PALO DURO CANYON
Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in North America at approximately 120 miles in length and a depth of between 600 and 800 feet. While not as dramatic as the Grand Canyon or Hells Canyon in our opinion (primarily due to the fairly shallow depth) it is nonetheless a spectacular sight. We were fortunate to be able to camp on the canyon floor and complete several hikes while enjoying fantastic weather.
The canyon is noted in Texas history as the place where the decisive battle of The Red River War occured in the fall of 1874. Commanche, Kiowa and Cheyenne Indians were living on the floor of the canyon in five settlements. They had amassed a herd of 1400 horses and provisions for the upcoming winter.
These tribes were the last of the Southern Plains Indians not imprisoned on Indian reservations. The U.S. cavalry rode down into the canyon and attacked each of the settlements. The people of the tribes fled down the canyon with the cavalry pursuing.
After pursuing tribes far enough to ensure that they could not return, the cavalry destroyed all of the teepees and food in the settlements. And, of course, they killed all of the tribe’s horses-except the 200 that they kept for their own use.
The surviving tribal members, faced with starvation, accepted the same fate as their brethen before them, and relocated to the Indian reservation at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
The land was cleared of the tribes, although large herds of bison were still living in the canyon. The land was opened for settlement; in 1876 the JA Ranch was established in the canyon for the purpose of raising cattle.
The cattlemen had no use for the bison. They needed the land and water for their cattle; so they allowed the bison to be hunted. Fortunately, the wife of one of the ranch owners, Mary Ann Goodnight, was able to convince her husband to stop the hunting as she was rightly concerned about the extinction of the species. The herd was eventually relocated to Caprock Canyon where it now resides and is protected as the official Texas State Bison Herd.
Turkey is a short drive east of Quitaque and Palo Duro Canyon. If you prefer hotel accommodations while visiting Palo Duro and this area of the Panhandle, Turkey is the place to stay.
The town’s origins are agricultural – cotton, watermelon, sweet potatoes and peanuts. The town was platted in 1907. The current population is 396.
Despite the small size of Turkey and its rural location it is well known among afficiandos of Western Swing music as the home of Bob Wills. Wills was the town barber and a fiddler and songwriter and is widely acknowledged as the co-creator of Western Swing.
As his music became more popular he formed a band – Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. The band toured around Texas and Oklahoma and regularly played on radio shows in Oklahoma City.
The Hotel Turkey (HT) is hands down the place to stay in the area. The hotel has been in continuous operation since 1927. Hopefully, the photos below convey the western charm of this unique hotel.
HT has a full restaurant (Friday is the fried catfish special and Saturday is the steak special), outdoor bar and live musical entertainment several nights a week. Make reservations in advance – the hotel often sells out on weekends.
Caprock Canyon Sate Park is a series of canyons covering about 13,000 acres. It is part of the Caprock Escarpment which runs north to south and seperates the great flat plains of the Texas Panhandle from the rolling plains to the east.
We traveled to Caprock after our stay at Palo Duro Canyon. We camped on the flats above the canyon within walking distance of the rim (photo below). Caprock, like Palo Duro, has many miles of hiking, horseback and mountain biking trails.
We initially had beautiful weather as you can see from the photographs. Unfortunately, a windstorm came roaring up from the south with 30 to 40 mile per hour winds and we spent most of our second day inside the van waiting out the storm.
We recommend both of these state parks if you enjoy hiking, mountain biking or camping. The are dozens of hikes of varying difficulty and length with one common feature – spectacular scenery.
Palo Duro is within 30 minutes of Amarillo if you are not interested in staying in the park. Similarly, Caprock Canyon is a reasonable drive from Lubbock.
Be seeing you.