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Title: Guidebook of Palo Duro Canyon
Author: Society, West Texas State Geological
Language: English
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                              GUIDEBOOK OF
                            PALO DURO CANYON

            _West Texas State University Geological Society_

                       DEPARTMENT OF GEOSCIENCES

The Department of Geosciences (geology, geography, anthropology) is
housed in the Science Center on the campus of West Texas State
University. Additional departmental space is found in the Killgore
Research Center and Old Main. The Department offers a program of study
leading to a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees in geology
and geography and a Bachelor of General Studies degree in anthropology.
Most students are enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in geology degree,
designed to meet the needs of students preparing for a professional
career in geology. It requires a minimum of 39 semester hours of
geology, plus supporting coursework in other sciences, mathematics, and
technical writing or cartography. The Department also offers a Master of
Science degree in geology. Recent thesis topics include _Geology of
Fortress Cliff Quadrangle, Randall County, Texas_ and _Sedimentology and
Petrology of the Javelina Formation, Big Bend National Park, Brewster
County, Texas_.

Members of the departmental faculty have a wide range of academic
interests and come from a variety of colleges and universities. Special
interests of the faculty include stratigraphy, biostratigraphy,
geomorphology, sedimentology, structural geology, tectonics, igneous and
metamorphic petrology, petroleum geology, paleontology, cartography,
archaeology, and Indians and their culture of the south central United
States. In addition, the Department retains a broad concern for
earth-science education, and offers courses in introductory earth
science and geology to meet student needs in the University general
education and in teacher education.

The Department supports students with teaching and graduate
assistantships, undergraduate laboratory assistants, and scholarships.
Information regarding degree programs and financial aid can be obtained
from the Department of Geosciences, West Texas State University, Box
938, Canyon, Texas 79016 or by calling the departmental office at


The West Texas State University Geological Society was organized in 1958
by students of the Department of Geology. The objective of the Society
is to promote interest in geology as an academic subject and as a
professional career. In order to present the concepts of geology to
interested groups, the Palo Duro Canyon Guidebook is sponsored by the
WTSU Geological Society.

The Geological Society is indebted to Professor Jack T. Hughes and to
Mr. Jerry Harbour for their work in the first edition of this guidebook.


                           TABLE OF CONTENTS


  INTRODUCTION                                                          1
  ECOLOGY                                                               2
  HISTORY OF MAN IN THE AREA                                            4
  GEOLOGIC HISTORY                                                      5
  PALEONTOLOGY                                                         14


  Figure 1. Geologic Map of Palo Duro Canyon                            6
  Figure 2. Stratigraphic Section and Geologic Time Scale               7
  Figure 3. Paleogeographic Map of the Permian Period                   9
  Figure 4. Paleogeographic Map of the Triassic Period                 11
  Figure 5. Paleogeographic Map of the Pliocene Epoch                  13
  Figure 6. Paleogeographic Map of the Pleistocene Epoch               15
  Figure 7. Life of Triassic Time                                      17
  Figure 8. Pliocene Mammals                                           19


Palo Duro Canyon State Park is located 13 miles east of Canyon, Texas,
on State Highway 217 and 17 miles southeast of Amarillo, Texas. The park
encompasses about 15,000 acres of eastern Randall and western Armstrong

The initial park area was purchased by the State of Texas in 1931. In
1973 the park boundary was extended to incorporate a famous topographic
structure, the Lighthouse (frontispiece). Excellent picnic and camping
facilities are available within the Park.

Extending away from the canyon rim is a gently undulating land surface
called the Llano Estacado or Staked Plains. It is part of the High
Plains, a vast piedmont plain which extends along the eastern base of
the Rocky Mountains from Wyoming to Texas. The eastern edge of this
plain is, in places, an abrupt escarpment (cliff) known as the caprock.
Palo Duro Canyon is a westward extension of this escarpment that has
been carved into the High Plains by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red

In the park area the canyon is several miles wide. The canyon rim is
about 3,500 feet above sea level and the canyon floor, although highly
irregular is approximately 2,700 feet above sea level. The maximum depth
of the canyon is about 800 feet. The United States Geological Survey has
published an excellent topographical contour map of the canyon, the
Fortress Cliff Quadrangle. It can be purchased at the park or from the
United States Geological Survey.

