Texas Travel

Canyon: Dinosaurs and Conquistadors

By Peter Simek 2.25.19

Just west of Charles Goodnight’s legendary 19th-century JA Ranch and built on what was once the ancestral hunting grounds of the Comanche, the unassuming town of Canyon (population 13,222) hides nothing less than the Panhandle’s launching pad from which to explore the majestic grandeur of the high Texas Plains.

Incorporated in 1906, the town 20 miles south of Amarillo took shape in the 19th century, when the Panhandle was opened for settlement and ranching, and cowboys, Civil War veterans, buffalo hunters, and others came to the area that’s home to the second-largest canyon in the U.S. Today, the town retains a flavor of that history — and still holds plenty of adventure.

Photo by Elizabeth Lavin

The Grand Canyon of Texas

Palo Duro Canyon is unlike any other geological formation in the world. A huge chasm cut out of the endless flat expanse of the Panhandle Plains, the canyon is an oasis that has supported human life for thousands of years. These days, the state park draws hikers, horseback riders, backpackers, and mountain bikers who are attracted to the incredible beauty of the place whose light and color inspired the artist Georgia O’Keeffe in the 1910s.

Photo by Jim Livingston

The World’s Oldest Outdoor Musical

Another attraction: the Texas Outdoor Musical. It’s the longest-running outdoor musical in U.S. history and began in 1965, when Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green put the story of the Panhandle settlement to words (and music). The production runs every June through August in the outdoor amphitheater in the canyon. Throughout its run, the musical has been seen by more than 3 million people from 100 different countries.

Courtesy of The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum

The Pioneer Town Replica

The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is the state’s largest historical museum. Located on the campus of West Texas A&M University, it interprets the history of the Panhandle — from dinosaurs to conquistadors and Native Americans to ranchers — through interactive exhibits, traveling shows, and special events. Popular attractions include a replica of a pioneer town and an exhibit that explores the changing forms of life throughout the 14,000 years humans have eked out their existence in the hard, rough terrain of the Panhandle. As you get lost in the history, don’t forget to check out the museum’s wonderful collection of Southwestern art.

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