Visit to the Palo Duro Canyon, in Amarillo, Texas
I just visited the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, located near Amarillo in the state of Texas. Although I had never heard of this place before, I marked it on my map as soon as I saw it in the travel guides.
The name “Palo Duro” is believed to come from some wood that grew in the valley, and the Spanish conquistadors gave it.
The trip from Oklahoma City to Amarillo in Texas takes almost five hours. I think I had never driven in such wind; the car vibrated constantly, and the gas consumption increased quite a bit. I felt the pressure in my arms from trying to hold the wheel steady.
As I drove across Texas, I thought about the strange history of this region. Amarillo is located in the great plains of northern Texas, with a climate that has extreme temperatures even within the same season. With incredibly strong winds, hailstorms, tornadoes, droughts, floods, and even snow and sandstorms. But even so, this region has always been a very important economic center and, at the same time, a primary crossroads.
This region was part of Mexico, and the first settlers originally named the town Oneida, and later, they changed the name to “Amarillo.” It means yellow in Spanish.
The origin of its name is not very clear. Some people think it comes from the yellow flowers that grow in the desert during the spring. But since I visited the park in winter, I saw that the landscape was completely yellow during this season. Its dry grasslands and the color are more than enough reasons for the name.
When I arrived at Amarillo, I went straight to “Palo Duro Canyon Park.” What surprised me the most was that even a few minutes before reaching the park entrance, I could only see the immensity of the desert. From the road I was driving, it was impossible to see that this gigantic canyon was hiding a few yards away.
Upon reaching the edge, it suddenly appeared in full extent.
The canyon is 120 miles long and has a width of 6 and 20 miles. Its depth is up to 1,000 ft. Incredibly, a canyon of this size can only be seen once you’re practically inside it!
The canyon was formed by the erosion of the “Red River” that was washing the rocks for millions of years and creating the fertile valley at the bottom.
Indigenous communities have inhabited this valley, some so old that it is estimated that they may have lived there more than 12,000 years ago. When the settlers arrived, they obviously wanted to seize the most fertile land and decided to “remove” its inhabitants. In the battle of 1874, they burned their villages and the food reserves they had stored for the winter and killed their horses. The communities could not survive and soon disappeared.
The Palo Duro Canyon became completely dedicated to agriculture and livestock for many years.
As early as the 20th century, during the great depression of the 1930s, the government created national and state parks to provide jobs for unemployed workers. The lands were bought, and the roads and infrastructure were built that are still used by visitors today.
The cattle and the crops left the soil exhausted, but soon, nature recovered its place, and the native species regained the valley.
There are many distinctive desert plants like cacti and some perennials that can be seen all year round. But simultaneously, it’s hard for me to imagine how green the valley can be during spring and summer.
During winter, I really enjoyed seeing dry flowers and seeding plants. They survive the low temperatures and are beautiful little treasures.
The wonderful reddish color of the rocks and earth, the plants’ greens and golds, and the clear skies’ deep blue create an extraordinary sight. All this abundance of colors fades at the end of the day when the sun goes down…
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