Tag Archives: Palo Duro Canyon

Iconic play falls victim to coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic appears to have inflicted a major casualty in the Texas Panhandle: an iconic musical that has been thrilling millions of visitors for decades.

“Texas” is going to miss its 2020 summer season at the Pioneer Amphitheater on the floor of Palo Duro Canyon.

This is a very huge deal in the lives of West Texans, not to mention those who have flocked to the canyon floor to watch the musical that tells the story of the settling of the Panhandle.

Donald Trump declared that the national “social distancing” guideline will remain until April 30. Texas has imposed similar measures statewide. Communities and counties are taking proactive measures, too, to stem the spread of the illness that likely is destined to kill hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Hey, if they can postpone the Summer Olympics until July 2021, it only makes sense that the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation will put “Texas” on the shelf as well until next year.

This news saddens me, but it must be done.

Yes, the city surely has ‘changed’

My wife and I are continuing to make new acquaintances in our new home in Collin County and as we do, we routinely tell folks from where we moved.

We came here from Amarillo, we tell folks. The response is varied. “Oh yeah. I’ve been through there. Have you eaten the big steak?” is one. “Hey, that Palo Duro Canyon is really something,” is another.

We met a fellow the other day who said this, “I go to Amarillo frequently. Man, that city has changed!”

Yeah. It has. I didn’t take the time to ask what precisely he has noticed about the changes he has observed, although I did offer my own brief observation.

“The downtown district is nothing like it used to be,” I told him, “and it’s still undergoing an amazing transformation.”

Indeed, the city’s change has been dramatic.

We moved to Amarillo in early 1995. I went to work at the Globe-News’ office downtown. I was struck by how quiet it was. I learned of the “main drag” that used to run along Polk Street. The blocks between Seventh and Ninth Avenues were virtually desolate.

They are no longer desolate. There has been a tremendous infusion of business activity along Polk. And along Buchanan Street. So, too, along 10th Avenue.

There’s tremendous construction clamor occurring as crews work to finish ongoing projects. The Potter County Courthouse complex restoration has transformed the courthouse square. County commissioners have just voted to proceed with a $54 million construction of a new courts building.

And, let’s not ignore Hodgetown, the new ballpark that is getting the finishing touches in time for the Amarillo Sod Poodles’ home baseball opener in a couple of weeks.

The medical complex on the far west end of the city is growing. Texas Tech University is pushing ahead with construction of a college of veterinary medicine in Amarillo. Medical clinics are popping up throughout the area.

Texas highway planners are tearing the daylights out of Interstates 40 and 27. City street repair is diverting traffic throughout the community.

Has the city undergone change? Uhh, yeah! It has!

Part of me wishes we could watch it unfold in real time. A bigger part of me enjoys seeing the result of all that effort upon our occasional return trips to the place we called home.

Trying to make up for lost time


CAPROCK CANYONS STATE PARK, Texas — I’m kicking myself in the backside.

My wife and I moved to the Texas Panhandle more than 21 years ago. We’ve had a wonderful life here. We’ve been able to enjoy much of what the region has to offer.

Why the kick in the kiester?

It’s because it took us so damn long to get into the back country known as Caprock Canyons. I’m telling you, this is a truly gorgeous part of the world.

I’m preaching to the choir that’s already been here. For those of you haven’t yet had the opportunity, I encourage you to spend some time here, to enjoy the solitude and the splendor that the Almighty provides for you.

Of all the things Texas state government does well, I rate its care and maintenance of its state parks system to be among its greatest triumphs.

During our more than three decades living in Texas, we’ve visited a lot of state parks from the Big Thicket in East Texas to the red rocks of Palo Duro Canyon on the High Plains of West Texas … and many of the parks between them.

Caprock Canyons’ splendor takes our breath away as the sun comes up and the air is still relatively cool.

If you’ve been living in the region for a while and you haven’t seen it yet, shame on you!

I can say that because I am shaming myself for waiting so long.

‘Texas’ continues to provide thrills


Somewhere, the late Neil Hess might be looking down on Palo Duro Canyon — with a smile on his face.

The longtime artistic director of the acclaimed musical “Texas” died not long ago. I didn’t know the man well, but I certainly felt badly for him over the way he was dismissed from his job many years ago after devoting many years before to making the musical the attraction it has become.

We went tonight to the play and watched — for the umpteenth time — the pageantry, flash, color and talent that danced across the amphitheater stage. We had a special treat, too, as our granddaughter came with us … along with her parents and her brother.

“Texas” ended with its trademark salute to our beloved nation, complete with fireworks, lighted water displays and lots of proud music.

My wife and I have lived in the Texas Panhandle for more than 21 years and we’ve been to the musical on the floor of the canyon more years than we’ve missed during all that time. We’ve watched the play evolve some over the years. The artists tinker with bits of the play here and there just to change things up.

The story remains the same: a fictionalized telling of the settling the Panhandle and the advent of the railroad.

There’s a bit of pathos in it, with the Quanah Parker character telling the settlers of the sacrifices he and his people made and the suffering they endured while giving away their beloved land to the white men.

