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  • Writer's pictureVicki Wilmarth

The Reopening of Palo Duro Canyon State Park

For two weeks in April 2020, the animals had the 26,000 acres of Palo Duro Canyon State Park to themselves and they quickly staged a takeover. Deer blithely walked the roads, turkeys strutted their spring finery in the campgrounds and warblers emerged from the deep shadows.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott closed the state parks down on April 7 to protect park staff and visitors from the coronavirus epidemic, but inexplicably reopened them two weeks later, even though there was no sign that the extremely contagious virus had been tamed in Texas. He did add new restrictions: visitors must wear face masks in the parks and gather in family-only groups no larger than 5 (sorry, those of you who decided to have 4 kids, like my parents did!). Day passes must be acquired online before the visit and the number of guests admitted into the park are limited each day to a few hundred.

Regardless of my thoughts about the wisdom of either originally closing and then quickly reopening the parks, I made an appearance at my local state park, the wondrous Palo Duro Canyon, at 8:00 a.m. for the reopening on Monday morning, April 20. I wanted to a chance to photograph the wildlife before the crowds returned. When I arrived, the canyon floor was void of the noises of motorcycle engines and bike bells that usually bounce off the Spanish Skirts. I easily imagined what the canyon must have sounded like to the Comanches in the mid-1800's or to Charles Goodnight in 1880.

But without the human clamor, the bird calls were almost deafening when I parked to hike the Kiowa Trail. The cardinals and robins were the most vocal, of course.

The wrens, blue-gray gnatcatchers and warblers joined the choir and were much more visible than usual.

Some of the summer birds had shown up while the park was closed, including the Western Kingbird and the bright-orange Bullock's Oriole.

The woods were full of the rat-a-tat-tat of woodpeckers and many, like the Golden-Fronted Woodpeckers, didn't mind my very close presence. It almost seemed that they had forgotten to be wary of humans during their two-week reprieve.

Some things didn't change. My cute porcupine was occupying the same treetop where I spotted him in early March. Only the fact that his tree had started to green up distinguishes the pictures.

Hiking with a cloth fact mask is not ideal. As cute as it is (my amazing sister-in-law Marilie Hart made it for me), and how it kind of matches my camera strap, it fogs up my glasses and my camera viewfinder. Even though the morning temps never topped 59 degrees, the face mask is warm, to say the least. I can't imagine Texans wearing them this summer while enjoying the state parks. Maybe by then we will be able to wear the lighter surgical masks without endangering healthcare workers by using PPE that they need.

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