Exploring the Llano Estacado

Leaving Amarillo this morning, I drove southeastward on US 287, crossing the flat terrain of the Llano Estacado.  Quilted with irrigated cropfields and ranchlands, this vast plateau of Tertiary sediments also harbors a large number of shallow lakes and wetlands; on this sunny October morning, most of them were filled with waterfowl.  American coot and blue-winged teal were the dominant species, accompanied by flocks of white-faced ibis, American avocets and lesser yellowlegs; these same lakes also attract wintering sandhill cranes (especially in southern and western regions of the plateau).

At Claude, Texas, I turned south on Route 207.  Within fifteen miles or so, the road begins to descend through Palo Duro Canyon, sculpted by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River.  Private property lines the highway and, unfortunately, few pulloffs are available; nevertheless, I managed to take plenty of photos and did some birding during my visit.  Highlights of the latter included loggerhead shrikes, scissor-tailed flycatchers and a large flock of scaled quail.  Those wanting to hike in the canyon are advised to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park, east of Canyon, Texas (south of Amarillo).

After leaving the canyon, I continued south on 207 to Silverton, passing Mackenzie Reservoir, in Tule Creek Canyon, along the way.  East of that town, I angled ENE on Route 256, soon descending through the Caprock Escarpment of the Llano Estacado; a picnic area atop the escarpment offers spectacular views of the cliffs and of the rolling plains to the east.  About twenty miles east of the escarpment, Highway 256 crosses the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River once again, now hemmed in by more greenery than was present in the canyon and backed by the distant edge of the Llano Estacado.