What to do in Palo Duro State Park

Palo Duro Canyon State Park consists of 16,402 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 canyons 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.

Much of the attraction to the Palo Duro State Park is the area's natural beauty. The State Park has a diverse range of flora and fauna that can be explored through hiking, biking and horseback riding. And or if you really wish to explored the area and study nature there is access to camping.

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.

Flora/Fauna: 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.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park has many wonderful wildflowers as well as some of the best viewing areas in the Panhandle region. During the blooming season there are abundant wildflowers along the 16 miles of road inside the park. The best wildflower viewing areas in the park include the Paeso Del Rio Trail, the Sunflower Trail, and the Chinaberry day use area. The best times to view wildflowers at Palo Duro Canyon depends on the plants you would like to see. Some of the wildflowers you will see during the different seasons are:

In early spring (~March - April) the park has Feather Dalea and Bladderpod. In late spring (~May - June) the park has Puccoon, Spiderwort, Dayflower, Chocolate Daisy, Star Thistle, Texas Thistle, Narrow leaf Yucca, Flea bane Daisy, Indian blanket, Blanket flower, tansy aster, paper flower, mexican hat, greenthread, cota, goatsbeard, plains zinnia, buffalo gourd, blue-eyed grass, lemon horsemint, Texas loco, honey mesquite, pink mimosa, sensitive briar, wild onion, yellow flax, copper mallow, trailing four-oclock, hartweg evening primrose, bee blossom, four-point evening primrose, Missouri primrose, purple foxglove, and salt cedar. In early summer (~June - July) the park has Prickly Pear Cactus, Coreopsis, Indian blanket, Curly-cup gumweed, yellow woolly-white, plains sunflower, skeleton plant, blackfoot daisy, tansy aster, paper flower, white prairie clover, hog potato, trailing four-oclock, hartweg evening primrose, bee blossom, four-point evening primrose, Missouri primrose, white milkwort, purple groundcherry, silverleaf nightshade, prostrate vervain. In late summer (~Aug - Sept) the park has Clammyweed, Broomweed, plains sunflower, dotted gayfeather, hog potato, stickleaf, silverleaf nightshade, goldenrod In early fall (Oct) the park has Broomweed, dotted gayfeather, stickleaf, goldenrod.

Facilities include 2 cabins (2 single beds, 1 double bed, linens and towels furnished); 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.

Recreational opportunities offered by the Palo Duro Canyon State Park includes, camping, horseback riding, hiking, nature study, bird watching, mountain biking, and scenic drives.

Palo Duro State Park is situated within the Panhandle Plains area of Texas. 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.

Located at an elevation of 3676. feet, the Palo Duro State Park has an average annual rainfall of 20.6 inches. Temperatures within the park 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. Current weather conditions can vary from day to day. For more details, call the park or Park Information at 1-800-792-1112.

11450 Park Road 5
Canyon, TX 79015

Phone: 806/488-2227

Email: pdc@palodurocanyon.com
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