The Lone Star state is one of the biggest land masses in the USA, just under 450,000 square miles of spectacular and vast landscape that is home to over one hundred state and national parks, some desert-like and some amazingly similar to the Grand Canyon.
Palo Duro Canyon
Palo Duro Canyon has been nicknamed the Grand Canyon of Texas, and it is easy to see why as it cuts through the great Panhandle which lies just south of Amarillo. This park is over sixty miles long, and in places nearly twenty miles wide, with drops as long as a thousand feet. It happens to be the second largest canyon in the country and its geological features are superb.
The walls of the canyon are colorful and steep and are reminiscent of its rather larger cousin over in Arizona. The area has been inhabited for over 12,000 years, most notably by the Kiowa, Apache and Comanche tribes. The park devotes itself to horseback riding with trails only accessible to horses, but an amazing seventeen thousand acres have hiking trails and can be used by mountain bikers. The park is also home to the Texas State Longhorn Herd.
Big Bend Park
Big Bend is actually both a national and a state park, and is the state’s natural crown jewel. Both parks combine to cover an area of the Chihuahuan desert that is bigger than the whole state of Rhode Island. Big Bend protects the majestic Rio Grand river that separates the USA from Mexico. The park was featured in numerous films due to its amazing landscape and historical importance. During the summer Big Bend is sweltering, but in winter it turns to extreme cold and even snow.
There is vast open desert, jagged rock formations and luscious river valleys that all support a diverse and wonderful mix of flora and fauna. Some of the animals that live in the park are among America’s largest predators, such as mountain lions and black bears, but because of the vast open spaces, there have been little problems in terms of encounters with humans. If you are an avid hiker, then Big Bend is perfect as it contains over two hundred miles of trails that range from family walks to long treks that can stretch out for days. The is also plenty of space to enjoy horse riding and pottering about on the Rio Grande.
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
A great deal of the Texas landscape is desert, but in the Permian Period the whole region was covered by sea, which in itself had a huge coral reef. Over time, some of the massive 400-mile reef was preserved and became the Guadalupe Mountains.
The Guadalupe Mountains are covered in ancient fossils and are one of the greatest examples of fossilized reef on the planet. There is an old stagecoach trail that can be followed in parts, which was originally the Butterfield Overland Mail Trail, and it will take you through some extreme but beautiful terrain. Pine Springs Visitor Centre is also a great place to visit and from there you can follow the trail to the ruins of a historic old stage station.
These great parks are only a glimpse of the amazing parks that make up the great state of Texas, in part two of our blog we explore even more of the wonderful landscape that Texas has to offer.