Good News from Texas State Parks: Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is getting a new group recreation facility, the first of its kind in a Texas State Park. The new stone-clad facility will be 5,200 square feet with meeting and dining hall space, restrooms, and a commercial kitchen perfect for wedding receptions and family reunions.

The Lighthouse Rock formation can be reached on a hiking trail. Photo courtesy TPWD

A recent groundbreaking ceremony marked the $1 million donation by local businessman Mack Dick, for whom the pavilion is named. It will be used in a public/private partnership to which the state will add $700,000, reported

Dick has a history with the park, spending time there with his family and friends.

“I like the scenery. I like the wildlife. You can see the nice trails,” he said. “The big thing is it’s not crowded. You feel like you’re out in the Wild West.”

The Mack Dick Group Pavilion will be a state of the art facility that will have a seating capacity of 150 and have multi-media technology.

“In these difficult times we have found very few dollars available for capital development in fact, we have not had capital development dollars in state parks in many many years. Had it not be for the generosity of the private sector and forming these partnerships these types of projects simply would not be possible,” said Brent Leisure, Texas State Park Director.

The pavilion will show off local stone and native materials at its location just below the steep road where visitors descend to the floor of the park. Its design will complement the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) structures built in the park during the 1930s. They bear the distinct mark of CCC-era architecture: simple, rustic design, and hand-hewn native stone.

This mysterious terra cotta badland, referred to as the "Grand Canyon of Texas," calls out to the adventuresome to be explored. Photo courtesy Destination360

“It will truly be a showcase because it will be one of the first things you see,” said Mark Bivins, former Co-Chair of Amarillo Area Foundation.

The construction process is expected to start in the next six months with completion by 2013.

Grand Canyon of Texas

As they say locally, “Welcome to the Grand Canyon of Texas.” While that may be a slight Texas exaggeration because Palo Duro doesn’t have the drama of Arizona’s most famous canyon, but it’s nearly 30,000 acres are unusual and interesting in their own right—and downright impressive!

The Palo Duro canyon system is located south of Amarillo on the southern high plains, at the edge of an area called El Llano Estacado or “staked plains.”

Though the canyon as a whole plunges to a depth of 800 feet and runs 120 miles in length, only the northernmost portion forms the state park. The scenic eight-mile drive to the canyon floor provides a series of breathtaking vistas along each bend and turn.

The rim of the canyon is considered part of the short grass prairie while the elevated moisture of the canyon floor supports a greater diversity of plants including some medium and tall grass species along with shrubs and trees.

Red dirt in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Photo courtesy Planetware

Historians say that Native Americans inhabited the canyon as long ago as 12,000 years, but it may have been a Spanish explorer who gave it the name “palo duro”, Spanish for the “hard wood” juniper trees that thrive in the region. It’s believed that around 1541, Coronado and the members of his expedition became the first Europeans to set eyes on the canyon.

Outdoor Theater Production
TEXAS, the outdoor musical drama and the Official Play of the State of Texas, presents a completely different way to experience the history of Palo Duro Canyon. With a cast of 80, the colorful production uses dance, song, and narration to tell the story of the Indians, early settlers, and cowboys who inhabited the Panhandle during the late 1800s.

The 43rd anniversary season will run Tuesday through Sunday from June 4 to August 20, 2011.

Tickets are available on-line, by phone at (806) 655-2181, and at the TEXAS Office in Canyon on the Square at 1514 5th Avenue in the nearby town of Canyon.


Palo Duro Canyon State Park

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m., extended hours on week-ends and in summer

Admission: $5 per day, per person 13 and older

Location: 12 miles east of Canyon on State Highway 217

Directions: From Amarillo, take I-27 south to State Highway 217, and go east 8 mile

Camping: $22-25

Address: 11450 Park Road 5, Canyon, TX 79015

Contact: (806) 488-2227

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
Wasn’t Born in Texas, But Got Here as Fast as I Could

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