See the latest 2019 Leisure Travel Van models in person in Fort Worth, Texas at the Tarrant County RV Show with Vogt RV. The Show runs from Jan 3-6. Don Klassen from Leisure Vans will be here for the show, and we plan on having the all new Wonder Rear Twin Bed, a must see unit. Come out and see why they are so hard to get!
Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the United States, lies in the heart of the Texas Panhandle near the city of Amarillo and it is a fascinating slice of scenery and history.
Water erosion over the millennia has shaped the canyon’s geological formations. Palo Duro Canyon was formed by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. The water deepens the canyon by moving sediment downstream. Wind and water erosion gradually widen the canyon. Palo Duro Canyon is presently 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of more than 800 feet. Its elevation at the rim is 3,500 feet above sea level. It is often claimed that the Canyon is the second largest in the United States with the Grand Canyon being the largest at 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 6,000 feet deep.
At every turn, there are dramatic geological features, including the multicolored layers of rock and steep mesa walls similar to those in the Grand Canyon. Notable canyon formations include caves and hoodoos. One of the best-known and the major signature feature of the canyon is the Lighthouse Rock. A multiple-use, six-mile round trip loop trail is dedicated to the formation.
While Palo Duro is almost indescribable, the painter Georgia O’Keeffe, who lived in nearby Amarillo, wrote of the Palo Duro:
“It is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color.”
Hard to argue with that description. Humans have resided in the canyon for approximately 12,000 years, and it is believed to have been continuously inhabited to the present day. Native Americans were attracted to the water of the Prairie Dog Town Fork, Red River, as well as the consequent ample game, edible plants, and protection from the weather the canyon provided.
Early settlers were nomadic tribes that hunted mammoth, giant bison, and other large game animals. The first European explorers to discover the canyon were members of the Coronado expedition, who visited the canyon in 1541 and dubbed the canyon “Palo Duro”, Spanish for “hardwood” in reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees.
Apache Indians lived in Palo Duro at the time, but they were later displaced by Comanche and Kiowa tribes, who had the advantage of owning horses brought over by the Spanish. They had contact with traders, called Comancheros, in nearby New Mexico. A United States military team under Captain Randolph B. Marcy mapped the canyon in 1852 during their search for the headwaters of the Red River. The land remained under American Indian control until a military expedition led by Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie was sent in 1874 to remove the Indians to reservations in Oklahoma. Soon after, in 1876, Charles Goodnight and a wealthy Ulster Scot named John Adair established the JA Ranch in Palo Duro Canyon. Col. Goodnight helped manage the ranch until 1890. At its peak, the ranch supported more than 100,000 head of cattle. Goodnight operated the ranch until 1890 and, although only a fraction of its original size, the JA Ranch remains a working ranch today.
The Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930’s constructed most of the buildings and roads still in use by park staff and visitors. Palo Duro Canyon State Park opened on July 4, 1934, and contains over 29,000 acres of the scenic, the northern most portion of the Palo Duro Canyon.
Unlike its big brother, the Grand Canyon, the bottom of this canyon is accessible to vehicles so the rugged beauty can be enjoyed from top to bottom. There are more than 30 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails so the beauty and wonder of Palo Duro can be explored by foot, mountain bike, horse, or vehicle. Other options include geocaching, studying nature, and bird watching.
While we missed out during our summer tour, the outdoor musical drama TEXAS is performed during the summer camping season. Park information notes that TEXAS runs Tuesdays through Sundays at the Pioneer Amphitheater and tells of the stories, struggles, and triumphs of early settlers. The family-friendly show has singing, dancing, fireworks, and lots of Texas humor. RV campsites are served with water and electricity. Visitor options include drive-up sites, equestrian sites, backpack camping areas and cabins on the canyon’s rim and on the canyon floor. The exceptional Visitor Center on the canyon rim offers amazing canyon views and the opportunity to learn more about the park. The park store at the Visitor Center sells books, pottery, jewelry, and more. There are also souvenirs, snacks, and meals available at The Trading Post on the canyon floor.
If horseback riding is desired, there are trails through 1,500 acres set aside for horseback riding or share two other trails with hikers and mountain bikers. Ranger programs include presentations on the park’s history, natural features, the park family of Longhorn cattle and there are opportunities to take a driving tour with a park ranger.
