Coming Full Circle: The History of Caprock Canyons State Park


As I crested the canyon walls a stiff wind kicked up to greet me. The scramble up the red rock surface was rewarded with panoramic views stretching as far as the eye could see. As though I had stepped back in time, I thought to myself this is what it must have been like millennia ago. Untouched and rugged terrain matched only by the beauty of the landscape, this could be the same view that the first humans saw when they initially came to the area.

Early Occupants

The earliest remnants show that the first humans moved into the red rock bluffs of Caprock Canyon more than 10,000 years ago. These first Native Americans consisted of hunters and gatherers that flourished on the plentiful wildlife in the area. Artifacts have been found from these Paleolithic People to include boiling pebbles for heating food, oval knives, and spear points. This way of life lasted until the first Europeans came into the picture more than 800 years ago.

The first Europeans to enter into the canyons were Spaniards led by the Spanish explorer Francisco Vazquez de Coronado in 1541. It was then that the plains Indians, Apache, first acquired horses and became the famed buffalo hunters that we know today. Their reign lasted until Comanche tribes moved in and took over the area. In the 1870’s Anglo settlers began colonizing the area, effectively ending the era of the Native American.

The First Settlers

Famed cattleman and rancher, Charles Goodnight, moved into Palo Duro Canyon in 1876. He proceeded to purchase vast areas of land establishing the J.A. Ranch and protecting the almost extinct Texas plains bison herd. By then the railroad had made its way west and into the small town of Quitaque, population 30 people. As more settlers arrived, the land that had been established as the J.A. Ranch passed through several owners and in 1975 was purchased by the state of Texas. In 1982, a state park was formed and Caprock Canyons State Park was born.

Modern Day

Today, the 15,000-acre state park is home to the original Texas state bison herd that Charles

Goodnight protected from extinction. The red rock canyons also house a variety of other animals and fauna to include roadrunners, prairie dogs, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, and aoudad.

The Future

Because of the rich history and unique beauty with in this park we have partnered with the Caprock Partners Foundation to help in the restoration of the canyon to its natural state, prior to European settlement (approximately 300 years ago). This includes the restoration of mixed grass prairies, rolling plains and native animals (ex: bison, prairie dogs, pronghorn antelope). Coming full circle, the history of Caprock Canyons looks bright in part to those who support and work tirelessly to preserve this hidden gem in the Texas panhandle. Please join us and help support the preservation of wild places, wildlife, and unique cultures.

Pro Tip:

If you are interested in seeing the hidden beauty of Caprock Canyons State Park, then you can sign up to run the Wild Canyon Ultra in April at the park. Visit: https://www.ultraexpeditions.com/run

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