You know already, perhaps, that I’m a sucker for pageantry. I love patriotic music, the sight of Old Glory, the salutes to veterans and active-duty military personnel.

Love that patriotic pageantry!

“Texas” encompasses all of that while telling a robust story of a people who were willing to sacrifice everything to settle a once-wild and untamed region.

Man, the play continues to amaze me after all this time.

And wherever he is, Neil Hess — and I hope he eventually got over the way his association with the musical ended — should be glad to see his legacy continuing to flourish.

Hess’s legacy lives on in The Canyon


I did not know Neil Hess, although I surely knew of him.

Hess’s reputation was — and still is — huge in the community he left behind some years ago.

Hess died this week, but I’m so glad and grateful that one of his shining legacies lives on in the form of that play they perform every summer on the floor of Palo Duro Canyon.

“Texas” is a musical that tells the story through song, dance, music and lots of color of the settling of the Texas Panhandle. It became Neil Hess’s “baby” over the many years he served as artistic director of the musical.

My wife and I have been to the play, well, countless times during our 21-plus years living in Amarillo. We enjoy it every single year. We plan in just a few days to take our granddaughter, her brother and her parents to the play to watch the spectacle unfold in the 2016 version of “Texas.”

No tribute to Hess, though, cannot avoid mentioning the unceremonious manner in which he was terminated as artistic director of the play. The Panhandle Heritage Foundation board committed — in my view, at least — a monumental PR blunder when it fired Hess and then spent several days avoiding any explanation as to why it did what it did.

Moreover, Hess had just gone to Austin to receive the Texas Medal of Arts from then-Gov. Rick Perry; the award commemorated his many years contributing to the state’s rich arts culture.

Then he was fired.

Well, the art he helped create remains for visitors to enjoy.

We will continue to do so for as long as we are able to visit the canyon theater.

Rest in peace, Neil Hess … and thank you for all you did to enliven and enrich our community.


Amarillo would benefit from arts/culture designation


It took me some time to get my arms around it, but it finally happened.

Amarillo officials want the Texas Commission on the Arts to designate a portion of the city as an arts and culture district.

It won’t happen overnight. It might take a year or even longer for the arts folks in Austin to make that designation. From what I’ve been able to learn about it, the district’s creation will contribute to the city’s evolution into what some groups and leaders believe could turn the city into an arts destination.

I met recently with my good friend Beth Duke, the executive director of Center City, which is spearheading this effort. Duke knows the city inside and out, up and down, in and out. You name it, she knows it. She’s lived here all her life and for 30 years she covered the city in several capacities as a reporter and editor for the Amarillo Globe-News.

She transitioned years ago into her new role as an effective and articulate spokesman/advocate for her hometown.

Duke told me she has heard over many years how surprised visitors to Amarillo are when they learn about the art that is offered here.

She talked about all the performing arts: symphony, opera, theater, Broadway play series. She talked also about the visual arts: museums, art galleries and outdoor art exhibits such as, say, Cadillac Ranch.

The Cadillacs? I know what you’re thinking. The exhibit just west of the city is little more than a conversation piece. But take a look on a sunny day at the number of vehicles parked on the access road next to The Ranch. Duke thinks the Cadillacs can become a major draw for visitors.

The district encompasses a good chunk of downtown Amarillo, Sixth Avenue, Wolflin and the San Jacinto neighborhood.

What does it mean for the city in tangible terms?

It means the city could apply for grants to promote certain exhibits or performances that come to town.

In the longer term, though, it means, according to Duke, that visitors who come here might be enticed into staying an extra day or two once they discover what they can enjoy. They might want to tour the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon, on the West Texas A&M University campus. They might discover Palo Duro Canyon just a bit east of there and south of Amarillo. They might want to tour the Amarillo Museum of Art, or take a gander at the galleries that occupy what used to be a significant shopping mall at the Sunset Center.

It’s impossible, it appears, to put a precise dollar amount on the impact such a designation would have on Amarillo. I happen to believe the impact could be significant.

It is important to note, though, that Amarillo isn’t exactly blazing a trail in this regard. The state already has established 26 such districts — including one in Lubbock, which has its share of events annually that bring significant tourist revenue to that city.

OK, so we’re not the first to climb onto the arts and culture district bandwagon.

The way I figure it, though, there’s still plenty of room aboard it.


‘The show must go on’

You’ve heard the cliché, I’m sure, that “The show must go on.”

I’m not an entertainer. I don’t understand fully the entertainer’s mindset about whether to go on with the show in the wake of tragedy. The cast of the acclaimed outdoor musical “Texas” is wrestling with whether to go on with their own show at the Pioneer Amphitheater in Palo Duro Canyon in the wake of a horrific tragedy that befell it early today.

Five cast members were killed in a car crash north of Amarillo.

My friend Jon Mark Beilue wrote eloquently about his own son’s friendship with one of those who perished. It’s worth a look here.


I do not know as of this moment what the cast will decide. They’ll need to get over their shock. The grief will linger.

I’d be inclined to counsel them to go on with the show, as their friends would want them to be true to the creed of their craft.

If they decide they can’t, well, I understand that, too.

My prayers are with you all.