But first, we settle in…
Over the past five months, our family has moved, sold our former home, bought a new home, and settled into east Texas with our dog pack of three rescues. I’ve started a new job at Visit Tyler, promoting the Rose Capital of America to visitors.
After living in west Texas for the past six years, our biggest adjustment has been the rain. In San Angelo, we had a whopping 12 inches of precipitation last year. In the first quarter of this year in Tyler, we’ve already surpassed that, and some. I love the color green and you can see it everywhere here.
The mesquite trees in our yard in west Texas have been replaced with tall oaks and pines. While we left the building that housed the World Headquarters of How Big Is Texas, we have plans for a newer, larger, and International World Headquarters to be built soon in the Piney Woods in our backyard.
Now that you’ve been updated on the move and the goings on these past few months, let’s get back to traveling the great state of Texas.
More Than 45 Years of Exploring Texas State Parks
In the mid to late 1970’s when I was around 12 years old, I went to see a production of TEXAS Outdoor Musical. Set in the 1800’s, it tells the story of the settlers of the Texas Panhandle. The setting is in the incredible Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Canyon, Texas, the second largest canyon in North America. I’ve never forgotten it. It’s a great memory and a terrific way to highlight the impact the parks have had on my life on this 100th anniversary year of Texas State Parks.
I don’t have a picture of that first visit as a pre-teen, but I do have a photo of myself on the stage of the musical when I was 18 in the fall of 1983. While my singing is okay, I couldn’t pull off the dancing to save my life, so this photo is as close as I would ever come to being cast in the actual show.
A little over 45 years after my first experience, I’ve now checked off more than half of the 89 state parks in Texas. I must admit a significant number of those trips happened in the past 20 years, so I took far too long to experience them. At least I can say I’ve visited and I thought I’d share some of those parks with you.
Having already talked about a couple of Palo Duro Canyon experiences, I’m going to continue, since I’ve returned several times since the 70’s and 80’s to check out the actual park. I’m not a big hiker so I can’t say that I’ve trekked the Lighthouse Trail and seen its namesake up close and personal, but I have photographed it and its majestic beauty. Dusk is a beautiful time to see the park, as the sun begins to set and you find yourself surrounded by the outline of the stunning vistas as they slowly disappear into darkness. Believe me, it gets dark inside a canyon.
If you drive southeast of Palo Duro, near the small town of Quitaque, the Bison Capital of Texas, you’ll find some features similar to the northern Panhandle park. Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway is known for its 90 miles of trails and the herd of bison roaming throughout the park. I was fortunate enough to come across these incredible bovines on a trip a few years ago and they even had a little one among the herd. Both parks are in my top 20 parks to see in Texas.
Far West Texas
If you’ve been following this blog since it started in 2020, you know I am a HUGE fan of far west Texas, particularly the Big Bend area. I’ve visited often and shared many of my experiences on those trips, including a stop on my perimeter tour around the state and Big Impressions from Brewster County. While I absolutely love the parks in the Panhandle, the Texas Mountain Trail Region state parks take my breath away every time.
Traveling the river road to the Barton Warnock Visitor Center in Terlingua and hiking the trailhead at Big Bend Ranch State Park near Marfa is just a start. Exploring Fort Leaton and its rich history in Presidio, visiting the beautiful Indian Lodge in the Davis Mountains near Fort Davis, and taking a dip in the San Soloman Springs in the waters of Balmorhea State Park in Toyahville are great ways to explore the Big Bend area. Drive even further west to El Paso and view the lights of the city from Franklin Mountains State Park and then travel east to Hueco Tanks State Park and take in the incredible rock formations. Unfortunately, Wyler Aereal Tramway is closed and you are no longer able to take the tram. It’s too bad because the view is spectacular.
West and West Central Texas
Nearly 10 years ago, I traveled with a tourism group to this part of the state and experienced it for the first time. I had little knowledge of the area and no expectations
We visited Big Spring State Park. I didn’t expect the 200-foot bluff and the sight of the city lights of Big Spring from that amazing viewpoint.
I had no idea what to expect from Monahans Sandhills State Park but seeing a windmill in the distance among miles and miles of sand, 3,840 acres of it, made me appreciate the beauty of nature. I’ve returned several times since that trip. While there’s no beach or water in sight, there’s something about taking off your shoes and walking through warm sand that soothes the soul. Bonus points for what it does to your feet, making them softer than they were when you arrived and sandal friendly.
Having lived outside of San Angelo for nearly six years, I drove by the San Angelo State Park coming and going to work Monday through Friday. Occasionally, I would see the herd of Texas longhorns grazing by the fence. When I would grab my camera for a nature day on the weekends, I always tried to see the herd of bison roaming a large, fenced area of the park. These majestic creatures are a sight to behold.
I wish I could say I’ve been to Seminole Canyon State Park and Historic Site more than once, but the one and only time I visited, I realized that part of the hike to get to the historic pictographs was a little rough for my old basketball-playing knees. I highly recommend you check it out. The rock paintings are beautiful and a rich piece of Texas history that should be seen in person.
TIP: While you’re in the area, I would also check out the Judge Roy Been Visitor Center in Langtry, down the road a piece, as they say.
When I worked in Austin, my husband and I made lots of trips to see the various state parks in the Texas Hill Country. We camped at some and took day trips to others. Certainly, there are more than the five. These are among my favorites.
