Amarillo Convention & Visitor Council - 800.692.1338 (2023)

Discover Amarillo's Palo Duro Canyon

by Danny Lee

I am standing at the absolute edge of the world, or so it seems.

Behind me lies the flat, roundup-country landscape of the Texas Panhandle-a windswept expanse of short-grass plains dotted by scrubby mesquite and gnarled juniper that stretches away to a blazing western horizon.

But at my feet, the huge Palo Duro Canyon yawns, a plunging drop-off into a vast rocky chasm, gypsum-cut sandstone cliffs, scrabbly hillsides green with sage and sumac, rocky columns and caves, all set afire by the rosy sunset over my shoulder. This is what artist Georgia O'Keefe meant when she called this canyon "a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color."

Amarillo Convention & Visitor Council - 800.692.1338 (1)

The canyon is just south of Amarillo, a lively town on famous Route 66 where the Old West saddles up to the new, much to the delight of travelers seeking an authentic Texas adventure with Southwestern flair. They belly up to experiences like the World Championship Ranch Rodeo, the enormous "Madame Queen" Texas-class railroad engine, the Big Texan Steak Restaurant, the Charles Goodnight Ranch House, the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and-for something completely unexpected-the world-class symphony that plays to sold-out crowds at the famous Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts.

Second only to the Grand Canyon in size, Palo Duro ("hard wood" in Spanish) is more than 120 miles long and 20 miles wide in places. Beloved for its hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and even a summertime outdoor historical pageant, the canyon anchors a wealth of nearby outdoor public access sites. These includeLake Meredith National Recreation Area, popular with water sports fans, andAlibates Flint Quarries National Monument, where ranger-led, reservation only tours explore the flint quarrying and tool making practices of the prehistoric Clovis era.

Amarillo Convention & Visitor Council - 800.692.1338 (2)

Upside-down mountains

"People think the Texas Panhandle is nothing but a big flat plain, nothing between here and the North Pole but a barbed wire fence," laughs Nathan Londenberg, assistant superintendent atPalo Duro Canyon State Park. "And then all of a sudden the bottom falls out. Some people call it upside-down mountains." And of course mountains, even upside down, bring climbers. Take Jeremy Baughman, 22. "There is one climb called The Old Aid Route that follows an extremely thin right-leaning crack in a corner," said Jeremy, an Amarillo native. "The climb finishes at an old bolt and piton for the anchor." Unusual, considering the soft, crumbly rock common at Palo Duro, where free climbing is the norm. "In the canyon, you can't completely trust any small hold. It makes for a delicate and exciting challenge."

So with chalky fingers thrust inside meandering cracks in the sandstone, toes pressed into fragile, nearly invisible depressions, do climbers even notice the bigger picture? Jeremy gets a kick out of this. "We absolutely notice the scenery. It changes so much with the weather and seasons. Palo Duro is a very quiet place where time seems to stand still."

Dave Zallar is an import from the Midwest who stays as busy as the canyon is quiet. He hikes, takes pictures and for years has volunteered on trail crews. "Moving out west where the sun shines about 340 days a year and there are endless outdoor activities to participate in was the best thing I've ever done," he says. "A person can spend a lifetime hiking, biking and camping here and each time discover something new."

Amarillo Convention & Visitor Council - 800.692.1338 (3)

For example, Palo Duro uniquely features towering pillars of stone called hoodoos. "The harder capstone on top of the hoodoos is sandstone," Dave tells me, "which protects the softer mudstone from eroding beneath it." These stony Jenga towers right out of a Dr. Seuss book seem perpetually about to timber over full length to the dusty canyon floor. Occasionally, every million years or so, one does.

To see the canyon's most dramatic hoodoo, the Lighthouse Peak, you scuff along a rocky trail over gentle rises and through sandy washes dotted with pencil cholla, big bluestem, star thistle and other sparse but hardy flora. Eventually you make a turn and wend your way along the base of cliffs laced with white bands of gypsum left over from long departed shallow seas. Flaring out to the trail's edge are some of the canyon's distinctive, dusty rose colored "Spanish Skirts" formations, conjuring images of twirling senoritas.

A fairly steep climb at the end brings you to the base of the 300-foot Lighthouse Peak formation. Seeing it silhouetted against the vast, impossibly blue Texas sky above is definitely worth the hike. Technically, yes, it's a walk in the park, but officials recommend two quarts of water per person for the trip.

