Scenic Road
O. Winston Link portrait
books by Kathleen Wallsarchives of American Roadssubscribe to American Roadsamerican roads writers, contributors, photographerscontact american roadsbecome a sponsor or advertise

Header for Palo duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas showing canyone walls and trees

As we drove the perfectly flat lands from Amarillo to the canyon I found it hard to believe there could be any drastic change in elevations. Boy was I wrong.

roadsters atPalo Duro Canyon inear Amarillo, Texas.
Group of Roadsters visit Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon is located 27 miles southeast of Amarillo, Texas. The park consists of 29,182 acres at the northern most section of the Palo Duro Canyon. It opened  July 4, 1934 with much of its roads and buildings built by Civilian Conservation Corps and has been popular ever since. We had to wait in line at the entrance to Palo Duro Canyon State Park as so many visitors were arriving that Saturday including a group of antique roadsters and lots of bikers.


Once inside the park, the views are breathtaking. So much color and shapes. The Canyon is 120 miles long and  20 miles across at its widest point with a maximum depth of over 800 feet. You can feel a temperature change between the bottom and the rim that rises 3,500 feet above sea level. It Palo Duro Canyon is second only to the Grand Canyon in the United States. It's hard to believe the canyon was formed by erosion from Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River.

Early Spanish explorers named the canyon "Palo Duro" meaning "hard wood" because the area is filled with  mmesquite and juniper trees. These are small trees so the views are unobstructed. And oh what views. The first thing that caught my attention was the colors. The cliffs and formations are variations of reds and oranges with some buff mixed in. The mesquite trees were a bright green and the juniper a darker shade.

Each formation in the canyon is different. Some are what is called "hoodoos." These are  mushroom shaped columns of sedimentary rock jutting out of the canyon floor. Their top portion is  a harder rock which didn't  erode at the same rate as the column thus forming a larger cap. The Lighthouse is one of the larger example of this  phenomena. It can be viewed from the lookout in front of the Visitors center.

Lighthouse formation at Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas.
Lightnouse Formation

One formation that caught my eye seemed to be faces high on a cliff is called "Sad Monkey."

Sad Monkeys at  at Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas
Sad Monkeys

The ruffle like coloration and shape of some of the cliffs caused early Spanish explorers to name them "Spanish Skirts." They were probably homesick for their lady friends back home.

Wildflowers  at Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas

Surprisingly the flowers are beautiful here as well. Not the big showy display of a botanical garden or the lushness of a jungle but the blooms standing alone on barren sand or rock are very eye catching.

deadwood in front of canyon wall  at Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas
Striking deadwood in front of a canyon wall

As we rode along the canyon bottom road, I spotted a lot of cave openings that made me itch to explore farther.

 Cave with climbers at Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas
Climbers visit a cave in one of the canyon walls

Best place to get acquainted with the park, the canyon and their history is at the Visitors Center. There is a nice museum of natural and historical facts about the canyon.

You can get up close and personal with the park by staying at its campground or cabins. The campgrounds accommodate both RV and tents and have full hookups.  Miles  of  trails, hiking, mountain biking and horseback, built by a group of park volunteers  called the Palo Duro Corps of Engineers honeycomb the park. 

Teardrop camper  at Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas
Campers park their Teardrop to view scenery

If you visit from June through August there is another treat in store for you. Texas, The State Play of Texas, is shown at the Pioneer amphitheater. The amphitheater is carved out of a natural basin in the canyon.

The canyon has been a special place for people for. The first inhabitants, prehistoric nomads,   wandered into the park approximately 12,000 years ago in search of mammoth, giant bison and other large game animals to hunt. When the Europeans came to the shores of this country, Apache Indians lived in the canyon. They were driven out by Comanche and Kiowa tribes who in turn were forced to leave for reservations in Oklahoma by the  westward movement of American settlers in 1874. The story goes that very little actual fighting occurred, The army just captured and destroyed the tribes horses. Without their horses the Indians could not survive and allowed themselves to be transported. A memorial to Quanah Parker, the Comanche chief at the time of the removal, in the park.

Stature of Quanah Parker  at Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas
Bust of Quanah Parker

Two years later, Charles Goodnight, the canyon's first white settler arrived at the canyon and built a ranch in partnership with John Adair. In its day, his JA Ranch encompassed over a million acres. It still remains a working ranch today but is only a fraction of its original size. Near the park entrance there is a replica of the dugout used by Goodnight when he first arrived at the canyon and a few longhorn cattle.

hoodoo at Palo Duro Canyon near Amarillo, Texas
A hoodoo formation

This should top your bucket list of places to visit. Don't leave home without your camera. You will want it close at hand here.

For more info:







  American Roads

Promote Your Page Too
  Like us on Facebook Send us an email to
let us know what

you like (or don't like)  about American Roads.
Pin us

Ads fund American Roads so please consider them for your needed purchases.

If you enjoy the articles we offer, donations are always welcome.