Reader Ride – Texas: Palo Duro Loop, The “Other” Grand Canyon

Text: Cynthia Lueck Sowden • Photography: Cynthia Lueck Sowden

You can ride the rim of the Grand Canyon, but you can’t take your motorcycle down to the bottom. Want to get the “feel” of a canyon without taking a donkey ride? Visit Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, America’s “other” Grand Canyon!

At 120 miles long, 600 to 800 feet deep, and up to 20 miles wide in spots, Palo Duro is the second-largest canyon in the United States—and it’s motorcycle accessible.

My husband and I ride south out of Amarillo on U.S. 27. It’s a brilliant September morning. The forecast calls for a high of 100 degrees. The terrain in the Texas Panhandle is as flat as the bottom of a pan and dotted with ranches and sagebrush. At the city of Canyon, we turn east onto Texas 217 and follow it past a dude ranch to the entrance of Palo Duro State Park.

A small herd of Texas longhorns grazes near the fence. As we pay entrance fees of each, the ranger exclaims at the rumble of our modified 2002 Victory cruiser (Ralph’s a firm believer in “loud pipes save lives”), then tells us to be wary of dry washes in the park. The thunderstorm we outran the previous day may have caused flash floods in the canyon below.

We continue slowly down Park Road 5. Nicely paved with blacktop, it was built during the Great Depression as a Civilian Conservation Corps project. A short way downhill, we pass the visitor center/store and get our first opportunity to experience the canyon at a scenic overlook. The steep, multi-colored canyon walls are a striking contrast to the flat, level plains of the surrounding Panhandle. The silence is incredible. We’re thrilled and humbled.

Although it was formed millions of years ago, Palo Duro Canyon is actually a little younger than the Grand Canyon. In fact, if you matched the rock layers precisely, the floor of Palo Duro would sit on the rim of the Grand Canyon.

It was created by Palo Duro Creek, which is dry most of the year. The creek and the ever-present wind have worked for eons to carve out a geologic wonderland of buttes, mesas, pinnacles and “hoodoos” (balanced rocks).

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For the complete touring article, including facts & information, map(s), and GPS files, please purchase the November/December 2012 back issue.