|Palo Duro Canyon|
View from the Interpretive Center
|Floor elevation||2,828 ft (862 m)|
|Length||120 mi (190 km)|
|Width||20 mi (32 km)|
|Depth||880 ft (270 m)|
|Rivers||Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River|
Palo Duro Canyon is a canyon system of the Caprock Escarpment located in the Texas Panhandle near the cities of Amarillo and Canyon. 120 mi (190 km) long and has an average width of 6 mi (9.7 km), but reaches a width of 20 mi (32 km) at places. Its depth is around 820 ft (250 m), but in some locations, it increases to 1,000 ft (300 m). Palo Duro Canyon (from the Spanish meaning "hard wood" or, more exactly, "hard stick") has been named "The Grand Canyon of Texas" both for its size and for its dramatic geological features, including the multicolored layers of rock and steep mesa walls similar to those in the Grand Canyon.As the second-largest canyon in the United States, it is roughly
A canyon or gorge is a deep cleft between escarpments or cliffs resulting from weathering and the erosive activity of a river over geologic timescales. Rivers have a natural tendency to cut through underlying surfaces, eventually wearing away rock layers as sediments are removed downstream. A river bed will gradually reach a baseline elevation, which is the same elevation as the body of water into which the river drains. The processes of weathering and erosion will form canyons when the river's headwaters and estuary are at significantly different elevations, particularly through regions where softer rock layers are intermingled with harder layers more resistant to weathering.
The Caprock Escarpment is a term used in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico to describe the geographical transition point between the level high plains of the Llano Estacado and the surrounding rolling terrain. In Texas, the escarpment stretches around 200 mi (320 km) south-southwest from the northeast corner of the Texas Panhandle near the Oklahoma border. The escarpment is especially notable, from north to south, in Briscoe, Floyd, Motley, Crosby, Dickens, Garza, and Borden Counties. In New Mexico, a prominent escarpment exists along the northernmost extension of the Llano Estacado, especially to the south of San Jon and Tucumcari, both in Quay County, New Mexico. Along the western edge of the Llano Estacado, the portion of the escarpment that stretches from Caprock to Maljamar, New Mexico is called the Mescalero Ridge.
The Texas Panhandle is a region of the U.S. state of Texas consisting of the northernmost 26 counties in the state. The panhandle is a rectangular area bordered by New Mexico to the west and Oklahoma to the north and east. The Handbook of Texas defines the southern border of Swisher County as the southern boundary of the Texas Panhandle region.
The canyon was formed by the Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River, which initially winds along the level surface of the Llano Estacado of West Texas, then suddenly and dramatically runs off the Caprock Escarpment. Water erosion over the millennia has shaped the canyon's geological formations.
Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River is a sandy-braided stream about 120 mi (193 km) long, formed at the confluence of Palo Duro Creek and Tierra Blanca Creek, about 1.8 mi (2.9 km) northeast of Canyon in Randall County, Texas, and flowing east-southeastward to the Red River about 1 mi (2 km) east of the 100th meridian, 8 mi (13 km) south-southwest of Hollis, Oklahoma.
Llano Estacado, often translated as Staked Plains, is a region in the Southwestern United States that encompasses parts of eastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas. One of the largest mesas or tablelands on the North American continent, the elevation rises from 3,000 feet (900 m) in the southeast to over 5,000 feet (1,500 m) in the northwest, sloping almost uniformly at about 10 feet per mile (1.9 m/km).
West Texas is a loosely defined part of the U.S. state of Texas, generally encompassing the arid and semiarid lands west of a line drawn between the cities of Wichita Falls, Abilene, and Del Rio.
Notable canyon formations include caves and hoodoos. One of the best-known and the major signature feature of the canyon is the Lighthouse Rock. A multiple-use, six-mile round-trip loop trail is dedicated to the formation.
