Palo Duro Canyon State Park opened on July 4, 1934 and contains 29,182 acres of the scenic, northern most portion of the Palo Duro Canyon. The Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930’s constructed most of the buildings and roads still in use by park staff and visitors.
The Canyon is 120 miles long, as much as 20 miles wide, and has a maximum depth of more than 800 feet. Its elevation at the rim is 3,500 feet above sea level. It is often claimed that Palo Duro Canyon is the second largest canyon in the United States. The largest, the Grand Canyon, is 277 miles long, 18 miles wide, and 6,000 ft. deep.
Palo Duro Canyon was formed by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River. The water deepens the canyon by moving sediment downstream. Wind and water erosion gradually widen the canyon.
Early Spanish Explorers are believed to have discovered the area and dubbed the canyon “Palo Duro” which is Spanish for “hard wood” in reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees.
Humans have resided in the canyon for approximately 12,000 years. Early settlers were nomadic tribes that hunted mammoth, giant bison, and other large game animals. Later, Apache Indians lived in the canyon, but were soon replaced by Comanche and Kiowa tribes who resided in the area until 1874. At that time, Col. Ranald Mackenzie was sent into the area to transport the Native Americans to Oklahoma. Col. Mackenzie and the 4th Cavalry were able to capture more than 1,400 horses belonging to the tribe. After keeping some of the best horses for themselves, the remainder were taken to nearby Tule Canyon and destroyed. Cut off from their only means of transportation, the Native Americans soon surrendered.
In 1876, Charles Goodnight entered the canyon and opened the JA Ranch. At its peak, the ranch supported more than 100,000 head of cattle. Goodnight operated the ranch until 1890. Although only a fraction of its original size, the JA Ranch remains a working ranch today.