Pic of the Week 6/28/18
Location: Caprock Canyon State Park
Date taken: 6/24/18
There are several terms I like to throw around while storm chasing, but one that I haven't said in quite a long time is "Caprock Magic". Caprock Magic refers to supercells that form along the Caprock Escarpment in west Texas. In my experience, these tend to be slow-moving and very photogenic storms. In fact, when I first started chasing I would almost always drive towards the caprock and many times I was rewarded with some beautiful structure and great photography. I haven't done a lot of research in this, but I believe that the Llano Estacado has an effect on the weather. The Llano Estacado or "stacked plain" takes up 37,452 square miles from west Texas to New Mexico. Its hard to imagine this doesn't affect the weather in some way. My old chase partner used to say he believed the Caprock Escarpment created a way for the low level moisture to pack up against the caprock and become a focus area for thunderstorm development. I've seen it enough times to believe it to be true. In fact some of my best storms have been along the Caprock. I'm sure there's more studying and research that could be done, but for now I'll just refer to phenomenon as "magic."
But unfortunately, I haven't seen any Caprock magic in several years. Although, the Carey, TX supercell was a the best I have seen in a long time. Regardless, there's something quite enchanting about that "Island in the Sky" as some call it. The low plains of Texas start to rise in dramatic fashion right about the Clarendon, Turkey, Matador, Dickens, line and the elevation jumps from 1000ft at Wichita Falls, to 1995ft in Childress (some 100 miles away), and towers to 3655ft in Amarillo (another 100 miles). The constant southeasterly wind erosion has worn the eastern side of the Caprock revealing the stunning red rock underneath and the carving of wonderful canyonlands from the Red River makes it one of my favorite locations in all of Texas. And while this place is stunning and amazing, it was not my intention to visit Caprock Canyon last Sunday. A friend of mine said he was interested in storm chasing and I thought we had a good opportunity for severe weather along the Caprock. I was looking for the Caprock magic.
We left Wichita Falls around 3:30pm, before that I was glued to my laptop going over surface charts and doing analysis on the chase potential. There was one very large and significant problem, however. An overnight Mescoscale Convective System had bulldozed its way through Kansas and Oklahoma. This sinking air could have a major effect on our storm chances later on in the afternoon, but my friend was eager to go so we headed out of town. Along the way I could see the potential for thunder storms as we drove under a fairly large are of cumulus clouds. Our base city would be Childress, TX and when arrived to Childress I could start to see that cumulus field dry up. Looks like that storm in Oklahoma was going to affect our chase after all. I made a decision that if we didn't see any signs of the atmosphere improving we would call the chase. Not wanting to leave empty handed I suggested we make a trip to nearby Caprock Canyon State Park. And after hours of waiting we decided to call it a chase and head towards Caprock Canyon.
My friend had never been there before and I'm always excited to show people this small state park. We drove past Childress and to Esteline where we turned on Highway 86 heading towards Turkey, TX. This road has nothing but ranch land on both sides of the road and you really understand why everyone believes west Texas is flat and empty. But after reaching Turkey, TX we followed 86 west and reached Quitiaque the gateway to CCSP. Off in the distance we could see the mesas and edge of the Caprock that make up CCSP and after paying our entry fee we were off to explore. There is very little to drive in CCSP one main road starts from the visitor center and ends at the South Prong Camping area. But along the way you really get a good idea of how rugged and unique the terrain is here. Several steep grades and winding roads keep you on edge as you zigzag through the canyonlands. You might have to stop and let some of the local fauna cross the road such as prairie dogs, snakes, and even bison. These 1400lb nomads of the plains remind this is their land by standing in the middle of the road and daring you to just try and tempt them. I introduced my friend to some of the geographic features and landmarks in the area and after some exploring we knew where to set up for sunset.
I had found this amazing gyspum wall at a dry creek crossing on the Upper Canyon trail where a massive column of rust colored sandstone towered over the dry creek bed. My idea was to photograph the sunset light hitting the edge of the column and using the dramatic gypsum walls as a foreground. We spent about an hour shooting different compositions of the wild rock formations here, but my friend wanted to go back to the start of the trail and the South Prong Overlook to shoot sunset. We made the very short hike back to the trail and found an excellent spot to set up and waited for the sun to sink. As evening drew closer small cumulus clouds started to accumulate to our west. This gave me some high hopes for a nice dramatic sunset. I watched the sun dip behind the jagged canyon walls and edge of the caprock escarpment and I made this exposure. The sun just barely peeked above the top of the canyon sending light spilling onto that sandstone structure and the canyon floor. All these elements came together in such a way that could only be described as Caprock Magic. Sure there were no storms, but an adventure out here always leaves my spirit renewed and my mind refreshed and if I can come home with some great images then nothing else matters. I have several amazing hikes planned for CCSP once the weather cools down. I can't wait to see what other magic I find exploring the area.