A cave or cavern is a natural void in the ground, specifically a space large enough for a human to enter. Caves often form by the weathering of rock and often extend deep underground. The word cave can also refer to much smaller openings such as sea caves, rock shelters, and grottos, though strictly speaking a cave is exogene, meaning it is deeper than its opening is wide, and a rock shelter is endogene.
A hoodoo is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland. Hoodoos typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements. They generally form within sedimentary rock and volcanic rock formations.
Palo Duro Canyon was downcut by the Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River, during the Pleistocene, when the whole region was uplifted.Most of the strata visible in the canyon were deposited during the Permian and Triassic periods. From oldest to youngest, and each separated by an unconformity, the formations are:
Downcutting, also called erosional downcutting, downward erosion or vertical erosion is a geological process by hydraulic action that deepens the channel of a stream or valley by removing material from the stream's bed or the valley's floor. The speed of downcutting depends on the stream's base level, the lowest point to which the stream can erode. Sea level is the ultimate base level, but many streams have a higher "temporary" base level because they empty into another body of water that is above sea level or encounter bedrock that resists erosion. A concurrent process called lateral erosion refers to the widening of a stream channel or valley. When a stream is high above its base level, downcutting will take place faster than lateral erosion; but as the level of the stream approaches its base level, the rate of lateral erosion increases. This is why streams in mountainous areas tend to be narrow and swift, forming V-shaped valleys, while streams in lowland areas tend to be wide and slow-moving, with valleys that are correspondingly wide and flat-bottomed. The term gradient refers to the elevation of a stream relative to its base level. The steeper the gradient, the faster the stream flows. Sometimes geological uplift will increase the gradient of a stream even while the stream downcuts toward its base level, a process called "rejuvenation." This happened in the case of the Colorado River in the western United States, resulting in the process that created the Grand Canyon.
The Red River, or sometimes the Red River of the South, is a major river in the southern United States of America. It was named for the red-bed country of its watershed. It is one of several rivers with that name. Although it was once a tributary of the Mississippi River, the Red River is now a tributary of the Atchafalaya River, a distributary of the Mississippi that flows separately into the Gulf of Mexico. It is connected to the Mississippi River by the Old River Control Structure.
The Pleistocene is the geological epoch which lasted from about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago, spanning the world's most recent period of repeated glaciations. The end of the Pleistocene corresponds with the end of the last glacial period and also with the end of the Paleolithic age used in archaeology.
Quartermaster Formation: Permian in age, this comprises the red, lower slopes of the Canyon. This layer was deposited in a near-shore shallow-marine environment consisting of siltstones and shales with ripple marks and cross bedding, that alternated with dry tidal flats indicated by satin spar gypsum and halite cast evaporite deposits. The red color indicates periods of oxidation.The Quartermaster Formation forms the lower wall and canyon floor, averaging 60 feet in thickness where it outcrops. In particular, this alternating red and white formation forms the steep and gullied lower portion of the multi-colored Spanish skirts, located on the north flank of Timber Mesa, with the maroon and lavender smooth slopes of the Tecovas shales above.
Siltstone is a sedimentary rock which has a grain size in the silt range, finer than sandstone and coarser than claystones.
Shale is a fine-grained, clastic sedimentary rock composed of mud that is a mix of flakes of clay minerals and tiny fragments of other minerals, especially quartz and calcite. Shale is characterized by breaks along thin laminae or parallel layering or bedding less than one centimeter in thickness, called fissility. It is the most common sedimentary rock.
In geology, ripple marks are sedimentary structures and indicate agitation by water or wind.
