Palo Duro Canyon is in the Texas panhandle about 25 miles south of Amarillo and at approximately 120 miles long and 600 to 800 feet deep it is billed as the second largest canyon in the United States. We decided to stop at Palo Duro Canyon because of its location at about ten hours away from Austin. And after pulling our 24-foot trailer, affectionately known as “Tex”, we decided that seven hours max in one day is quite enough.
When you approach the canyon through the Texas flatlands there seems to be nothing but flatlands, but then un-expectantly the canyon opens up all at once. It is a grand site that stretches on for miles with the flatlands of the area distinct at the top of the canyon.
We arrived and were directed to our site in the canyon. The temperature in the canyon runs about ten degrees warmer than at the rim and it was in the mid nineties when we made camp. It was hot, hot, hot and we took this as a firm reminder of the “dog days of Texas” and our quest for cooler summer weather. The long ten-hour drive took its toll on us and we lounged around the rest of the evening. Literally, in loungers! Later, while we were sitting in the trailer enjoying the air conditioning, we heard the loudest lightning strike that sounded like it hit the trailer next to us. We quickly jumped up and out of the trailer to find clear skies overhead. The canyon wall was lit up in a red glow; was it a fire? Should we call 911? Would we die a grisly death in this godforsaken canyon on the first stop of our two-year journey? By a flyer posted at the bathrooms, we discovered that a show in the amphitheater called “Texas” would be running Tuesday through Sunday during our stay. Feeling like a cat with nine lives, we settled down and went to sleep only to be woken up within the hour to a full-blown fireworks show. Skyler, our ridgeback hound, was going crazy as the booming bellowed in the canyon. This went on every night for the duration of our stay which we found much more enjoyable after that first night!
“Palo Duro” is Spanish for “hard wood” in reference to the juniper trees common throughout the canyon. We learned that the canyon was formed less than one million years ago when the Prairie Dog Town of the Red River first carved its way through the Southern High Plains. The rocks expose a geologic story that began approximately 250 million years ago, layer by layer revealing a panoramic view of magnificent color. This is clearly evident at the Lighthouse, the most difficult hike in the canyon and the one, naturally, we selected as our first hike. It was a stunning vista that rewarded our every step.
Up next: Great Sand Dunes National Park
Thanks to those of you recommending Palo Duro Canyon. Well worth the visit, and one we can now recommend to others.