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One of the Last Cedar Groves in Palo Duro Canyon

NerdyNativeOct 5, 2020, 1:08:03 AM

We've been all over Palo Duro Canyon. Over the past year we gained access to much of the canyons to the south of the state park. These areas comprise the South Cita and Antibust creeks. We've been exploring these areas aggressively.

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One thing we noticed everywhere were cut cedar stumps.

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It was obvious that there were several large groves of cedar trees. It's something we hadn't noticed in the state park.

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Some continued to grow after they had been cut.

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We also noticed obviously graded roads from long ago cut in several places along the southern rim of the canyon. These roads were always leading down to the cut cedar stumps. 


Asking around and doing a little research we discovered that from the 1880's up through 1910's, cowboys would grade the roads, cut cedar posts, and haul them out via horse and wagon for transport to the surrounding communities. 

There are many references to this activity in historical accounts around that time.

nine children in all. They lived on the land three years. and then received the deeds. 
It was all homestead land. 
Their first livelihood was made by cutting posts out of the 
them by wagon to Tulia. Canyon, and Amarillo. Sally McGehee taught in this 
community. Around Id93•94 the settlers who were here began to leave, but around 
1895-96 they began to return and start farming. They first started raising gyp corn. 
a kind of white maize with a crooked neck; cane and milo was also raised a great

Anyone familiar with the history of the Llano Estacado will know that there were no trees on top of the caprock. It's no wonder that when the first settlers came to the area, they graded roads and started harvesting the cedars. Unfortunately, most are gone now. Doing more research we found references to what those cedar groves looked like before they were cut. In 1876, just two years after the decisive Battle of Palo Duro Canyon opened the area up to western settlers, the US army conducted a topographic and scientific survey of the area. The diary of a civilian, Adolph Hunnius, who helped with the survey is a fascinating read. In his diary, he mentions the tall cedars in the canyons a few times. Especially in the South Cita area. 

Then I remembered that we had seen tall trees somewhere on a hike we did in the park when the kids were young. Could those have been tall cedars? We had to go back to Burnt Draw.

This was a hike that we did many times but never to go especially to look at trees. That's something normally not done in the state park.

Step 1, Sorenson Peak

Step 2, Sorenson Peak to Burnt Draw

Then we dropped down into the draw and there they were, a grove of TALL cedars.

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・ 響 い

I'd estimate the heights of the tallest ones at over 50ft, but it's hard to tell.

We had admired them on the past hikes, but we just didn't know that they were now rare in the canyon. 

A couple of hiking ladies in our group joined hands and, based upon that, estimated the circumference at 11 feet. If this random internet site is actuate, and our hand-holding measurement is actuate, then that puts the age of these trees at over 400 years old. That's impressive! Even if it's off a few years.

We've since learned that there are other places farther down the Prairie Dog Town Fork where there are surviving groves of cedars. We're going to be looking around the park for other cedar groves and will update this post when found.

It would have been nice to have a few more of these cedar groves around today. If you find yourself out in the remote part of the park and you see a grove of tall cedars, take a little time and appreciate them. They've been around a long time. Then let us know so we can share here where they are. If you want to see the Burnt Draw cedar grove, then just follow our path in the videos above. It's a great hike, but as always, bring more water than you think you'll need. Don't forget to look for the cave downstream of the cedar grove. I told you it was a great little hike!

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