The Park area normally receives about 20-30 inches of rainfall per year
and has a frost free period of approximately 200-240 days per year. The
yearly temperature ranges from 0-70°F in the winter and from 65 to 100°F
in the summer. The weather is considered fair about 75% of the time. The
nights are cool even in the summer.


Palo Duro Canyon is part of the escarpment system that forms the eastern
boundary of the Llano Estacado or Staked Plains. The Staked Plains in
this area is a nearly-level to gently-rolling terrain covered with a
mantle of calcareous loess (a wind-blown silt) that has given rise to
deep soils with a clay-loam surface and a clay subsoil. These soils are
ideally suited to the growth of short grasses, especially blue grama and
buffalo grass. Mesquite, yucca, prickly pear cactus, and forbs are
common invaders of overgrazed areas.

Many shallow lake basins (playas) dot the plains with a flora different
from the surrounding areas. In the playas, plains grasses are displaced
by forbs that are suited to withstand the prolonged flooding within the
shallow basins.

Near the canyon, the deep soils can be seen grading into shallow,
grayish-brown, gravelly-loam soils. The abundance of grasses decreases
and mid grasses such as little bluestem and sideoats grama increase. The
mid grasses are better able to absorb nutrients from the less fertile
soils near the canyon rim than are the short grasses. Especially
conspicuous are increasing numbers of shrubs, particularly the evergreen
and scale-leaved junipers. Just along the rim of the canyon, the shrubby
mountain mahogany is found.

The rugged terrain of the sides of the canyon, extending from the
Ogallala downward through the Trujillo and Tecovas formations to the
upper part of the Quartermaster Formation, shows a variety of soil
types. On the steeper slopes, plants are unable to gain a foothold as
erosion removes soil material as fast as it is formed. On less-steep
areas, the well-drained escarpment soil is suited for the development of
scarp woodland. The deep, woody roots of trees and shrubs are better
able to obtain the deeply infiltrating moisture from these soils than
are the shallow and fibrous roots of grasses. The common plants on the
level areas are junipers, squaw-bush, and little-leaved sumac. On the
drier slopes, feather peabush, catclaw, and salt-bush are found. Groves
of oak occur, but not in the abundance found along the escarpment
further to the south.

Below the canyon slopes and extending to the creek are a wide variety of
soils and a great diversity of plants. Most of the plants of the plains
and escarpment are found here. Some of the soils of the nearly level
areas are deep, high in fertility, and hold large amounts of water. Tall
grasses, such as indiangrass and switchgrass, occur admixed with mid
grasses; a rank growth of vine-mesquite grass often occurs in the areas
where runoff water collects; and alkali sacaton grass grows on saline
soils. Other trees and shrubs include hackberry, soapberry, wafer ash,
button bush, foresteria, and Texas buckthorn. Along the creek,
cottonwoods, willows, and salt cedar are common.

Because of the varied topography, diversity of plant life, and
geographical locations, the canyon affords an ideal habitat for
wildlife. Some of the mammals that occur here are the coyote, porcupine,
jackrabbit, cottontail rabbit, raccoon, opossum, ringtailed cat, striped
skunk, gray fox, white-footed mouse, woodrat, and bat. Mammals that were
once common but are now absent or extremely rare are the bison, black
bear, black-footed ferret, lobo wolf, cougar, and bobcat. The moose and
American elk were introduced into the canyon but are no longer to be
found. White-tailed deer, mule deer, and aoudad sheep have also been
introduced and are still present. The mule deer is the most common. A
great many types of birds are found either as residents of or migrants
to the canyon. A few are the golden eagle, red-tailed hawk, sparrow
hawk, Mississippi kite, turkey vulture, blue quail, killdeer, nighthawk,
roadrunner, red-headed woodpecker, golden-fronted woodpecker, canyon
wren, mockingbird, robin, cardinal, meadowlark, Bullock’s oriole,
painted bunting, white-crowned sparrow, and lark sparrow.

