Over millennia the slow drama of erosion into colorfully layered rocks played out at the edge of flat prairie to create the nation's second largest canyon system. And over centuries of human habitation a more vivid drama of Native Americans and settlers, ranchers and farmers, railroads and open ranges played out here in the Texas Panhandle.
Those stories were distilled into the enduring musical Texas half a century ago by playwright Paul Green, who'd made a name for himself back east as the "father of American outdoor drama." The citizens of Canyon believed their history was on a par with the national romances Green had immortalized in The Lost Colony andThe Stephen Foster Story—and they hired Green to come soak up as much of the Texas mythos as he could manage.
Green's play premiered in 1966, with the dramatic canyon walls as backdrop. Crowds enthusiastically patronized the performance, and it became a staple of summer entertainment and inspiration ever since.
The play has changed over the years, but since 2006 director Dave Yirak has brought back much of Green's original script and staging.
Texas history isn't the only literature mounted on the stage of thePioneer Amphitheatre. On select nights during the season when Texas isn't scheduled, the talented company—composed of locals and professionals—offers other plays, ranging from Shakespeare to "Texas Originals."
The Canyon Gallery, located in the state park's visitor center on the canyon rim, carries an impressive array of books about Texas and the West, and literary gems by regional writers. One of the most imaginative is Canyon author Donald Mace Williams's Wolfe, a retelling of the Beowulf epic set in the canyon during the open range era. Wolfe won the 2009 Rattle Chapbook Prize, and you can pick up a signed copy of the chapbook in the Canyon Gallery or at either of the stores down in the canyon.
When you're not enjoying the story told by nature in the canyon, there's plenty of literary culture to enjoy in the nearby city of the same name. Bestselling authors Jodi Thomas and Tim Lewis teach creative writing courses on the historic campus of West Texas A&M University, where Thomas is writer-in-residence.
It's not unusual to run into one of them, or other literary figures, across the street from campus at the Buffalo Book Store, which serves as conversation hub, independent college bookstore, and one of the best places in the Panhandle to discover books about the region and by its authors.
Next door the Paper Crane serves up coffee alongside art supplies you can use to make your own book. Or gather with likeminded writer types a few blocks west at the Palace Coffee Company,named one of the nation's top ten coffee shops by USA Today in 2014. The Palace posts bulletins of readings, performances, and other cultural goings-on in the area.
If you're lucky, you might catch a meeting of the Panhandle Professional Writers in Canyon or Amarillo. One of the oldest continuous writing groups in the country, it has flourished since the 1920s, when the redoutable Laura V. Hamner (known best for her 1935 biography of rancher Charles Goodnight, The No-Gun Man of Texas) founded it.