Tecovas Formation: Part of the Dockum Group with the Trujillo Formation, this multicolored Triassic unit consists of shale, siltstone, and sandstone. Deposited in streams and swamps, its colors indicate varying oxidizing conditions, and the alternating dry/wet cycles typical of such environments. These rocks are fossiliferous, containing the remains of phytosaurs, amphibians, and fish,including Metoposaurus, Desmatosuchus, Koskinonodon, and lungfish, besides coprolites and the petrified wood remains of Araucarioxylon. Septarian calcite concretions and calcite geodes are numerous, and the shale forms the less steep canyon walls covered by talus slopes. A prominent band of jointed white sandstone about 15 feet thick marks the middle of this 200 foot formation. Lavender, gray and white shales lie below this sandstone, while an orange shale lies between this sandstone and the Trujillo Formation above. The Quartermaster and Tecovas Formations make up Capital Peak. Likewise, the lower third of Triassic Peak is composed of the deeply furrowed Quartermaster Formation, overlain by the gentle slopes and smooth surface of the Tecovas Formation shales, all capped by the weather-resistant Trujillo Formation sandstone. Large blocks of this sandstone, due to mass wasting, are found along the flanks and base of the peak.
The Dockum is a Late Triassic geologic group found primarily on the Llano Estacado of western Texas and eastern New Mexico with minor exposures in southwestern Kansas, eastern Colorado, and Oklahoma panhandle. The Dockum reaches a maximum thickness of slightly over 650 m but is usually much thinner. The Dockum rests on an unconformity over the Anisian aged Anton Chico Formation. The Dockum and Chinle Formation were deposited roughly at the same time and share many of the same vertebrates and plant fossils. They appear to have very similar paleoenviroments. The two units are approximately separated by the Rio Grande in central New Mexico. The Chinle and Dockum are thought by some to be two separate units, deposited in separate depositional basins.
Sandstone is a clastic sedimentary rock composed mainly of sand-sized mineral particles or rock fragments.
Phytosaurs are an extinct group of large, mostly semiaquatic Late Triassic archosauriform reptiles. Phytosaurs belong to the family Phytosauridae and the order Phytosauria. Phytosauria and Phytosauridae are often considered to be equivalent groupings containing the same species, but some studies have identified non-phytosaurid phytosaurians. Phytosaurs were long-snouted and heavily armoured, bearing a remarkable resemblance to modern crocodilians in size, appearance, and lifestyle, as an example of convergence or parallel evolution. The name "phytosaur" means "plant reptile", as the first fossils of phytosaurs were mistakenly thought to belong to plant eaters. The name is misleading because the sharp teeth in phytosaur jaws clearly show that they were predators.
Trujillo Formation: This Triassic formation is harder than the underlying Tecovas, and forms many of the Canyon's ledges. Composed of coarse sandstone, river cross-bedding indicates deposition in a stream environment. Fossils are rare.The sandstone has alternating layers of shale and marl-pebble conglomerate. The formation is massively bedded sandstone, making a distinct contact with the underlying Tecovas Formation, forming cliffs, prominent benches and mesas within the canyon. The formation includes a basal, middle and upper sandstone members, separated by shales. The middle sandstone member forms conspicuous ledges and cliffs. Phytosaur and Koskinonodon remains, plus leaf imprints and mineralized wood have been found within the formation. Erosion resistant sandstones protect pedestals of underlying shale, giving rise to hoodoos, including the Lighthouse, and the hoodoo at the south end of Capitol Peak. Likewise, the Rock Garden is composed of Trujillo sandstone boulders.
Ogallala Formation: This late Miocene to early Pliocene unit forms the cliffs and ledges at the very top of the canyon. Composed of sandstone, siltstone, and conglomerate eroded from a late Cenozoic uplift of the Rocky Mountains, it is separated from the lower Trujillo Formation by a disconformity, and a very long hiatus.The coarse, porous sedimentary units of the Ogallala Formation comprise the Ogallala Aquifer, which has historically functioned as a major source of drinking water for much of the High Plains. Fossils of saber-toothed cats ( Smilodon ), bone-crushing dogs ( Borophagus ), mastodons, horses, long-necked camels ( Aepycamelus ), rhinoceroses, and large tortoises up to 3 feet in length, are present in the Ogallala. The siltstone and sandstone have been cemented by silica, which gives rise to the occurrence of common opal and almost-chert pockets. The upper portion of the formation has thick deposits of caliche, very evident at the Coronado Lodge on the northwest rim of the canyon. Fortress Cliff, on the eastern rim of the canyon, has the most spectacular exposure of the Ogallala Formation.
