Tag Archives: Texas Parks & Wildlife

Parking It, Part 3: An undiscovered treasure

MARTIN CREEK LAKE STATE PARK, Texas –– My wife and I some time ago declared ourselves to be in love with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

Specifically, we love the state parks system.

We have discovered what we believe is one of TP&W’s hidden treasures. Martin Creek Lake State Park is about a three-hour drive from our home in Princeton. We made the drive and then found this gem of a public park.

One minor difficulty proved to be no difficulty at all: Every spot in the park is a back-in space, meaning we had to back our fifth wheel into the space we had reserved. It turned out to be wide enough, roomy enough and, by golly, we got ‘er done!

However, the scenic nature of this park is quite stunning.

As we have found with all the Texas state parks we have visited since we took up RV life in retirement, this one is well-maintained, well-groomed and well-managed. There are plenty of scenic hiking trails throughout the park, which isn’t a large park.

What’s more, there is plenty of space between RV campsites. There’s no crowding of folks parked right next to the site next door.

So help me, I recommend to all of our Texas-resident friends that the state park system is worth using.

My wife and I make notes of those parks we intend to visit again when we see them for the first time. Martin Creek Lake has just elbowed its way to the head of the line of return-visit locations.

We love this place!

This amendment issue is worth all Texans’ support

It’s not often that a Texas constitutional amendment election gets my juices flowing, but this year is going to present one for my wife and me.

Hey, we’re retired these days and we spend time cruising around Texas hauling our fifth wheel recreational vehicle behind our pickup. When we travel in Texas, we make it a point to spend as many nights as we can at one of the state parks.

So, the Legislature has decided to send a measure to voters this fall that dedicates a lot of money to maintain and improve our state park network.

I am all in on this one!

According to the Texas Tribune: In a big win for outdoor enthusiasts and day trippers alike, legislation that would ensure that the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the Texas Historical Commission always get the maximum amount of money they are allowed to receive through a state sporting goods sales tax has passed both the House and Senate and heads to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk for his signature.

The 1993 Legislature approved a law that dedicated 94 percent of sales tax revenue to the state parks, with 6 percent going to the Texas Historical Commission. In the years since then, the state has been forced to use that revenue to balance the budget, depriving the parks system of money it needs for maintenance, upkeep and improvement of the system.

The constitutional amendment would ensure the state spends as much money as possible on parks, according to state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, author of the bill.

My wife and I recently moved to Collin County. We live with easy driving distance of several first-class state parks. We have enjoyed Lake Tawakoni, Lake Bob Sandlin, Eisenhower and Lake Arrowhead state parks.

We are — and this is not an overstatement — gigantic fans of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department and the state park system. We have enjoyed many of our state parks over the years. We purchase the annual pass that waives our entrance fees; we see it as an investment in what we believe is a first-class network of parks.

We obviously aren’t alone in making ample use of our state parks. TP&W Commission Chairman Ralph Duggins noted in an email that pressure on the parks is coming from a booming population and said that “this bill will give voters the chance to assure their future with a predictable, dedicated and sustainable funding stream.”

I am often highly critical of state government. Not on this matter, though. The Texas state park network is worth all Texans’ support.

Happy Trails, Part 43

MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, Colo. — Oh, how I love parks. National parks, state parks, municipal parks. You name ’em. I love ’em.

We’ve spent a good bit of travel time visiting and staying at public parks. They’re quite friendly to us recreational vehicle users. What’s more, the National Park Service has this wonderful perk it extends to us older folks. It’s called a “Senior Pass.” It gets us into national parks for free — for the rest of our lives.

Texas’s state parks system also allows us free entry, but it’s not a lifetime pass. We have to renew it annually. It’s worth it for us, given that (a) state park overnight RV lodging is cheap and (b) the state parks in Texas generally are places of beauty.

We ventured to Mesa Verde National Park, which is about 40 miles west of Durango. It features 1,000-year-old — and older — cliff dwellings carved out of canyon walls high up in the mountains. It’s about a 20-mile drive from the park entrance to where one can see the dwellings. It’s a winding, highly scenic excursion along the way.

If I had one gripe about our national parks, it’s that they aren’t exactly pet friendly. We found this out on another trip to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas and at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico.

We had to sneak Toby the Puppy along with us to Mesa Verde’s exhibits. He wasn’t allowed to walk along any trails, but since we didn’t see “trails” as I understand the meaning of the word, we took him with us along paved walkways toward the exhibits; then we would pick up him and pack him through some of the dwelling exhibits.

Shhh! Don’t rat me out … please.

Our travels are going to take us to many more of these federal parks. I believe we’ve been to 17 national parks already in our 46 years of life together. One of my unofficial bucket-list objectives is to see all of them before I’m no longer able to travel long distances.

So … the adventure continues.

Parks commission needs West Texas voice


It’s strange at times the things one can notice when thumbing through a publication.

The Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine, for example, contained a little surprise for me. I found it on Page 11 of the magazine. I noticed a list of the governing commission that sets policy involving the state’s many state parks.

I’ll tell you what I found: None of the TP&W commissioners hails from West Texas. The commissioner who hails from the farthest western portion of the state is Anna Galo, who’s from Laredo — which is South Texas, on the Rio Grande River.

I’m not going to make a huge deal of this, but it does rankle me that West Texas — which has its share of state park jewels throughout our vast landscape — doesn’t have any political representation on the board that’s appointed by the Texas governor.

