When sunlight first creeps in and reveals the high rock walls streaked with color like gigantic shards of painted Indian pottery, and the wind-sculpted rock formations towering overhead, you know you are in a special place. I fell in love with Palo Duro Canyon the first time I ran in it, a 50K several years ago – followed by another 50K the following year, and capped by a 50-miler the year after that.
But it wasn’t just the incredible scenery that drew me back. The people who ran the Palo Duro trail races genuinely love the canyon and the people who run it. The legendary, larger-than-life Red Spicer, race director for many years until he passed away, stood grinning ear-to-ear in jeans and a cowboy hat at the spot where the 50K and 50 mile courses split, shaking the hand of every runner who passed by and wishing every one good luck. And there were the “Dos Locos Senoritas” who ran one of the aid stations, their cheerful laughter echoing off the canyon walls. You were lured in by the scenery, and you came back for the people.
After more years than I care to think about, I’ll be going back to the canyon this October for my first race in four years: the 20K, one loop of that marvelous canyon floor. My body seems to be craving more work at the moment – a sort of personal Indian summer, I guess – and I’m happy to oblige for as long as it lasts.
I hope to run a few more trail half marathons in other extraordinary locations after Palo Duro, but for now, all focus is on getting back to the canyon. One of my other favorite memories is lying on the hood of my car near the start of my first Palo Duro 50K, watching bits and pieces of the cosmos streak by overhead in a sky rich with stars. Before, during, and after the race, there is no other corner of the universe quite like it. I’m looking forward to going one more time.