                       HISTORY OF MAN IN THE AREA

Archeological studies indicate that the earliest known inhabitants of
Palo Duro Canyon lived in the canyon from about 10,000 to 5,000 B.C.
These early men hunted bison and now-extinct elephant-like mammoths that
roamed the area during the Pleistocene Ice Age. Their stone weapons and
artifacts have been found in the canyon. Presumably these primitive
people, like those who came later, were attracted by streams and springs
in the canyon, and by game that came to feed there. Rock exposed in the
canyon provided material for tools and weapons.

Through the centuries, various tribes of Plains Indians, including
Apache, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Kiowa, and Comanche, made use of the canyon
as a camping ground. After the arrival of the white man, the canyon
became a favorite resting place for buffalo hunters and Indian traders
who travelled the Plains. White men first established residence there in

The last Indian battle in Texas was fought in the canyon south of the
Park. Col. Ranald Mackenzie and his raiders, on September 25, 1874,
attacked a large encampment of Comanche, Cheyenne, Kiowa, and Arapahoe
in the canyon. They destroyed about 100 lodges and 1400 horses and
mules. The damage inflicted was severe and by the following spring most
of the Indians were returned to the reservation in Oklahoma.

                            GEOLOGIC HISTORY

The age of the earth is calculated in terms of billions of years. For
convenience, geologic time is divided into units, called PERIODS, of
different lengths (Figure 1). Sediments deposited during each period and
the fossilized remains of animals and plants found in these sediments
give a partial record of the events and life of that period.

A nearly homogeneous (uniform composition) rock layer may be identified
as a FORMATION. Formations are usually spread over a wide area like a
large blanket and are stacked on top of each other with the oldest at
the bottom and the youngest at the top. When viewed in the walls of the
canyon, they resemble a huge layer cake and may be traced along the
canyon walls.

    [Illustration: Figure 1. GEOLOGIC MAP OF PALO DURO CANYON]

    [Illustration: Figure 2. Stratigraphic section at Palo Duro Canyon
    with Geologic Time-scale for reference.]

  GEOLOGIC TIME-SCALE                    AGE M.Y.
      PLEISTOCENE                               2
      PLIOCENE                                 13
      MIOCENE                                  25
      OLIGOCENE                                36
      EOCENE                                   58
      PALEOCENE                                63
    CRETACEOUS                                135
    JURASSIC                                  181
    TRIASSIC                                  230
    PERMIAN                                   280
    PENNSYLVANIAN                             310
    MISSISSIPPIAN                             345
    DEVONIAN                                  405
    SILURIAN                                  425
    ORDOVICIAN                                500
    CAMBRIAN                                  600

The lowest and oldest exposed formation in Palo Duro Canyon is the
Quartermaster. It was deposited near the edge of a shallow sea that
occupied a wide area in Texas some 280 to 230 million years ago (Figure
3). This was during the Permian Period, the last period of the Paleozoic
Era. The sediments in the park area were carried from the east and
deposited in a nearshore environment. Sedimentary structures, such as
crossbeds and ripplemarks, are present throughout the Quartermaster
Formation. Halite casts suggest that there was a high rate of
evaporation as sedimentation occurred. Gypsum (altered anhydrite) is
also interpreted to be an evaporite deposit. The gypsum is now seen as
horizontal white layers of alabaster and satin-spar varieties within the
Quartermaster Formation.

The Quartermaster Formation is mostly siltstone and shale, and is
commonly a distinctive red color. This red color is the result of
combining oxygen from the air with the iron in the sediments (oxidation)
much as a nail rusts after it has been exposed for a long period. The
bedded gray zones represent times when there was enough fresh water from
the land to offset temporarily the oxidation process. Smaller circular
gray areas have organic nuclei that produced local areas of chemically
altered iron by a process called reduction.

