Hiking the Haynes Ridge Trail

The incredible majesty of Caprock Canyons State Park was created over millions of years by wind and water. Wind, the Texas Plains have plenty of. Water, they do not. At least not on the surface. The park sits at a natural transition between the high plains of the Llano Estacado to the north & west and rolling hills of the Texas Hill Country to the south & east. Most of the water that created these wonderful canyons ran underground in a process called “piping”.

Streams running east from the Llano Estacado flow onto the lower plains through the Caprock Escarpment, then into the Red River, the Brazos River and the mighty Colorado River. Over tens of thousands of years, the waters of the Little Red River have exposed the different geologic layers (“red beds”) of shale, sandstone, siltstone and mudstone. Each layer exposed by this weathering contains different colors of rock including the beautiful shades of red, orange and white you can see in the photograph below.

These steep and colorful canyons are one reason I love this area so much, but it’s the sky and the clouds that really captivate the senses. Driving through the park is a real treat but to get the best landscape shots you’ll need to grab your camera and hike to some of the park’s more remote locations like the Haynes Ridge shown in the graphic below.

Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail in Caprock Canyons State Park

Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail in Caprock Canyons State Park

Hiking the Haynes Ridge trail is not for the feint of heart however. The initial climb from the trailhead is over 500 feet straight up the steep and rocky face. In the dry desert climate of the canyons, water is a necessity you can’t live without. I (hiked) climbed this section of the trail with my new pack holding my camera, lenses, filters and four 24 oz containers of cold water. Little did I know just how much water I’d need for the grueling 7 mile hike. As always, I used my trusted Gitzo Traveler tripod as a walking stick.

Once you reach the first summit, the view of Caprock Canyons State Park is spectacular to say the least. The horizon seems to stretch on forever before fading into the eastern cloud cover as you can see in the image below. Yes, the climb up to this point puts you well above the interior of the canyon.

Haynes Ridge Summit

Haynes Ridge Summit in Caprock Canyons State Park, Texas
Copyright © 2010 Jeff Lynch Photography
Shot taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II set on aperture (Av) priority using an EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens tripod mounted. The exposure was taken at 26mm, f/13 for 1/60th of a second at ISO 100 using a Singh-Ray warming polarizer. Post capture processing was done in Adobe’s Lightroom 3.

Click on the image above for a larger version.

Having rested for 20 minutes while taking a few dozen shots from this high vantage point, I thought the rest of the hike along the ridge would be a piece of cake. Little did I realize that we still had several hundred feet to ascend before we reached the actual “summit”. Luckily, I had my oldest living friend Jack, along to act as guide, coach and pack-mule if necessary. Jack’s an experienced hiker and we both felt confident in our “pace” though the first few miles of the hike.

That confidence faded fast however when we finally reached the end of the Haynes Ridge trail and started down the trail leading to the South Prong canyon area. I should point out that at this junction, we had climbed over 750 feet from the canyon floor (2467 ft elevation) to the highest point of the ridge (3200 ft elevation). For those of you familiar with Houston, it’s the equivalent of climbing the Williams Tower from the outside.

We now had to descend those same 750 feet down the steepest and most rugged “trail” I’ve ever hiked and the sun was rapidly beginning to set. As we began the long climb down, we both had one of those “Oh Shit” moments that happens when you realize that the trail is not a trail, it’s a “climb” and you (stupid) didn’t bring a rope, harness or hardware required to safely “climb” down. At age 50 and 70, free-climbing 750 feet in the fading light is not something either of us had planned on tackling that day.

Without sounding over-dramatic, this was one of the toughest descents I’d made in over 30 years. The fading light made finding hand-holds and secure footing very difficult and in several spots we lost the trail and had to back-track until we could find a marker. Once we got down to within 200 feet of the canyon floor the climb got downright dangerous with loose rock and gravel from washouts slowing our descent considerably. We climbed the last 100 feet at dusk and reached the canyon floor under the rising moon.

As we walked the final 3 miles back to our vehicle, exhaustion took over and our legs began to cramp. We quickly drank what tonic water we had (the quinine in tonic water relieves the cramps) and our reserve water in the truck. I have no idea how we managed to get out of bed the next morning, let alone scout spots to shoot that evening, but we did.

It was only by the Grace of God that we made it down that descent with nothing but a few minor scrapes and cuts and I’ve never been so happy to have the Lord along for a hike as I was that day. All I could think about during the long climb down was Proverbs 16: 18-19

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.

Amen!

9 thoughts on “Hiking the Haynes Ridge Trail

  1. LOL. Been there, dun that, and it almost killed me too when my water bladder in my pack broke open and spilled water all over me. And oh yeah, the wind was howling, temps were in the high 30s low 40s and since it was sooooo warm and not windy in the canyon, I had left my jacket back in camp. Went hypothermic and somehow managed to stumble down the cliff and make it back without keeling over. 🙂

  2. Jeff,

    I love your images as always and I am glad to hear that the trip ended on a good note. I also am pleased that the hand of God led you to a safe place. God bless.

    John Feikema

    • John,

      Thanks for your concern. I’ve always believed that we live not one day longer than intended and while I’m not rushing to meet my end, I’m not running away from it either. Life is too short to live any other way and I’ve always felt the Lord’s strength when mine alone wasn’t enough.

      Jeff

  3. That gorgeous shot was worth the hike! Sounds like you almost overdid it, but I’m glad you made it OK! That’s a lot of hike if you’re not used to it!

    • Thanks Chris.

      The geography in Texas ranges from desert in the west to piney woods in the East and from high plains in the North to swamps and bayous in the Southwest. It’s over 800 miles East to West and over 900 miles from North to South. It can be 20F in one part of Texas and 105F in another part, on the same day! It’s said that a man could spend his lifetime photographing Texas and never run out of beautiful scenery to capture. I hope to prove that statement sometime in the next 30 years or so.

      Jeff

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