We arrived at Palo Duro Canyon State Park too late for check in. The office left us directions to the campsites in a drop box and strict instructions to check in at the ranger station by 9:00 a.m. the next morning to retain the campsite for another night. We drove 3 miles down into the canyon. Even in the last light of day and even as a novice RV’er, I looked back up the winding road we had just exited and realized we had a problem. To get back up to the top by 9 a.m. next day, we would either have to unhook everything , pull in the slideouts and all drive up by 8:30 or one of us would have to hitch a ride with someone leaving the campsite. Paul and Laura decided one of them could probably get a ride, and it was a no brainer we’d all be up well before 8:30.
But. The excitement of the previous day’s Tornado Time combined with the late hour we all got to bed resulted in good, deep sleep (except for Laura and Craig who had to deal with a leak in the air mattress and a 2 yr old very much off schedule who wanted to play at 3 a.m.) The next morning the sunlight through the window was bright. I raised up on one elbow to look out – the canyon was beautiful, the peaceful quiet enhanced by the morning bird chatter. Stretching, I reached for my watch – and saw that it was 8:42 a.m.
“Paul, Paul, get up! Time for you to hitch a ride!” I whispered loudly. He dressed and exited the RV as quietly as possible, while I watched an RV drive past. Other campsites were already empty or showed no signs of activity. I knew he’d figure out something, he always did.
While he was gone, Laura made breakfast of coffee, toasted English muffins, berries. Emily and I added the remaining few bites of beef jerky. We were discussing hiking choices and how the girls could get Junior Ranger badges when Grandpa returned. He’d unsuccessfully tried to flag down several vehicles until he found a friendly Park Ranger. On his ride to the top he had seen back roads, the ranger entrance and learned a lot. They struck up such a friendship that he had been given a complimentary Junior Ranger badge. Only Paul.
Because of the storm several trailheads were closed, so we chose one toward the top of the canyon and planned to hike down back to the campsite. But first a close, exploratory hike around the campsite. We were all ready to take a hike instead of just talking about it. The girls found a narrow path behind the RV and we set out. It looked perfect, remote but with great views of the canyon. After 5 minutes Molly spotted the back of a building. Which turned out to be the park’s General Store. Dang, civilization after only 5 minutes. It was too late to stop the girls from switching from into souvenir shopping mode.
Later as Grandpa drove us all back up the road Molly got to ride shotgun. Even at 15 mph the driver needs someone to answer “Clear!” when he asks about visibility on an upcoming curve. Grandpa also liked to chat it up with other vehicles driving toward us. We saw several humongous motor homes that made ours look small. Then we saw a tiny camper pulled behind a regular size truck. Grandpa stuck his head out of the window and yelled, “Ours is bigger!” That became his battle cry to every RV that was even ½ inch smaller than ours. Only Grandpa.
Finally we got in a good hike – 3 miles, with Alex riding in the carrier on Mom or on Dad. We made multiple pauses for cars since we were close to the main road, but it was a real hike and the views were gorgeous. We were close enough to see the RV site when we spotted Big Truck coming up the road toward us. Grandpa was doing a safety check since it was taking longer than anticipated. He pulled over at a lookout point and asked if anyone wanted to ride back. No way, no quitters in this bunch. Big Truck continued up the road until he could safely turn around, and before too long he passed us again, marching ever onward to our destination.
A good nap nicely follows a good hike. The girls in their bunks and I in my bed, Laura was in the tent testing out the patch on her air mattress. It was more of a rest than a real nap, and soon through the open window I heard Molly talking to Laura. Alex was already inside keeping Mom awake. I heard another voice and realized Emily had joined them. I couldn’t hear all of the conversation but I began to hear laughter, something about Todd the Beer and Molly having killed it. What the heck, I thought, getting off the bed. The laughter grew louder as I neared the tent, and only escalated when I poked my head in and said, “I heard about Todd, I came as soon as I could.”
Bird watching at the canyon is a must. Emily and I marveled at the painted bunting, thrasher, house sparrows, deep red cardinals, throng of hummingbirds, and a woodpecker, not bothered at all by the wild turkey Toms and hens strutting nearby.
Dinner that night was steak, baked potatoes and salad, even a nice glass of wine – now that’s my kind of camping. Emily, our excellent server and sou chef, had her hands full keeping paper plates and napkins on the table as the wind had picked up. Quite a bit. Even so we by golly had the s’mores which had been denied us the night before. Melted chocolate and marshmallows on a graham cracker taste so good over a campfire.
That night we all slept inside Big Truck. My daughter and I agreed we didn’t want to sell our houses and live in a trailer, but it was a must-have experience at least once and we were ready for some more Life on the Road.