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Sunday, October 1, 2006

Lone Star Hotspots

Discover the American landscape, Texas-style

A personal tour with one of the park rangers to the rugged Fresno Canyon and Madrid Falls will reveal one of the defining attributes of this unpeopled land. Unlike many areas in the Big Bend region, the natural area offers several small oasis locations featuring live water ushering from an otherwise parched landscape.

Water catchments, known historically as tinajas, are found throughout the arroyos and canyonlands, having offered a life source for many ancient Native American clans that existed in this region centuries before. Pictograph sites dot the region and are noted on the park maps.

Some of my favorite times to visit this desert mountain area are during the monsoon season of August, the autumn months of October and November and, of course, during the later winter months of March and April.

Panhandle Canyonlands
"I have ridden horseback from the Gulf of Mexico to the Canadian border and from sunup until sundown. Nowhere are the colors more vivid than in the Palo Duro Canyon of the Texas panhandle." These are the words of noted buffalo hunter Frank Collinson, whose years on horseback in the wilderness range would qualify him as an expert on landscapes of beauty. My own sentiments concur with those of Collinson, as I consider the Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyon State Park two places of great intrigue in the Texas panhandle.

Both state parks are only about 50 air miles apart and occur along the eastern escarpment of the famed Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains. Featuring fantastic geologic formations known as hoodoos and Spanish skirts, the colorful Triassic sandstone columns glow brilliantly in the crimson light of late evening or sunrise.

Cut into the landscape millions of years before by the Prairie Dog fork of the Red River, this prairie stream still flows along the main course of the canyon and is flanked by a ribbon of cottonwood trees whose golden leaves shimmer in the morning light of an autumn day.

A well-designated hiking trail will lead you to one of the defining physical features of Palo Duro Canyon. The Lighthouse formation has weathered centuries of erosion and still greets any hardy photographer with a breathtaking subject for the great light of late evening.

The Texas panhandle is also known for its frequent winter storms that blanket the land in a cloak of snowfall. Although the park systems discourage travel into the canyon floor, visitors may view or photograph the drama following a winter storm from the overview location near the interpretive center.

Accessing Palo Duro Canyon can be achieved by traveling along Interstate 27 and then exiting on road 217 to the park entry gate. Caprock Canyon State Park can be reached by traveling from Amarillo to Silverton via Highway 207 and 86. From Silverton, traverse Highway 86 for 15 miles to Quitaque and then north for three miles to the park entrance.

Along The Wildflower Trail
The Texas Hill Country has long conjured the thoughts of flowing river systems, German sausage and landscapes carpeted by a sea of wildflowers. To a large extent, this is true—the towns of Austin, Fredericksburg and Kerrville offer a little of everything to anyone traveling to this region of the state.

The sausage, beer and wineries of this area are quite nice but don't pique my interest as do the varying landscapes and river systems that define this region.

Featuring waterways like the Guadalupe, Pedernales, Medina and Llano, the Hill Country is a land of flowing streams that are lined with pecan, cypress and oak trees. Winding country roads lead visitors on a tour through farm and ranch land with stately Germanic homes dating back to the 19th century.

In the months of late March and April, wildflowers abound along the byways in this region. Bluebonnets, coreopsis, firewheel and Indian paintbrush splash the land with vivid colors, while the generally mild weather conditions offer great opportunities for photography.

Several state parks in the heart of the Hill Country region accommodate visitors with camping locations and sights unique to this area. LBJ State Park on Highway 290 near Stonewall, Pedernales State Park on Highway 2766 out of Johnson City and Enchanted Rock State Park on Highway 965 north of Fredericksburg are fantastic locations to view and photograph the treasures of the general region.

When visiting, please respect the rights of private property holders in this area, as you should in all sections of Texas. This state is about 98 percent privately owned, and many landowners are very protective of their property. It's a good idea to always seek permission when planning a photo shoot on land other than state park property. An escort to the local jail is not uncommon when property rights are violated.


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