Palo Duro Canyon

“It is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color”, that is how the famous painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who had lived in nearby Amarillo, described Palo Duro Canyon. With a length of 193 kilometers, a breadth of up to 32 kilometers and a maximum depth of 300 meters, the natural wonder in the north of Texas is the second-largest canyon of the USA after the Grand Canyon. It was created by the erosion forces of the Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River, which from here runs east to Oklahoma over a length of more than 190 kilometers. Apart from the canyon, some interesting rock formations, caves and stone columns (so-called hoodoos) here are worth seeing. Palo Duro Canyon is administered and organized as a Texas State Park.

TX Palo Duro Canyon1

Altogether, the State Park opened in 1934, covers more than 8,000 hectares. Before the opening, the area had been made accessible by companies of the Civilian Conservation Corps (a work program within the New Deal by President Franklin D. Roosevelt) and developed for tourism. The Visitor Center offers information on possible activities, accommodation opportunities, nature and geology. There is also a small museum showcasing the history of the Park.

That history began some 12,000 years ago, when the region was inhabited by the Clovis and Folsom peoples. A Spanish expedition discovered the canyon in 1541, back then still settled by Natives. The area probably got its name from the Europeans - “palo duro” are the Spanish words for “hard timber”, likely referring to the trees growing here. Until 1874, the canyon remained in the Natives’ possession, then the US cavalry started a surprise raid and deported the Comanche, Cheyenne and Kiowas native to the region to reservations in Oklahoma. From 1876 on, the area became a part of the giant, private JA Ranch and remained there until Texas bought the property of today’s State Park in 1934.

For directions to visiting the canyon, the best point of orientation is the small town named Canyon south of Amarillo, which in turn is about 20 kilometers west of the Park. These two places also are the the best options when looking for an accommodation in case a multiday stay is planned. Within the park itself, only seven cabins and a number of campgrounds are available and both should be made reservations for well in advance, especially in the summer months.

The park’s beauty can already be seen well out of the windows of a car. The most famous sight is a towering rock named The Lighthouse, which can be reached via a loop road, which may also be used by hikers and mountain bikers - who will no doubt get closer to Palo Duro Canyon’s nature. Among the species at home here are rattlesnakes, coyotes and roadrunners, as well as a mouse species that can only be found in this region. Attentive visitors may be able to decipher hints at the many million years long development history in the various shades of the rock face. If so preferred, exploring the canyon can also be done on horseback - the Old West stables in the park rent horses. In addition, carriage rides are being offered.



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