Bird's-eye view

Canyoneering is easier for Buzz Wills, aloft in the gondola of his hot air balloon "The Second Wind". Not that his first launch there, back in 1982, was smooth. Buzz was the first balloonist to launch over the canyon, so there was no one to ask for advice. The result? High-plains winds caught the balloon just before launch and dragged it right over the edge.

"We probably fell 500 to 600 feet before we got buoyancy back into the balloon," he says, shock hollowing out his voice a bit, even now. Spoiler alert: It turned out OK. "It was really a special flight," he says, drifting away for a moment in a reverie. The most memorable part? "Oh, the color. As the sun came up over the edge, the shadows changing their color up on the cliff walls… Every time I fly, there's an aura out there. It makes you sit back and reflect on how beautiful it is."

Go big

It's plain that the canyon-and the Amarillo area generally-offers something different, something unusual, but something accessible, too, that sneaks into visitors' minds and hearts and changes them, making them want to take big steps and do the big things that others may shrug and take a pass on.

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A perfect example is Shirley Riggins, a Memphis, Texas, native but long a resident of Amarillo, or "Am-rilluh", as she and other locals call it. She's spent decades camping between the walls and walking the trails with her family. "My kids were kinda raised down there," she chuckles. They're grown and flown now, but still busy climbing the mesa walls in her memories, which she shares in a husky Texas drawl that is part high-plains Lucille Ball, part Panhandle Paula Deen.

She describes hiking the Paseo Del Rio trail, where the landscape, the Spartan but tersely beautiful vegetation of the arid Southwest and the plentiful canyon creatures always delight. "You never know what's gonna run across the path in front of you," she laughs, ticking off some examples. "A diamondback rattlesnake, a raccoon, rabbits, fox, coyotes, tarantulas." In fact, the unanticipated is the daily routine at Palo Duro Canyon. "If it's raining, you're going to get a completely different view altogether. If it's snowing, you're going to see things you never expected," she said. "It depends on the light; I see things that I've never seen before and I think, "Now, how did I miss that?'"

After years of visiting, Shirley volunteered as a Canyon Host. There is just too much astonishment, joy and wonderment on tap in the canyon to keep to yourself, she decided.

"You're sitting there and all of a sudden you hear the coyotes, and it seems like they're right under your window," she says. "Or you can be sitting at your campsite and you'll have deer and turkeys just walk right up. Or you'll hear a baby fawn bleat. Things like that kind of stick with you."

No doubt. But so do the conversations I've had with the people who make Amarillo, the Texas Panhandle and the Palo Duro Canyon area their home, who explore its every box canyon, burrow and butte only to find in the end they've accidentally discovered themselves. They aren't reluctant to share with outsiders the same opportunity.

It's an experience not to be missed, and really only available in and around Amarillo. After all, I can buy snakeskin boots in the concrete canyons of Dallas, or a nice Stetson in oil-slippery Houston. But when it comes to authentic Texas, Amarillo and the Palo Duro Canyon are as real as it gets.

Discover more Old West flavor and adventure in Amarillo.


What is the Cadillac Ranch? ›

Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation and sculpture in Amarillo, Texas, US. It was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm.

Does Amarillo Texas have four seasons? ›

Amarillo is at an altitude 3,671 ft. and receives about 19.5 inches of precipitation annually. The altitude and constant breeze are responsible for the clean air and low humidity. There are four distinct seasons in the city, yet the temperatures remain comfortable for most of the year.

Is Amarillo Texas a high altitude? ›

What region is Amarillo in? ›

Amarillo is located near the middle of the Texas Panhandle and is part of the Llano Estacado or Staked Plains region which has a surface that is relatively flat and has little drainage in the soil.

Can you graffiti Cadillac Ranch? ›

This area has several old Cadillacs nose down in the ground that are quite colorful now. You are allowed to spray your own graffiti on the old cars if you have spray paint or if another tourist gives you their leftover can.

Is there a bathroom at Cadillac Ranch? ›

There are bathrooms, showers, washers and dryers just a few steps away.

What is the coldest month in Amarillo? ›

The cold season lasts for 2.9 months, from November 23 to February 21, with an average daily high temperature below 58°F. The coldest month of the year in Amarillo is January, with an average low of 26°F and high of 51°F.