At the close of the Permian Period and the Paleozoic Era, the Panhandle
region was uplifted and a period of widespread erosion followed.
Consequently there are no sediments in this area to represent the early
or middle portions of the Triassic Period. Breaks, such as this, in the
sedimentary record are called UNCONFORMITIES. They may have been caused
by a lack of deposition in the area or by an interval during which
erosion removed earlier sediments.

    [Illustration: Figure 3. Paleogeographic map of the Permian Period
    (240 m.y.)]

The Tecovas Formation was deposited in swamps, lakes, and streams
approximately 200 million years ago during the Late Triassic (Figure 4).
The Tecovas is mostly purplish lavender, yellow, orange, and buff
siltstone and shale. The bright-colored shale of the Tecovas Formation
is easily followed for many miles. Amarillo (the Spanish word for
yellow) got its name from Amarillo Creek where the yellow bed of the
Tecovas Formation crops out far from Palo Duro Canyon. The shale of the
Tecovas forms the less steep portions of the canyon walls and often is
covered by talus (weathered, broken rock) or vegetation. The uppermost
Tecovas is usually mantled with boulders from the overlying sandstone of
the Trujillo Formation.

The Tecovas Formation contains numerous concretions or irregularly
shaped, weathered rocks. The unusual shape of a concretion is the result
of the hardening of the sediments around a nucleus. As the rock
weathers, the resistant material surrounding the nucleus remains. Most
of the concretions are composed of limonite, hematite, manganite or
calcite. Some of the calcite concretions are a variety termed
“septarian.” These concretions have calcite ridges in a honeycomb
pattern throughout the rock. Some of the concretions are simply nodular
or spherical aggregates. Also in the Tecovas, geodes filled or lined
internally with calcite crystals are found.

    [Illustration: Figure 4. Paleogeographic map of the Triassic Period
    (181 m.y.)]

Overlying the Tecovas is the Trujillo Formation. It was deposited by
streams that probably originated in an ancient highland southeast of the
present Panhandle. These streams were flowing more than 181 million
years ago. The sandstone contains some alternating layers of shale and
marl-pebble conglomerate. The Trujillo Formation is a resistant
formation and forms some of the upper portions of the canyon walls. The
steep portions are, in part, the result of a persistent fracture system
common in the Trujillo Formation. The sandstone and conglomerate of the
Trujillo characteristically exhibit well-developed crossbedding. Their
gray color is sometimes obscured by a crust of red mud or iron stain.
The uppermost red shale contains mineralized wood. The gray micaceous
sandstone has many round sandstone concretions. Some of these are
septarian concretions with cracks filled by calcite. Others may contain
leaf imprints.

There is no evidence that Jurassic sediments were ever deposited in the
region. Cretaceous rocks are also missing in this area although
water-worn fossil oysters occur in the gravel at the base of the
overlying Ogallala. These fossils indicate that marine Cretaceous
sediments were deposited nearby and possibly covered the Triassic
deposits in the region. The rocks were then eroded away some time
between the end of the Cretaceous Period and the beginning of the
Pliocene Epoch, a span of about 50 million years.

During the Pliocene Epoch, approximately 2-10 million years ago, the
Rocky Mountains were again uplifted. Sediments in streams and
floodplains were deposited on the erosional surface of the Trujillo
Formation (Figure 5). These stream-deposited sediments are the Ogallala

The Ogallala Formation, which forms the upper part of the sequence of
rocks exposed in the canyon, is present throughout most of the
Panhandle. The formation is important as it is the principal aquifer of
the Panhandle and supplies many farms and cities in the region with
water. The Ogallala is a siltstone and sandstone that has, in places,
been cemented by silica which came from groundwater. The formation
contains many pockets of common opal and the basal part is in many
places almost a chert. There are also some thin gray shale lenses.

    [Illustration: Figure 5. Paleogeographic map of the Pliocene (10

Scattered over the Ogallala are Late Pliocene and Pleistocene playa lake
deposits up to 3 million years old. Some of these are fresh water lake
deposits of silt, limestone, and wind-transported sediments or loess.
Below these sediments is a layer of caliche which was deposited by
evaporation of groundwater rich in calcium carbonate during Late
Pliocene and Pleistocene time.

