Palo Duro Canyon State Park - Texas

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History

Palo Duro Canyon State Park consists of more than 20,000 acres in Armstrong and Randall Counties, south of Amarillo in the Texas Panhandle. The land was deeded by private owners in 1933. From 1933 until 1937, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) sent six companies of young men and military veterans to Palo Duro Canyon to develop road access to the canyon floor as well as the visitor center, cabins, shelters, and the park headquarters. The hard work of these dedicated individuals was important in the establishment of Palo Duro Canyon State Park which officially opened on July 4, 1934.

Man has inhabited Palo Duro Canyon for approximately 12,000 years. The Clovis and Folsom people first resided in the canyon and hunted large herds of mammoth and giant bison. Later on, other cultures such as the Apaches, Comanches, and Kiowas utilized the canyon’s abundant resources.

Early Spanish Explorers are believed to have discovered the area and dubbed the canyon "Palo Duro" which is Spanish for "hard wood" in reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees. However, an American did not officially discover the canyon until 1852 when Captain Marcy ventured into the area while searching for the headwaters of the Red River.

In 1874, Palo Duro Canyon was a battle site during the Red River Wars. Col. Mackenzie, under orders from the US Government, apprehended the Native Americans residing in the canyon by first capturing 1,400 horses and then later destroying the majority of the herd. Unable to escape, the Native Americans surrendered and were transported to reservations in Oklahoma. Then, from 1876 until 1890, most of the canyon belonged to the J.A. Ranch and was operated by Col. Charles Goodnight.

Cañoncita Ranch added to Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Texas Parks and Wildlife has purchased 2,036 acres adjacent to Palo Duro Canyon State Park along the park's southern boundary.

Activities

Park activities include camping, horseback riding, hiking, nature study, bird watching, mountain biking, and scenic drives.

While in the park, stop by and enjoy our Visitor Center located on the Canyon Rim. This rustic native stone building was constructed by the CCC in 1934 and houses a Museum and Museum Store. The store is located in the Visitor Center and features books, potter, jewelry, and educational items pertaining to the Canyon.

Equestrian

Come and experience Palo Duro Canyon up close and personal, the way the cowboys did: On Horseback. The Old West Stables, located inside the canyon, offers guided tours to Timber Creek Canyon and the famous Lighthouse formation. Other services offered include wagon rides, campfire breakfasts, souvenirs, and a snack bar.

Area Attractions

Nearby activities include Caprock Canyons State Park, Storyland Zoo for Children, Nielsen Memorial Museum, Lake Meredith National Recreation Area, Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, West Texas A and M University, Wildcat Bluff Nature Center, and Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge.

Campsites and Other Facilities

Facilities include: 3 - cabins with two rooms (2 single beds, 1 Queen bed, linens and towels furnished); 4 - Limited Service Cabins (aka "Cow Camp Cabins" 2 bunk beds, table and chairs, no towels or linens, restroom/showers across road), 1 of these cabins is wheelchair accessible; campsites with water and electricity; campsites with water; a hike-in primitive area (1/2 to 3/4 miles in, no ground fires, containerized fuel only, water 1/2 to 3/4 miles away); a hike-in primitive, equestrian area (water and pens for horses, no tables or fire rings); backpack campsites (1/2 to 2 miles, potable water at trailhead, restrooms 1/4 mile from parking; pets allowed overnight); an overflow/late arrival camping area; and a trailer dump station.

Natural Features

Palo Duro Canyon is located on the southern high plains, an area called El Llano Estacado or "staked plains." The rim of the canyon is considered part of the short grass prairie while the elevated moisture of the canyon floor supports a greater diversity of plants including some medium and tall grass species along with shrubs and trees. Common plant species include sideoats grama, big bluestem, Indian blanket, star thistle, fragrant sumac, mesquite, and cottonwood trees. Several juniper species are also common.

Due to diverse habitats, Palo Duro Canyon contains many species of wildlife including the rare Texas Horned Lizard, and Palo Duro Mouse. Other species include wild turkey, white tail and mule deer, barbary sheep, coyotes, cottontail rabbits, roadrunners, and western diamondback rattlesnakes. Palo Duro Canyon State Park is known for its rustic charm, and for that very reason, we would like to encourage visitors not to feed the wildlife. On the canyon rim, longhorn steers which are a part of the official Texas State Longhorn Herd, may be viewed from the main road.

Geology

The canyon is approximately 120 miles long, 20 miles wide, and 800 feet deep. Extending from Canyon to Silverton, Palo Duro Canyon was formed primarily by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, which began to carve the canyon less than one million years ago. The slopes of the canyon reveal the colorful natural history of the area.

Dating back 250 million years, the oldest layers of rock, Cloud Chief Gypsum, can only be seen in a few areas in the canyon. The next oldest and most prominent layer of rock is the Quartermaster Formation which can be seen with its distinctive red claystone/sandstone and white layers of gypsum.

The Tecovas Formation is located directly above the Quartermaster and is composed of yellow, gray, and lavender mudstone and sandstone. Together with the Quartermaster, they form the colorful triangular slopes called Spanish Skirts. Above the Tecovas, the Truijillo and Ogallala formations can be viewed. The Ogallala is composed of sand, silt, clay, and limestone, which compose the hard caprock.

Weather

Average annual rainfall is 20.6 inches. Temperatures range from 19 degrees in January to 92 degrees in July. Flash flooding may pose a serious danger. Please monitor water levels during your stay in the park. If the water begins to rise past 6 inches on the water depth gauges at any one of our six water crossings, immediately seek shelter on higher ground. Elevation is 3676 ft.

Directions

The park is located about 12 miles east of Canyon on State Highway 217. From Amarillo, take Interstate 27 south to State Highway 217, and go east 8 miles.

Address

11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, TX 79015

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