Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Lovely Palo Duro Canyon State Park (daily, $5), one of the most beautiful places in all of Texas, is just 25 miles southeast of Amarillo, east of the town of Canyon off the I-27 freeway. Cut into the Texas plain by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, Palo Duro stretches for over 100 miles, with canyon walls climbing to 1,000 feet. Coronado and company were the first Europeans to lay eyes on the area, and numerous Plains tribes, including Apache, Kiowa, and Comanche, later took refuge here. From the end of Hwy-217, a well-paved road winds past the Palo Duro park visitors center (806/488-2227, daily), from where a short trail leads to a canyon overlook. Beyond here, the road drops down into the canyon and follows the river on a 15-mile loop trip through the canyon’s heart. It’s prettiest in spring and fall, and fairly popular year-round.
On your way to or from Palo Duro Canyon, be sure to stop by the excellent Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum (2503 4th Ave., 806/651-2244, closed Sun., $10) in the neighboring town of Canyon. One of the state’s great museums, this has extensive exhibits on the cultural and economic life of the Panhandle region and its relations with Mexico, the Texas Republic, and the United States. The museum, which is housed in a WPA-era building on the campus of West Texas A&M University, has a special section on rancher Charles Goodnight (1836-1929), who once owned a half million acres here, invented the “chuckwagon,” and was an early advocate of saving the bison from extinction.