By Lana Payne Barnett
One of the only Texas railroad tunnels ever built, Clarity Tunnel was constructed in 1927 and snaked its way through the country from Estelline to Plainview and points beyond.
The Fort Worth and Denver South Plains Railway Line was once a part of the larger Burlington Northern Railroad, and its detour through the Panhandle's southern plains enabled local producers to send their products all the way to Colorado and beyond. Called the Doodlebug by locals, it also offered passenger service.
The construction required more than 30,000 workers, mule teams, dynamite, and a track-laying machine that could lay a mile of track (including 2,880 ties and 320 sections of rail) in 2 hours and 30 minutes. Steam was the locomotion of choice, so nine 50,000-gallon steel water tanks were installed along the route. Burlington closed the line in 1989, it served the Texas High Plains for more than 60 years and was the last operating railroad tunnel in Texas. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Three years after rail operations ceased, the trail was purchased, modified and spruced up by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy. Once the makeover was completed, the trailway was turned over to the state park system with Caprock Canyons State Park in charge and today it accommodates trekkers on foot, mountain bike and horseback.
The trail way traverses the Panhandle's cotton fields across 55 trestle bridges, through the tunnel and into the canyons, climbs up and over the Caprock escarpment to the plains above on a 7 percent grade.
Up to 500,000 Mexican free-tailed bats inhabit Clarity Tunnel from late April through mid-October. During guided vehicle tours along the trailway, visitors can view the bat emergence flight and enjoy spectacular views of the rugged and beautiful breaks of the Llano Estacado. Call the park for reservations and for more information.
The trail way is administered by Canyons State Park. Information and permits can be obtained at the state park's Visitor Center and Headquarters, located on FM 1065, 3.5 miles north of the State Highway 86 intersection in Quitaque; (806-455-1492)
Trekkers are required to check in at the state park headquarters before using the trail way.