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Palo Duro Canyon, TX
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Alexander Eaglerock
The $100 Hamburger
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SW Aviator Magazine
3909 Central NE
Albuquerque, NM 87108
Phone: 505.256.7031
Fax: 505.256.3172
Palo Duro Canyon
by Skip Burroughs

Flat. Real flat. Absolutely flat. This is a common misconception about the Texas Panhandle’s topography. Nothing could be further from the truth, and nothing contradicts this myth better than Palo Duro Canyon.

Located just 25 miles south-southeast of Amarillo, Texas, this is 120 miles long, 1200 foot deep canyon is anything but flat. In fact, Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States! If one could take the Palo Duro Canyon and put it on the top of the Grand Canyon, it would provide a complete geological, chronological history of earth.

Native Americans inhabited the canyon for almost 12,000 years, living there in peace with nature. This tranquillity ended in 1874 when the U.S. Calvary pushed the Indians onto reservations in Oklahoma, sadly erasing the long Indian heritage from the Palo Duro region. The first European to visit the canyon was the Spanish treasure hunter Francisco Coronado, who passed through the area in 1541. Tourism in the area has been growing ever since.

Today Palo Duro (Spanish for "hardwood" – after the canyon’s many Juniper trees) Canyon is a Mecca for nature lovers and hikers, amateur and professional photographers, mountain bikers, and campers. The beautiful escarpments and majestic formations were created over millions of years of erosion, from both the wind and the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River that meanders through the canyon. The golden pillars glistening in the sunset are truly a gift of nature. Palo Duro State Park lies at the head of this canyon, closest to Amarillo proper. The State Park is the largest in Texas, and offers riding stables, numerous picnic areas, camping, a restaurant, and miles of beautiful hiking and bike trails.

Also nestled in this canyon is the natural amphitheater that houses the internationally acclaimed musical extravaganza, "Texas." This play depicts life in the 1880’s in the northwest part of Texas. This outstanding musical drama is performed each summer in the Pioneer Amphitheater of the Palo Duro Canyon, featuring a cast of over 80 singers and dancers. In its more than 30 year run, the musical has drawn over two million visitors from around the world. Set against the sheer 600 foot tall cliffs of the canyon that form the amphitheater, "Texas" uses singers, dancers, music, horseback riders, livestock, fireworks, and even a train to bring the exciting history of the area to life. You won’t want to miss the dramatic opening scene, with the horseman running the canyon rim at sunset carrying a large Texas flag! For two and a half hours the audience is drawn into the story on stage. They suffer with the pioneers during blizzards and lightning storms, they fear Indian attacks, and end up rejoicing in the final outcome. During the moving, spectacular grand finale there are many tears of emotion evident in the audience.

A chuckwagon barbecue supper by the famous "Sutphen’s," served under the Junipers and Oaks, is available prior to the show. Get your show tickets early, and plan on the great barbecue too. Shuttle service is available from area hotels. For more information contact "Texas" Musical Drama, P.O. Box 268, Canyon, TX 79015, Tel: (806) 655-2181.

Western history buffs will be interested in the Amarillo Gun Fighters. Located near the entrance to the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, this is a group of "Old West" aficionados. Here you can see gun fighting shows and demonstrations about the Old West, in the setting of a western town. (806) 379-7667.

Another popular attraction at the canyon is the Cowboy Morning Breakfast, hosted by the Figure 3 ranch. Here you can take a 20-minute morning ride across the prairie on team-drawn wagons to a campsite perched on the rim of the Palo Duro Canyon. On arrival you are greeted with hot coffee, sourdough biscuits, and sausage and eggs, all prepared by real cowboys — just like during the cattle roundups of yesteryear. After this wonderful breakfast, the fun begins with demonstrations of roping, branding, and the famed cow-chip-throwing contest. The Figure 3 ranch is also where the closing scene of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" was filmed. Bring your jacket, as it’s still cool at sunup. Call (800) 658-2613 for reservations.

If you’re in Amarillo for a few days, don’t miss the English Field Air and Space Museum, located next to the control tower at Amarillo International airport. With donations from the Pantex plant, the air museum has unique displays of the various nuclear weapons that were assembled and disassembled here over the years. There are also aircraft displayed in the hanger and on the ramp.

With the treasures of Palo Duro Canyon at its doorstep, Amarillo is one of the few places in America where the Old West is just minutes away. Amarillo, and the beauty of the Texas Panhandle, draws visitors from around the world as a destination for Old West enthusiasts and nature-lovers alike.

Flying Palo Duro Canyon

Amarillo International (AMA) and the smaller Tradewind airport (TDW) are the most convenient airports when planning an extended visit to Palo Duro Canyon. Amarillo International has several rental car agencies on-field, and a number of local hotels offer courtesy transportation.

Unlike many other scenic wonders of the Southwest, Palo Duro Canyon does not have overflight restrictions. The canyon begins just southeast of Amarillo, outside of Amarillo’s class C airspace. When you depart Tradewind or Amarillo International, just tell the controller you are going on a tour of the canyon, and you can remain on frequency with them for flight following. The altitude at the canyon rim is about 3500 feet MSL. If your itinerary includes excursions below the rim, remember to fly neighborly by avoiding the State Park at the northwest section of the canyon closest to Amarillo, as well as areas frequented by hikers and picnickers.

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The material in this publication is for advisory information only and should not be relied upon for navigation, maintenance or flight techniques. SW Regional Publishing, Inc. and the staff neither assume any responsibilty for the accuracy of this publication's content nor any liability arising out of it. Fly safe.