Caprock Canyons Trailway (Quitaque Canyon Trail)
GPS Tracks: GPX format (courtesy of Brian Granger)
The Caprock Canyons Trailway is a rails-to-trails conversion that was completed in the late 90's. The trailway was originally constructed along 64 miles of the former Fort Worth and Denver South Plains Railway, between South Plains and Estelline. The original railway bridges, tunnels, and railbed were converted for bike and equestrian use, but otherwise, the route is exactly the same one that trains followed until the railway was closed in 1989. The surface is mostly coarse crushed rock which is generally much rougher than what you would find on a typical hike & bike trail. Thus, a "real" mountain bike is recommended for this trail (as opposed to a hybrid.) However, the trail is entirely non-technical.
The most popular section of the trailway is the very scenic Quitaque Canyon section, which starts in South Plains and descends through the entire Caprock Escarpment over 17 miles before reaching Monk's Crossing, south of Quitaque. This section, which is all downhill or flat, boasts several high bridges and the 200-yard-long Clarity Tunnel, which is now a home for thousands of Brazilian freetail bats. It is a geologist's dream, as it descends slowly through each of the layers that form the Caprock Escarpment.
The Quitaque Canyon Trail is normally done as a shuttle ride. To get to the takeout at Monk's Crossing, drive south from Quitaque on F. M. 1065, then take a right on F. M. 689. The Monk's Crossing trailhead parking lot will be on the left off of F. M. 689 (it is well-marked.) Those who want an easier ride can opt to ride from here to the Clarity Tunnel, which is a flat 5-mile round trip. Otherwise, leave a car here and shuttle around to South Plains to begin the ride. The trailhead at South Plains is right next to the big grain elevator. The trail here is somewhat overgrown.
Starting at South Plains (mile marker 301), the first 3 miles or so cut across flat farmland. At mile marker 298, the railway starts descending through the escarpment. At mile marker 295, there is a composting toilet and running water (unknown if it is potable.) There is another composting toilet at MM 289, next to the Clarity Tunnel. After the Clarity Tunnel, the remaining 4 miles of the ride is flat until you get to Monk's Crossing.