Texas Rising September/October 2008

Texas’ Grand Canyon

Postcard scenery and soaring revenues make this park grand.

Local Government
Tools that Made
the Difference

Palo Duro Canyon

Various organizations support Palo Duro Canyon:

  • Improving infrastructure. Since 1999, the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation Inc. (TPHF) has made $3.5 million in improvements to the Pioneer Amphitheatre, home to the “TEXAS” musical drama. The nonprofit TPHF is the producer of the musical and supports and maintains the Pioneer Amphitheatre. Individuals, businesses and others can join TPHF at annual sponsorship levels ranging from $20 to $5,000.
  • Community outreach. In 2002, TEXAS Express formed as an outreach arm of the TPHF. The 12-member ensemble has performed the “TEXAS” musical drama at more than 50 events in the Panhandle area.

Growing Revenues

Palo Duro Canyon State Park officials say the addition of more spectator events such as a mountain bike rally and trail runs have boosted park attendance and revenue. In 2008, more visitors from Europe and Asia visited the park, possibly due to the weak U.S. dollar. The typical visitor spends three to four days at the park.

Fiscal Year Palo Duro Canyon State Park Revenues
2003 $675,786
2004 $797,600
2005 $736,722
2006 $794,722
2007 $1,000,131

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

With its breathtaking views and natural beauty, the Panhandle’s Palo Duro Canyon State Park is among Texas’ most-visited destinations.

Recently acquired land for new trails, a mountain bike rally and hot air balloon events have ramped up the park’s activity offerings. The second-largest canyon in the United States, Palo Duro offers perks its Arizona counterpart can’t.

“It’s better than the Grand Canyon because you don’t have to take a mule down to the bottom,” says Maggie Johnson, founder of the Partners in Palo Duro Canyon Foundation. “You can ride comfortably in your air-conditioned car.”

Johnson manages the foundation’s gift shop at Palo Duro Canyon State Park. All proceeds are used to buy equipment and supplies for the park. The foundation, along with entry ticket sales, has helped support the park for the past 14 years.

Myriad organizations support and promote the “Grand Canyon of Texas” that measures 120 miles long by 20 miles at its widest point.

Canyon, the city nearest to Palo Duro Canyon and the state park, and its chamber of commerce coordinate special events year-round to bring visitors to the city and the park.

Palo Duro Canyon offers pageantry with its annual “TEXAS” musical drama. Attendance in 2007 was up more than 28 percent and revenues rose 44 percent, according to the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation Inc. (TPHF), the nonprofit producer of “TEXAS.” Support from TPHF members helps maintain and improve the Pioneer Amphitheater where the musical is held. The production brings an economic impact of more than $30 million per season to the Panhandle area, according to TPHF.

In fiscal 2007, the park generated more than $1 million in revenues. The park is on track to exceed that amount in fiscal 2008, says Mary Fields, chief financial officer for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Palo Duro Canyon ranked as the 22nd most popular attraction in Texas in 2006, according to information compiled by the Office of the Governor from a survey conducted by D.K. Shifflet & Associates, Ltd. The canyon’s outdoor musical ranked 30th.

Canyon by Horseback

Palo Duro Canyon State Park has about 10.5 miles of trails, with one trail dedicated to horses, the Turnaround Equestrian Trail. Horses are also allowed on the Interconnecting Trail (about two miles round-trip) and the Lighthouse Trail (4.5 miles round-trip). Visitors may bring their own horses or rent them from Old West Stables, where the guides are working cowboys. Located in the park, Old West Stables offers tours that trace the rides of Brig. Gen. Ranald Mackenzie of the U.S. Cavalry and Col. Charles Goodnight, Palo Duro Canyon’s first settler.

For more information, visit www.oldweststables.com.

Rising gas prices may keep more Texas tourists in state this year to see local attractions such as Palo Duro Canyon, according to David Teel, vice president of planning and development with the Texas Travel Industry Association.

“It’s probably going to make people reconsider their plans,” he says. “They may not travel as far. They may look to reduce costs in other ways. It’s a good thing for a lot of the smaller communities in the state. We would anticipate that Texans would be traveling closer to home.” TR


Palo Duro Canyon offers pageantry with its annual TEXAS musical drama.


For more information on Palo Duro Canyon, read the Comptroller’s new report, Texas State Parks: Natural Economic Assets, or visit Palo Duro State Park online at www.palodurocanyon.com.