The Lone Star State

Did you know that Texas has 90 moun­tains reach­ing al­ti­tudes of a mile or more, or that ap­prox­i­mately 10% of Texas is cov­ered in for­est, in­clud­ing four na­tional and five state forests?

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Al­though fa­mous for vast cat­tle ranches and oil booms, Texas’ nat­u­ral won­ders in­spire trav­ellers when they visit the state. Hik­ing scenic canyons and dense forests, ex­plor­ing mys­te­ri­ous cav­erns or re­lax­ing on undis­turbed beaches are just some of the nat­u­ral won­ders to be en­joyed. People have been ex­plor­ing and ad­mir­ing these fam­ily-friendly and awe-in­spir­ing sites for hun­dreds and even thou­sands of years.

Vis­i­tors who want to ex­plore Texas “down un­der” must see Nat­u­ral Bridge Cav­erns, named on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places by the U.S. Depart­ment of In­te­rior, which recog­nises sites that have an im­por­tant role in pre­serv­ing cul­tural his­tory. Lo­cated 13 miles north of San An­to­nio and named one of Amer­ica’s “10 great places to get na­ture on film”, this cave is one of the world’s pre­miere show caves and largest nat­u­ral at­trac­tions. Vis­i­tors can view more than 10,000 dif­fer­ent for­ma­tions in un­der­ground cham­bers with ei­ther a guided tour or a self-guided tour on tape. Other award-win­ning state cav­erns in­clude The Cave With­out a Name and Cas­cade Cav­erns in Bo­erne, as well as Longhorn Cav­erns and Sonora Cav­erns.

In terms of Texas parks, Big Bend Na­tional Park ranges in el­e­va­tion from less than 2,000 feet along the Rio Grande River to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Moun­tains, en­cour­ag­ing vis­i­tors to ex­plore its mas­sive canyons, rock for­ma­tions and vast desert ex­panses. “El De­spoblado”, as the Spa­niards called it, of­fers bik­ing, boat­ing, camp­ing, hik­ing, fish­ing, swim­ming and op­por­tu­ni­ties for some mag­nif­i­cent pho­to­graphs. Af­ter ex­plor­ing Big Bend Na­tional Park, vis­i­tors can go next door to Big Bend Ranch State Park, with 17 miles of trails and 30 miles of gravel road… per­fect for hik­ing, horse­back rid­ing, 4X4 driv­ing and cy­cling.

Guadalupe Moun­tains Na­tional Park, lo­cated in the Guadalupe Moun­tains of West Texas, con­tains the high­est point in Texas, the 8,749-foot Guadalupe Peak. Vis­i­tors can see the ru­ins of an old stage­coach sta­tion, and camp at nearby Pine Springs Camp­ground. The 135-square mile park also con­tains McKit­trick Canyon which, in au­tumn, comes alive with a blaze of colourful Big­tooth maple trees.

South of Amar­illo, the colourful slopes of Palo Duro Canyon State Park en­com­pass more than 20,000 acres. Famed as the coun­try’s sec­ond-largest canyon, it was formed pri­mar­ily by wa­ter ero­sion from the Red River al­most one mil­lion years ago. The canyon was dubbed “Palo Duro” (Span­ish for “hard­wood”) by early Span­ish ex­plor­ers in ref­er­ence to the abun­dant mesquite and ju­niper trees, and of­fers hik­ing, horse­back rid­ing, cow­boy cook­outs, mag­nif­i­cent photo op­por­tu­ni­ties and out­door theatre events such as the renowned mu­si­cal drama “TEXAS!”

Vis­i­tors are sure to soak up plenty of sun on the South Padre Is­land Na­tional Seashore, the world’s long­est re­main­ing un­de­vel­oped stretch of bar­rier is­land! En­com­pass­ing more than 130,000 acres, Padre Is­land is fa­mous for its fish­ing, camp­ing and wind­surf­ing. The Bird Is­land Basin area on the La­guna Madre is one of the na­tion’s top spots for wind­surf­ing with its steady wind, warm wa­ter and shal­low depths. Vis­i­tors can also re­lax by the ocean or snorkel and scuba dive right off the coast.

Tarzan would have had a ball in the 97,000-acre Big Thicket Na­tional Pre­serve, which boasts 85 dif­fer­ent tree species, nearly 1,000 flow­er­ing plants and brings to­gether the east­ern hard­wood forests, the Gulf coastal plains and the Mid­west prairies. A won­der­ful place for hik­ing, camp­ing or ca­noe­ing, trav­ellers who pre­fer the milder months can en­joy bird watch­ing, as The Big Thicket is on the Cen­tral and Mis­sis­sippi mi­gra­tory fly­ways.

The state’s na­tional forests in­clude the An­gelina Na­tional For­est, Davy Crock­ett Na­tional For­est, Sabine Na­tional For­est and Sam Hous­ton Na­tional For­est. The five state forests in­clude Fairchild State For­est, Jones State For­est, Kirby State For­est, Master­son State For­est and Siecke State For­est.

Horse­back rid­ing, South Padre Is­land

Aerial view of South Padre Is­land

"Watch­dog" at Longhorn Cav­erns

Rain­bows over the Guadalupe Moun­tains

Hik­ing Big Bend Na­tional Park

Palo Duro Canyon

Guadalupe Moun­tains Na­tional Park

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