“It is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color.” Georgia O’Keeffe, speaking of Palo Duro Canyon
My four-legged trekker companion, Tipper, and I are cruising through West Texas prairie shortgrass just south of the Texas Panhandle. Our destination is majestic and colorful Palo Duro Canyon — the second largest canyon in the United States.
The first stop is the Palo Duro Canyon Interpretive and Visitor Center. Located a couple of miles from the entrance of Palo Duro Canyon, the visitor's center, gift shop and museum allows for a quick stop to learn more about the beautiful canyon and pick up something to remember it by.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park can be explored on foot, horseback, mountain bike or car. Tipper approves a hiking trail and I fill up water bottles heeding warnings to carry plenty of water.
We pause a slow decent on a trail to the canyon floor long enough to soak in the incredible beauty. Formed millions of years ago by the Red River, water erosion shaped the canyon’s dramatic steep mesa walls and geological formations of multicolored layers of rock similar to the Grand Canyon.
Twenty miles wide and 800 feet tall, the canyon’s rugged beauty meanders for 120 miles. The top layer, full of hoodoos, is composed of sandstone and silt stone where fossils of saber-toothed cats and long-necked camels have been found.
I soon recognize the 250 million-year-old hoodoos — rock formations balanced on top of small “trunks” rooted in canyon boulders. The second layer forms many of the canyon’s edges and are composed of coarse sandstone where fossils are rare which indictes a period of severe drought.
The third layer was deposited by streams and swamps owning its unique color to the oxidizing conditions of being under water where amphibian and fish fossils lay in wait. The dark red bottom layer was a marine environment of ocean sprinkled with tidal areas.
Ripple marks and shellfish fossils are found stuck in time in rocks.
Near our campsite, numerous flood warning signs provide reminders that we are in a huge rock bathtub that could fill up fast.
Animals roaming the canyon area include coyotes, deer, bobcats, roadrunners, wild turkeys, prairie dogs, butterflies, rattlesnakes and the rare Palo Duro mouse. Found in only two places in the world, Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyon, this little 8-inch mouse nests in the canyon walls.
During an earlier visit, I came to the canyon to see "Texas," an outdoor musical held at the canyon’s Pioneer Amphitheater. Featuring more than 60 actors, singers, dancers and horses, the musical tells a story of Texas pioneer life.
There is much to do in the region as well. The Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to watch birds. The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum located on the West Texas A&M University campus features exhibits on the area, including a Georgia O’Keeffe painting titled "Red Landscape." O’Keeffe was an art instructor in the area in the early 20th century.
If You Go
Ann Bush is a freelance writer and photographer based in East Texas. She and her companion, Tripper, often go on adventures together.