America’s No. 1 State Park
“Palo Duro Canyon State Park has been the lifeblood for an abundance of cultures,” says park superintendent Shannon Blalock. Its rich history tells the stories of people, industry and times long ago. As stewards of the park, Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s State Parks Division takes pride in sharing the stories and awe-inspiring beauty of the canyon with 350,000 visitors each year.
Civilian Conservation Corps to the Rescue
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), implemented to get the country back on its feet after the Great Depression, was one of the first recovery programs to battle the hardships of the Depression. From 1933 to 1937, seven different CCC companies labored at Palo Duro, cutting roads, building lodgings and constructing picnic areas and lookout points. Amarillo architect Guy A. Carlander contributed building plans that embraced the park’s past and blended with its natural beauty.
Today these distinctive rock structures form an integral part of the Palo Duro experience. The El Coronado Lodge functions as welcome center, gift shop and gallery, and interpretive museum; its scenic overlook is one of the first vistas guests stop to appreciate along the canyon rim.
Below, along the winding path of the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, CCC contributions are subtle: stone culverts and arched bridges are fully visible on a leisurely hike. Near the majestic Fortress Cliffs, a cluster of recently renovated Cow Camp Cabins provides overnight guests with an experience like that of the workers who built the shelters.
As Mark Hassell, the park’s trails and resource manager, explains, “The legacy the CCC left in Palo Duro is inspiring. The infrastructure the men built — from the park road to numerous facilities — is still in constant use, 80 years after construction.”
From the ridge of the CCC Trail — the corps workers’ original path to their work site — hikers can spot other landmarks in the park’s ever-evolving environment. The Pioneer Amphitheater, constructed in the 1960s to house musical performances ranging from the outdoor musical Texas (see p. 66) to special concerts (like the Gatlin Brothers), is situated at the base of a 600-foot cliff that forms a dramatic natural backdrop. The elegant Mack Dick Pavilion, with its unparalleled views of the Spanish Skirts rock formations, was opened in 2012 for group functions. And Juniper Camping Loop will open this summer. “My hope is that we provide a No. 1 state park experience to every person that visits,” Blalock notes, “and that we care for the park in a manner that makes every Texan proud.”
Markers and newly designed signage throughout the canyon help visitors appreciate what they’re seeing. Several Texas state historical markers note sites of particular significance, including the decisive Battle of Palo Duro Canyon (drive to the far end of Park Road 5, near Water Crossing #6 and the Equestrian Camp, to spot this marker) that signaled the end of Comanche domination as “Lords of the Plains.” Just outside the park entrance stands a monument to honor Comanche heritage: a giant steel arrow, part of the Quanah Parker Trail.
Whether you experience Palo Duro Canyon State Park by car or on foot, by bike or on horseback, take your time to appreciate the unique stories of the Lone Star State contained in this vast, rugged gorge — from top to bottom.