Lovely Palo Duro Canyon State Park (daily, $5), one of the most beautiful places in all of Texas, is just 35 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 has more than 60 miles of ravines, with canyon walls climbing to 800 feet. Coronado and company were the first Europeans to lay eyes on the area, and numerous Plains people, 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, more than 30 miles of hiking extend 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, Tues.-Sat. Sept.-May, $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 chuck wagon, and was an early advocate of saving the bison from extinction.