Monday, May 18, 2015

The Texas Panhandle, Part 4: Palo Duro Canyon

Palo Duro Canyon, where Charles Goodnight established the JA Ranch, is the second-largest canyon in North America (yes, really!), and its walls form the northeast boundary of the Llano Estacado.

Palo Duro Canyon (circled)

Palo Duro Canyon

The canyon is 120 miles long; 20 miles wide at its widest; and 800 feet at its deepest.  This is small compared to the Grand Canyon (277 miles long; 18 miles wide; 6,000 feet deep), but it's still big enough to get lost or die in.  The canyon claims a couple of lives a year from falls or dehydration.

Archaeological studies indicate that the canyon has been occupied by humans since as long as 10,000 - 15,000 years ago.  More recently, in the 18th century the canyon was used as a major campground for the nomadic Kiowa and Comanche tribes, until they were routed in the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon on September 28, 1874, and sent to reservations in Indian Territory -- now Oklahoma.  Two years later, Charles Goodnight drove a herd of 1,600 cattle into the canyon and started the first commercial ranch in the Panhandle.

Quanah Parker circa 1890

The most famous of the Comanche leaders was Quanah Parker, son of Comanche chief Nocona and his Anglo wife, Cynthia Parker, who at age 9 was captured by the Comanches in 1836 and lived with the tribe for 24 years.

Quanah led the last band of Comanches to be rounded up and sent to Ft. Sill, Oklahoma, the Army post adjacent to Lawton, OK, where I grew up.  I went to school with Quanah Parker's great-great-granddaughter. 

Because I was alone and not provisioned for a long hike, I did not spend a lot of time in Palo Duro Canyon, but made a few images on one of the many hiking trails.

One odd footnote:  driving away from the canyon, I noticed a rusting miniature railroad train in a field, with a sign that said "Retired Sad Monkey Railroad."

The train was guarded by an indifferent donkey and a curious llama with a scarred nose and mouth:

Turns out the Sad Monkey Railroad was an attraction in Palo Duro Canyon from 1955 to 1996 that took people on a two-mile off-road loop further into the canyon.  It got its name from a geological formation on the top of Triassic Peak in the canyon.  You can read more about it here or on pp. 35-36 of this interesting monograph on the geology of the canyon.

You can view these images and more in a larger format at my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.

Next:  trucks!

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