Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the "Grand Canyon of Texas"
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
This dramatic attraction is one of many State Parks in Texas, and is also referred to as "The Grand Canyon of Texas."
Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the entire United States of America, second only to the Grand Canyon. It is a Texas site worth putting on your list of places to visit.
The Lone Star State is literally filled to the brim with fabulous Texas sites, but Palo Duro is a real surprise to those who might never have seen it or known of its existence. Nothing in the surrounding landscape would give one even the slightest hint of what lies ahead as one approaches the canyon.
Located in the Texas high plains area in the northwest part of the State just South of Amarillo and East of the town of Canyon, the scenery is flat where one can literally gaze for miles and miles until the unbroken level fields of grass meet the horizon.
Unexpected beauty lies ahead when one enters into the spectacular canyon.
Suddenly the land gives way and one starts the descent down into the Palo Duro Canyon where one can view the landscape up close and personal. Unlike peering over the rim of the Grand Canyon, one becomes intimately involved with the Palo Duro Canyon because of the close proximity to everything.
Palo Duro Canyon
The first time that I got to see this dramatic attraction, I was traveling with my mother. We were following the map and as we kept getting closer and there seemed to be nothing different about the landscape, I was beginning to wonder if the map was correct.
The picture above will show you how the landscape looks until one gets to the very edge of the canyon and why I was beginning to doubt the accuracy of the map.
My second visit was with a girlfriend and I could prepare her in advance as to what was about to unfold before her very eyes. Out of flat seemingly endless similar terrain suddenly this scenic canyon appears!
It must have been quite a surprise to the first people who first discovered it.
Palo Duro Canyon was the home of prehistoric Indians who lived there almost 12,000 years ago. They found sustenance and shelter in those artistically sculpted canyon walls.
Unfortunately for the Native Indians, as America was being colonized by people moving west the Indians were being forced to live on reservations.
During the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon in September of 1874, the 4th cavalry under the leadership of Colonel R.S. Mackenzie tracked a large group of Indians to their camp in Palo Duro and surprised them in the early dawn hours.
The Indians knowing every nook and cranny of the canyon had the tactical advantage.
So once Colonel Mackenzie realized that, he ordered the Indian's camp and supplies burned while the Indians were busy escaping capture. But Mackenzie's troops took with them around 1,400 of the Indian's horses eventually killing almost 1,000 of them.
This was almost a bloodless battle except for the carnage of the horses. Only 4 Indians were killed and no cavalry soldiers died. But left without their horses, camp and supplies, the Indians finally gave up and went back to their reservations at Fort Reno and Fort Sill. So the battle was successful from the viewpoint of the U.S. government.
Not our proudest moment in terms of how the Native Indians were treated in this author's opinion.
Formation of the Canyon
Palo Duro Canyon was formed over a period of millions of years from erosive action of wind and water. Scouring of the rocks took place from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River during this time and has left behind some distinctive rock formations as well as beautiful scenery.
The canyon depth is almost 800 feet deep and it is around 120 miles long. It's width varies from 6 to 20 miles at the widest places.
In 1934 the State of Texas purchased 20,000 acres of land of the Palo Duro Canyon making it into a State Park for everyone's enjoyment.
Amenities within the Canyon
- There are campgrounds within the park which accommodate both tents and also campers and motorhomes. There are even a couple of cabins that can be rented for lodging in Palo Duro Canyon.
The campsites offer picnic tables and a BBQ grill. Water faucets and restrooms with showers are nearby. For those with motor homes, water and electricity is provided with both pull-through and back-in parking. There is also a sanitary dump station in the park.
- Trails - There is a 4.6 mile round trip trail which offers both great hiking adventures as well as seeing the scenic beauty while riding horses which can be rented. They keep a stable of horses inside the park for trail riding. One can also bring their own horses to go riding within this state park.
- Goodnight Trading Post - One can purchase any needed supplies one might have forgotten to bring as well as souvenirs, film and snacks.
- Sad Monkey Railroad - This miniature railroad can take one through the park for a fee and one can not only see the beauty of the area but a guide explains different aspects of the park.
My mother and I took advantage of this while there.
Sad Monkey gets its name from a rock formation in the park.
- Visitor Center - Open Wednesday through Sunday from June 1st to August 31st from 11 AM to 7 PM. One can view exhibits on the history of the park as well as learn more about the geology.
- Pioneer Amphitheater - This is a 1742 seat outdoor theater that offers performances during the summer. The musical drama "Texas" is done and sadly we did not get to see it either time of our visits to Palo Duro Canyon. We were not there at the right time of year.
The backdrop is the 600 foot canyon wall that one faces while seated in the amphitheater and a professional cast of 80 puts on a show celebrating the early settlers, cowboys and Indians that interacted with one another during the 1880s.
There is dramatic lighting, elaborate costuming, and this Official Play of the State of Texas is well worth seeing as told to me from people fortunate enough to have enjoyed a performance of "Texas."
Admission is free to the park for theater patrons who start arriving after 5:30 PM. For an additional charge from 6 to 8 PM a BBQ dinner is served prior to the nighttime performance of "Texas." It must be quite a sight!
The following is the inscription in marble at the back of the Ampitheatre at Palo Duro Canyon. This is exactly how this inscription is written in all caps and some of the words are in bold lettering for dramatic effect.
"THE PANHANDLE OF TEXAS IS THE LAND OF MAMMOTHS. HERE PREHISTORIC MAN QUARRIED THE FLINT HE TRADED. HERE CORONADO HUNTED FOR THE CITY OF GOLD. HERE FRAY DE PADILLA THE FRANCISCAN, WORKED AND WAS MARTYRED. HERE THE BUFFALO LAST STAMPEDED. HERE THE APACHES AND COMANCHES AND KIOWAS BARGAINED WITH THE SPANISH COMANCHERO TRADERS. HERE THE MEXICAN SHEEPHERDERS AND BUFFALO HUNTERS AND THE WAGONTRAINS PASSED. HERE FORT ELLIOT PROTECTED THE CATTLETRAILS. HERE COLONEL GOODNIGHT SETTLED IN THE PALO DURO CANYON AFTER THE WAR BETWEEN THE STATES AND THOMAS BUGBEE SETTLED ON THE CANADIAN RIVER. HERE TEN COUNTIES OF THE XIT RANCH WERE GIVEN BY THE STATE OF TEXAS IN RETURN FOR THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE CAPITOL. HERE BARBED WIRE CONTROLLED THE PLAINS, AND WINDMILLS AND IRRIGATION FOUND THE WATER. HERE COVERED WAGONS AND IMMIGRANT TRAINS BROUGHT FARMERS TO JOIN THE CATTLEMEN IN SUFFERING THE DRY YEARS AND THE STORMS AND IN REVELING THE SUN AND THE SOD. HERE OIL AND GAS FIELDS BROUGHT THEIR RICHES. HERE THERE IS SPACE AND CLEAN AIR AND HIGH SKY. WELCOME."
We found this to be quite moving and it certainly tells the history of the area!
Dramatic shots of Palo Duro Canyon set to music of Beethovan
If you ever have a chance to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas you will not leave disappointed.
Truly the "Grand Canyon of Texas" this is a photographer's as well as artist's dream.
Hikers, bikers, those who like to ride horses or simply drive the paved roads through the canyon will not lack for beautiful scenery and discoveries around every nook and cranny.
This is Nature at its best!
Location of Palo Duro Canyon in Texas
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© 2009 Peggy Woods