Palo Duro Canyon State Park

You know that you have ridden into new territory when the usual rest area greeting changes from “Hello” to a nod of the head and “Howdy.” This sort of friendliness is commonplace at Palo Duro Canyon State park located in the Texas panhandle.

The canyon is a visual grand finale after miles and miles of seemingly endless high plains, the kind straight out of a good western novel. It is easy to picture herds of cattle being driven across the level terrain and an occasional lone windmill adds the finishing touch.

Known as the Grand Canyon of Texas, Palo Duro Canyon is approximately 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and 800 feet deep. The park is located on the Southern High Plains, 12 miles East of Canyon, Texas on State Highway 217. From Amarillo, take Interstate 27 South to State Highway 217 then go East eight miles.

Activities at the park include horseback riding, hiking, nature study, bird watching, mountain biking and wonderous scenic drives. Wildlife species at the park include deer, coyotes, wild turkey, roadrunners and er… rattlers.

Campsites range from $10.00 to $15.00 per night with an entrance fee of $3.00 for adults thirteen and over and $2.00 for seniors. Cabin prices range from $45.00 to $95.00 per night plus a $50.00 deposit, cash or check only.

I had wanted to visit Palo Duro Canyon since reading Bury My Heart At wounded Knee by author Dee Brown who, in his book, gave an historically accurate view of its place in Native American history. The trip exceeded my expectations by far.

We camped along the rim of the canyon Memorial Day weekend and marginally missed the opening of the parks outdoor performance of Texas Legacies an Adventure of a Lifetime. The amphitheater performance is held nightly, except Sundays, June 3rd thru August 22nd and July 4th. Heavenly Country is performed Sunday nights June 13th thru August 22nd, except for July 4th.

We were able to take the horseback trail ride. Until then, I had always held firm that I was afraid of horses. I had only been on one horse prior and it had not wasted any time throwing me straight into a patch of goathead stickers. However, big brown eyes and a “Please, mama.” persuaded me to reconsider. I have to admit, I hadn’t had so much FUN in years!

My husband and daughter rode Peanut and I saddled up on Rocket. Our trail boss was a fine young cowboy who attended college locally as well as working as a guide for the park. Since we were the only takers on this particular trail ride, we had plenty of time to converse.

Our guide seemed eager to know what was taking place around the rest of the country. So, between plodding along the dusty caprock canyon and one of the horses stopping for an occassional chaw of grass, we shared tall tales. Our guide told of growing up on a nearby ranch and prefering to rodeo like his older brothers, but his parents had insisted he get an education to fall back on. I shared the news of my recent ebay auctions to which he replied he had successfully sold one of his beagle hound dog pups on Small world.

Our guide kept a close eye on our safety and only yielded a slight grin when Rocket would lay back, then proceed to pick up quite a bit of speed sufficient for climbing sections of the canyon. Along the way, we were told the history of the canyon. One of the highlights of the trail is the Spanish skirt formations which had been named by Spanish explorers who said they reminded them of thier women’s colorful skirts.

It is interesting to note that although nearby Amarillo is a Spanish word meaning yellow, the soil at the canyon is very much orange.

All in all, we had truly been taken back in time to a simpler more carefree place that was well worth the trip.

In addition, Elkins Ranch is located near the entrance of the park and is a working ranch offering jeep tours and chuck wagon breakfasts. (Call for times.) Reservations are highly recommended for the park, the ranch and their activities.

For additional information, the following numbers may be helpful.

Park information (806) 488-2227

Reservations (512) 389-8900

Amphitheater (806) 655-2181

Stables (806) 488-2100

Elkins Ranch (806) 488-2100 [email protected]

Karen Raine
Karen Raine is a Texas based freelance writer whose interests include travel, art, antiques, collectibles and country music. Karen is also a songwriter and can be reached at [email protected]