Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Farewell to Palo Duro Canyon

with 20 comments


Palo Duro Canyon lies in what’s called the Panhandle Plains. As you approach, the flat land
offers nary a clue that you’re getting close to the second largest canyon in the United States.



Eventually you reach a place where the land drops away and you suddenly see swaths of the canyon
spread out before you. A convenient parking lot lets you get out and take in the vistas.



We stopped there only on our way out of the park, so eager had I been when we arrived in the morning
to get down into the canyon. These four pictures, all taken sequentially from the same spot an average
of one minute apart, show you some of the canyon’s diverse and intriguing geological formations.



A cursory look has left me thinking there’s no overlap among the four photographs.



§       §       §



I’ve spoken many times now about the authoritarianism creeping—and sometimes bounding—into the English-speaking countries. Briton Andrew Doyle has felt it, too. Here’s the beginning of his 2021 book Free Speech:

It’s the kind of phrase that wouldn’t seem out of place in the pages of a dystopian novel. Yet these were not the words of an agent of some totalitarian regime, but rather those of a police officer in the United Kingdom in 2019. Harry Miller, a fifty-three-year-old entrepreneur and former constable, was contacted by Humberside Police following a complaint by an offended party about a poem that he had shared on social media which was deemed to be transphobic. During the course of the conversation, the officer explained that, although not illegal, this nevertheless qualified as a ‘non-crime hate incident’. Why, Miller asked, was the unnamed complainant being described as a ‘victim’ if no crime had been committed? More to the point, why was he being investigated at all? To which came the ominous response: ‘We need to check your thinking.’

Over the past decade, many people have detected a pattern of minor changes in our culture, a kind of piecemeal reconfiguration at odds with our hard-won rights to personal autonomy. Miller’s case is not an isolated affair. Between 2014 and 2019, almost 120,000 ‘non-crime hate incidents’ were recorded by police forces in England and Wales. This sort of development has left a substantial number of us feeling as though we are no longer on secure ground; the tremors are too persistent. The ‘culture wars’, although often dismissed by commentators as a manufactured phenomenon, are closely tied to this gnawing sense that something is amiss. Miller’s experience is one of many stories in which the principle of free speech has been casually disregarded for the sake of what is perceived to be a higher social priority.

Much of this can be explained by a sea change in the public’s attitude to free expression and its key function in a liberal society. A new identity-based conceptualisation of ‘social justice’ has brought with it a mistrust of unfettered speech and appeals for greater intervention from the state. We are left facing that confusing and rare phenomenon: the well-intentioned authoritarian. When those who long for a fairer society are also calling for censorship, we find ourselves stranded on unfamiliar terrain. How are we meant to respond when the people who wish to deprive us of our rights sincerely believe that they are doing so for our own good?


In addition to reading Free Speech, you can watch Andrew Doyle interviewing Toby Young, the head of the Free Speech Union, on what has been called ‘offense archaeology.’


© 2023 Steven Schwartzman





Written by Steve Schwartzman

January 10, 2023 at 4:31 AM

20 Responses

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  1. It’s taken until now for me to recognize Palo Duro as a metaphor for life. How often have we traveled life’s surface until, both suddenly and unexpectedly, a chasm opens before us. At that point, there’s an obvious choice: observe, and perhaps admire, its qualities from above, or gather the necessary tools and begin exploring.

    Here ends the philosophizing for the morning.


    January 10, 2023 at 8:01 AM

    • Ah, Palo Duro Canyon as a metaphor for life. Who could be against a bit of morning philosophizing? When you visit the place yourself, we’ll see if you add any metaphors.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 10, 2023 at 9:28 AM

  2. My distrust of our society that attempts to curtail freedom of speech is as deep as the Palo Duro Canyon.

    Peter Klopp

    January 10, 2023 at 9:55 AM

  3. It looks beautiful! I hope it’s not farewell, but see you again someday.


    January 10, 2023 at 10:49 AM

    • Perhaps we’ll return someday. During the October visit we didn’t hike to Palo Duro’s most famous feature, dubbed the Lighthouse (which we’d walked to many years ago). If we go back, that will be one of the sites to hit.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 10, 2023 at 10:58 AM

  4. I love a place where there’s a different scene in every direction. There’s a lot of texture here and wonder how different lighting might affect it.


    January 10, 2023 at 11:21 AM

    • I’ve seen some great pictures online of Palo Duro Canyon at sunrise and throughout the year, including winter snow. The main advantage that came my way in October was a bright blue sky that I could play off against the pastel colors of the sandstone.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 10, 2023 at 12:50 PM

  5. In December 2021, we drove by Palo Duro without knowing it was there. Sad for us.

    Jim R

    January 10, 2023 at 11:50 AM

    • Sometimes in life, we don’t know what we are missing.

      Jim R

      January 10, 2023 at 11:51 AM

      • I’ve often had the experience when I’m out photographing in nature that if I return by the same path I notice things that I’d walked right past without noticing on the way in. From the frequency with which that happens I assume more generally that I’ve missed and will continue to miss many things in life. We have to be thankful for our successes.

        Steve Schwartzman

        January 10, 2023 at 12:57 PM

    • Oh, too bad. It’d be worth a trip to make up for having missed it. If you do go, Caprock Canyons State Park a little southeast of there is also worth visiting.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 10, 2023 at 12:51 PM

  6. I could just sit and look at country like that for hours. Beautiful photos, Steve.

    Lavinia Ross

    January 10, 2023 at 12:12 PM

    • Yes, it’s a great place. I hope you’ll get to see it one of these days. It certainly gave me lots of pictures.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 10, 2023 at 12:58 PM

  7. Now that I know this little gem is just a few hour’s drive, Forrest and I will have to make a trip! We have a niece in Lubbock which makes even more of a reason to get on the road!


    January 10, 2023 at 6:29 PM

    • You said it. On the same trip you can visit Caprock Canyons State Park, which is northeast of Lubbock. That park has bison and prairie dogs in addition to geological formations:

      Prairie dog

      Spring would be a good time for a visit because then you’d also have wildflowers.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 10, 2023 at 6:53 PM

  8. That’s amazing to have four such shots taken from the same spot. I wish there was more of this beautiful sandstone, etc. in the east/north and not just dull gray slate and shale. Beautiful.

    Robert Parker

    January 10, 2023 at 6:45 PM

    • It surprised me, too, when I later looked at the pictures taken from that lookout and realized how different they were from one another. Badlands, hoodoos, and formations like the ones in Palo Duro Canyon all resonate with me. That’s a big reason I consider the October trip such a success. Now you know (if you didn’t already) some great places to put on your to-visit list.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 10, 2023 at 6:58 PM

  9. Outstanding landscape scenes! I find them totally mesmerizing.

    I know nothing about drone photography but this seems like it would lend itself to days of flying photo fun.

    Wally Jones

    January 14, 2023 at 12:28 PM

    • I also don’t know anything about drone photography but I see what you mean about the potential it has in a place like Palo Duro Canyon. I aim my camera downward less often than sideways or somewhat upward, but a drone offers some great possibilities for that direction.

      Steve Schwartzman

      January 14, 2023 at 3:35 PM

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