It’s not likely that you will find indescribably beautiful scenery, history, peace, and quiet, mammoths, Native Americans, Coronado, Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Goodnight, Texas, and Longhorn Cattle in any spot so don’t miss an opportunity to visit the incredible Palo Duro Canyon.
We have crossed the border from New Mexico and stopped at the first Information Centre. We have picked up our “Don’t Mess With Texas” and our “Drive Clean Across Texas” garbage bags and a map of the Big Bend National Park area. We are ready. It has been a long time coming. We have travelled from our Yukon home in Whitehorse for twelve of the last fourteen years looking for that elusive temperature thetas neither “too darn hot” or “too darn cold”.
For about the last eight trips we have had Texas and Big Bend on our bucket list. Each year it looked further away. Adding another two or three thousand miles to a winter getaway that is an average round trip of ten thousand miles just seemed a bit much.
We have over 90,000 kilometres on our three-year-old Unity. It drives like a dream and gets great fuel mileage but it is still a long haul.
In the northern portion of our jaunt, we get good use of our furnace. In the south, it’s our solar panel. It manages camera batteries, our computer, iPads, flashlight, toothbrushes, and a razor all topped up. We spend a lot of time off-grid and often go over a week or more without moving or plugging in.
We don’t get much use of the air conditioner. State and federal parks often have restricted hours and some areas don’t allow generators at all.
This year, with my seventy-fifth birthday occurring in March, it looked like Texas may be a “now or never” sort of thing. My wife Joyce and I and our thirteen-year-old dachshund Marley decided to bite the bullet and go for it.
We studied the map and headed for El Paso, quickly discovering it is not the little cowtown we had been lead to believe by western music and old movies.
We know things are big in Texas but I had no idea how big. It took over three-quarters of an hour, driving at highway speed, with at least four lanes of “high noon” traffic, to make it through the city. With dozens of overpasses, and more under construction, it was a little daunting for a couple who have spent most of their lives in the wilds of northern Canada, but we made it through dent free.
Big Bend wasn’t what we expected (the Rio Grande seems little more than a creek) but the whole area is big and is beautiful. Campgrounds were lovely and full of friendly RVers. Rio Grande Village Campground was a busy place and we were invited to sit and listen to an impromptu music jam. We walked over in the dark and truly enjoyed the evening.
The next night was that Goldilocks temperature we were looking for. About 10 p.m. we set up our chairs next to the motor home and settled down with a glass of wine to enjoy the warm, quiet darkness. This is rather new to us. Warm summer evenings in the Yukon are bright enough to read by.
Marley was sitting on my lap and we were all relaxed in the darkness. Our awning lights weren’t on—Joyce says they are too bright and bother the star-watching “dark sky” campers. There weren’t many stars, but a full moon kept peeking between heavy clouds.
Marley made a couple of low comments, which we thought were just about the weather. It then struck me that the wine might be stronger than usual, as I was sure I saw the rocks moving in front of us. The further thought reminded me that there were no rocks.
Digging out our little flashlight we discovered we were sitting in the middle of a herd of javelina, the closest one within twelve feet of us. The light didn’t bother them in the least and we could now see about twenty of them.
For those who don’t know, javelina look and act like wild pigs. They have tusks like a boar and can be rather nasty little critters. They can raise havoc with one’s pets or even your own lower extremities. They apparently go straight to attack mode if they feel threatened and can give a whole new meaning to the term “ankle biter”.
Javelina is really collared peccaries and is more closely related to hippos than pigs. They are also a little touchy about being called a pig. They even have their own line of T-shirts, featuring a photo of a relative and an underline that reads “Don’t Call Me A Pig”.
For the first few years of southern travel we had seen only pictures of them but of late they seem to be plentiful. At our next campsite, they came through midday so I could get photos. Eventually “the pigs” had their fill of new green grass shoots and didn’t get excited. They wandered off, leaving us with a different attitude about the dark.
We will probably get more use out of our awning lights in spite of the star-watchers and we won’t be wandering between campsites without a flashlight. We also will pay more attention to what Marley is telling us.