There is evidence of human habitation of the canyon that dates back to approximately 10,000 years ago. Native Americans were drawn to the canyon area with water provided by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, and plentiful plants and wildlife. The canyon also provided protection from severe weather conditions.
In 1541, members of the Coronado expedition were the first European explorers to discover the canyon. At that time Apache Indians inhabited the canyon. The Apaches were later driven from the area by Comanche and Kiowa tribes, who had acquired an advantage of owning horses which had been brought to the area by the Spanish.
In 1852, the canyon was mapped out by the US military under the command of Captain Randolph Mercy. They were searching for the headwaters of the Red River. The area stayed under the control of Indian tribes until 1874 when a military expedition led by Colonel Ronald Mackenzie came to the area with orders to move the indians to reservations in Oklahoma. The Comanche and Kiowa conceded after the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon, on of the last battles of the Texas-Indian Wars.
In 1876, Charles Goodnight and John Adair established the legendary JA Ranch. By 1883 this ranch included approximately 1,335,000 acres of land (in six counties) with a herd of 100,000 cattle. Goodnight became one of the best know ranchers in Texas and is considered by many as the “father of the Texas Panhandle”.
From 1916 to 1918, while the head of the art department at West Texas State Normal College, Georgia O’Keefe made the canyon the subject of many of her paintings. She described the canyon “It is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color”. She hit it right on the nose!
In 1934 The State of Texas purchased the upper section of the canyon and developed it into the 29,182 acre Palo Duro Canyon State Park. The park contains over 30 miles hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. There are both RV and tent campsites available. The most amazing accommodations are the three stone and timber rim cabins which are perched on the canyons rim (these are very popular and reservations are difficult to secure – believe me I know – BUT it is worth the effort). From the roofs of the rim cabins you will be treated to some amazing sunrises and sunset. After the sun goes down get comfortable and enjoy the big Texas night sky!
During the summer the musical TEXAS is performed at the Palo Duro Canyon amphitheater.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a true Texas treasure – full of natural beauty and rich with Texas history. Every year over 500,000 people visit. I for one plan to return and join these people every year!
“I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at – not copy it” Georgia O’Keeffe