Visitors to Palo Duro Canyon State Park will experience some of Texas’ most colorful history and awesomely rugged beauty. Palo Duro Canyon began forming over a million years ago, building up stunningly-colorful layers of geologic strata that tell a geological tale that is over 200 million years old.
The stone-age Folsom and Clovis peoples began inhabiting Palo Duro Canyon approximately 12,000 years ago, mainly subsisting on large roving herds of prehistoric giant bison and woolly mammoths. More recently, the Native-American Comanche, Apache and Kiowa tribes made the canyon home, availing themselves of the Palo Duro area’s plentiful resources.
Many archeological remains of these early inhabitants are found throughout the canyon. Rumor has it that the early Spanish explorers discovered and named the canyon “Palo Duro,” meaning “hardwood” in Spanish, referring to the Rocky Mountain junipers scattered throughout the canyon.
A decisive battle of the Red River War, between the southern Plains Native American tribes and the United States Calvary took place in the canyon on Sept. 28, 1874. With the army capturing over 1,000 of the tribes’ horses and all their winter food stores in the battle, the Cheyenne, Comanche and Kiowa were forced back onto their reservation.
The state of Texas purchased the land for Palo Duro Canyon State Park from Fred Emory in 1933. Soon after the Parks purchase the Civilian Conservation Corps spent five years establishing the park, constructing roads, trails and buildings. Today there are visitor centers, numerous campgrounds and five well-appointed guest cabins for you to stay at, for a fee, while you explore the park.
The Texas Panhandle, the straight and narrow section in the northernmost area of the state, covers over 81,000 square miles. The land here is predominantly a high, flat, treeless plateau that transitions from flat plains to gently-rolling hills separated by canyons.
Like other states of similar structure, the Panhandle juts out at a right angle, perpendicular to the larger main section of Texas. Looking at a map of the state you will see the “Panhandle” looks somewhat like the handle of a frying pan, and hence the name.
This region of Texas is predominantly made up of flat, grassy plains and is the southernmost tip of the Great Plains that extend southward from the Central United States. The Panhandle is also referred to as the Llano Estacado, Spanish for “Staked Plains.”
Deep and striking canyons cut by numerous rivers and tributaries that snake through the area divide the eastern and western sections of the Panhandle. The eastern part of the Texas Panhandle isn’t nearly as flat as the western section. The eastern part is also lower in elevation and receives more rainfall then the western section of the Panhandle. Because it receive more moisture, the eastern section produces more brushy vegetation.
The major rivers in the Texas Panhandle include the Brazos, Canadian, Colorado, Red and Pecos. There are also numerous aquifers in the area with the Alluvium, Cenozoic, Edwards-Trinity, Nacotoch, Pecos, Ogallala and Seymour being the major ones.
Soil is neutral to slightly alkaline and varies in type from clay and shale to coarse sand found along streambeds. Caliche soil, having large deposits of calcium carbonate, is found two to five feet below the surface.
The area is home to many species of wildlife that depend on the Panhandle’s plentiful grasses to survive. These species include herbivorous like whitetail and mule deer, pronghorns and the American bison. There are also several species of carnivorous including foxes, coyotes, badgers and weasels. Other species found in the area include two types of cottontail rabbits, beavers, minks, nutrias, raccoons and opossums.