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Red Rock Drama

Enjoy the scenery and a musical extravaganza at Palo Duro.

By Sheryl Smith-Rodgers

Atop a towering ridge at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, a cowboy on horseback stands silhouetted against the evening sky. A Texas flag he's holding flutters in the breeze. Suddenly, the show's stirring overture begins, and the pair race along the cliff's edge.

Whistle and cheer if you want. Everyone always does. Since 1966, that poignant scene has signaled the start of Texas in Pioneer Amphitheatre, a huge open-air stage set beneath the canyon's sandstone cliffs. Texas, the colorful musical - performed six nights a week June through August - celebrates the struggles and triumphs of early settlers in the Texas Panhandle.

"Our beautiful canyon backdrop is always the star of the show," says director Dave Yirak, a Canyon resident and drama teacher who's performed in the show in years past. "It's a magnificent venue."

You'll also be thrilled by the many special effects used in the long-running outdoor drama, including thunder crashes, lightning bolts and even a simulated prairie fire. In keeping with tradition, too, a spectacular fireworks display always ends each performance.

"If you have any Texan in you, you can't help but feel proud after you see the show," Yirak says.

Come early and enjoy a hearty steak dinner served by the Big Texan Steak Ranch, a popular steakhouse in nearby Amarillo. Fixin's include homemade rolls, a salad and fruit bar, cheese potato casserole and peach cobbler.

Of course, schedule plenty of time during the day to explore Palo Duro Canyon. Stunning as well as historic, the "Grand Canyon of Texas" runs 120 miles long and 800 feet deep from rim to floor. Layered bands of red, gray and white rock form the canyon's rugged walls, many of which are crowned with majestic buttes and pinnacles.

Inside the canyon, more than 30 miles of multi-use trails wind throughout the park, catering to hikers, mountain bikers and equestrian riders. This summer, new primitive trails will open to the public on more than 10,000 acres of former ranch land, recently acquired by TPWD.

Other things to do: Guides with Old West Stables lead horseback tours through the park's hills and ravines (advance reservations required). Seven rock cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and RV/tent sites are available for overnight stays.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located about 12 miles east of the city of Canyon on State Highway 217. For more information, call 806-488-2227 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/palodurocanyon and www.palodurocanyon.com.

Texas runs June 2 through August 17 (no Monday shows except June 2). Ticket prices run from $7.50 (10 and under) to $27.50. Dinner: $15.95 (adult), $11.95 (10 and under). To purchase, visit www.texas-show.com or call 806-655-2181.

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