Palo Duro Canyon- #1 TX State Park

It’s amazing how fast time can get away from one.  We have been back home, in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, for almost a month.  And it has been about that long since I posted a blog entry.  In fact, there are two entries I need to make to round out our time in Texas and capture those memories for us to look back on later.

On the recommendation of several fellow RVers we talked to, we HAD to spend some time in Palo Duro Canyon State Park outside of Amarillo, TX.  Planning to spend four nights in the park, we headed from Abilene toward Amarillo. Palo Duro Canyon is located about a half hour from Amarillo, pretty close but worlds away from the city.

The canyon has been inhabited by humans for more than 12,000 years.  More recently the canyon was home to Apaches, and later to Comanches, eventually being taken over by settlers and cattlemen.  In 1876, Charles Goodnight ran 100,000 head of cattle, based out of his ranch in the canyon.  The ranch, founded by John Adair and Charles Goodnight, eventually became known as the JA Ranch.  Tours of the still existing ranch house are led by park volunteers telling the stories of those who had lived at the ranch.  It is preserved much as it existed in its heyday.

Billed as “The Grand Canyon of Texas”, Palo Duro (which means “hard wood”) is rated as the #1 State Park in Texas. The canyon is 120 miles long, and second only to the 277 mile long Grand Canyon National Park.  All camping in the park is at the bottom of the canyon, so there is no phone or wi-fi reception, if that is important to you. (I needed access to wi-fi and phone service, for a webinar I needed to be a part of, so we had to go into the nearby town of Canyon and use the service available at wonderful library they have there. More about Canyon later.) Once you get to the top of the rim, reception comes back, but is still sketchy.

The campground where we stayed had water and power but no sewer connection.  The site we were assigned (no choice) wasn’t ideal, but then, we hadn’t made reservations in advance and got what was left.  We were backed into a narrow space surrounded by tall bushes and only a small walking space to get to our door.  Since we didn’t plan to spend much time in the RV, the space was fine.

What is really special about Palo Duro Canyon are all the hiking/mountain biking trails.  The rock formations are reminiscent of those in Utah, although they are not as numerous.  Trails lead to various sights within the canyon and one could spend weeks trying to get to them all.  The most spectacular and famous formation is called The Lighthouse, but it is also at the end of the longest and most difficult trail in the park.  For those of us who are not hikers/bikers (Cooper and I are NOT hikers or mountain bikers), the only way to see The Lighthouse is through a telescope at the Visitors’ Center.

View of The Lighthouse through the telescope at Palo Duro Visitors Center

View of The Lighthouse through the telescope at Palo Duro Visitors Center

As you can imagine, hiking in Texas at the bottom of a canyon might be dangerous during the hotter months of the year.  At each of the trail-heads there is a large thermometer to give you an idea of the temp at the start or the finish of your hike. Take every precaution, including water, sunscreen and a good hat for any hike you plan to take. Rangers have been known to close trails to hiking if the temps are going to be above 100 degrees.  Temps have been known to get to 120 degrees.  Consider yourself forewarned.

The state park was opened July 4, 1934, following construction of numerous buildings and trails by the Civilian Conservation Corps over the previous three years.  The Corps, using hand tools, shovels and pickaxes, created the miles long road that leads down into the canyon.  Using rock from the canyon, they built the buildings, retaining walls and campgrounds.  There is a very good interpretive exhibit in the Visitors’ Center about the work of the CCC that is really worth seeing.

Road into Palo Duro Canyon

The curvy road coming in from the upper right was hand-dug by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps using hand tools in the 1930’s

We took a day to tour the JA Ranch House. JA Ranch, in the Palo Duro Canyon, is the longest existing ranch in the panhandle of Texas. It was a really cold windy day and the guide was sure he wasn’t going to have any takers for the tour.  It was his last day of his volunteer stint for the year, although he had been a guide at the house for several years.  He was very knowledgeable and made the tour very interesting.  And being his last day, he went off script and told us more than most of the other tours he gave.   It was a good day – despite the cold and drizzle.

During the time we were at Palo Verde, we went into the town of Canyon every day for one thing or another, usually access to wi-fi and phone service.  Canyon proved to be a really nice small town, the home of West Texas A&M University.  There is also the Panhandle-Plains History Museum but we didn’t get chance to see it.

Palo Duro was definitely worth a stop for a few days. We also bought a Texas Parks Pass that saved us the $5 per day entrance fee, but is also going to be good through May of next year, so it should be a savings in the long run.  We plan to visit Texas again next year, during the winter and/or spring.