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Texas Safari

Destination: Glen Rose

By Mary-Love Bigony

Travel time from:

  • Amarillo - 6.5 hours /
  • Austin - 3 hours /
  • Brownsville - 9 hours /
  • Dallas - 1.5 hours /
  • El Paso - 10 hours /
  • Houston - 5 hours /
  • San Antonio - 4.5 hours

A 3 a.m. thunderstorm has left the air smelling as clean as towels on a clothesline.

The sun is peeping through breaks in the dissipating clouds as we launch our kayaks into the Brazos River. The river-running is just the beginning of my escape into this scenic and historic part of rural Texas, but the nature of the transport discourages thinking very far ahead. The five of us - mostly novice kayakers - eye each other warily as we bob along, trying to get our balance.

Adam Eyres and Ted Brown of Rhino Ridge Outfitters, our guides for this trip down the Brazos, watch us carefully as we get our bearings. Before we got underway, they instructed us in use of the paddles, gave us each a bottle of water and a protein bar and matched each of us up with the proper kayak.

We're on the part of the Brazos that winds through Somervell County. Just an hour and a half southwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, we could easily be hundreds of miles and a century distant, so secluded is this part of the river. Thick stands of oaks grow along one side, and a cliff rises on the other. The early morning thunderstorm put plenty of water in the river.

It's fascinating to be low in the water like this, much different from a canoe, to which I am more accustomed. I have trouble keeping my kayak from drifting, and Ted patiently coaches me on maintaining my course. He also tells me how to paddle more efficiently to conserve my energy. We reach the confluence of the Brazos, Paluxy and Squaw Creek and stop for a quick stretch, then we're off again. Soon we're treated to a riffle, and our kayaks skim over the flowing water.

When we reach the takeout point for this half-day trip, my arms are glad but my spirit wants to stay a little longer. Nevertheless, I bid my companions goodbye and head for Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, my headquarters for these three days in the Glen Rose area.

Animal Magnetism

Fossil Rim is a not-for-profit, 1,600-acre wildlife park and research facility set amid the wooded hills of the Cross Timbers region. Visitors may take a self-guided driving tour of the area or go with a guide, which I'll do tomorrow. Tonight I'm staying in the lodge, a gracious, five-bedroom home built of cream-colored Austin stone, cedar and oak. Each room is decorated differently. Fossil Rim also offers lodging in the tent-like cabins of Foothills Safari Camp, where I'll stay on my last night here.

Breakfast is complimentary for guests staying overnight at Fossil Rim, and on Friday and Saturday nights guests have the option, for an additional charge, of a gourmet dinner. Tonight it's beef tenderloin, grilled vegetables and new potatoes, with berry pie for dessert. We dine in the glass-walled Pavilion Dining Room and watch the sun set over the hills as we eat.

The next morning I board an open-air trailer for a tour. Fossil Rim also offers mountain bike tours for a variety of skill levels. Our driver and guide today is naturalist Jan Bussey, who tells us about Fossil Rim and its mission to conserve endangered species.

As we get underway I see two long, wavy, black sticks emerging from the grass. Then the head they're attached to rises, and Jan identifies the handsome brown and white animal as a blackbuck antelope, a native of India. Asian and African animals dominate the first part of the tour, with Jan providing entertaining and educational commentary along the way. We see addax, sable antelope and scimitar-horned oryx, all endangered or decreasing in population. A curious ostrich comes close for a better look, as does a zebra. Each of us received a cup of animal food before we started, and the two young boys on the tour are thrilled when the giraffes eat right out of their hands. On down the road, we watch a lanky sandhill crane leaping and twirling to get the attention of his mate, who appears indifferent to his efforts.

An advantage of taking the guided tour is the opportunity to visit the Intensive Management Area, where much of the breeding of endangered species takes place. My heart skips a beat when I spot a cheetah lounging in the grass behind a fence, and Jan tells us about Fossil Rim's success in breeding this endangered cat, the fastest land animal on earth. I ask if they get a chance to run, and she explains that the fenced area encompasses five acres, so they have plenty of room. We see an enormous black rhino and learn about the black rhino babies that have been born here.