Headward erosion by the Prairie Dog Town fork of the Red River, into the caprock escarpment of the Llano Estacado, caused differential erosion. This meant the more resistant Ogallala and Trujillo formations formed the steeper walls of the canyon.
The first evidence of human habitation of the canyon dates back about 10,000–15,000 years, and it is believed to have been continuously inhabited to the present day. Native Americans were attracted to the water of the Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River, as well as the consequent ample game, edible plants, and protection from weather the canyon provided.
The first European explorers to discover the canyon were members of the Coronado expedition, who visited the canyon in 1541. Apache Indians lived in Palo Duro at the time, but they were later displaced by Comanche and Kiowa tribes, who had the advantage of owning horses brought over by the Spanish. They had contact with traders, called Comancheros, in nearby New Mexico.
A United States military team under Captain Randolph B. Marcy mapped the canyon in 1852 during their search for the headwaters of the Red River. The land remained under American Indian control until a military expedition led by Colonel Ranald S. Mackenzie was sent in 1874 to remove the Indians to reservations in Oklahoma. The Mackenzie expedition captured about 1,200 of the Indians' horses and slaughtered them in nearby Tule Canyon during the Battle of Palo Duro Canyon. The Comanche and Kiowa conceded and left the area.
Soon after, in 1876, Charles Goodnight and a wealthy Ulster Scot named John Adair established the JA Ranch in Palo Duro Canyon. Col. Goodnight helped manage the ranch until 1890. Over the next half century, the canyon remained in private hands, but was an increasingly popular tourist spot for local residents.
Charles N. Gould made a geologic map of the canyon and named the formations in 1905.
In 1931, a major landowner signed a two-year contract with the local chamber of commerce to allow public access to the canyon. 20,000-acre (8,100 ha) Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Amarillo is the largest city near Palo Duro Canyon State Park, but the smaller city of Canyon is nearer. In 1976, Palo Duro Canyon State Park was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service.The upper section of the canyon was purchased by the State of Texas in 1934 and turned into the
Through 2014, the Texas Department of Transportation is constructing bridges at Palo Duro over Water Crossings 1, 2, and 6 to allow motorists easier access during and after heavy rains. Paving work has been completed at the Juniper Multi-use Area, with the addition of utilities pending. By the spring of 2014, day-use campsites and a group pavilion will be added. Meanwhile, plans have begun to turn the Canoncita Ranch house located on the canyon edge into a research center.The old Comanche Trail used by the Civilian Conservation Corps will be restored to extend from the Mack Dick Group Pavilion to Water Crossing 6, following the base of Fortress Cliffs. Palo Duro also now offers driving tours in a 12-passenger van.
The painter Georgia O'Keeffe, who lived in nearby Amarillo and Canyon in the early 20th century, wrote of the Palo Duro: "It is a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color."She made paintings of Palo Duro Canyon between 1916 and 1918, when she was an instructor and head of the art department at West Texas State Normal College.
Palo Duro Canyon is the site of an outdoor historical and musical drama, titled Texas, presented annually each summer by actors, singers, dancers, and artists of the Texas Panhandle region. The spectacle, created by playwright Paul Eliot Green, premiered on July 1, 1966 at the newly constructed Pioneer Amphitheatre in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. It has continued each summer through the present, making Texas "the best-attended outdoor history drama in the nation."
