Park Pick: Bison on the Caprock
Caprock Canyons State Park offers a home on the range for the state herd.
By Le'Ann Pigg
Crossing the threshold into the park, you rattle across a cattle guard, the first hint that you are entering a different kind of place, with a glimpse into the past. Here lies the prairie land of Caprock Canyons State Park, home of the official bison herd of Texas.
These bison are the direct descendants of the herd started by pioneer ranchers Charles and Mary Ann Goodnight in 1878 to help save the species. The herd is one of five foundation herds, from which all bison in North America stem. The Great Plains were once home to an estimated 30 million to 60 million bison, but after the great slaughter of the late 1800s, fewer than 1,000 of these magnificent animals remained.
The present state of the species is much better, and the herd at Caprock is thriving. With several thousand acres to roam, this last-known vestige of native Texas bison has grown in numbers, and its future looks bright.
Currently, Caprock Canyons State Park is working toward restoring the prairie homeland of the bison to what it once was historically.
While it will take many years to re-establish the prairie, various prairie grasses, plants and wildlife have made a comeback and have once again taken on their unique roles in the ecosystem. Perhaps future generations of Texas children will be able to know these prairies the same way that children did in the past.
The bison’s unique relationship with humans goes back thousands of years at Caprock Canyons. With the discovery of Folsom projectile points and tools found in association with ancient bison bones, the Lake Theo Folsom Bison Kill Site at the park became one of the most important archeological sites in the study of human-bison interactions. This 10,000-year-old archeological site yielded valuable information about Paleo-Indian culture and the methods used to hunt a now-extinct form of bison known as Bison antiquus. Bison leg and jaw bones were found in a manmade circular pattern at the site, illustrating the sacred, long-standing relationship between man and beast. The bones are on display at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon.
Following along the 5-mile paved road through the park, you find yourself in a geologist’s paradise, with 250 million years of geological formations greeting you amid a 1,000-foot drop in elevation as you make your way down into the canyons. The rock layers tell the story of an ancient sea and later an ecosystem reminiscent of the Amazon of today. The layers are “capped” or topped off with a white layer, and the icing on this scenic, geological cake gives the area its name — Caprock.
Perhaps the greatest allure of the park is its ability to take visitors back in time. Although history is a remembrance of past events, the unique elements that make up Caprock Canyons State Park make you feel that history is still alive. And, in its own way, it still is alive here in the Texas Panhandle.
For more information, visit www.texasstateparks.org or call (806) 455-1492. For upcoming events, visit the state park’s calendar page at tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/caprock-canyons/park_events. Caprock Canyons State Park is located 3 miles north of Quitaque on Ranch Road 1065.
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