Grand Canyon of the High Plains: Palo Duro
The Texas Panhandle can hypnotize drivers with miles and miles of unbroken plains pushing to the horizon, only occasionally punctuated by a lonesome windmill or a tiny, dusty town. This seeming endlessness of flat land makes the drive into Palo Duro Canyon that much more awesome: Suddenly, the earth seems to split open, revealing unexpected depth, colors, and textures.
It’s said you can never walk into the same river twice. And the very same could be said about Palo Duro Canyon. Whether by raging floods, gale-force winds, cascading boulders, or the more subtle power of dust whirling against the rocks, the canyon is constantly changing, mutating, evolving.
Apaches, Kiowas, conquistadors, pioneers, ranchers, conservationists, hikers, and tourists have all set foot in this canyon, but each has witnessed a slightly different version of it from that seen by the people who came before.
Slowly, inexorably, the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River carved this canyon out. Layers and layers of rock, dating back 250 million years, give the canyon its distinctive, banded look: the deep red claystone and sandstone that form part of the Quarter-master Formation; the yellow, gray, white, and lavender of the later Tecovas Formation; red and gray mudstone in the Trujillo Formation; and capping it all, the Ogallala Formation, source of much of the High Plains’ water.
From the June 2003 issue.