The Mexican wolf once inhabited parts of West Texas near the Mexican border; the red wolf was the wolf of the Southeast, and could be found from Central Texas eastward. Both are endangered. At Fossil Rim's breeding facilities, we hop out of the trailer and move from one fence to another, hoping for a look at one of the wolves. Eventually, a red wolf steals toward the fence but remains in the shadows, eyeing us warily. We never do get a glimpse of the Mexican wolf. A lone coati, one of three at Fossil Rim, is visible in a nearby cage. This odd-looking animal, a relative of the raccoon, ranges from South Texas into South America. TPWD game wardens rescued two of Fossil Rim's coatis from people who had illegal possession of them.

Next, we come to pens housing Attwater's prairie chickens. While they're not as big or as imposing as a cheetah or a rhino, it's a sobering thought for me that I'm looking at Texas' most endangered bird. Fewer than 50 remain in the wild. I hear a sound like someone blowing across the top of an empty bottle, and realize I'm hearing the "booming" that used to echo across the coastal prairies of Texas and Louisiana each spring when the birds numbered more than a million. Fossil Rim is one of only five facilities involved in the captive breeding of this critically endangered bird.

We pile back into the vehicle and take the winding, hilly road back to the headquarters. I end my visit with a trip to the Overlook Café, atop one of the steepest hills at Fossil Rim. I order a sandwich and take it out to the deck, where I enjoy the panoramic view and the zebras and antelopes grazing below.

Making Tracks at Dinosaur Valley

The next morning I head for Dinosaur Valley State Park, located on the scenic Paluxy River. This is one of the best places in the state to let your imagination run free, to try to picture an ancient sea washing the shoreline as plant-eating dinosaurs graze on lush vegetation and carnivorous dinosaurs stalk the plant-eaters. A mural in the park's visitor center brings this 111-million-year-old scenario to life and is a good starting place for a visit.

The park contains some of the best-preserved dinosaur tracks in the world. The tracks are located in the riverbed, so track-hunters should plan to get their feet wet. But following a heavy rain, such as the one yesterday, the tracks are underwater and not visible. Nevertheless, I take the map I picked up at the visitor center and head for Track Site No. 1, known as the Blue Hole. Two youngsters splash with abandon in this old-time swimming hole, and while the dinosaur tracks are not visible, I marvel at the fact that those giant animals once walked where I'm standing now. I visit the other four track sites, which are well marked and posted with interpretive information.

I head out on the Cedar Brake Trail, part of a system of hiking trails that wind for seven miles through the wooded countryside. This hilly terrain is remarkably similar to the Hill Country west of Austin, with oaks, mesquites and Ashe junipers. After I cross the river, I wave to a pair of mountain bikers heading toward the scenic overlook at the north end of the park. I reach the north primitive camping area, one of two primitive areas in the park, before turning back.

Before leaving, I stop for a visit with the staff at the state park store. I enjoy looking at the huge variety of dinosaur-related merchandise, something for every age.

Safari Camp

I'm spending my last night in the area at Fossil Rim's Foothills Safari Camp, a collection of tents that from the outside look just like the ones I've seen on National Geographic specials about African safaris. Inside, they're about the size of a tent, but a ceiling fan spins overhead and a thermostat indicates the presence of central heat and air conditioning. I peek behind a canvas flap and find a modern and well-appointed bathroom.

My tent faces the large watering hole, and I watch the antelope gather there as the day comes to an end. The cicadas start their twilight serenade, joined soon by the rolling, musical rattle of the sandhill cranes.

As the sky grows darker, another sound floats across the night air: a low, mournful howl. I peer toward the breeding area, dark now, and picture the Mexican gray wolves. I listen for a moment before going inside my tent, where the sound is softer but no less eerie. Even after the howling stops, it plays over and over in my mind, lulling me into a deep and dreamless sleep.

For More Information

Dinosaur Valley State Park:
(254) 897-4588; For campsite reservations call (512) 389-8900 or go to Park Reservations.
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center:
(888) 775-6742, www.fossilrim.org. In addition to tours, Fossil Rim offers a variety of activities throughout the year.
Rhino Ridge Outfitters:
(888) 987-6556; www.rhinoridge.com.

A variety of lodging is available in and around Glen Rose. Call (888) 346-6282 or go to www.glen-rose.com.

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