The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, July 13, 2007, Columns

Lake Mackenzie, north of Silverton, Texas, interrupts the parched Panhandle canyons like a puddle in the desert. The road into the lakeside park drops off the flat Caprock into Tule Canyon, where municipal water is captured. The land is rugged, but the canyon walls are beautiful layers of red, orange, yellow, and lavender.

From above, the lake looks like the footprint of some giant dinosaur filled with water. The toes go up Tule, Cope, and Williams creeks. In the center are two large islands, the remains of ancient rock formations.

Constructed in 1974 and opened to the public in 1976, the lake is the water supply for Floydada, Lockney, Silverton, and Tulia. At capacity the reservoir can hold 45,500 acre feet of water with a surface area of nearly 900 acres. There is plenty of room for fishermen, skiers, and swimmers.

Stocked by the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, the lake is popular with local anglers. Because the fishing hole is moderately used, fishing for black, white, striped, and smallmouth bass is usually very good. This is also one of the North Texas lakes stocked with walleye, a tasty, white-meat fish that is native of north-central United States.

Not all of the recreation at Lake Mackenzie involves getting near the water. The municipal water authority owns 2,400 acres of land surrounding the lake and has opened much of it to dirt motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles, and mountain bicycles. Of the more than 35 miles of trails only a small percentage is limited to motorcyclists only.

The trails range from extreme to novice, but any ride can include screaming down hills and straining back up. Many of the paths are double-track trails that are fairly easy to maneuver. And the beauty is that on most weekdays and weekends other than holidays, you can ride for hours without seeing other riders.

The park's 36 campsites are on a bluff overlooking the lake. All of the campsites have a covered picnic table, electricity, and water. The 25 recreational vehicle hookups are all located in a different section of the recreation area.

A three-bedroom cabin is also for rent at the lake. Nothing fancy, the building offers the basics of a refrigerator, heat, and air conditioning. Cooking is done in a microwave oven or on the outdoor grill.

Lake Mackenzie is at the southern end of one of the most colorful and beautiful drives in Texas. Highway 207 from Silverton to Claude takes a roller-coaster ride from the top of the Caprock down to the streambeds at the bottom of Tule and Palo Duro Canyon. Called Hamblen Drive, the original road was cut through the canyons following old Indian trails in the 1890s and wasn't paved until 1954.

In 1998, an eighth-grade science teacher discovered the fossilized skull of a prehistoric crocodilelike creature. When the creature inhabited the area, the weather was much wetter than the near-desert conditions that exist today. The fossil is now on display in the park's marina along with other discoveries on the lake's shores.

Before the reservoir was built, archeologists found evidence of human occupation of the canyon dating back more than 10,000 years. When Spanish conquistador Francisco Vásquez de Coronado passed through the Panhandle on his expedition looking for the Seven Cities of Cíbola, he likely camped in Tule Canyon, where the lake is now.

Nearly three centuries later, Col. Ranald S. Mackenzie and his 4th U.S. Cavalry camped in the same area before their decisive battle against the Comanche in Palo Duro Canyon. Although most of the Indians escaped, Mackenzie captured and killed 1,000 Indian ponies and burned most of the Indians' winter supplies. The defeat deflated the Comanche's will to fight the white settlers. For years after the 1874 battle, a large pile of horse bones was visible in Tule Canyon.

Lake Mackenzie is about 10 miles north of Silverton. Off-road ATVs and motorcycles are required to have Texas Off Highway Vehicle permits issued by TPWD. In addition to a state fishing license, there are entrance, camping, and fishing fees at the park. For more information, call 806/633-4335 or go to

837th in a series. Day Trips, Vol. 2, a book of "Day Trips" 101-200, is available for $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, PO Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.

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