noticed this before. At the right, you have the sun and just to the left a bright jet contrail. A bit further to the left is the shadow of the contrail on the cirrocumulus clouds.

 

11:45 a.m. – Lunch with Leah. Summer sausage, Swiss cheese, crackers, V8 and a handful of mixed nuts.

tough life

Life can be tough in this environment.

 

Excluded notes and thoughts dealt with my current book that I need to return to work on, the questions of if / how the series will continue, politics and possible roles for me, as well as many unrelated things that flitted across my brain.

I’m not going to pretend our 24-hour meditations on the Caprock drastically changed our lives, but I found it beneficial, somewhat invigorating. The idea of not requiring oneself to do all the everyday things, to allow one’s mind to wander as it will … well … I’m not sure how to classify it.

Maybe I should take a day or two and ponder it.

 

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