Palo Duro Canyon, Canyon, Randall County, Texas

Our oldest daughter moved to Phoenix in Early 2020. We had big vacation plans for the Grand Canyon and travelling some of the Mother Road U.S. Route 66. Then of course Covid-19 struck our nation so we decided interstate travel was probably not appropriate at the time. So since we couldn’t visit America’s largest canyon we settled for the second largest, Palo Duro, right here in Texas. Palo Duro is 120 miles long, has a width of 6 to 20 miles and a depth of 850 to 1000 feet. Certainly not a small hole in the earth.

the sun rises over Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon State Park-Day1-Momma not being an avid hiker, I had to find a relatively easy trail for her to see the canyon. Decided on the popular Lighthouse Trail a roughly 5 mile adventure. This trail takes you through the canyon to a large hoodoo known as Lighthouse Rock or just “The Lighthouse”.

The “lighthouse” is Palo Duro’s number one attraction so we decided to get an early start. We arrived at the canyon as you can see above at sunrise. What a beautiful start to the day. The temperature of the canyon floor can reach very high levels very quickly so the early start was good in that respect also. The temperature at the start of our hike was 48 degrees.

View from the Lighthouse Trail trailhead
Capital Peak

Palo Duro Canyon was carved 90 million years ago by the Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River. People have been visiting the canyon for 10000 years. Prehistoric arrow points from the big game hunters of the Wooly Mammoth have been found in the canyon. In 1541 it is believed that Coronado’s Expedition spent some time in the canyon. Later it was mostly occupied as a winter shelter by the Apaches and the Kiowa Indians. An expedition led by Colonel Ranald Mackenzie in 1874 finally drove the Indians from the canyon by burning their food stores and teepees and driving their horses into Tule Canyon and shooting about 1100 of the horses. Soon after Charles Goodnight and John Adair drove a herd of cattle into the canyon and began the first ranch operation in the Texas panhandle. They eventually had 100,000 head of cattle. In 1933 the State of Texas purchased 15000 acres in the canyon for a state park and the CCC constructed a road to the bottom of the canyon.

Magnificent red rocks

The hike went well as we took in the glorious sights of this amazing landscape….. until the last 1/2 mile. This was a steep sandy climb along the edge of the rim and momma is afraid of heights. She couldn’t go on so I said “okay let’s turn back.” “No”! she stated “we came here to see that so one of us has to go”. How unselfish knowing that she couldn’t do it she sent me on to get some pictures.

over momma’s shoulder you can see the lighthouse in the distance
one last climb to the lighthouse
The Lighthouse

Nothing left to do now but hike back in. When we arrived back at about 11am the temperature on the canyon floor was already above 90!

Next we went to the “Big Cave”. This was just off the road so the hike there and back was only about 1/4 mile.

The “Big Cave”
Trail into the big cave
The view from inside the cave. Our car is dwarfed by the hugeness of the terrain

View from the lighthouse
Visitor Center
on this spot there was once an artists community

Before we left, we ate excellent hamburgers at the “Trading Post” in the bottom of the canyon.

Palo Duro Creek Ranch-Day2- Across the road from the State Park is the Palo Duro Creek Ranch. This is a privately owned affair and they own the canyon just north of the state park. At Palo Duro Creek they give Jeep rides over the rim and through their part of the canyon.

I say Jeep tours but we were actually in the bed of a Humvee that the owners bought at Army surplus. We were told the Humvees were in Operation Desert Storm in the early 1990’s.

Yep we are travelling in a humvee

I don’t recall our tour guides name but boy could she handle that Humvee! we started on Ghost Rider Ridge with a view back into the state park.

Ghost Rider Ridge
The State Park

Next it was on to a dry waterfall with excellent views of the Palo Duro Creek Ranch.

The tour was advertised at 2 hours but we were gone almost three. Because of the rugged terrain I don’t think we ever exceeded 5 or 10 miles per hour. We got down to the canyon floor along the Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River which was a tiny stream. Hard to believe it carved this big hole.

Our last stop before leaving the canyon were the hoodoos.

This formation is known as a Mexican skirt

Whew we survived that ride!

Texas State Route 207-Day 3- I found a road home through the canyon so we can see it one more time. We drove east on Interstate 40 to the town of Claude. Here we found the Slug Bug Ranch. The Slug Bug Ranch was developed in 2002 when five VW Beetles were buried nose first in the ground.

Slug Bug Ranch

About everyone has heard of the Cadillac Ranch outside of Amarillo. We went by but it was crowded, politicized at the time and really didn’t interest me as far as painting on the cars. We saw it, good enough. The Slug Bug Ranch is similar, just VW bugs and smaller. It is located right off of I 40 between Panhandle and Claude Texas.

We headed for Claude on State Route 207. This road is going to take us through the southern end of Palo Duro Canyon, through Tule Canyon and along Caprock Canyon at Quitique (Kitty Kay).

heading towards Palo Duro Canyon on State route 207

Many panhandle locals say these are the best views of the canyon. The 48 mile scenic drive was beautiful!

We reached Tule Canyon and Lake Mackenzie which many say is the best part of this drive.

Lake Mackenzie
Tule Canyon
Tule Canyon

We exited the canyon and said goodbye to this beautiful place. Driving along through the small towns we just talked about how gorgeous Palo Duro was and then we got to Turkey Texas. And who knew this stuff was there! We came across a fully restored Phillips 66 station

Goldsby’s Phillips 66 est 1928

Goldsby’s was the first Phillips 66 station built in Texas.

And right next door was this………..

A fully restored tour bus of Bob Wills the co-founder of “Texas Swing”.

Although born in Kosse, Texas in 1905, the family moved here in 1913. Wills left home at 16 and tried his hand at several occupations, jumping freight trains to move from town to town. He finally attended barber school and moved to Fort Worth where he cut hair and began learning the fiddle.

He formed the Texas Playboys in 1934 in Waco but soon moved to Oklahoma City to get some live radio gigs. Wills “Texas swing” music became popular in the 40’s and 50’s. He died in 1975. Today artists such as Buck Owens and George Strait have continued the Texas swing style in many of their songs.

All this in a town of 420 people. WHO KNEW!

wind farm near Coleman Texas

This is why we like to take backroads when possible. It is amazing what you can find in these small towns.

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