American composer Samuel Jones's Symphony No. 3 is titled "Palo Duro Canyon." It premiered May 1, 1992 in an outdoor performance at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park's Pioneer Amphitheatre, with James Setapen conducting the Amarillo Symphony (which had commissioned the work). The composer writes: "I wanted the piece ... to conjure up an intuitive awareness of the long movements of time required for the creation of a canyon. I also wanted in some way to pay homage to native Americans, to whom this canyon was a sacred place. And I wanted to capture in music that magical moment which everyone experiences when they first see the flat, treeless High Plains fall dizzyingly away into the colorful vastness of the Palo Duro Canyon itself."A KACV-TV documentary on canyon, composer, and symphony, titled And There Will Be Sounds, was broadcast on PBS stations nationally later that year; and a commercial recording was subsequently released by the Seattle Symphony under the baton of Gerard Schwarz. A second recording was released in 2018 as part of a multichannel SACD titled 'American Symphonies' on the Swedish BIS label, with Lance Friedel conducting the London Symphony Orchestra.
The geology of the Grand Canyon area includes one of the most complete and studied sequences of rock on Earth. The nearly 40 major sedimentary rock layers exposed in the Grand Canyon and in the Grand Canyon National Park area range in age from about 200 million to nearly 2 billion years old. Most were deposited in warm, shallow seas and near ancient, long-gone sea shores in western North America. Both marine and terrestrial sediments are represented, including lithified sand dunes from an extinct desert. There are at least 14 known unconformities in the geologic record found in the Grand Canyon.
The exposed geology of the Bryce Canyon area in Utah shows a record of deposition that covers the last part of the Cretaceous Period and the first half of the Cenozoic era in that part of North America. The ancient depositional environment of the region around what is now Bryce Canyon National Park varied from the warm shallow sea in which the Dakota Sandstone and the Tropic Shale were deposited to the cool streams and lakes that contributed sediment to the colorful Claron Formation that dominates the park's amphitheaters.
The exposed geology of the Canyonlands area is complex and diverse; 12 formations are exposed in Canyonlands National Park that range in age from Pennsylvanian to Cretaceous. The oldest and perhaps most interesting was created from evaporites deposited from evaporating seawater. Various fossil-rich limestones, sandstones, and shales were deposited by advancing and retreating warm shallow seas through much of the remaining Paleozoic.
The exposed geology of the Capitol Reef area presents a record of mostly Mesozoic-aged sedimentation in an area of North America in and around Capitol Reef National Park, on the Colorado Plateau in southeastern Utah.
Red beds are sedimentary rocks, which typically consist of sandstone, siltstone, and shale that are predominantly red in color due to the presence of ferric oxides. Frequently, these red-colored sedimentary strata locally contain thin beds of conglomerate, marl, limestone, or some combination of these sedimentary rocks. The ferric oxides, which are responsible for the red color of red beds, typically occur as a coating on the grains of sediments comprising red beds. Classic examples of red beds are the Permian and Triassic strata of the western United States and the Devonian Old Red Sandstone facies of Europe.
The Moenkopi Formation is a geological formation that is spread across the U.S. states of New Mexico, northern Arizona, Nevada, southeastern California, eastern Utah and western Colorado. This unit is considered to be a group in Arizona. Part of the Colorado Plateau and Basin and Range, this red sandstone was laid down in the Lower Triassic and possibly part of the Middle Triassic, around 240 million years ago.
The Chinle Formation is an Upper Triassic continental geologic formation of fluvial, lacustrine, and palustrine to eolian deposits spread across the U.S. states of Nevada, Utah, northern Arizona, western New Mexico, and western Colorado. The Chinle is controversially considered to be synonymous to the Dockum Group of eastern Colorado and New Mexico, western Texas, the Oklahoma panhandle, and southwestern Kansas. The Chinle is sometimes colloquially named as a formation within the Dockum Group in New Mexico and in Texas. The Chinle Formation is part of the Colorado Plateau, Basin and Range, and the southern section of the Interior Plains.
