Drop 1,000 sheer feet below the tabletop terrain of the Texas Panhandle into Palo Duro Canyon, and you'll feel like you've stepped inside a giant work of art-a mixed-media masterpiece of painted and sculpted recessed earth. And there are no sour-faced museum guards warning you not to touch anything.
Near the narrow headwaters of Red River you'll find the Lighthouse Trail. As you hike it, you may walk past turkeys dusting in the mesquite thickets, and deer could eye you cautiously as they browse the scrub. For shade, head for the tall cottonwoods that cling to the sandy stream banks. Spur trails lead to Catarina Cave, a bowl carved out of adobe and red clay, and to eroded natural ramparts like the Spanish Skirts. Better yet, take a compass and topo map, and explore sheltered side canyons, where wet-weather springs attract thirsty white-tailed deer.
Other pathways, like the GLS Running Trail, reach higher where vistas display a geological wonder some call America's Other Grand Canyon.
Where: 21 miles south of Amarillo and 362 miles northwest of Dallas. The trailhead is 12 miles east of Canyon on TX 217.
Maps: Hiking and Backpacking Trails of Texas ($7.95, Gulf Publishing Company, 713-529-4301) is an excellent guide.
Trail Info: Palo Duro State Park, (806) 488-2227; www.PaloDuroCanyon.com.