In the heart of the Texas Panhandle lies the second largest canyon in the country. Palo Duro Canyon’s red rocks, beautiful caverns, and miles of hiking trails make the area a must-see. Glimpses of the Old West are still visible in the Canyon as well as the small towns surrounding the park. At more than 25,000 acres, the park has plenty of room for camping, hiking, picnicking, mountain biking, and horse trails. North of the Canyon is Route I-40, part of the historic Route 66 that traveled through Amarillo, Texas. Here’s a Texas-sized road trip that will take you through the Texas Panhandle’s most beautiful country.
How long? 266 miles or 5 hours with no stops. For a day trip, it’s a quick and easy ride. Camp out overnight and see the wall of stars in Palo Duro Canyon and make it a two-day journey. If you add side trips, it’s an additional hour up to the Lake Meredith or the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument.
Time of Year? Year-round, with one caveat. The summer months host the heaviest crowds when the TEXAS musical is in full swing at the park. However, the Panhandle gets winter weather much like Southern Colorado, so it can get more snow and ice than most of Texas. Also, during the rainy seasons, there are plenty of low-water crossings with posted flood warnings. Check the road conditions before you leave. Otherwise, have fun!
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Palo Duro Canyon and Highway 207 Itinerary
Start in Amarillo
Starting in Amarillo’s Historic Route 66 District, you’ll find everything from western heritage sites to a flourishing art scene. Mentioned in Nat King Cole’s song Route 66, Amarillo was a featured stop between Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Gallup, New Mexico. Here you’ll find 13 blocks of historical buildings, antique stores, and quirky art galleries. This 1-mile strip also has the city’s most intact collection of commercial buildings associated with the highway. Commercial buildings with Spanish Revival, Art Moderne, and Art Deco, architecture styles popular during the heyday of Route 66. Running along an east-west axis, it can be found between Georgia and Forest Avenues. Here are some of the historical buildings that can be seen in the district.
The Natatorium (The Nat Ballroom)
Located at 604 South Georgia, The Natatorium (“The Nat”) was built in 1922 as an indoor swimming pool in a Gothic Revival style. It was converted into a ballroom in 1926 and redesigned in an Art Deco style. The north side of the building is designed to look like an ocean-faring vessel replete with lifeboat-like elements near the roofline. The Nat closed its doors in the 1960s, but the adjoining Alamo Bar, built in 1935, is still open. A tunnel connects the Alamo Bar to the Nat.
Located at 2713-2727 SW 6th, the Bussey Buildings were the first major commercial buildings in the district. Built in the late 1920s, these commercial buildings have large glass display windows and dark brick with limestone detailing. The San Jacinto Beauty School, which received Texas’ first beauty license, occupied one of the stores from 1941 to 1964.
Built in 1918, the one-story brick building at 2806 SW 6th street opened as a general store and a post office. The building was sold in 1922, and the owner (W.E. Cazzell) built a new two-story building across the street at 2801 SW 6th.
A one-story frame building with Art Moderne detailing, Borden’s Heap-O-Cream can be found at 3120 SW 6th. The building’s architectural details include oval plate glass windows, 3-lite wood double doors and a rounded metal awning on front and sides.
Adkinson-Baker Tire Company
The Adkinson-Baker Tire Company, located at 3200 SW 6th, was built in 1939. The station was originally the Adkinson-Baker Tire Co. #2 and sold Texaco gas. It was sold in 1945. The station is one of the three stations in the district that has remained structurally unchanged since it opened.
The Caroline Building at 3313-23 SW 6th Avenue, built in 1926, is an example of Spanish Colonial Revival architecture. Divided by brick piers into eight, glass storefronts, the building is one of the earliest strip commercial buildings in Amarillo.
Dutch Mill Service Station and Café
In operation since 1932, The Dutch Mill Service Station and Café can be found at 3401 SW 6th.
