The guide you obtain when you enter Palo Duro Canyon informs that the park consists of 18,438 acres in Randall and Armstrong Counties, encompassing a formation which is about 120 miles long and 600' to 1000' feet deep. It was formed less than a million years ago when the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River carved through the Southern High Plains. The canyon exposes geological formations more than 250 million years old, revealing colorful strata of red claystone, white gypsum and yellow mudstome as well as limestone and sandstone.
Most of the roads and other permanent non-natural features a the Park were constructed by the CCC in the 1930's, but they've withstood the test of time. The only obvious updating was at the six water crossings at the bottom of the canyon. A Texas friend had cautioned me that there would be flood gauges at these low-water spots, and not to drive into flowing water more than six inches deep. Because of the drought, I didn't think I needed to worry about flash flooding -- and indeed the first two water crossings were essentially dry. But the third was submerged. I took a look at the pole and figured that I was still safe, but I have to admit it gave me the willies!
My plan had been to drive the sixteen mile loop (you can only see a tiny fraction from the road, however) and then make the three-mile hike to visit Lighthouse Point, which is a major park feature. That's when I noticed the second "gauge": at each trailhead, there was a prominent thermometer, and the temperature around ten o'clock was already edging past ninety. I decided I'd simply have to substitute the jeep journey for the hike. But there are at least 30 miles of biking/hiking trails and about half that many miles of bridle paths if you prefer to ride one way or another.
But during my ride, I saw quite a bit of wildlife. First was a coyote loping across the road, and then turning to give me a stare as I slowly passed. Then there was a trio of wild turkeys. Hawks and buzzards were plentiful. The park is home to bears and other critters, and of course snakes. Another reason to prefer the jeep to the tootsies!
Hours are daily 8:00 AM to 10:00 PM (June-August), with closing at 8:00 PM during April and May on weekdays. The entrance fee is $5.00.
To the south of Amarillo is the Palo Duro Canyon State Park. There are many who believe that the panhandle region of Texas is as flat as a pancake. It would probably be true if it were not for places like this. Sometimes, this is referred to as "the Grand Canyon of Texas". While it may not be anything like the Grand Canyon, it is an impressive sight to see. The canyon is easily accessible by car and you can drive down into it. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking and camping in the canyon. In certain areas, there are rock formations. In the summer, there is an interpretive center at the entrance.
Presented in Palo Duro Canyon (see my Canyon, TX page for a travelogue of the canyon itself), if you're staying in Amarillo and the timing is right, you should by all means get tickets to see the musical, Texas. A seasonal show, 'Texas' is a musical spectacle that is performed every summer in an outdoor ampitheater in the bottom of the canyon. I am sure if you see it, the memory will be with you always :)
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