Texas HistoryToday in Texas History: Theatergoers Enjoyed First Show in Palo Duro Canyon

On June 17, 1965, a light and sound show at the Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the precursor to today’s "TEXAS" musical, opened.
June 17, 2022
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“The stars at night are big and bright” under the sky at Pioneer Amphitheater in Palo Duro State Park as the audience gathers to watch the “TEXAS Outdoor Musical.”

The first staging of a production at the second largest canyon in the United States was June 17, 1965 when “Thundering Sounds of the West” opened to over 36,000 visitors that summer, according to the Handbook of Texas Online.

Margaret P. Harper had the idea for a production in the unique setting in 1960. She and her husband wanted to attract more tourists to see the area they loved. They established the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation to spearhead the project in 1961.

Harper contacted Paul Green, a Pulitzer-prize-winning playwright she learned about in Reader’s Digest, to encourage him to write a play about the Texas Panhandle and the history of the High Plains region.

Green visited the area and agreed to take on the project. His story came to life in 1966 when “TEXAS” was first staged.

The Texan Tumbler

Now after over 50 seasons running, “TEXAS” continues to attract between 45,000 and 50,000 visitors to the region each summer. It runs each week, Tuesday through Saturday, between June and August. This season’s last showing will be August 13, according to Stephanie Price, director of marketing and communications for the musical.

The amphitheater sits in the midst of the canyon, and visitors are surrounded by rock formations which contribute to the unique setting and “true Texas experience,” Price said.

The production begins with a lone rider carrying a Texas flag galloping across the rim of the canyon above the amphitheater.

Visitors come from all over the world, Price added. Each evening the musical staff presents a gift to the audience member who has traveled the farthest to the production under the big Texas sky.

Besides attending the musical, Price noted that there are plenty of other interesting attractions and museums to visit in the Amarillo and Canyon area.

TEXAS” employs over 120 cast and crew members during its run each summer, she commented. Some have gone on to appear on Broadway and in film.

For instance, Lauren Ward was part of the cast in 1989 and has gone on to appear in many Broadway musicals. She was nominated in 2013 for the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in “Matilda.”

Tom Heard, who went on to appear in the “Friday Night Lights” television series about Texas high school football, was a “TEXAS” cast member in 1980. 

Scott Bull Allen was the assistant technical director for “TEXAS” in 1997 and has continued his career in special effects, including performances at five Super Bowls.

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Kim Roberts

Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.