Texas’ Best-Kept Secret: The Second-Largest Canyon in the U.S.
Palo Duro Canyon slices through the Texas panhandle for 120 miles and was once the secret home of the most feared Native American tribe in history: the Comanche.
“The history of this area is game changing,” Phyllis Nickum says as I stare into Palo Duro Canyon, a 120-mile-long chasm slicing through the level landscape of the Texas panhandle just south of Amarillo. Palo Duro marks the southern border of Nickum’s Los Cedros Ranch, a 3,000-acre spread where she raises cattle, horses, and harvests wheat and water. It’s also home to “Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West,” the ranch’s tourist arm, which celebrates Western heritage through history on horseback tours, eco-tourism, and chuckwagon events complete with singing cowboys.
As I inch closer to the canyon’s lip, Nickum adds, “The thing you don’t realize, these ledges, the wind erodes it underneath.” Where I’m standing, it’s nearly a thousand-foot drop to the floor below. She steps back. “I don’t like heights.”
Six flags have flown over Texas: Spanish, French, Mexican, the Republic of Texas, Confederate, Texas State, and the United States of America. Territory was claimed, only to be knocked down by the native tribes of West Texas—none more ruthless than the Comanche, a tribe made up of about 13 bands, one of which was the Quahadi, the most lethal of all.