McG in the Palo Duro Canyon | McGowan Images Blog


McG in the Palo Duro Canyon

It was so nice to take a break from the modern world last week and explore the Palo Duro Canyon with our kids. As you might have seen on our social media accounts, the trip wasn’t ALL sunshine & roses, thanks to a few crazy storms. But we had an absolute blast and made some great memories.

We’ve had a blast looking through photos since we got home, too! I decided the best way to share these in a blog post would just be to do it as kind of a photo diary of the trip. So if you’re not interested in reading about our trip, it won’t offend us… we’ll see you back here for the next portrait session post. 🙂 But if you ARE interested in seeing a little bit of what we did on our canyon adventure, then read on… there’s lots of stories to be had!


We arrived at the Canyon late on Thursday night, but luckily, it stays light ‘til nearly 10 p.m. in the Canyon this time of year. Once a thunderhead blew past us, the views were absolutely incredible, and we all fell in love with our surroundings straight away.



For our first morning of vacation, we planned a tour with Elkins Ranch! This amazing property right next to the state park is actually for sale right now… for a cool eight million dollars. Darn, I come up just shy of that. 😉

Our tour guide was amazing, the views were incredible, and we had SUCH a blast. If it hadn’t been for the storms later in the week, we’d definitely have gone back for another canyon tour!


Mack took his duties as camp cook very seriously, which I’m sure surprises exactly no one. In addition to his delicious chili and fun noms like campfire pizza, he also cooked delicious chicken cordon bleu (with pepperjack, for his swiss cheese hating wife), and these delicious Mexican Onion Bombs! We’ll be doing these stuffed onions at home, for sure.


On Friday night, we went in search of the Big Cave. At least, that’s what it’s called on the map. It’s actually just a tall hole in the sandstone. But hey, it’s got bats in it, so we’ll call it a cave! Both of our kids just adore hiking and exploring, so we try to do as much of that as we can.


WARNING**** SPIDER PHOTO AHEAD**** Scroll down if that’ll give you the heebies!!

Yeah, there were tarantulas. Lots of them. Big guys, bigger than my spread hand in some cases. I’m glad none of us are arachnid-squeamish.


*****It’s safe to continue! No more spiders!!***

The sunsets every night in the canyon were just incredible. We couldn’t stop photographing them!


And then, AFTER the sunsets?? It just kept being more and more beautiful. Check out this gorgeousness Mack captured after dark!!





Saturday morning dawned clear and bright, and we set about the important business of CAMPING. Dorothy dug, Mack cooked, Jack did collected rocks, and I read a book.


Then, we allll decided to climb one of the rock formations nearest to our campsite! I was worried that we might be biting off more than we could chew with this 500 ft monster (considering our party includes this mama with a bad hip, and a four year old), but we made it!


This photo of Dorothy and I taking a post-hike nap in the hammock is one of my new favorite images of all time…


It was nice to have a completely relaxing night around our campsite, and enjoy each other with no worries at all. And, of course, the sunset was phenomenal, and allowed me to get my new favorite photo of Jack. This image is COMPLETELY unedited… I did an HDR process in-camera, and then just uploaded it straight to the blog. STUNNING.



We started our Sunday with a little church service. Jack chose a scripture to read for us, and we all talked about what it meant, and Mack played a few worship songs. Of course, playing those worship songs eventually turned into playing all our favorite songs, Jesus-centric or otherwise, but we all enjoyed the jam session. 🙂


We spent our Sunday afternoon in Amarillo! We had a few supplies to pick up, so we figured that was a good excuse to take the kids to Cadillac ranch and the Big Texan.


We got back in time to photograph an engagement session on Sunday night, which turned out completely beautifully… click here to go see it if you missed that blog post!



After dinner and dessert, Jack curled up in his tent and we put Dot to bed in the big tent, and Mack and I snuggled together in front of the campfire with good books. Occasionally a roll of thunder would pique our interest, but there had been thunder every night since we arrived, so we weren’t too worried.


Out of nowhere, around 12:15 a.m., the wind picked up, and the storm closed in around us. Literally, it looked like a fist of clouds closing over our heads. Mack hollered at me to put the camera equipment in the car, and I ran that way, only to catch just a glimpse of Dorothy’s face as the tent collapsed on her head in a HUGE gust of wind and she screamed “MOOOOOMMMMMYYYYYY!!!!!!!”

Of course, I screamed for Mack, who held the tent up just as the pelting rain started, and I climbed in to rescue a hysterical Dot. After I put her in the car, I went and got Jack out of his tent, where he was doing his best to be brave but was obviously terrified as well.

Poor Mack spent the next 45 minutes running around like mad, in blinding rain and winds that made it impossible to stand up straight, doing everything he could to minimize the storm damage.

Ultimately, all he could do was make sure our stuff didn’t break or disappear in the wind… there was no saving it from moisture.

We curled up in the explorer, and did the best we could to sleep it out.



We awoke cramped and cranky in the car on Monday morning, and got out to survey the damage. One of the support poles of Jack’s two-man tent had snapped completely, and the whole thing blew away, while ours was flattened and filled with water. Everything we owned was soaked.

We spent another day in Amarillo, mostly at the Laundromat, while our possessions got dry. Thank goodness for kids who are happy to watch an ipad movie in the car… I hated to break our “no technology” thing, but sometimes, it’s just necessary!

That night, we got back to our cabin and settled in for dessert with some friends who came to visit, and were thoroughly convinced that the rest of the trip was going to be peachy keen.




Yup. That’s another storm cloud.

Mack and I woke up Tuesday morning to a really nice, light, refreshing rain on our tent. It’s the kind of rain that’s LOVELY to have when you’re camping… everything was cool and clean, there were no bugs, and we were hopeful that it was just a quick morning shower.

