Elkins Ranch offers you a chance to see quite a bit more of Palo Duro Canyon than you can do in your own vehicle -- or even with a mountain bike or horse unless you are very fit. Numerous jeep tours explore the rim, walls, and floor of the canyon. You can choose what works best for you and your family. The one hour tour includes a waterfall and various lookout points. Hidden Spring Canyon tour lasts over two hours and takes you to a hidden finger of the canyon. The big kahuna is a 3 hour circuit combining the shorter tours and adding some features. Rates range from $25 (1 hour) to $65 (3 hours) per person; children's rates are less.
The ranch also has both a chuckwagon breakfast and a ranch supper, depending on your time of tour, which although expensive looked pretty appetizing.
I could hardly wait to get to Palo Duro Canyon, but it was close to 8:45 before I paid my entrance fee, collected my map, and set forth into the canyon. The visitors' center wasn't even open yet!
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 -- at least, if you concede that the AAA guide has it right!
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 (the canyon itself is something like 150 miles long, so you only see a tiny fraction from the road, and it ranges from 600 to 1000 feet deep) 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.
No trip to Canyon is complete without breakfast at the Elkin's Ranch! Located just across the way from Palo Duro State Park, the folks at Elkin's will serve up a generous helping of traditional Texas eats straight from the chuckwagon. But before that, you've got to get to the food. Prepare for a bumpy ride... the food's at the bottom of the canyon and you've got to go 4-wheeling to get there! Don't worry, they provide drivers.
Our driver was Hody "Long Bow" Porterfield. You might recognize him from his bit part in the movie "Waking Up In Reno."
This is the man who was the best adapted to the existing condictions at that time. He has nothing but survival ability. He is not good-looking but able to feed his family. He has no good shape but is good at hunting.
Don't forget to drop in on the Panhandle Plains Historical Museum. Billed as the largest historical museum in Texas, it has an amazing collection from every aspect of the history of the Panhandle, from the Kiowas to the roughnecks to the ranchers.
Check out the old-time oil derrick in the front area!
In this small town, you will see people usually park their cars face to face, while in Guangzhou, because of the limited space I suppose, you have to park the car rear to rear.
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is the largest museum in Texas. It likes an old man telling you a history of the western world.