Utah to Texas

19 Nov


Sparkling sunny blue sky days tend to make you forget that we are now into November and this is the beginning of winter. The nights may be cold but the sunny days are pleasant and warm and our week end in Arches had been just like this. Monday was too but the forecast said the weather was due to change. So once more we were running away from bad weather!

On Monday we covered over 200 miles and passed through four States, perhaps not the big deal it sounds when you realise we travelled the road which took us through the ‘4 corners’, the only place in the US where 4 States come together at one point. We started in Utah, passed over the border into Colorado, fifteen miles later the road crossed the border into Arizona and another ten miles along we were in New Mexico, all in the space of half an hour!

Map picture


In the bottom right hand square you can find the town of Shiprock marked


This is Shiprock! In a flat landscape it stands out for miles and we seemed to be seeing it from all angels for quite some time before the road actually got this close to it. From a distance it looks like a ships sail in the desert.

We had hoped to stay a while in Albuquerque and the northern New Mexico area but the weather was pushing us on. As we passed through however we took time out to visit the Petroglyph National Monument.

A strong cold wind was sweeping in as we climbed the volcanic rocky outcrop to view the work of the ancient artists.



After stopping off, our journey along the interstate was taking us to our overnight destination of Tucumcari, it seemed someone knew where we were heading as advertising hoardings at the side of the road said "Tucumcari tonite" we laughed and shouted  "Yes – were coming!" We realised the significance of the placards later…

It was dark when we pulled into the Cactus RV Park and I commented it was perhaps a good thing as the buildings in the shadows looked like they had seen better days. The lady who checked us in was very friendly and helpful and we soon got set up for the night. With internet access we decided to find out a little more about the place we had landed…. yes OK maybe we need to do this bit first – but then – that is all part of the adventure we are on!

We had realised we were once again on part of Route 66, what we did not realise was that Tucumcari was once one of the principle Motel stops on the Mother Road. Our Cactus RV Park once was Cactus Motel, the buildings in the shadows were now the remains of the old rooms. The local Chamber of Commerce had the "Tucumcari tonite" adverts posted on the Interstate as a marketing exercise to attract the visitors many years ago and it has never been removed. Most of the Motels have however seen better days.



In the bright light of morning they almost looked picturesque.

We had another overnight stop on the I 40 before we arrived at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Below are its statistics and claim to fame as stated in the State Park information.

The Canyon is 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of more than 800 feet. Its elevation at the rim is 3,500 feet above sea level. It is often claimed that Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States. The largest, the Grand Canyon, is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 6,000 ft. deep.

The approach to the canyon is a flat landscape and we began to wonder where this cousin of the Grand Canyon was hiding. Having passed through the fee station and heading for the campground the road wound down and right into the heart of the red rocky canyon.


We had arrived early enough in the day that we were able to hike out on one of the trails to view the canyon up close. It occurred to us that the rough trails, whilst dry at the present time, could turn into a sticky wet mess in different weather.

The rocks all around seemed very unstable, weather worn and in the process of erosion.


Like at Arches the red rock is capped by a harder grey stone, it seems the red rock is wearing away very quickly here though. We saw tall pinnacles of red rock with a cap perched on the top of them in a few places, the most famous is called "The Lighthouse" and was a distant view on our trail, we passed closer to smaller versions of it.


We took a drive around the rest of the canyon roads crossing over several washes with a small amount of water passing through them. Piles of dry red mud to one side indicated to us that on occasion they became much deeper  had to be dug out by the diggers parked up close by.

The local news that evening told of storms approaching but moving to the north of us, we were pleased to be where we were and looked out upon a bright, moonlit, starry sky. A knock on our door around 9pm however brought us news from the camp host that severe thunder storms, heavy rain and hail were expected very soon, we were warned not to cross the wash to the left of the campground exit (the opposite direction to the way out – why would we go that way?) and if we were feeling insecure we could shelter in the toilet block.

We stayed put watched the lightening and went to sleep with the sounds of rain on our roof. Next morning the news was full of the THUNDER SNOW STORM which had crossed the area and was causing chaos on the local roads. We looked outside to see puddles and rain, we did have a few snow flakes but… we were fine.

IMG_4386 This was the wash, we would not have crossed it but it wasn’t too deep.

As we climbed the road out of the canyon we began to see what the fuss was all about a few inches of snow was covering the ground by the time we arrived in the town of Canyon, it was wet and thawing very messy but also could have been very slippery. We had been very well sheltered in the canyon and had not realised how lucky we were.

The next few days we spent on several State Park campgrounds which were quiet, attractive but without a lot to talk about. We were working our way to Kilgore in Texas to meet up with friends from earlier in the year who have their home there.

The Panhandle Plains are the flat farmlands of Texas which had been our image of the State, in March of this year we had discovered the greener side of Texas in Hill Country, now we were entering Pinney Woods region and it too was green and rolling in its landscape. The farms we saw as we entered the region were cotton farms and we were delighted to be able to see the fields still full of cotton waiting to be harvested.


We first met Dean and Kathe at Monohans Sand Hills State Park where we had walked on the dunes, taken each others pictures and shared a bottle of wine and a good evening of conversation. We had hoped to meet up with them later in Arkansas but had been unable to do so, our enforced cross country trip had yet another positive to it…we could drop by their home town and spend some time with them.

Arriving in Kilgore Thursday could not have been better timing, Kathe sent us a message saying that if we were interested  the Christmas lights were to be lit in the town that night. Not just any old Christmas lights, Kilgore style Christmas lights involve lighting stars on the oil derricks in downtown! This sounded like our sort of event.

In the 1930’s Kilgore became an oil boom town when it was discovered it lay over a part of the vast east Texas oil field. Construction of many derricks took place with one parcel of land being declared as having the densest concentration of oil derricks in the world.

Before the festivities began at 7pm we had a look around some of the lovely stores recently opened in the reviving town. Beautifully decorated for the coming season they brought Christmas just that bit closer for us, we then enjoyed a lovely meal in the local Italian Restaurant. Standing on the edge of the crowd of local people gathered beneath the oil derricks we watched their very famous Rangerettes dance across the stage, various local artists performed Christmas songs and of course there was the ceremonial lighting of the stars.


Now I feel Christmas is really just around the corner.

Next day our excellent hosts collected us early and took us on a journey out to Caddo Lake, the only natural lake in Texas. The lake has an eerie beauty all its own, in its winter hues, the leaves of the bald cypress having fallen, the Spanish moss drapes from the branches like cobwebs.


From the lake we visited Jefferson, once a busy port at the northern point of navigation for river traffic from New Orleans it is now the B&B capitol of Texas with people visiting to view the grand homes once owned by the prosperous merchants. The small town has many interesting stores, we spent so long in the curio shops we did go in that we only saw a few before it was time to head back.

We still have to visit the Oil Museum tomorrow before we leave Kilgore so more of that later but we have certainly discovered a thriving busy little corner of Texas that is green and definitely not flat!

2 Responses to “Utah to Texas”

  1. Susan November 20, 2010 at 7:45 am #

    Reading your post makes me realize I miss hiking in that part of the country~its so wide open!
    We are fogged in here in Ohio, waiting for clearer skies so we can get to Indiana and see our daughter.

    • elainethehill November 20, 2010 at 7:53 am #

      Not so much better here in Texas this morning Sue. Hoping it will clear as we need to press on into Louisiana today. Enjoy your visit!

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