What to see in Texas with a short detour from Route 66?
A question more than legitimate for who is planning a journey to the old Mother Road.
But also for who is experiencing a road trip in Texas and choose to arrive as far as Amarillo in order to visit Cadillac Ranch and maybe have dinner and sleep at the very famous Big Texan Ranch.
My tip is to take a half day (a full day, too, if you decide to do some trails, a choice warmly recommended) to visit Palo Duro Canyon State Park, a downright natural wonder of the “Lone Star State”, still less famous among the Italian travelers, second for extension only to the more famous Grand Canyon.
Land of Apache and Comanche until 1880, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is made by a complex system of canyons – dig by the Red River erosion over centuries – developing inside the Texas Panhandle, a red and yellow sandstone getting literally as a “panhandle” between New Mexico and Oklahoma.
Its name – Palo Duro – comes from an expression used by the first Spanish explorers referring to it – “palo duro” – as regards the juniper plants spread in the whole area.
At the end of 1800 – following the deportation of native locals to Oklahoma – the canyon was purchased first by the drover Charles Goodnight – known as one of the most famous cattle farmers in the state, who created the JA Ranch (today the most ancient ranch in the State still working), and then around 1930 it was bought by the State of Texas which turned it into a protected state institution.
Today Palo Duro Canyon State Park develops over an area of 25.000 hectars. It is possible to go through it easily by car along a circular scenic route, stop at the several viewpoints and so go on naturalistic trails as far as the edges of the canyons and to the bottom of them sometimes.
The park offers several activities: camping, climbing, horse riding and cycle riding excursions, besides a suggestive natural amphitheater seat – in Summer – of numerous shows and events, among them the famous musical “Texas” telling about the epic and the history of the Lone Star State.
Visiting Palo Duro State Canyon it means to go through the same paths and trails used by the native Americans, from the first Spanish explorers, buffalos hunters and pioneers.
Enjoy of unique views of odd geological formations – the “Lighthouse”, a rock similar to a lighthouse raising for even 91meters – and enjoy a series of particular experiences like sighting Longhorn herd and wild animals, and the meeting with the local natives.
A proper taste of South West in Texan land!
Once arrived at the entrance, after have paid the admission – $5 – you will be given a very useful map with all the recommended stops, the most amazing view points and trails. Travel times and difficulty level included.
What are those ones not to miss by far?
Lighthouse Trail. The most famous trail of the park. About 8km trail with a moderate difficulty level that in about 2,5hours allows to reach the lighthouse rocky mountain, symbol of the park.
Capitol Peak. A loop of about 5km to cycle by mountain bike through the canyons with different levels of difficulty.
Paseo del Rio. A very simple walk, 1km and a half about along the river to reach the old shelters of cowboys who lived here in 1880.
CCC Trail. A quite hard trail, about 2km from the edge as far as the bottom of the canyon.
Rojo Grande. About 2km, average difficulty to discover the geological formations on the bottom of the canyon.
Raylander Fortress Cliff. A peaceful 3hours and 5kilometers’ walk to reach the most suggestive viewpoints.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located about 40km far from Amarillo.
It is opened 7 days a week, 7am-10pm. Admission for fee: $5 adults, free for kids under 12.
Always check the official website the days before your visit in order to verify the trails are open. It can occur that they are temporarily closed due to particular weather conditions or extraordinary maintenances.
Amarillo is certainly the best place where to stay overnight.