Saint's Roost Expedition Company Tour


Saint's Roost Expedition Company Tour


Two of my close friends, Nikki and Dusty Green of Two for the Road fame, have started a tour company to show off the gems of the Texas Panhandle.  Named after the nickname of the town east of Amarillo, Clarendon their new venture is called Saint's Roost Expedition Company.  Talking with them, we both have had the same experience: someone drives 75 miles an hour on I40 from Oklahoma City to wherever, passing through Amarillo. From that blazing speed they see they watch the flat grass lands of the Texas High plains blur by and then tell us our part of the world must be terribly boring to photograph and live in.  After all there is a common joke: "The Texas Panhandle where you can see further and less at the same time!


In much of the High Plains, you can see from where you stand all the way to the horizon and there is nothing in that expanse but grass, like a sea of amber!  Another old joke: the Texas panhandle where you can watch your dog run away for 2 weeks, 3 if you stand on a milk crate!  Well, while that might be true of parts of the Panhandle, other names for this part of the world is the canyon lands or the big sky country.  Did you know among these flat grass lands of America's Hight Plains, is the second largest canyon in America?  I am often shocked that even locals don't know of how many places of staggering beauty there are 'round these parts and that is what Saint's Roost Expedition company aims to show folks.

A Scene from Palo Duro Canyon on HWY 207 South of Claude on the way to meet Nikki and Dusty for my "expedition".

Dusty and Nikki have several tours to choose from.  I wanted to go on the tour to the Clarity Train Tunnel which is part of Caprock Canyon State Park.  Leaving Amarillo, to get where the tour starts is about an hour and half drive.  But let me tell you, don't let that drive dissuade you.  If you take HWY 207 off HWY 267, going south from Claude, you are treated to one of the most incredible drives in the entire state of Texas.  The HWY goes through Palo Duro Canyon.  Not the State Park, mind you.  So, if all you have seen of Palo Duro Canyon is the State Park, this is a real treat.  Be sure to take your camera, this is amazing country and photo worthy.

HWY 207 South of Claude, Texas

A little History of the Clarity Tunnel.  From Texas Parks and Wildlife's website:

"Clarity Tunnel is an abandoned railroad tunnel, which is located on the Trailway of Caprock Canyons State Park. It was built in the late 1920s and was included in the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. Up to 500,000 Mexican free-tailed bats inhabit Clarity Tunnel from late April through mid-October. Although some pups have been found in the tunnel, the bat colony is not a true maternity colony. The Clarity Tunnel bat colony is most likely a pseudo-maternity colony, similar to the one at the Old Tunnel State Park. Railroad tunnels typically do not make suitable nurseries because they are open on both ends and the internal temperature and humidity levels are unstable. The highest numbers of bats recorded in Clarity Tunnel have been observed in early September, as they begin their fall migration to Mexico; however, reliable bat emergence flights occur throughout the summer."

Dusty and Nikki with the tour company they have created have worked it out with the State Park to take guests down the trail in the comfort of an air-conditioned van!  Without that van it is a quite a hike.  While normally, I would really enjoy such a hike in the Canyon, recently health issues have me moving much slower than normal, so I jumped at such a luxury ride!

The trail is the old train track route.  The rails and cross timbers have been removed.  The bridges are the old rail bridges but have been modified by the State to make for easier and safer crossings.  The trail starts out in the high plains, mostly flat and grass land with some mesquites.  But soon, the trail begins to cross some pretty deep ravens as the grade slowly decreases.  The bridges are very picturesque, as you can see.

Along the trail are many artifacts of the days from when the rail was active such as this thing.  It's about 8ft tall.  Any guess as to what it might be?   I am going to put the answer at the bottom of the blog so you can guess a bit.  Some of the those left overs from the rail days speak of some tragedy such as train derailments.  

And some of the artifacts speak to the old west days such as this pad on which the water tower for the steam engine locomotives sat.  As the trail descends at a very gentle slope into the canyon lands, more and more the plains give way to rougher country making me wonder at the grit of the men who carved this rail out of the harsh landscape.

We were doubly treated.  Not only is the landscape photoesque but a storm off in the distance was creating a picturesque sky complete with an amazing double rainbow right over our trail.  They storm and clouds only augmented the sunset creating a magical scene.


It is not just landscapes that you get to see on this trip but some amazing wildlife. On this trip I saw deer, porcupines, buzzards, hawks, owls and of course bats.  Have your camera-ready as often the wildlife is fast and will disappear quick.



Turkey vultures are fairly common to see around these parts, but rarely do you get one that almost acts like it wants its photo taken and models for you like this one did.  If you go into Caprock Canyon State Park, American Bison are a common site.  But whatever you do, don't approach them, they are not tame and run faster than you do and weigh enough to press you flat like a waffle iron.  

I have hiked all over Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyon.  I have been an outdoorsman and hunter most of my life (now I only hunt with my camera) But in all my 56 years, I have never seen this in the wild.  It is a beehive and one that is very active.  It is one of the trenches that was dug for the rail to go through a rise. Up toward the top, maybe twenty feet from the ground is a hole filled honeycomb and bees!

Beehive in nature!

As the bats begin to come out of the tunnel, they attract the attention of several owls who are looking for a tasty treat, tasty if you like raw bat, that is.  This one came with an hour devore of lizard to the bat feast.  

The Clarity Tunnel

The clouds moved in pretty tightly across the sky by the time we got to the tunnel.  And while this afforded some cooler summer temps it effected the bats behavior.  As you read at the beginning of the blog the Clarity tunnel is home to a half million Mexican free-tailed bats!   With the sky spitting an occasional raid drop and lightning playing distant on the horizon and cooler temps made the bats less active on this night. Normally that half million bats come poor pouring out at sundown in spectacular fashion. Tonight, however, they came out slow and very low to the ground which made photographing them against the darker sky difficult. While I don't have photos of the bats from this night, I am including here a photo from one of my many spelunking adventures of a Mexican Free Tail Bat so you can see what they look like.

Mexican free-tailed bat in flight photographed in 2013.

After the sun sets and the bats are gone Dusty and Nikki drive us through the tunnel which to be honest, I have been in caves with bats and being in an air-conditioned van with recycled air is a good thing as the bats cover the ground in guano (bat poop) and its pretty raw for the nose.    Even though it is dark and not much can be seen except by the head lights of the van, the trip isn't over.  Dusty Green is an amazing storyteller and, on the way, back he spun more stories about the trains, the history and the ecology of Caprock Canyon.  Much of the fun was just listening to Dusty talk about Caprock Canyon, the wildlife and the train tunnel. You could not ask for a better tour guide!

This is a bucket list item.  And if you are a photographer, Dusty and Nikki stop often and will stop or slow down so you can get that perfect shot!  Book a tour today, I can't wait to go back. I have a whole list of shots I have thought about Check them out here:  Saint's Roost Expedition Company

Did you guess what that odd looking thing was?  Well, it is a concrete tube and turns out it is an old old old phone booth.  No phone left in there but this was one of the train's stops and it allowed for calls!  How about that?