Less than one million years ago, during the Pleistocene Epoch of the
Quaternary Period, the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River began
eroding headward into the Llano Estacado (Figure 6). The caprock
escarpment is the result of differing resistance to erosion. The faster
erosion of softer layers under the more resistant Ogallala and Trujillo
formations forms the steep slopes of the escarpment.

The Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River is the small stream flowing
in Palo Duro Canyon. Throughout the past million years it has been
slowly excavating the canyon. The rate of change has been slow but
continuous, carving the steep colorful walls of Palo Duro Canyon, an
area of geologic interest and great scenic beauty.


During the Permian Period the area that is now Palo Duro Canyon State
Park, was a nearly-flat land surface along the edge of a restricted sea.
The scarcity of fossils in the Quartermaster Formation indicates that
plant and animal life was sparse. The environment was probably unsuited
for plant life. It is thought that groundwater near the surface
evaporated, leaving large amounts of salt as a residue. Since plants
could not grow, animals would not have frequented the area either.

    [Illustration: Figure 6. Headward erosion by the Pecos, Colorado,
    Brazos, Red and Canadian Rivers isolate the High Plains by the end
    of the Pleistocene (10,000 years ago) and cut Palo Duro Canyon.]

Fossils and rocks of the Tecovas Formation indicate that the sediments
were deposited in a swamp and stream environment (Figure 7). As time
went on and the land continued rising, the climate became drier and some
of the earlier life forms disappeared.

Remains of _Metoposaurus_ (‘_Buettneria_’), the last of a long line of
giant amphibians, are found here. These animals lived in large ponds.
_Metoposaurus_ buried themselves in the bottom of a pond and waited for
fish to pass. With the aid of a third eye in the middle of its head, the
animal could direct its huge mouth to its prey. _Metoposaurus_ was so
bulky that it is thought that it did not leave the water because its
weak legs could not support its weight on land.

Living in shallower areas of the swamp were a group of semiaquatic
reptiles known as phytosaurs. Phytosaurs looked very much like giant
crocodiles with a nostril on the top of their heads, which permitted
them to lie submerged just below the surface of the water. They probably
fed on fish and smaller reptiles. Phytosaurs reached a length of 50

A heavily armored aetosaur, _Desmatosuchus_ also lived in the Park area
during the Triassic. They attained a length of about 10 feet. These
reptiles probably were herbivorous (plant eating). A unique feature of
_Desmatosuchus_ was a fringe of backward-pointing horns around their
necks. These possibly served to protect them from the carnivorous (meat
eating) phytosaurs.

    [Illustration: Figure 7. Life of Late Triassic time, showing
    restorations of the animals and plants that are now found as fossils
    in the Chinle beds of New Mexico and Arizona. In the water is the
    gigantic labyrinthodont amphibian, _Eupelor_, an animal some six
    feet or more in length. Lying on the bank is the crocodile-like
    thecodont reptile, _Phytosaurus_, large individuals of which may be
    twenty or thirty feet long. Behind the phytosaur, in the distance,
    is the armored thecodont, _Desmatosuchus_, ten feet long, and in the
    foreground is the small, bipedal thecodont, _Hesperosuchus_. In the
    left background are two individuals of the early saurischian
    dinosaur, _Coelophysis_, reptiles about ten feet in length. These
    animals lived in a tropical environment of moderate topography,
    crossed by many sluggish rivers and dotted with lakes. Numerous
    volcanoes rose above the general level of the land. Large,
    araucarian trees were abundant, stout scouring rushes or horsetails
    ten or fifteen feet high were everywhere, and the ground was covered
    with abundant ferns.]

Also found in the Tecovas and Trujillo formations are fossil lung-fish
teeth. Lung-fish are a type of fish that can breathe air, enabling them
to move from pond to pond. Footprints of a chicken-sized dinosaur have
also been found. The Middle Triassic flora was dominated by giant
palm-like trees. Also found are remains of a few large ferns and
horsetails. As the climate became drier and the swamps began to
disappear, coniferous (evergreen) trees such as _Araucarioxylon_ became
plentiful. These trees can be found in the canyon today as petrified

The Ogallala in the park contains very few fossils. A giant tortoise was
found near the bend where the road begins to descend into the canyon.
Fossil seeds may be seen in the exposure of the Ogallala near the
Coronado Lodge.

