The “Grand Canyon of Texas” is in Amarillo.
By Hope S. Philbrick
Whether you prefer to gaze upon picturesque vistas from the air-conditioned comfort of your car or get out and work up a sweat exploring rocks and trails, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a natural wonder not to miss.
The second largest canyon in the U.S. is in the heart of the Texas panhandle and it’s a majestic, rugged, natural beauty.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park first opened on July 4, 1934. It consists of 27,173 acres of the northernmost portion of the canyon. The canyon is a total of 29,182 acres and is 120 miles long, up to 20 miles wide, and 800 feet at its deepest point. At the rim it’s 3,500 feet above sea level. (By comparison, the Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, 6,000 feet deep.)
Palo Duro Canyon was formed when the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River carved its way through the Southern High Plains. It continues to evolve and change as water erosion deepens the canyon; wind and water erosion gradually widen it.
In addition to gazing at the sights and taking photos of specific sites, you can explore Palo Duro Canyon by foot, mountain bike, horse or car on more than 30 miles of trails. More than 1,500 acres are set aside for horseback riding; two other trails are shared among horseback riders, hikers and mountain bikers.
Stop by the Visitor Center on the canyon rim to learn about the park, stock up on souvenirs and snacks, and plan your visit with expert assistance. You can camp, stay in a cabin, rent a pavilion, backpack, geocache, watch for birds and wildlife, sign up for learning experiences led by a park ranger, and in summer months enjoy evening performances of the outdoor musical drama TEXAS*.
On my recent stay in Amarillo, I explored Palo Duro Canyon multiple ways on a few different days: by car, by foot and by horseback. Each visit revealed something new.
My advice: Arrive early and plan to spend the day. Bring plenty of water. And plan to return.
- Palo Duro Canyon is the birthplace of the chuckwagon
- Palo Duro Canyon is home to the endangered Palo Duro mouse, which is found only in three counties in the Texas panhandle
- The threatened Texas horned lizard can be found in this region
- “Palo Duro” is Spanish for “hard wood” and refers to the Rocky Mountain Juniper trees still seen in places in the canyon
- In 1876, Charles Goodnight and John Adair established the JA Ranch in the canyon, which provided grass, water and shelter for cattle and (later, thanks to Goodnight’s wife) Southern Plains Bison
- From 1933 to 1937, seven companies of Civilian Conservation Corps. (CCC) developed road access to the canyon floor; they also constructed the Visitor Center, cabins, shelters, bridges and other structures
- Archeological finds suggest that humans have inhabited the canyon for 12,000 years
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
11450 Park Road 5
Canyon, TX 79015
Open daily, 8 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday & 8 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday . Entrance fee is $5; children 12 and younger are free.
*I didn’t see the musical TEXAS, but every Texan I met sang its praises.
To ride horseback to the Palo Duro Canyon rim, contact Cowgirls & Cowboys in the West.
Texas State Parks
Buy a Texas State Park pass for $70 and get unlimited visits to more than 90 state parks for you and your carload of guests.
– Photos © HSP Media LLC
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