Taylor’s Texaco Station
Built in 1937, Taylor’s Texaco Station is located at 3512 SW 6th. Clad in white porcelain, this one-story gas station has a projecting canopy over the pump island. The structure is one of the first standardized gas station designs. Today, it houses a bar and restaurant.
Martin’s Phillips 66 Station
Built in the early 1930s, Martin’s Phillips 66 Station at 3821 SW 6th operated as Martin’s Phillips 66 station until the 1990s. The current facility was built in 1963, with modernistic features such as angled service bay entrances, triangular canopy, and canted plate glass walls.
Located at 3912 SW 6th, the Hubbell Duplex features typical Craftsman details such as battered brick piers supporting the twin entry porticoes. The dark brown brick duplex is practically the same since its construction.
San Jacinto Fire Station
Built in 1926, the San Jacinto Fire Station is located at 610 South Georgia. The fire station was built in Mission Revival style with a red tile roof and battered walls. The station was closed in 1976 and is the only surviving pre-World War II fire station in the city.
Neon signs such as the one at the Cowboy Motel and The Big Texan Steakhouse were once common along Route 66. Standing for decades, the Cowboy motel is still in business in Amarillo. It’s visible as you’re coming into Amarillo along old Rte. 66/business road 40. Its address is 3619 E Amarillo Blvd, Amarillo, TX 79107.
While not part of Historic 66, you can also view other attractions in Amarillo such as the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum (2601 I-40 E., Amarillo, TX 79104) or the Downtown Historic District near Polk St. The Cultural District, which includes the Sunset Center Galleries, the Amarillo College Washington Campus, and the Amarillo Museum of Public Art, is also along Polk Street.
Established in 1974, the Cadillac Ranch sits along Route 66 as you head toward Palo Duro Canyon. Made up of ten Cadillac cars half-submerged in the Texas earth, the cars are covered in graffiti. Tourists often stop by to take photos or bring their own can of graffiti. This exhibit is said to represent America’s hope and dreams, art and commerce, materialism and spiritualism, folly and fame. People take different types of photos, from selfies to people “holding up the cars” or playing around the cars. Just make sure to stand downwind of people spraying the cars. Also, don’t be a litterbug and take your cans to the dumpster down at the end of the road.
Located on the West Texas A&M campus, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum features exhibits on the local history, oil industry, paleontology, and archeology; geology and more. Texas’ largest history museum, you can cover 26,000 square miles on foot in a day. View a life-sized pioneer town, historic windmills, and a huge 1920s cable-tool drilling rig. A large art collection featuring Southwestern Art has over 8,000 art objects. The popular People of the Plains exhibit starts by exploring the area’s first inhabitants from 14,000 years ago and how the different American Indian cultures have adapted and lived in the area throughout the countless centuries. From the mud homes of Antelope Creek to the modern fashion’s of today, the exhibit is an immerse educational experience.
Located southwest of the Canyon, the 7,664-acre Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge features short grass prairie, marshes, woodlands, and water-carved canyon walls. The 175 acres of shortgrass prairie has been designed a national natural landmark. Over 11 miles of bird trails include Cottonwood Canyon, where you can see migratory and resident birds resting and feeding. Feeling more adventurous? The Cottonwood Hiking Trail is a 1.25-mile trail that goes along the old shoreline of Buffalo Lake with cottonwood and elm trees. By driving slowly through the refuge’s 11-mile auto tour loop, you can also see a variety of wildlife. The scenic overlook of the refuge offers an excellent opportunity to capture images of wildlife and scenery.
With its own set of spectacular red rock cliffs, Palo Duro Canyon has more than approximately 50 miles of marked trails, for hiking and horseback riding. The canyon itself is 120 miles long, 20 miles wide, and up to 800 feet deep. The park contains 29,182 acres of the northern-most part of the Canyon. At the rim, the Canyon’s elevation is 3,500 feet above sea level. You can explore about 250 million years of geological history in the canyon walls. The visitor’s center at the El Coronado Lodge is perched on the rim of the canyon and has spectacular panoramic views.
