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Texas-Style Americana, Luxury Version

A Hidden Gem Along Old Route 66 Worthy of the Drive

What happens when you mix Texas charm, iconic Cadillacs, the artistic eye of Georgia O’Keefe, the Old West, and a sprawling 120-mile canyon? The Texas Panhandle’s Palo Duro Canyon, y’all.

Never heard of it? Astonishingly, you’re not alone. Palo Duro, the second largest canyon system in the United States, lives in relative obscurity despite its proximity to the Denver Metro Area. As a family who loves travel, I'm always on the lookout for nearby, drivable getaways.

A trip to the Panhandle of Texas isn’t on your bucket list?  Hear me out on why it should be. 

Spring break 2024, we packed up our family of seven: two adults, two adult-sized teens, a 10-year-old, and two furry family members for the seven-hour drive south. Just past Amarillo, Texas, we landed next to Palo Duro. Sharing the High Plains with eastern Colorado, the landscape felt familiar to our family of native Coloradans but also novel and fascinating.

When I say we landed "next to" Palo Duro, I mean literally on the rim of the canyon. You cannot stay any closer to the canyon without falling in.

We started our experience at Doves Rest Cabins, a guest cabin resort with a unique blend of rustic luxury and southern comfort. We were greeted with bubbly, both with and without alcohol, sweet treats for the humans and four-legged family members, along with commemorative champagne flutes to take home. Most Doves Rest Cabins are pet-friendly, ensuring our golden retriever, Gilligan, and Frenchie, Ginger, felt as welcomed and wrapped in luxury as we did.

Doves Rest Cabins owners John and Sharyn Means and manager Lindsey Jones provide concierge service equal to that found in five-star hotels, an amenity that rarely accompanies vacation rentals. Before we arrived, Lindsey arranged our horseback tour and a delightful massage in their hopi-style teepee. The white glove service included groceries stocked and waiting for us upon arrival.

The vacation rental resort has 20 cabins divided into three main areas over 40 acres. Many cabins are close together for group travel, while others seem miles away from anything else. This felt especially poignant in the crisp, clear night sky unadulterated with metropolitan light pollution. We couldn’t see our hands in front of our faces, and the brilliance of the starry night above left us awestruck. 

The main area, Tres Vientos, is a 30-acre compound with 11 different cabins with patios for outside seating. The compound also has a secure wildlife area with feeders and gated protection for both native animals and human visitors.  

The Longhorn Ranch, also gated, sits on an open pasture where the longhorn roam. Here, you’ll find the four-bedroom farmhouse, Four Gables, and a cowboy-style ranch house called Rustlers Draw.

We stayed in one of the West Rim's seven cabins right on the canyon rim, most with hot tubs to enjoy the view. We were welcomed by Barbary sheep, also called aoudad sheep by locals. We found them charming, if not a bit curious. They were introduced in the 1940s from Africa as big game and have reproduced at such a fast rate that some consider them to be invasive.

Other local inhabitants, Texas’ famous longhorn cattle, bobcats, deer, rabbit, and too many songbirds to list, can be seen in the mornings and evenings, surely viewing the mesmerizing sunrises and sunsets over the canyon.  

Artist Georgia O’Keefe taught at West Texas A&M University in the nearby town of Canyon from 1916-1918 before heading to her better-known home in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She described Palo Duro's color as “a burning, seething cauldron, almost like a blast furnace full of dramatic light and color.”

Beyond the comfort of Doves Rest, the area offers a plethora of opportunities to entertain children and adults alike. From hiking and a quickly growing mountain biking community to horseback riding and wildlife spotting, there's something for everyone.

Perhaps the best-known roadside attraction in the area, Cadillac Ranch, features 10 Cadillacs perched nose-deep into the earth. The brainchild of 60s artist collective Ant Farm and late eccentric Amarillo millionaire Stanley Marsh III, the installation commemorates the golden age of automobiles along Route 66. Originally buried with their factory paint, these land yachts are now an interactive installation. Where else can teens legally spray paint while contributing to the artistic outcome? 

