Plants & Animals
Palo Duro Canyon is located on the southern high plains, an area called El Llano Estacado, or the "Staked Plains." The rim of the canyon is considered part of the shortgrass prairie, while the elevated moisture of the canyon floor supports a greater diversity of plants, including some medium and tall grass species along with shrubs and trees. Common plant species include sideoats grama, big bluestem, Indian blanket, star thistle, fragrant sumac, mesquite and cottonwood trees. Several juniper species are also common.
Due to diverse habitats, Palo Duro Canyon contains many species of wildlife, including the rare Texas horned lizard and Palo Duro mouse. Other species include wild turkeys, white-tailed and mule deer, Barbary sheep, coyotes, cottontail rabbits, roadrunners and western diamondback rattlesnakes. Palo Duro Canyon State Park is known for its rustic charm, and for that very reason, we would like to encourage visitors not to feed the wildlife. On the canyon rim, longhorn steers, which are a part of the official Texas State Longhorn Herd, may be viewed from the main road.
The canyon is approximately 120 miles long, 20 miles wide, and 800 feet deep. Extending from Canyon to Silverton, Palo Duro Canyon was formed primarily by water erosion from the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, which began to carve the canyon less than one million years ago. The slopes of the canyon reveal the colorful natural history of the area.
Dating back 250 million years, the oldest layers of rock, Cloud Chief Gypsum, can only be seen in a few areas in the canyon. The next oldest and most prominent layer of rock is the Quartermaster Formation, which can be identified by its distinctive red claystone/sandstone and white layers of gypsum.
The Tecovas Formation is located directly above the Quartermaster and is composed of yellow, gray and lavender mudstone and sandstone. Together with the Quartermaster, they form the colorful triangular slopes called Spanish Skirts. Above the Tecovas, the Truijillo and Ogallala formations can be viewed. The Ogallala is composed of sand, silt, clay and limestone, which make up the hard caprock.