In just about a month, students all over Texoma will be home enjoying their spring break, or many might be taking a vacation with family.
You can probably make it to Palo Duro Canyon and back on one tank of gas, and see for yourself, its very long history and incredible beauty are well worth a spring break drive.
The second largest canyon in the United States can be found just about thirty minutes south of Amarillo.
In the otherwise surrounding flat table land, it is a stunning find that draws visitors from around the world.
Nicolas and Aude are on a road trip across the United States.
“It’s really big, and it’s funny that when you’re driving you never guess that such a canyon is here,” said Aude Detaisne, who is from France.
That’s because it just drops away from the Texas Plains, 820 to 1000 feet down.
“I think it’s the first time we have seen such a thing,” Nicolas Gauthier said, who is also from France.
Nicolas and Aude are two of thousands who visit the canyon each year.
The first human visitors are believed to have arrived around 15,000 years ago.
Later, bountiful wildlife, water and wood made it sacred land for Apaches who were later displaced by the Comanches.
“The weather on the bottom is a little bit different than the weather on top. You can usually stay a little bit warmer down here. We don’t usually see nearly as much snow on the bottom. Even in the old days, and the animals would move in here also,” said Palo Duro Canyon State Park Resource Manager Mark Hassell.
Comanche leader Quanah Parker agreed to lead his people to Fort Sill after the battle of Palo Duro Canyon, marking the end of the Red River War.
Like the Apaches, Comanche and Kiowa tribes very much loved this area.
Hassell: “This would be almost like their Wal-mart. They had animals here they could make all their clothes out of. The plants here, they could make needles. At that time, there was fish in the river. Everything you needed to live here.”
What folks might find fascinating is what looks like a small stream is really the Red River, just about ten miles from where the forks come together and the river begins. Looking up at Fortress Cliffs, what is ground level up there, gives you an idea of just what the river has helped create since the Ice Age. Capitol Peak shows the Permian Red Beds, which have given the Red River its color since the very beginning.
Hassell: “Those Red Beds are what makes the Red River red.” “The river would cut down through the Red Beds there and pick up all that fine silt, which it’s very fine silt so it stays in the water for a very long time. It would make it all the way to the Mississippi with the red mud in it.”
“It’s just the layers and strata and everything,” said Tom Nelson, from Alaska.
Nelson has already seen the nation’s largest canyon, but says Palo Duro Canyon offers distinct advantages.
Nelson: “I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, but unless you go down through there with a mule or a helicopter, you can’t really see it like you want to. This one you can drive, and I don’t walk anymore. So, and I dang sure ain’t going down on a mule.”
Besides the natural beauty between its colorful walls, there is a man- made attraction that showcases in a huge way all things Texas and Texas Panhandle. It’s the outdoor musical drama “Texas”, now in its 54th season.
“You’re going to get great singing and dancing,” Park Superintendent Joe Allen said, “but you’re also going to get wonderful storytelling. You’re going to get a wonderful water show and the full theatrics that go along with that. Conditions permitting, you’re going to get a wonderful fireworks show. So, you’re really going to get the full production.”
Allen says the show runs from June through the middle of August, and the canyon is part of the amphitheater that holds around 1500 people.
“Thirty one miles of trail, single track down here, absolute beauty,” Pro biker Keevin Sharp https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/palo-duro-canyonfrom Amarillo said.
There are all sorts of ways to explore the canyon, from biking and hiking to equestrian trails or from the comfort of your own vehicle.
There’s a visitor’s center and gift shop to explore and a world famous burger, and there are the original cabins.
Hassell: “We’ve kind of improved them over time. They’re not as rustic as they used to be. They’re still pretty nice little cabins and you have a nice little view down into the canyon down here.”
Detaisne: “We’re not used to canyons. In France, we really do not have them so it’s great for us to see one.”
It’s believed the original erosion in the “Grand Canyon of Texas” probably started about a million years ago, but much more came after the last Ice Age when rivers started melting.
You’ll find a rugged beauty that can be found in few parts of the world, and it’s only one tank of gas away.
The first European visitors to Palo Duro Canyon were with the Coronado expedition in 1541, where a Thanksgiving service with Indians was held, 79- years before the one in Plymouth.