Next on our list was a visit to the Jack Sizemore Traveland RV Museum. If ever there was an idyllic, kitschy road trip stop, this is it, and we loved it. Full of vintage trailers, including the semi-famous bus Robin Williams drove in the aptly named movie "RV," this is a must-see for lovers of nostalgic Americana. Our kids loved seeing the inside of these bygone trailers, imagining life on the open road before plane travel became so accessible.

The highlight of our trip was the horseback ride with Palo Duro Riding Stables. Owned and operated by Jesse and Kristin Sorenson and assisted by cowpokes Kodi Jo and Kash, PDRS guides pilgrims and cowboys alike onto their beloved land into the canyon. The Sorenson family has owned and managed this land for three generations. Jesse and Kristin now have put their special touch on running the stables, from their old-timey western outfits to personally selecting and introducing the horse each rider will sit atop. Our ride down into the canyon was narrated with canyon history, geology, generational family stories, and modern-day cowboy living.

And then there’s the Canyon itself. While Palo Duro is the second-longest canyon in the United States, unlike the Grand Canyon, this natural wonder is 800 feet deep, making the bottom of the canyon easily accessible. Hiking and mountain biking trails lead to breathtaking geologic rock formations like the Lighthouse and Sad Monkey.

According to the Texas State Historical Society, “The steep sides of Palo Duro Canyon consist of bright, banded layers of orange, red, brown, yellow, grey, maroon, and white rocks that represent four different geologic periods and a time span of more than 240 million years. Fossils of long-extinct animals and plants have been found embedded in the rock layers.” 

We primarily hiked the bottom of the canyon, intrigued by the beauty of the sheer canyon walls. The kids loved trekking up to the "Big Cave."  We never made it onto the most popular site, the Lighthouse Trail, as distractions pulled our attention on our way there.

Next time, we’ll spend more time in the charming town of Canyon. It is home to West Texas A&M and the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum on its campus. Canyon’s Main Street is home to restaurants, coffee shops, a bakery, a used bookstore, and, while not officially on Main Street, Creek House Honey Farm. My husband and I did sneak away to experience Honey Buzz Winery’s mead (honey wine) flight and accouterments.

We also look forward to visiting the Pioneer Amphitheater, nestled into the basin of the Canyon. On summer nights, they stage The One and Only Texas Outdoor Musical, Shakespeare in the Canyon, and patriotic fireworks shows.

The Texas Panhandle isn't entirely the South or the West. Instead, we found it to be an appealing mix of southern gentility and the Wild West's rugged individuality. The area has been home to the nomadic Comanches, Spanish explorers, pioneers, cowboys, ranchers, and even some industrialists, truly a microcosm of America itself.

It's easy to dismiss Amarillo and the surrounding area as just another pit-stop along a worn-out Route 66. But I caution you: You will miss a nearby hidden gem. It is rustic, kitschy, luxurious, and charming all in one.

Plan Your trip:

Palo Duro Canyon State Park, Canyon, Texas
Mountain biking, hiking, camping, glamping

tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/palo-duro-canyon

Where to stay: 
Remote Glamping: Doves Rest Cabins

dovesrestcabins.com

City Luxury: The Barfield boutique hotel in downtown Amarillo

thebarfield.com

Where to eat: 
OHMS Cafe & Bar, downtown Amarillo

ohmscafe.com

Crush Wine Bar & Grill, downtown Amarillo

crushamarillo.com


Creek House Honey Farm and Honey Buzz Winery, Canyon

creekhousehoneyfarm.com

Mickey's Place, Canyon
mickeysplacetx.com

Surrounding attractions: 
Cadillac Ranch
visitamarillo.com/listing/cadillac-ranch


Jack Sizemore Traveland RV Museum

rvmuseum.net


Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, Canyon

panhandleplains.org


American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame & Museum, Amarillo

aqha.com/museum

Local Tourism Boards:

Canyon 

canyontx.gov/35/Visiting

Amarillo

visitamarillo.com


 

"a must-see for lovers of nostalgic Americana."

"almost like a blast furnace full of dramatic light and color.”

  • Hakomi massage tipi
  • Rustlers Draw