If you camp out or take an evening trip out into the canyon, the night sky is truly magnificent. The trails can be hard to follow at night, however, so take proper lighting and gear. Actually, just use common sense. It gets very dark, very quickly. Let the starry landscape be your entertainment. One more bit of advice. The elevation at the park is higher than most of Texas and it gets very cool when the sun goes down. Layer your clothing and slide a sleeping pad underneath your sleeping bag to help prevent the cold ground from stealing your body heat during the night. You don’t need a huge pad, but one inflated with air or made with a closed-cell foam is ideal.
Palo Duro Canyon Observation Point
Palo Duro Canyon observation point, Canyon, TX 79015
(On State Hwy Park Rd S heading to Trading Post & Amphitheater)
Hungry? Stop at the Palo Duro Trading Post, where you can eat some truly great hamburgers and get snacks. If you are planning on camping at the Canyon, you can also purchase camping supplies, ice, and firewood.
During the summer months, the musical Texas is performed in the park’s amphitheater Tuesday through Sunday. TEXAS is a family-friendly show with singing, dancing, fireworks, and Texas humor (which gets us in trouble more often than not). The internationally-known outdoor drama can be found at 1514 5th Ave, Canyon, TX 79015.
While Palo Duro Canyon is the most famous of the area’s canyons, Caprock Canyons State Park is known as the park where the bison roam. Bison roam over 10,0000 acres in the park; it is one of the five herds that helped to save the animal from extinction. Explore 90 miles of trails and go to Lake Theo for swimming, boating and fishing activities. The park also offers a scenic drive in addition to geocache, biking, and camping activities. The Caprock Canyon’s are the state’s third-largest park at 15,314 acres in size.
After exploring Caprock Canyons, head west back to Silverton. Take TX-207 north to Claude, TX. The scenic drive is worth the trip.
In the small town of Claude, explore the rich history of Armstrong County and its ties to cowboy culture and the Old West. The museum district is composed of the Gem Theatre, Goodnight Historical Center, and the Museum itself. The Goodnight Ranch, known as Castle on the Prairie and Goodnight Buffalo Ranch, is no longer a working ranch but is known for its spectacular views of the area and the nearby bison herd. The friendship between Charles Goodnight and Quanah Parker is commemorated by a Quanah Parker Trail marker. You can also explore additional small towns in the area with strong ties to the time period.
After visiting the Armstrong County Museum and Charles Goodnight Historical Center, head west back to your starting point in Amarillo. If you still have time, or want to further explore the Panhandle of Texas, here are a couple of side trips.
These two national landmarks are located only an hour north of Palo Duro Canyon.
Located 30-miles north of Amarillo, Lake Meredith is a 10,000-acre artificial reservoir/lake that occupies many of the hidden coves in the canyon area. Created by the Sanford Dam on the Canadian River, the area has the South Turkey Trail, an easy to moderate hike that is 16 miles long; the Mullinaw Trail, 4.3 miles of moderate trail, and the Harbor Bay Trail, up to 8-miles long moderate to hard trail. Lake Meredith itself has shrunk gradually due to drought conditions and water use in the area. Its water levels vary throughout the year. However, the landscape and hiking trails are still excellent places to explore the fauna and flora of the Panhandle.
Located between Amarillo and Fritch, Texas, the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument is a place with a 13,000+ year history. People traveled to the red bluffs above the Canadian River for flint, which was the best stone for their tools. The Alibates Visitor Center is the best starting point for ranger-led hikes and programs; it also has hands-on exhibits for all ages. Reservations for hiking tours are preferred. The moderate hike to the trailhead is 1 mile but has an elevation gain of 170 feet. View petroglyphs, or rock carvings, believed to have been made by the Antelope Creek people.
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