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Big Spring State Park

Visit a scenic mountain on the plains — with horny toads!

A 200-foot-high mountain rising from the surrounding pancake-flat plains of West Texas once served as a geographic beacon marking the only springs within a 60-mile radius for Native Americans, Spanish explorers and early-day pioneers crisscrossing the semi-arid region centuries ago.

Today, the promontory, known as Scenic Mountain, serves as a landmark for travelers on nearby Interstate 20 and the main attraction for visitors to Big Spring State Park only a few miles south of the busy thoroughfare. The spectacular mountaintop vantage point affords a bird’s eye view of not only the distant interstate traffic, but also the vast plains stretching some 40 miles to the horizon and the city of Big Spring that lies at its base.

While the spring that the city and the park are named after no longer flows, the site’s amazingly diverse natural history, along with the panoramic views from atop the mountains, draws tens of thousands of visitors annually — the majority of them locals who find the quiet, scenic winding road perfect for walking, jogging and riding bicycles.

Park Manager Ron Alton says Big Spring State Park appeals to people who prefer solitude to the company of fellow campers and who like to enjoy nature in a relaxed setting.

“Once people discover it, the lights at night twinkling below and the peace and quiet, this is their place,” he said. “Even though we’re semi-urban, we still have lots of wildlife. It’s easy to see horned lizards here because we have plenty of food – the harvester ants.”

In addition to horny toads, visitors can spot cottontails and jackrabbits, ground squirrels, roadrunners and the occasional javelina or fox. Bird life is plentiful, too, in this location where three ecological regions overlap. A variety of hawks and vultures ride the thermals, and songbirds populate the thorn scrub and nearby oak woodlands. During my visit, a ladderbacked woodpecker tapped out a rhythm in a mesquite tree.

Children and adults alike will delight in the small prairie dog town that was established inside the state park in 1970. More than 30 of the curious, burrowing ground squirrels live within a fenced area at the trailhead for a short nature trail. As visitors approach, “sentries” atop mounds leading to underground dwellings chirp a warning to fellow denizens, who dash for safety. A much larger prairie dog town exists at the nearby municipal airport, serving as a dependable food source for the indigenous burrowing owls, golden eagles, hawks and other raptors that cruise the West Texas skies.

— Rob McCorkle

The park is located midway between Abilene and Odessa just off Interstate 20. For information, call the park at (432) 263-4931 or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/ findadest/parks/big_spring/>.

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