Why does it get so cold in Amarillo? ›

The Amarillo area is subject to extreme and rapid temperature changes, especially during the fall and winter months when cold fronts from the northern Rocky Mountain and Plains states sweep across the area. Temperature drops of 50 to 60 degrees within a 12-hour period are not uncommon.

What is the coldest area in Texas? ›

The lowest temperature ever recorded in the state occurred at Tulia in Swisher County in the extreme southern Texas Panhandle. The thermometer dropped to 23 degrees below zero.

Why is Amarillo called Bomb City? ›

One of Amarillo's nicknames is Bomb City, a reference to the nearby Pantex plant, 3a. a DOE-owned facility that is the final point of as-sembly and disassembly of nuclear warheads. It Ilo is one of the biggest employers in the area, and is similarly known as the Bomb Factory.

Why is Amarillo so popular? ›

Amarillo is a popular stop along Route 66 in Texas and is particularly famous for its delicious steak challenge at the The Big Texan Steak Ranch. The city is also home to many well-known theatres and art shows, as well as the popular space museum, the Don Harrington Discovery Center and the Space Theater.

Is Amarillo Texas A nice place to live? ›

Living in Amarillo offers residents a dense suburban feel and most residents own their homes. In Amarillo there are a lot of bars and parks. Many families and young professionals live in Amarillo and residents tend to lean conservative. The public schools in Amarillo are above average.

What is a person from Amarillo called? ›

Amarillo, Texas
Time zoneUTC−6 (CST)
• Summer (DST)UTC−5 (CDT)
ZIP Codes79101–79111, 79114, 79116–79121, 79123–79124, 79159, 79163, 79166–79168, 79171–79172, 79174, 79178, 79182, 79185, 79187, 79189
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Why is Amarillo called yellow? ›

The name Amarillo, which means yellow in Spanish, was probably chosen because of the color of the sub-soil in nearby Amarillo Creek. In the early days most houses were painted yellow in honor of the name.

What Native American tribe lived in Amarillo Texas? ›

The Comanche Indians lived in teepees on the grasslands and in the canyons of the Llano Estacado. They were nomads who rode horses and hunted bison. There were many conflicts between the Native Americans and the white settlers.

Can you visit Cadillac Ranch at night? ›

It is open 24/7/365 and there is no admission.

How do you not get caught Graffiting? ›

Some of the best 'camouflage' you can get is geek clothing (e.g. shirts with a collar etc). Also, consider keeping your markers / spray cans in a plastic grocery bag. Keep your shoes, clothes and hands clean from spray paint. Keep your nails short too.

Is Cadillac Ranch lit up at night? ›

No. It is literally a dark field. We used our cell phone lights and a flashlight.

Can you drive up Cadillac Mountain at night? ›

Vehicle access to the summit of Cadillac Mountain at night is limited to a few months each fall and spring. The Park Loop Road is closed for winter, typically Dec 1-Apr 14. From May into October, daytime access is managed by a Vehicle Reservation System and the road closes each night at 10 pm.

How many cars are buried at Cadillac Ranch? ›

A classic landmark on Route since 1974; it consists of ten classic Cadillac cars buried nose-down in the ground. They are covered in multicolored graffiti and spray-painted (a practice which is allowed). Its official date of inauguration was June 21, 1974. The cars are spaced out along a stretch of 140 ft.

Is Cadillac Ranch worth visiting? ›

Is Cadillac Ranch worth visiting? If you're traveling along Route 66 or I-40, making a quick stop at Cadillac Ranch in Texas is definitely recommended. This classic art installation represents the country's history through displaying an iconic American symbol – the Cadillac.

When was the last time it snowed in Amarillo Texas? ›

The latest measurable snowfall in Amarillo (and the Texas Panhandle) occurred on May 5-6, 1917 when 9.1 inches fell. Snow has fallen in the Panhandles on several other occasions in the month of May, but most recently on May 2-3, 2005.

How long has Amarillo gone without rain? ›

Snow ended Amarillo's 80-day streak of zero precipitation. It didn't stop the drought.

Has Amarillo Texas ever had a tornado? ›

A total of 61 historical tornado events that had recorded magnitude of 2 or above found in or near Amarillo, TX.

