Palo Duro Canyon: See it for $8

Jim Redwine

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) called Palo Duro Canyon a seething cauldron filled with dramatic light and color. Her series of paintings of the canyon while she was teaching art in nearby Canyon, Texas helped make O’Keeffe the founder of American Modernism.

When you visit Palo Duro Canyon, you will experience the same awe-inspiring explosion of colliding shades of red and grey that Georgia did. Thousands of prickly pear cacti appear throughout the 120-mile-long, 6-mile-wide and 800-feet-deep masterpiece of Mother Nature’s artwork. The tiny stream of the Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River that, with the wind’s help, has spent millions of years carving out the gigantic natural wonder seems woefully inadequate for such an accomplishment.

Palo Duro Canyon is in the panhandle of Texas near the cities of Canyon and Amarillo. It is easy to find, easy to access and costs $8 to enter. It has been inhabited by humans for thousands of years, and evidences another of those marvelous Civilian Conservation Corps infrastructure improvements from the pre-World War II years. My experience with the quality of CCC projects throughout America convinces me the generation that saved the world got much of its resilience from its survival of the Great Depression and from the training gained through the Corps.

While one can certainly absorb a large measure of reverie just slowly driving through and around the canyon, the most symbiotic experience is gained by hiking some of the 16 “marked” trails that range in length from .5 to 4.4 miles. That is what Peg and I did on Nov. 23, 2021.

We started out with the mildest one we could find, then matriculated to the Sunflower Trail upon which not a sunflower was to be found. We did find the coursing little “river” at the heart of the floor of the canyon and we found red sand-stoned embankments glittering with striations of white shale. We also got in touch with our Daniel Boone muse for about two confusing hours.

Daniel Boone may have opened up the Wilderness Trail and served in Congress but even he, while denying he was ever lost, admitted he was once “bewildered” for 3 days. And while my admiration and appreciation for the CCC boys is boundless, they may not have been the best at signage.

As Peg and I wandered around the rocky, sandy trails I kept hearing the Five Man Electrical Band singing “Signs, signs, everywhere signs.” My respectful suggestion to the Palo Duro Park rangers is, please remember some of your guests may be directionally challenged and some husbands just refuse to ask for directions. Hey, did Daniel Boone ask?

Anyway, we eventually located our car and got to see even more of the marvelous flora and fauna in the process. If you are looking for a spiritual reawakening or just a short trip of inexpensive inspiration, I recommend you consider what is called the Little Grand Canyon. It is certainly grand and it is certainly not little.