The geologic story of Palo Duro Canyon

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Date

1969

Authors

Matthews, William Henry, 1919-

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Publisher

University of Texas at Austin. Bureau of Economic Geology

Abstract

Like the early Spanish explorers who first saw Palo Duro Canyon, today's visitor is likely to view the impressive canyon with surprise and awe. This great depression - it is more than 2 miles wide and as much as 800 feet deep within park boundaries - contains a fascinating assortment of multicolored geologic formations and erosion-produced rock sculptures of many shapes, colors, and sizes. The geographic setting of the canyon further heightens its impact on the visitor, for it is surrounded by the level, virtually treeless plains of the Texas Panhandle. (See the upper background area in fig. 1, frontispiece). It is not surprising that this scenic area has been set aside as a State park, for Palo Duro Canyon has long been of interest to man. First, as the hunting grounds of prehistoric Indians who stalked the now-extinct Ice Age mammoths and bison that roamed the valley floor. Later, the canyon was frequented by the Comanches, Apaches, Kiowas, and other Indians of historic time. These tribes, like those before them, found both food and refuge within the canyon. However, it was not until 1876 that Palo Duro Canyon was inhabited by the white man. It was during this year that pioneer cattleman Charles Goodnight herded some 1,600 head of cattle into the canyon and established a camp there (p. 6). Today's visitor to Palo Duro Canyon can relive some of the fascinating history of this interesting area. One can still see a replica of Colonel Goodnight's primitive dugout, follow the faint trace of the Comanche Trail, or perhaps find the fossil bones of prehistoric creatures that lived hundreds of thousands - even millions - of years ago. But most visitors to Texas' most colorful canyon are not attracted by its interesting history. They come instead to enjoy the scenery and recreational opportunities that are present. These are readily accessible, for a carefully engineered, hard-surface road leads from the rim of the canyon to the canyon floor. There are campgrounds, picnic areas, concessions, and even an outdoor theatre (fig. 23). The location of these facilities and some of the canyon's more interesting geologic features are shown on the generalized place map of the canyon (fig. 2). This publication does not attempt to describe the scenic beauty of Palo Duro Canyon, for this must be seen to be appreciated. Rather, it discusses the geologic setting and origin of the canyon, the methods by which some of the more interesting geologic features were formed, and briefly reviews the history of the area. Hopefully, it will enable the visitor to understand better the meaning behind the canyon scenery, thereby enhancing his visit.

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To obtain a print version of this publication visit: https://store.beg.utexas.edu/ and search for: GB0008.

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