Palo Duro Canyon State Park


Canyon of plenty

View of Palo Duro CanyonPeople have inhabited Palo Duro Canyon for about 12,000 years. The Clovis and Folsom peoples first lived in the canyon and hunted large herds of mammoth and giant bison.

Other cultures, such as the Apache, Comanche and Kiowa, used the canyon’s plentiful resources more recently.

These early cultures left behind rock art and bedrock mortars, where they ground mesquite beans and roots for food. Preserve the past by looking at but not touching any artifacts that you see.

Early Spanish explorers probably discovered the canyon, naming it Palo Duro, Spanish for hard wood.

Battle of Palo Duro

The Red River War  between the U.S. Army and southern Plains Indians lasted from June 1874 to spring 1875. A decisive battle occurred in the canyon on Sept. 28, 1874.

Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie led the 4th U.S. Cavalry in a surprise attack at dawn on a camp of Comanches, Kiowas and Cheyennes. The families fled up the canyon, leaving everything behind. MacKenzie’s troops captured 1,400 ponies and shot most of them. Soldiers also burned all the teepees and winter stores.

With no horses or supplies, the families had no choice but to return to the reservation. The reign of Native Americans over the Panhandle plains ended soon after.

Ranch era

JA Ranch chuckwagon, ca. 1907.

Charles Goodnight, a former Texas Ranger, drove 1,600 Longhorn cattle to the canyon in 1876. He and his partner John Adair, an English aristocrat, founded the JA Ranch in 1877.

At its peak in 1885, the ranch grazed 100,000 head of cattle on 1,325,000 acres spread across the Panhandle.

After Adair died, his widow, Cornelia, took over as Goodnight’s partner. In 1887, Goodnight decided to scale back his ranching activities. The partnership ended that year, and the partners divided the land.

Most of the canyon belonged to the JA Ranch up until 1890. Adair descendants continue to run the JA Ranch today.

Creating a park

Winding road built by the CCC that goes down into the canyon .

The state bought the land for the park from Fred S. Emory in 1933. Soon after, Civilian Conservation Corps workers arrived, and spent the next five years creating a park.

First, they built a camp for their home base, and then they set to work in the immense canyon.

The men built the winding road to the canyon floor. Until it was finished, they hiked in and out of the canyon on what is now the CCC Trail.

CCC men posing by a table they have built.CCC workers made all of the park’s original improvements, including El Coronado Lodge (now the Visitor Center), the cabins on the rim and canyon floor, and trails. Designers planned the park to maximize views and complement the surroundings. The CCC used local stone and wood for building materials. In addition, workers forged decorative metal and crafted furniture.

The park opened in 1934 before it was complete. It is the second largest park in the state parks system today, with about 28,000 acres.

Civilian Conservation Corps

Imagine yourself with little food, less money and no job. This was the case for many Americans during the Great Depression.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. The CCC provided jobs and job skills by hiring young men to work on conservation projects. The program enrolled men between the ages of 17 and 25 who qualified for public assistance. They earned clothing, food, medical care and $30 a month; they sent most of that home to their families.

Protect the park

Palo Duro Canyon State Park has a rich and colorful history. If you find an artifact (an item from the past) leave it in place and tell park staff. Please respect the park’s historic structures, too.

Pick up trash, and do not harass or feed wildlife. This is their home, also.

Help us protect this special place!

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