West Texas State Parks

In certain circles, Texas is a punchline to a joke.

“Those Rednecks!”  

“There’s nothing good there!”

“Hardly any of the lands are public!”

I won’t get into that debate.

I’ll just say every Texan has been helpful, polite, friendly, and very proud of the fact that I am exploring their state.  The local sheriff even got into a brief conversation with me the other night.  He stopped me because my license plate light was out. (just received a courtesy notice. He took my word for it that I had no idea. And would now be  stopping at the parts store in the morning). When he saw all my camping gear, he correctly guessed I was coming from Big Bend. And then he went on to say how much he loves it there.

There may not be much public land in Texas. But what there is people have a genuine love for as much as any Coloradoan.

I went to first my Texas state park earlier this year. And I was impressed with the trails, the maintenance, and the general upkeep of the park. Palo Duro is one of the marquee destinations, though. How about the rest of the state?

Well, I must say, Texas does their state parks quite well. Reasonable in price, well-maintained, clean, and various forms of amenities if you need that sort of thing (showers, electric hookups, some WiFi at the Park HQ).  My tent campsite cost me all of $4 for the evening, for example.

The first park of sorts was a small museum at the Odessa Crater.

The site was not large but was well maintained. The small museum inside was very informative. Neat place to walk around and stretch the legs.

Apparently, I drove through another meteor crater the previous evening!

I then spent a half-day at the nearby Monahans Sandhills State Park. Though camping was available, I decided to make further mileage to into the Panhandle.

But the Sandhills area itself was well worth the time spent. A mini-Great Sand Dunes and not far from the interstate.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time there.  The Park HQ had another informative display as well.

I made my way to Lubbock at the edge of the Texas Panhandle. It was evening. With no free camping around, I opted for a KOA.  It has been quite some time since I stayed at a KOA.  Expensive camping…but cheaper lodging with showers, coffee, WiFi, and electricity included in the $30 price.  I’ll have to make more use of this option in similar situations.  But I did find a brochure at the KOA for a nearby place called the Lubbock Lake Landmark.”

The site is on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a National Historic and State Archeological Landmark. Intriguing!

There is evidence of 12,000-year-old Paleo-Indian cultures and more recent times. And evidence of possible pre-Land Bridge people as well. :O   Another local gem and a fantastic place to explore.

The water in the Yellow Draw is why people have been coming here for 12,000 years.

After this visit, I made my way to Caprocks Canyon State Park.  Across the way from Palo Duro, it was a bit more remote feeling and low key.

If Palos Duro is the well-known National Park type setup with a gift shop, museum, snack bar, a camp store,  lots of RV sites and well-known, then Caprocks is more of the low key National Monuments I enjoy.

Sure, there is a small RV campground with showers. (Free! And hot!)  But most of the place is tent camping. And there are even backpacking sites.

And the trails were set up for relatively long hikes. I was able to get in a 14-mile loop for example.

Just from my campsite that late afternoon and evening, I was able to take a hike into the canyon and up the canyon rim.

According to the park literature, early Spanish explorers declared that “There are mountains below the Plains!”   An apt description of this canyon complex located in the otherwise flat Texas Panhandle.

I was asked to post more photos of me by friends and family. So here is my once-a-month selfie quota fulfilled. 🙂 This picture is from the canyon rim and shows the neat geology, too.

I ended up getting back to near my camp at twilight.

And just before my camp? Typically I would not include a blurry, out of focus photo. But there’s a story behind the picture below. The park has a herd of about 100 free-ranging bison. A rather large bison was blocking access back to my car at near-dark (hence the blurriness as I used a zoom lens).  He started huffing and was apparently not fond of this strange person walking down a trail. I had to walk around him in the cactus. He wandered into the campground area, too. The campground sign was used by him as a scratching post for a good thirty minutes. One couple took shelter behind my car for a bit as well. 

This bison encounter is now officially my most adrenalin-inducing wildlife encounter yet. To put it mildly!

The following morning I saw some rather smaller wildlife on the way to the facilities.

Black-tailed Prairie Dog

I then started my hike.

Walking among and over the canyons was stupendous.

The lighting brought out the deep reds. And hard to believe I was on the High Plains rather than Utah.

I slept well that night in the cold Texas air.

This morning I made my way out. And I encountered another Texas-style roadblock!

He did not move. I gingerly drove around him. He did not seem to mind.  I am also thankful for a zoom lens!

The last stop was made to the Park HQ. But some more local wildlife was spotted, first.

Texas Road Runner

And just at the park exit? I saw a rather true sign now that I’ve spent time based at Caprocks!

I have been impressed by the Texas State Parks system. When I drive through Texas again, I hope to see more of these gems unknown to most non-Texans.  These parks are too good to pass up!

All the photos

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Curtis Ware
Curtis Ware
6 years ago

Hope you got a chance to eat at Coyote Bluff Café in Amarillo.

Is your wanderings going to take you to Arkansas? Gotta check out the Buffalo River Trail

Connor Foster
Connor Foster
6 years ago

On your way back down to Big Bend stop by the Davis mountains state park. It is my personal favorite. There is also the Davis mountain nature preserve that is only open a few times a year but a must see for anyone wanted to see on of Texas’s sky island mountain ranges.