We even made a GoPro video before we settled in to play a game in the tent, talking about how we were looking forward to a lazy rainy day. Perhaps games like 카지노 사이트 may be perfect. Literally SECONDS after we turned that little camera off, a bolt of lightning hit the ground not too far from our tent, and the whole world turned upside down.

The crazy winds started up again, and we saw Jack’s tent fly by the window of the big one. Keep in mind, this isn’t a toy tent… it’s a mountain climbing tent, and it was fully staked to the ground. GONE.

Jack and I held up the tent as much as we could while Mack gathered load after load of clothes and food to put in the car. When it became clear that the storm wasn’t going to blow through quickly, we all ran for the Explorer.

And there we lived for the next several hours, eating powdered donuts, because that’s all we could find, and trying to ignore the fact that our SUV now smelled like a cut-rate kennel.

When the craziness finally subsided, the park host came to check on us. Mack told her, “I’m done, we’re out of here before the next round hits.”

And the sweet lady responded with a shake of her head… “No, son, y’all aren’t going anywhere today.”

Because, you see, each of the THREE low-water crossings standing between us and the park exit were flooded. Flooded bad. Flooded 6-feet-deep. So, yeah, we were stuck.


Luckily, that also meant that the people who’d rented cabins for the night down inside the canyon couldn’t get to them… so, we happily took over one of those reservations for ourselves, and moved Camp McG over into a nice cozy CCC-constructed rock cabin, with a window AC unit and a fridge, and queen size bunk beds. It felt like the freakin’ Hilton.


On Tuesday night, we went up to the Pioneer Amphitheater and watched the “TEXAS” musical drama that’s in its 49th season at the canyon. The show was just as wonderful as everyone said it would be, and we will definitely be seeing it again someday!

When another storm hit at about 4 a.m. Tuesday morning, Mack and I laid in bed and laaaaaaughed, “Hahaha! You can’t get us now!”


We awoke once again to news that we wouldn’t be able to leave anytime soon, so we settled in for another night in our cabin. It finally, after so many days, started feeling like the vacation we were wanting!!


Ok, that’s not fair, we had a lot of fun. Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday were wonderful. And then, Tuesday night and Wednesday were wonderful. But man, Sunday night, Monday & Tuesday day were such a beating, it was hard to recover from.

I’m so grateful that we were all able to maintain really positive attitudes… we sang songs, laughed at ourselves, and praised God for sending rain. All the way home on Thursday, we talked about our favorite parts of the week, and there were so many to choose from. Dorothy summed it up pretty well, actually…  “I hated when the tent fell on my head, but hiking is my FAVORITE.”

Me too, shorty. Me too.


Special shout out to my mom for packing great adventure bags for both the kids before we left. We put those glow sticks to good use up on the hill our last night! 🙂


We’re already trying to decide where we want to go for our next big McG Camping adventures, so if you have any suggestions of beautiful places (with CABINS!!), let us know!

  1. What an adventure! Glad you guys survived and had fun. I think Dorothy needs to do her own “camping fashion” blogpost, because that girl looked adorable every single day. Overalls, ruffled skirts, hiking in a dress… such a fashionista.

  2. Jennifer says:

    Very cool story. Loved getting to see all the amazing sites you all experienced. Also, happy for you guys to get to unplug for a while. Have a great rest of the summer.

  3. Rhonda says:

    Awesome adventure and beautiful images!

  4. Dawn says:

    This whole trip sounded aMAZing–storms and all! Gorgeous photos, too!

  5. Jennifer N says:

    Definitely sounds like there was never a dull moment 😉 Glad that nobody was hurt too badly during the crazy storms! Matt and I went to Beavers Bend last year and stayed in a little cabin. We had such a blast we’re going again this August!

  6. Misty says:

    So glad you shared this adventure with us!!! Despite your ordeal with the weather, this awesome photojournal just fully intesified my deep longing to visit Palo Duro — I simply MUST see one of those awesome collared lizards!!! And stay in the CCC cabins, of course. 😉 Such incredible scenery, as captured by the McG team, of course. Yay!

  7. RamG says:

    I’ve come to the conclusion that your Family Vacation blog posts are my favorite. Weddings, engagements, and family portraits are awesome but you guys tell the best, personal stories. Thank you for sharing your adventures with us!!

  8. Katie Reich says:

    Your family vacations are epic! I’ve stayed at Palo Duro and don’t remember it being that beautiful. I got to say though, being the food lover that I am, I must have the stuffed onion recipe asap…that looked damned delicious or damnlicious if you will.

  9. Robin says:

    Absolute awesomeness!! Thank you for sharing. My sister actually danced in the Texas production many years ago. She did the fire ballet. I still remember it. Your pictures bring back great memories. They are so beautiful!! and I love the lizard!!

  10. Angie says:

    You guys are really, really good at capturing weddings and all the beautiful moments that go along with them… but when you have posts like these, with pictures like these, I think you slightly missed your calling and should be documenting more of God’s amazing creation 🙂

  11. Beth says:

    Next time you should check out Red Rock Canyon State Park in Oklahoma! They have a bunch of A-Frame cabins in the canyon. It’s breathtaking in there! And just about zero cell service.

    There’s rappelling, a swimming pool, hiking trails, and some raccoons that come out to play at night.

  12. Casey Bjorklund says:

    That looks like so much fun! I love the positive outlook the McG’s carry and apply throughout life. It is certainly contagious. I love the selfie family portrait by Mack, pretty impressive! Beautiful scenery, especially those stars!

  13. Kevin says:

    I wanna go camping like that!!! But Nicole wouldn’t last the spiders. Ok, ok, I wouldn’t be ok with the spiders either. But that really looks like an amazing time!!!

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