Rock formations of limestone almost look polished from the waters that have flown over them from Onion Creek at McKinney Falls State Park in Austin. The waterfall affect is beautiful but know this area can flood during heavy rains and you don’t want to be caught in a deluge, so watch the weather forecast when you go. No sense losing your footing on slippery rock.
I’ve climbed Enchanted Rock State Natural Area near Fredericksburg three times. This giant rock formation of pink granite coming out of the earth can be a bit daunting when you first start climbing. Who am I kidding? If you’re not in very good shape or if you’re not very sure-footed, you might want to stick with the walk around it instead of going vertical. The amazing thing about the rock as you’re climbing is you think you’re close to the stop and you see it was just a mirage. The dome is still awaiting you. Once you make the climb, the views are spectacular. Even with my bad knees, I was able to take it slow and steady with the help of a walking stick.
Fall in Texas is beautiful but I don’t know that there is any place lovelier than Lost Maples State National Area in Vanderpool to take in the natural beauty of the changing season. Hikes on a cool, fall day are exuberating and the colors are a sight to behold. Of course, the drive through the winding roads of the Texas Hill Country add to that exuberance. If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, grab your bike and take off for the ride of your life, as you traverse the curves and turns along the way.
When we first started camping years ago in a used motorhome we’d purchased, one of our favorite places to go was Guadalupe River State Park. (And before you think it, we were glampers and not campers. I don’t think I could get myself off the ground if I tent camped.) The cypress trees at the park are stunning, coming out of the waters edge. And the cool waters of the Guadalupe River running over the shallow areas of the park were perfect for our dogs. They loved walking with us on leashes, of course, and cooling off before resting by the fire pit and watching the stars at night.
President Lyndon Baines Johnson was either loved or hated, depending on who you talk to when he was in office. Not much has changed in politics, I suppose. The historic home site of the 36th president at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site in Stonewall, includes walking trails, bison and longhorns, and LBJ Ranch. If you come in the springtime, you might see LBJ’s lovely wife’s, Lady Bird Johnson contribution to beautification of Texas in the fields of bluebonnets and wildflowers around the ranch.
South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley
I had never been what you would describe as a birder. After seeing large camera lenses photographing some of the most beautiful and unique birds I’ve ever seen at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park in Mission, I now find great enjoyment in looking at and listening for our winged friends. Green jays, Plain Chachalacas, and my personal favorite, the Common Pauraque are like no birds you’ve seen in any other part of the state.
A few years ago while camping for a few months at Llano Grande Resort and Country Club in Mercedes, we visited Estero Llano Grande State Park. It was literally right next door to our RV park. In fact, we could see the tropical birds flying over our fifth wheel as they headed to the state park. While we loved seeing the birds here, too, it was also fun to get up close, but not too close, to an alligator or two. Definitely a must see park while in the Rio Grande Valley.
Remember the Alamo. Remember Goliad. Texans know those words and take them to heart. While the Battle of Goliad is an important story to Texas independence, other stories are also important in the town like Mission Espiritu Santo. If you visit Goliad State Park and Historic Site, you can experience the Mission, hiking trails, and the history of the Spanish King’s Road, along the banks of the San Antonio River.
Admittedly, I’ve never been to the state parks along the beaches in Galveston or Corpus Christi near the Gulf of Mexico and it seems so wrong to share that fact, which I plan to remedy in the future.
I have been to Goose Island State Park near Rockport. In fact, I’ve visited several times. The Big Tree at the park fascinates me. It is estimated to be more than 1,000 years old. How it has survived the many weather incidents that have hit this region over a century of life, I am not sure.
One of my most recent park visits was to Brazos Bend State Park in Needville, around 45 miles southwest of Houston. While the visit was brief, I saw an armadillo walking the grounds soon after I arrived. In the visitor center, the staff introduced me to a number of baby alligators, my favorite kind. They’re so cute when they’re little, don’t you think?
Having graduated from Livingston High School, I went to Lake Livingston State Park a few times back then. I swam in the waters of the lake as a teenager and didn’t learn there were alligators actually living in the area until far later in life. I’ve returned a few times, while camping in the area and visiting friends and family. I’ve even seen bald eagles there in the winter months, scouting out the 83,000 surface acre man-made reservoir.
For years, I’d seen photos of Caddo Lake State Park in Karnack in northeast Texas. Soon after we moved to the Tyler area, we loaded up the dogs and took a day trip to the park to see the Big Cypress Bayou for ourselves. My grandmother loved Spanish moss and the trees there are covered with it, so I had a great memory of her while there. Families fished off the pier and others canoed their way around the bald cypress trees. It was both creepy and beautiful.
Tyler State Park was a new one for me when I moved here the first of the year. Since my first visit in January, I have been hooked. With a spring-fed lake in the middle of the park, it offers fishing, swimming, and animal watching along 13 miles of trails. You can get lost in your thoughts among the tall pine trees of east Texas. It’s now my go-to since I now live here.
If you haven’t visited the state parks of Texas, I highly recommend it. They provide a respite from work and an escape to nature at a time when it is sorely needed by individuals and families across the state. If you do plan to visit, I also recommend you purchase an annual pass. That way, if you happen to be driving the back roads of Texas and come across a park you want to visit, you can go right in and explore it for yourself. And how better to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of Texas State Parks than sharing them with your friends and family.
As for me, I have more than 40 parks to go, so I best get busy.
Until next time…from Texas…safe travels!