Texas contains a great variety of geologic settings. The state's stratigraphy has been largely influenced by marine transgressive-regressive cycles during the Phanerozoic, with a lesser but still significant contribution from late Cenozoic tectonic activity, as well as the remnants of a Paleozoic mountain range.
Kayenta, Arizona is a settlement in the Navajo reservation.
The geography of Texas is diverse and large. Occupying about 7% of the total water and land area of the U.S., it is the second largest state after Alaska, and is the southernmost part of the Great Plains, which end in the south against the folded Sierra Madre Oriental of Mexico. Texas is in the south-central part of the United States of America, and is considered to form part of the U.S. South and also part of the U.S. Southwest.
The San Juan Basin is a geologic structural basin located near the Four Corners region of the Southwestern United States. The basin covers 7,500 square miles and resides in northwestern New Mexico, southwestern Colorado, and parts of Utah and Arizona. Specifically, the basin occupies space in the San Juan, Rio Arriba, Sandoval, and McKinley counties in New Mexico, and La Plata and Archuleta counties in Colorado. The basin extends roughly 100 miles N-S and 90 miles E-W.
Tierra Blanca Creek is an ephemeral stream about 75 mi (121 km) long, heading in Curry County, New Mexico, flowing east-northeast across northern portions of the Llano Estacado to join Palo Duro Creek to form the Prairie Dog Town Fork Red River southeast of Amarillo, Texas. Overall, Tierra Blanca Creek descends 1,050 ft (320 m) from its headwaters in Eastern New Mexico to its confluence with Palo Duro Creek at the head of Palo Duro Canyon.
The Moenave Formation is a Mesozoic geologic formation, in the Glen Canyon Group. It is found in Utah and Arizona.
The Hakatai Shale is a Mesoproterozoic rock formation that outcrops in the Grand Canyon, Coconino County, Arizona. It consists of colorful strata that exhibit colors that vary from purple to red to brilliant orange on outcrop. The colors are the result of the oxidation of iron-bearing minerals in the Hakatai Shale. It consists of lower and middle members that consist of bright-red, slope-forming, highly fractured, argillaceous mudstones and shale and an upper member composed of purple and red, cliff-forming, medium-grained sandstone. Its thickness, which apparently increases eastwards, varies form 137 to 300 m. In general, the Hakatai Shale and associated strata of the Unkar Group rocks dip northeast (10°-30°) toward normal faults that dip 60° or more toward the southwest. This can be seen at the Palisades fault in the eastern part of the main Unkar Group outcrop area. In addition, thick, prominent, and dark-colored basaltic sills and dikes cut across the purple to red to brilliant orange strata of the Hakatai Shale.
The early Late Triassic conglomerate called the Shinarump Conglomerate, formally the Shinarump Member of the Chinle Formation, is a highly resistant coarse-grained sandstone and pebble conglomerate, sometimes forming a caprock because of its hardness, cementation, and erosion resistance. The Shinarump is found throughout the Colorado Plateau with significant exposures as the canyon rimrock in the vicinity of Canyon De Chelly National Monument, at the north-northeast of the Defiance Plateau/Defiance Uplift. At Canyon De Chelly the Shinarump Conglomerate was laid down upon De Chelly Sandstone-(280 Ma, an erosion unconformity of 50 my), in a region at the west foothill region of the mostly north-south trending Chuska Mountains of northeast Arizona – northwest New Mexico.
Georgia O'Keeffe made a set of paintings of Palo Duro Canyon while working as a department head and art instructor at West Texas State Normal College. The vibrant paintings reflect her development as an Abstract Expressionist, influenced by Arthur Wesley Dow.
The geology of Utah includes rocks formed at the edge of the proto-North American continent during the Precambrian. A shallow marine sedimentary environment covered the region for much of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic, followed by dryland conditions, volcanism and the formation of the basin and range terrain in the Cenozoic. Utah is a state in the western United States.
Year designated: 1976
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