More extensive Late Pliocene fossil beds are exposed south of the park
in Cita Canyon. These beds are younger than the Ogallala and are stream
and basin deposits. The fauna and flora found here suggest a broad,
flat, grassy plain much like the present landscape (Figure 8). Remains
of mastodons, large, elephant-like animals with long upper tusks that
were used to dig up roots, are found here. Saber-tooth cats, also
present, preyed upon the mastodons. The remains of these, as well as
bones of camels, pony-sized horses, and sloths 10 feet high have been
found in the vicinity of the canyon. Some of these animals are thought
to have lived in the Panhandle a mere 10,000 years ago.

    [Illustration: Figure 8.]

  _Amebelodon_: shovel-tusked mastodon
  _Teleoceras_: short-legged rhinoceros
  _Synthetoceras_: snout-horned even-toed hoofed mammal
  _Cranioceras_: cranial-horned even-toed hoofed mammal
  _Merycodus_: extinct pronghorn antelope
  _Hypolagus_: extinct rabbit
  _Epigaulus_: burrowing horned rodent
  _Aphelops_: long-legged rhinoceros
  _Prosthennops_: extinct peccary
  _Osteoborus_: short-faced dog
  _Pseudaelurus_: extinct cat
  _Hemicyon_: bearlike dog
  _Procamelus_: llamalike camel
  _Megatylopus_: giant camel
  _Pliohippus_: ancestral one-toed horse
  _Neohipparion_: extinct three-toed horse

    [Illustration: FIGURE 22.41 Pliocene Mammals. Early Pliocene life of
    the southern High Plains. (Mural by J. H. Matternes, courtesy U.S.
    National Museum.)]

Due to limited outcrops in the Canyon proper, Pleistocene fossils are
very rare. An excellent collection of fossils from Palo Duro Canyon and
the Panhandle area is on display at the Panhandle-Plains Historical

    [Illustration: Spectacular Palo Duro, “grand canyon” of the
    Panhandle Plains, is an exciting experience. One of the nation’s
    most magnificent scenic attractions, it provides delightful drives
    and opportunities for hiking, horseback riding and camping in
    season. Visit Palo Duro and enjoy it.]

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                         Amarillo, Texas 79101

                            W.M. QUACKENBUSH

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                              2315 Harmony
                         Amarillo, Texas 79106

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                        Office: AC 806/352-6891
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                          Post Office Box 8145
                         Amarillo, Texas 79109

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              Petroleum Library 5th Floor Petroleum Bldg.
      Field trip Guidebooks, Cross-Sections and Other Publications

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                          Consulting Geologist

                    5500 Meadowgreen Drive Box 7586
                         Amarillo, Texas 79109

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                         AMARILLO, TEXAS 79106

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                           JAMES F. O’CONNELL

                          CONSULTING GEOLOGIST

                           5772 Canyon E-way
                             P. O. Box 7006
                         Amarillo. Texas 79109

                   Texas Panhandle Sample Log Service

   Plotted and described Stratigraphic Sample Logs on current and old
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                            Amarillo, Texas

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                          CONSULTING GEOLOGIST

                           5772 Canyon E-way
                             P. O. Box 7586
                         Amarillo, Texas 79109

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                          502 Petroleum Bldg.
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                           twenty-five years.

    [Illustration: Desert scene]

      Discover the world around you at West Texas State University

When you look toward the future, include a good education in your plans.
West Texas State University will help you learn about your world and
prepare you for the future.

                                             West Texas State University
                                                           Canyon, Texas

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Silently corrected several palpable typographical errors.

—Retained the list of corporate sponsors, but with simplified

—The original source had no date or copyright information. Based on
  external data, original publication of this (revised) edition was
  within a year or two of 1980.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Guidebook of Palo Duro Canyon" ***

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