I recall when Amarillo businessman Mark Bivins served on the commission. He’s since cycled off. Why couldn’t he have been replaced with another West Texan?

I remember back when I was writing editorials for the Amarillo Globe-News, we asked then-Gov. Rick Perry to select someone from the Panhandle to fill a vacancy on the Texas Supreme Court. I looked then at the roster of justices and noticed they all came from that corridor that sits between Interstates 35 and 45. They all resided from Houston to the Dallas-Fort Worth region. We urged the governor to look west for a Supreme Court justice.

And he did! He chose Phil Johnson, chief judge of the Amarillo-based 7th Court of Appeals, to the state’s highest civil appellate court. Good for Gov. Perry!

Gov. Greg Abbott also can do West Texas right as well by filling the next vacancy with someone who lives in this part of the state.

We have voices out here, too, governor.

Trash: Biggest pet peeve in the world


CAPROCK CANYONS STATE PARK, Texas — What is wrong with this picture?

Time’s up!

It’s that empty water bottle someone must’ve tossed aside while walking along the Canyon Rim Trail.

This might rank among the top three pet peeves of my life; the other two might be the sight of someone talking/texting while driving a motor vehicle and someone talking too loudly on a cell phone while sitting in a public place with other people who have zero interest in hearing about the person’s big-money business transaction.

I have done my share of griping about Texas state government during my 30-plus years living here. The state too often seems run by partisan morons who cannot seem to get it into their thick skulls that they represent all Texans, not just those who voted for their election to whatever public office they hold.

Texas government, though, does a lot of things right. One of them is the development and maintenance of its state park system.

I’m telling you, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department runs a first-rate state park network.

Caprock Canyons State Park, just outside Quitaque, is one of the jewels.

So, what did we see this afternoon while along the Canyon Rim Trail? That damn empty water bottle.

Earlier in the day, my wife went through our campsite and police it of myriad articles of trash that others had tossed aside. They just couldn’t bring themselves to walk a short distance to the nearest Dumpster.

The water bottle tossed along the rim of the canyon reminded me of a series of roadside signs my wife and I see as we drive southeast along U.S. 287. Just as you enter Estelline in Hall County, you cross a riverbed and the signs read, in order: Real Texans … don’t litter … Texas highways.

Hmm. One might hope that “real human beings” wouldn’t want to litter one of Mother Nature’s true gifts to us … which looks like something like this.



Where the buffalo roam


CAPROCK CANYONS STATE PARK, Texas — The fictional Army colonel Sherman T. Potter used to exclaim “buffalo bagels!” when he suspected someone was feeding a line of baloney.

Well, we ventured today where one can find plenty of such commodities.

Caprock Canyons State Park is home to a large herd of American bison, bequeathed to the state of Texas by the heirs of the legendary J.A. Ranch.

We came here once many years ago, not long after the bison took up residence at the state park. They were penned in and, frankly, were a bit hard to see from the road.

Not today.

These days they have the run of the park. I’ve heard from state park officials over the years that the herd is doing well. We saw several dozen of the beasts as we drove through the park.

A cluster of bison greeted us — more or less — as we entered the state park after driving here from Amarillo.

We were certain to look at the signage near the park entrance. They warned us that the animals are “wild,” and that one shouldn’t approach or surround them. I guess the beasts get a bit spooked, so who am I face down an animal as ornery and strong as that?

Caprock Canyons State Park happens to one of those Texas Panhandle treasures one doesn’t hear that much about. When we in Amarillo talk about the sights to see in our part of the world, we usually refer to that other canyon, Palo Duro, which we call Texas’s version of the Grand Canyon.

Yes, it’s gorgeous.

So are the cliffs and draws that give Caprock Canyons State Park that special charm.



Palo Duro Canyon ‘National Park’? Who knew?


You learn the most amazing things just picking up magazines and browsing through their pages.

Take what I found out today when I opened a copy of the Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.

It was that in the 1930s, Palo Duro Canyon came within a whisker of being designated a national park. Is it possible that the jewel of the Texas Panhandle could have joined Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountains national parks?

The magazine noted that the canyon was “considered a prime candidate for one of the nation’s first ecosystem parks, a National Park of the Plains.”

Big Bend became a national park in 1944; Guadalupe Mountains earned the designation in 1972.

I know we have a couple of federal parks in the Panhandle: Lake Meredith National Recreation Area and Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument; both were created in 1965. They’re fine attractions and provide a great escape for those seeking to enjoy the splendor of this part of the world.

Palo Duro Canyon was considered, though, to be “too similar” to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. But as the magazine noted, when did “being too similar to the Grand Canyon become a problem?”

The magazine article prompts me to ask: Is it too late for the federal government to make such a designation?

Much of the canyon now is part of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. It is a state park and is considered to be one of the premier parks within the state’s enormous park system.

It’s expensive, of course, for the federal government to set up these national parks. But think of this: A huge chunk of Palo Duro Canyon already is in public hands. Couldn’t the state deed this spectacular piece of property to the federal government, which then could designate the canyon as a national park?

It’s not as if the National Park System has stopped creating these parks. The most recent was created in 2003, when Congaree National Park was set aside in South Carolina.

Every visitor we’ve taken to Palo Duro Canyon has been aghast at its scenic splendor when we arrive there. It opens wide along the vast prairie and it sneaks up you when you approach it.

Is it reasonable to ask: Is it too late to reconsider Palo Duro Canyon for a national park designation?

I won’t hold my breath. Still, I am posing the question out loud.