Is Amarillo Texas cheap to live? ›

The cost of living in Amarillo, TX is 12% lower than the state average and 19% lower than the national average. Amarillo, TX housing is 37% cheaper than the U.S average, while utilities are about 7% less pricey.

Is Amarillo Texas considered desert? ›

Amarillo, Texas is a unique and history-rich area located where the southern plains meet the desert.

What is the hottest city in Texas? ›

According to the website, the warmest city in Texas is McAllen. The website explains: "The warmest city in Texas is unsurprisingly on the southern border with Mexico. McAllen's average annual high is a steamy 86 degrees."

What is the hottest Texas has ever gotten? ›

Two dates tie for the hottest day in Texas history. On August 12, 1936, Seymour clocked in intimidating temperatures reaching 120 degrees. Then on June 28, 1994, Monahans reached 120 degrees.

What is the least humid part of Texas? ›

On the other end of the spectrum, one Texas spot is among the 15 cities that are the least humid. El Paso has an average annual relative humidity of 50%.

Is Amarillo Texas Hispanic? ›

33.2% of the people in Amarillo, TX are hispanic (66.2k people).

Was Amarillo in the Dust Bowl? ›

April 14, 1935, known as “Black Sunday,” produced 20 of the worst dust storms from Canada to Texas. Affected Texas cities included Dalhart, Pampa, Spearman, and Amarillo. These dusters eroded entire farmlands, destroyed Texas homes, and caused severe physical and mental health problems.

What is the oldest building in Amarillo TX? ›

Built in 1902, the H.B. Sanborn House is one of the oldest homes in Amarillo.
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What food is Amarillo famous for? ›

Amarillo is a Texas city known for steaks and barbeque, thanks to its cattle ranch history.

Where is the best place to live in Amarillo? ›

  • Canyon. Town in Texas. • Rating 4.02 out of 5 99 reviews. ...
  • Amarillo. City in Texas. • ...
  • Happy. Town in Texas. • ...
  • Canyon Independent School District. Canyon, TX• School District. ...
  • Panhandle. Town in Texas. • ...
  • Lake Tanglewood. Town in Texas. • ...
  • Timbercreek Canyon. Town in Texas. grade B+ ...
  • Bishop Hills. Town in Texas. •

What percentage of Amarillo is black? ›

Amarillo Demographics

White: 79.93% Black or African American: 6.77% Two or more races: 5.35%

How hot does Amarillo get? ›

In July, the hottest month of the year, the weather in Amarillo is usually warm to hot. However, there are remarkable differences between night and day. The average temperature is of 26.4 °C (80 °F), with a minimum of 19.1 °C (66.4 °F) and a maximum of 33.8 °C (92.8 °F).

What is the main industry in Amarillo Texas? ›

Major business clusters in the Amarillo area include energy, food processing, health services, manufacturing and retail. Major employers include Bell Helicopter, Cargill, Gestamp Renewable Industries, MWI-Micro Beef, Owens Corning, Pantex and Tyson Foods.

What celebrity is from Amarillo Texas? ›

Birth Place Matching "Amarillo, Texas, USA" (Sorted by Popularity Ascending)
  • Carolyn Jones. Actress | The Man Who Knew Too Much. ...
  • Arden Cho. Actress | Teen Wolf. ...
  • Cyd Charisse. Actress | Silk Stockings. ...
  • Francie Swift. Actress | Two Weeks Notice. ...
  • Paula Trickey. Actress | Christmas in the Heartland. ...
  • Derek Cecil. ...
  • Ann Doran. ...
  • Justin Tarr.

Is Lubbock TX bigger than Amarillo, TX? ›

AMARILLO — If you've lived here for awhile, you know the City of Amarillo has had a long running rivalry with Lubbock. It only makes sense, both are comparable in size and are the biggest cities in the area.

What language is the word Amarillo? ›

From Old Spanish amariello, from Late Latin amarellus, from Latin amarus (“bitter, sour”), probably connected to the yellowish colour of bile.

What percentage of Amarillo is Hispanic? ›

The largest Amarillo racial/ethnic groups are White (53.5%) followed by Hispanic (33.2%) and Black (6.5%).

Was Amarillo the first city in Texas? ›

1913: Amarillo was the first city in Texas and only the fifth in the nation to adopt a city commission/city manager form of government. 1918: Natural gas was discovered in the Texas Panhandle. 1921: Oil was discovered in the area.

