As the second largest canyon only to the Grand Canyon in size, Palo Duro Canyon first became home to Native Americans as early as 15,000 years ago and has been continuously inhabited ever since. Erosion by the waters of the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River created the nearly 70-mile-long gorge, carving spectacular formations like the towering Lighthouse Rock and hollowing out explorable caves.
Featuring some of the most dramatic scenery in Texas, Palo Duro Canyon State Park was built by the CCC between 1933 and 1937 using military veterans and African-American CCC workers. Their goal was to immerse visitors in the canyon’s natural glory by constructing shelters that blended with their surroundings while providing safe ways to travel the canyon. For example, the park operated a small-scale railroad train for sight-seeing that ran a few miles along the bottom of the canyon.
Camp cabins situated on the canyon floor offer awe-inspiring views of the colorful rock formations. Rustic stone cabins and buildings located on the canyon rim bring the horizon into view and allow closer bird-watching. Man-made dams were thoughtfully designed to appear as natural as possible.
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Stratified rock faces provide a unique background for these portraits. In the 1940s, people often dressed more formally when visiting such rough outdoor environments than would be usual today.
"The Parks of Texas" radio program script spotlighting Palo Duro Canyon State Park, KNOW 1400 AM, Austin, Texas, 18 June 1939. Administrative and subject files, Texas State Parks Board records, 2005/041-9.
As part of a regular radio program featuring Texas State Parks, the history and geology of Palo Duro Canyon was described in depth for listeners for the purposes of increasing visitation to the park, "…a painted oasis lying in the center of hundreds of thousands of acres of undulating grassland…"
In order to construct the dam so that it blended organically into the environment, the drawing notes, "In naturalizing the dam do not attempt to copy the perspective sketch but study the banks of the stream and then place rocks and bowlders [sic] as nearly like the existing stratification as possible."
The iconic formation of the Lighthouse Rock at Palo Duro Canyon is one of the most recognized park features in the state and here symbolizes the wonder and adventure awaiting park-goers throughout Texas.
This train likely ran the same two-mile, twenty-minute route as the later Sad Monkey Railroad train that operated from 1955 to 1996. Current efforts to revive that train stalled due to liability concerns raised by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.