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~Sunrise over the canyon~
The rough hewn, pine bed is positioned just perfectly at the back of the 1930s cabin, so that with the right amount of pillows, I can gaze with sleepy eyes into the rust-striped canyon as the sun rises. As I will myself to wake (rising before the sun is not normally in my repertoire), the sun generates a chameleon-like quality on the walls of Palo Duro Canyon, and I am reminded why I was willing to have such an unnatural wake up call. With only 24 hours to spend in the second largest canyon in the country, I am determined to make the most of the waking hours and see the Grand Canyon of Texas from every angle. Wiping the sleep from my eyes, I set out with my kids, a plan, and an entire day to explore Palo Duro Canyon.
~View of the Goodnight Cabin from above~
Staying in a Rim Cabin at Palo Duro Canyon
With a limited amount of time to explore, it only made sense to stay in close proximity to the canyon. Camping is available in the park, but lack of climate control in the Texas panhandle in June is just crazy talk, so we opted to stay in one of the three Rim Cabins. The cabins were built in the 1930s by Civilian Conservation Corp, a New Deal program that created jobs during the Great Depression. The CCC left quite a legacy in Texas State Parks, and the solid construction of the cabins is a testament to their dedication and hard work.
~The cozy bedroom with the amazing view~
The cabins are a very real part of the history of the park, and as such, the accommodations are humble, but more than adequate. Our cabin, the Goodnight Cabin, has two rooms separated by a bathroom and shower. The front room includes a full sized bunk bed and fireplace, while the back bedroom has a full sized bed and refrigerator and microwave. At over 80 years old, the cabin has aged well and has been kept updated so that it is clean and modern.
Since, I was only hoping for a clean and comfy place to sleep near the canyon, the CCC cabin far exceeded my expectation with the features that had nothing to with the interior. The privacy, including a locked gate to our cabin, was a perfect way to experience the beauty of the cabin. The views from the back porch, both during the day when we could watch the cabin do its color changing act, and at night, when we could see more stars than imaginable were worth the very modest nightly charge ($110 per night). To have all of that beauty with no one else around was just a little slice of heaven.
~The thrill of the climb of the Lighthouse Peak~
What to do with Kids in Palo Duro Canyon?
As tempting as it was to just stay on the back porch of the Goodnight Cabin and stare into the canyon below, I knew there was more to be explored.
Hiking and Biking Trails
Not surprisingly, hiking and biking trails are the centerpiece of activity in the park. Hikes of varying degrees of difficulty are plentiful, and the biking trails are considered the best for mountain biking in the state. Lighthouse Trail, a six mile hike leading to a signature geological formation resembling a lighthouse, is the most popular trail in the park. It is an ideal trail for kids and first time hikers. Capitol Peak trail is another good choice for families. Whatever the trail choice, you can count on the scenery to be breathtaking throughout the canyon. The alternating stripes of red claystone and white gypsum sparkle in the sun, and the wildlife is abundant.
~Beautiful views of the Spanish Skirts can be seen from the trail~
Old West Stables
Experience the beauty of the canyon the way it was in the old days-on horseback. Horses have been a part of the Palo Duro’s history as long as the first settlers in the area, and there is no better way to explore the beauty. Old West Stables is located inside the canyon and offers one hour rides to Timber Creek Canyon and the Lighthouse Formation. Riders must be at least six years old and under 250 pounds. One hour ride is $35.
~Pageantry and Special Effects at TEXAS: The Musical~
TEXAS: The Outdoor Musical
The struggles of the settlers of the Texas Panhandle in the 1800s are dramatized in rousing song and dance with the beauty of the canyon as a backdrop. TEXAS: The Musical actually serves as the official state play and runs Tuesdays-Saturdays during the summer in Pioneer Theatre. Arriving before the show, you can enjoy a catered BBQ dinner on the patio and watch historic presentations and musical performances.
~A frilled lizard on the nature trail~
The park offers a great variety of Ranger-led programs, including many that are great for families. The event page on the park website is a good place to find programs available. The Children’s Nature Program and Family Nature Hike are good choices for families. As with most state parks, a self-guided Junior Naturalist Program is a great way to engage kids with exploring the biology and geology of the park.