Where was Yellowstone filmed Amarillo? ›

The show was also filmed in Granbury, Amarillo, and Guthrie, Texas, with a few scenes shot at the famed 6666 Ranch. As the Dutton family's journey west continued, the cast and crew moved production to a place Yellowstone fans are a bit more familiar with: Montana.

What is the oldest Indian tribe in Texas? ›

Tribe of Texas. Located an hour and a half north of Houston in the Big Thicket, the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe is the oldest Indian reservation in Texas. Our rich history and beautiful enclave are what tribal citizens and tourists alike love about our nation.

What are the 4 native tribes in Texas? ›

What is now known as the Texas Gulf Coast was home to many American Indian tribes including the Atakapa, Karankawa, Mariame, and Akokisa. They were semi-nomadic, living on the shore for part of the year and moving up to 30 or 40 miles inland seasonally.

What was the biggest tribe in Texas? ›

Lesson Summary. Many tribes of Native Americans settled throughout and roamed the Texas territory. At some points, there were well over fifty different Native tribes present in Texas. The largest and most famous tribes were the Comanche, Kiowa, and Apache.

What is Cadillac Ranch known for? ›

The Cadillac Ranch is a public art installation and sculpture on Route 66, just west of Amarillo, Texas. The site features ten half-buried Cadillacs, nose-first in the ground that are colorfully sprayed with graffiti today.

Why is it called Cadillac Ranch? ›

In 1974, three artists from San Francisco found themselves in Potter County, Texas, burying ten Cadillacs nose first into a Texas wheat field alongside Interstate 40, an art installation that would eventually come to be known as Cadillac Ranch.

Why is Cadillac Ranch a thing? ›

Cadillac Ranch is the brainchild of Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, otherwise known as Ant Farm, a group of hippie architects from San Francisco who decided to give shape to an idea they had from The Look of Cars, a children's book dedicated to cars.

Does Cadillac Ranch cost money? ›

Always free to visitors, Cadillac Ranch hours are open 24/7. There are no lines or ticket booths, so you can just walk up, make your mark with graffiti and snap pics to your heart's content.

Where are the cars buried on Route 66? ›

The Cadillac Ranch is located on Historic Route 66 in Amarillo Texas. Story: It is a classic attraction consisting of ten Cadillac cars which are half-buried nose-down in the ground in a single file.

Who currently owns Cadillac Ranch? ›

Landry's Holdings, owned by Tilman Fertitta, agreed to spend $7.5 million during an auction to buy Cadillac Ranch, a concept formerly owned by Granite City Food and Brewery, according to court documents.

Who buried the Cadillacs in Amarillo? ›

A group of artists called Ant Farm took on a simple, powerful task in 1974: They would bury 10 Cadillacs in the dirt of Amarillo, near Old Route 66, noses underground, tail fins turned toward the Texas sky.

Who owns Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo Texas? ›

AMARILLO, Tex. — For years, it has been hard to tell what has fascinated and shocked residents of this conservative Texas Panhandle city more: the 10 vintage Cadillacs buried nose-down in a wheat field off Interstate 40 like some automotive Stonehenge, or the project's landlord and patron, Stanley Marsh 3.

Can you spray paint cars at Cadillac Ranch? ›

This wasn't always the case, as originally the Cadillacs were just for show. However, now spray painting is encouraged, and definitely a fun part of any trip to Cadillac Ranch!

Why is Ranch called buttermilk? ›

Funny enough, the recipe for ranch dressing, came from the pursuit of the perfect buttermilk dressing. The mix of buttermilk dressing, with garlic, onions, and herbs was what eventually turned into the ranch dressing we know and love today.

How much does it cost to go to Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo Texas? ›

How much does Cadillac Ranch cost? Absolutely nothing, other than the cost of spray paint if you want some. Cadillac Ranch is a free Route 66 roadside attraction.

Can you drive an RV to Cadillac Ranch? ›

There are no accommodations for RVs or any other vehicle -- just slow down, pull over, park on the edge of the (two way) frontage road.

How old do you have to be to go to Cadillac Ranch? ›

All persons must be at least 48" in height, at least 18 years of age, and weight less than 275 pounds. Must show a valid ID, and sign a waiver.

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