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Hike in the Bat Cave
TRAILWAYS PARK OVERVIEW
Like Palo Duro Canyon, Caprock Canyon is located on the eastern edge of the Llano Estacado just south of Amarillo, Texas. The Llano Estacado is a plain that encompasses eastern New Mexico and Northwest Texas. Caprock Canyon is at the breaks of this plain and is drained by the Little Red River. The Spanish named the area “Hay Sierras Debajo De Los Llanos,” There are mountains beneath the plains. Geologically they are composed of Permian-Triassic red beds. The Little Red River drains the park with two major streams, the South Prong and the North Prong of the Little Red River. In 1982 this became a Texas State Park and offered 30 miles of trails. Besides the scenic trails, the other attraction is the Bison, of which there are quite a few.
Caprock Canyons State Park Trailway is part of the park system but outside the park boundary. The Caprock Canyons Trailway follows the Burlington Northern Railroad that was part of the Fort Worth and Denver South plains Railway in the early 1920s and offering service from Lubbock in 1928. The Trailways is 64 miles of this track and passes through some of the most scenic areas in northern Texas. The rail line was used continually until 1989. With the help of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, TPWD acquired the 64.25-mile line in 1992. The Trailway opened in 1993. As it Travels from South Plains east to Estelline, you will pass through rangeland, farmland, and canyons. The rails have been removed and resurfaced with dirt for a trail used by hikers, mountain bikes, and horses.
Quitaque Canyon Trail
Caprock Canyon Trailways is a 64-mile trail that follows along the old trackbed. This portion of the Trailways, The Quitaque Canyon Trail, is 17.5 miles long. This portion is the far western portion and runs between Monks Crossing at Farm Road 689 and the South Plains farming community. This is probably the most exciting portion of the 64-mile trail as it climbs 700 feet to the top of the Llano Estacado Plateau following Quitaque Creek. Sites along the way besides the Canyon views are the old gravel silos and Clarity Tunnel with its Mexican Free-tailed bats. Clarity Tunnel was named after Frank E. Clarity, a railroad official at the time of the line’s construction.
From the Monks Crossing trailhead, along Farm Road 689, the trail heads in a southwest direction. The tracks have been removed, and the bed has been covered with a hard pack sand/dirt, so the walking is relatively easy. The first 4 miles are kind of uneventful as you walk along some pretty flat land. About a half dozen small wood bridges span the small creeks heading east into Quitaque Creek. Along this stretch to the east are a couple of gravel silos used to store gravel that was mined out of Quitaque Creek. At 4 miles, the trail starts its ascent up to the top of the Llano Estacado. The trail is no longer straight, and it passes through its first road cut and then a large bridge. A half-mile past this bridge is the Clarity Tunnel. This is a 742-foot long tunnel with a curve to it (can’t look directly through to the other end). This is also home to over 500,000 Mexican Free-Tailed Bats. This is probably the highlight of the trail.
After the tunnel, the trail heads more in a westerly direction and follows Quitaque creek from higher up on the hillside. The trail continues to climb, passing over small bridges that cross creeks draining now south into Quitaque Creek. Between miles 8 and 10, the trail crosses three more fairly large bridges, two across creeks that drain into Quitaque Creek and the third crossing Quitaque Creek itself. The trail along this stretch is reasonably level, taking a momentary break from its 700-foot climb to the plateau's top. The trail continues its climb over numerous small bridges for the next 4 miles before topping out at mile 14.5. The trail along the stretch after the tunnel offers good views to the south over the Quitaque basin. The last 3 miles to South Plains is really flat and not that interesting unless you like looking at cotton fields. Don’t expect much in South Plains, there is nothing there except some farm buildings. The GPS route for this trail Guide does not show the last 3 miles to South Plains.
I don’t expect to be hiking the 64 miles of the Trailways, but this section is a must if you are in the area. The other portion of the Trailways to Los Lingos Creek is also worth doing. This is a 2-mile hike one way heading north from Monks Crossing.
Check out the Official Route and Triplog.