Big Bend Ranch State ParkWhen winter rain and snow falls in far West Texas, the desert flora of Big Bend Ranch State Park just outside Presidio comes to life. Prickly pear, hedgehog and other cacti bloom in profusions of yellow, pinks and all colors of the rainbow. Big Bend Ranch, often confused with Big Bend National Park some 100 miles to the east, is a working cattle ranch where cowboys still tend to a state longhorn herd. The park spreads over 300,000 acres of the Chihuahuan Desert at the edge of Mexico, offering an uncrowded, unspoiled slice of the Old West where one can hike, mountain bike and camp amid ancient rock formations in this unusual oasis of more than 100 springs, two waterfalls and a collapsed volcanic dome known as the Solitario.
If sleeping in a tent isnt your thing, you can opt for a rustic bunkhouse (Sauceda Lodge) or if youre lucky, snag a room in the picturesque tile-roofed ranch house in the heart of the ranch. The official entry points, where visitors pick up the necessary permits for camping, kayaking the Rio Grande or hiking an extensive system of trails, are the Barton Warnock Environmental Education Center in Lajitas and Fort Leaton State Historic Site in Presidion. For more information, call 432-424-3327.
Caprock Canyons State ParkThe redrock canyonlands of the Texas Panhandle Plains take center stage at Caprock Canyons State Park near the small town of Quitaque. The park covers 14,000 acres of rugged canyonlands carved by tributaries of the Red River at the doorstep of the Texas High Plains. Humans have been drawn for more than 10,000 years to this magical land of brilliantly-colored canyons, serpentine creeks and breaks framed by majestic escarpments rising along the western boundary of the park where the rolling plains meet the white caprock of the table top-flat Llano Estacado above. Here is found remnants of legendary rancher Charles Goodnights pure bison herd that provides a vital link to Texas Western heritage.
A new Visitors Center is being built to inform the public about the cultural and natural resources of the park, the Texas State Bison Herd and Caprock Canyons Trailway. The trailway covers 64 miles along a converted railroad corridor and includes the famous Clarity Railroad Tunnel that is home to 20,000 Mexican free-tail bats. Lake Theo provides a place for folks to cool off, hook a fish or just enjoy a picnic lunch beneath a shade tree. Hiking, backpacking, camping, horseback riding and more await visitors to this alluring land of blood-red escarpments, 1,000-foot canyon walls, arroyos and wind-sculpted sandstone spires that has more in kin with New Mexico and Colorado landscapes than most of the rest of Texas. For more information, call 806-455-1492.
Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic SiteTexas bluebonnets and an important chapter of Texas history await visitors to Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site between Navasota and Brenham about an hours drive from Houston. While the parks natural history can dazzle the senses, its the sites role as the Birthplace of Texas Independence that makes this pastoral park along the Brazos River a must-see for history buffs. In the spring, nature trails throughout the parks 260 acres are lined with the blues, yellows, pinks and reds of Texas wildflowers. One trail leads to a replica of Independence Hall in the old Washington town site, where in March of 1836, 59 men met to draft a document creating the Republic of Texas and declaring its independence from Mexico. The compelling story of the Founding Fathers of Texas, including General Sam Houston and Lorenzo de Zavala, unfolds in the state-of-the-art Visitors Center.
Other visitor attractions at Washington-on-the-Brazos include the Star of the Republic Museum and Barrington Living History Farm, where re-enactors in period attire perform farm chores typical in the Brazos River Valley in the 1850s. Here, too, is found the frame home of Anson Jones, the Republic of Texas last president. For more information, call 936-878-2214.