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Copper Breaks State Park

Fewer People Means More Critters

Add Copper Breaks to the list of off-the-beaten-path, relatively unknown but invaluable natural treasures that spice up Texas' state parks menu. The former cattle ranch on the Pease River only 22 miles from the Oklahoma border opened as a state park in 1974.

Copper Breaks State Park takes its name from the gray-green streaks of raw copper that permeate the rust-colored hills and mini-canyons, or "breaks," that cut jagged slashes into the red-dirt, rolling plains of the Texas Panhandle. What it may lack in picture-book beauty, Copper Breaks makes up for in its plentiful and diverse wildlife that populates the park's mesquite and juniper-dominated landscape.

Unlike many state parks whose wildlife has disappeared or been driven by heavy visitor traffic into remote areas where it is rarely seen, this Hardeman County sanctuary teems with a variety of animal and bird life. Here, campers often find themselves sharing their campsite with endangered Texas horned lizards, inquisitive roadrunners and insect-gobbling bats. Copper Breaks is home, too, to several varieties of raptors, such as barn owls, red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons; half a dozen different kinds of lizards; the rare black prairie snake; several varieties of turtles; bobcats and coyotes; endangered kangaroo rats and a host of more common critters.

Park Manager David Turner, who left his park superintendent's job in the verdant, wooded homeland of the Caddo Indians in East Texas to come to this semi-arid land of the Comanche, still marvels at the park's abundant wildlife.

"In the years I've worked at TPWD, this is one of the healthiest, most pristine environments - in terms of wildlife diversity - that I've seen in a state park," Turner says. "If you want a true nature experience and want to stand an excellent chance of seeing wildlife, Copper Breaks is a really good place to do it."

Turner attributes that in part to the park's remote location 100 miles west of Wichita Falls, which keeps visitor traffic to less than 65,000 annually. Copper Breaks, which boasts a 60-acre lake and the 13-acre Big Pond, covers only 1,933 acres. Visitors can spend a day swimming, hiking, biking, birdwatching, horseback riding or picnicking, or stay overnight in one of 46 designated campsites.

Waist-high native grasses once covered this part of the south plains, where massive buffalo herds hunted by the Kiowa and Comanche roamed. The nearby town of Quanah derives its moniker from the last free Comanche chief, Quanah Parker, the son of Anglo captive Cynthia Ann Parker who in 1836 was taken by the Comanches during a raid on Fort Parker in central Texas.

The park has expanded its interpretive programs in recent years to satisfy visitors' desires to become better educated about the park's Native American history, Western folkways, starry skies and wildlife. Special Saturday evening programs conducted throughout the year cover such topics as astronomy, bats, owls, snakes, flint-knapping, outdoor photography and hunter safety.

- Rob McCorkle

For more information, call (940) 839-4331 or visit www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/copper_breaks/.

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