One Is Not Enough
State park enthusiast visits all 95 parks in 12 months.
By Dale Blasingame
It’s a simple, two-word question. And it’s all that was going through my head one Saturday morning about a year and a half ago. Those two words prompted this university instructor’s journey to see all 95 Texas state parks in 365 days.
I had just returned from a spur-of-the-moment, solo road trip to Montana, Yellowstone, Grand Teton and the Rockies, and the vacation blues hit as soon as I got home. I was sitting there in my apartment, hundreds of miles from the mountains. I thought I’d never get to see a waterfall again in my life. I didn’t know where to turn.
That’s when a friend had a good idea.
“Why don’t you go see some of the stuff around Austin? You always said you wanted to go to Hamilton Pool, didn’t you?”
She was right. About an hour later, I pulled up to a line that I would soon learn was about three hours long. It seems that a bunch of other people had the same good idea that day. The woman at the gate had an apologetic tone that made me believe she had been dealing with angry people all day. But I wasn’t angry; I just wanted to spend some time outside.
“If you’re just looking to be outside and see stuff, Pedernales Falls State Park is right down the road,”
The trip was all of 20 miles. I did manage to get lost, but my directional skills have improved greatly since then. The park rangers at Pedernales Falls sold me on the Texas State Parks Pass as soon as I walked in the door. My addictive personality took over from there.
“I could do them all!” I thought. “How many of them are there? 95? That’s doable. A year should be enough time.”
As a former TV news producer, I’m fueled by deadlines. They keep me focused. So setting a goal of seeing a new park every 3.8 days, while ridiculous, wasn’t as unrealistic to me as it may seem to some. It’s just kind of how my brain works.
So Pedernales Falls State Park was park No. 1 for me. I had 364 days to knock out the other 94. It was as simple as that. Or so I thought! But then, things rarely turn out as we plan, right?
Now that I’ve finished the journey, I routinely get asked these three questions: How did I do it? Which park was my favorite? What did I learn along the way?
How did I do it?
There was planning that went into this — but not a ton. Really, the planning process mostly consisted of reading. I relied heavily on the Texas State Park Guide. Whenever I had a free minute, I looked to see which parks were close to others.
On a Saturday or Sunday (and sometimes both), I would hit the road. Some days I would see only one park. Other days I traveled from New Braunfels to Dallas to Houston and back to see six parks along the way. It just depended on where the wind took me. I took different routes down to the Rio Grande Valley to see my parents (New Braunfels to Goliad to Rockport to Harlingen). I took different ways home from the Rio Grande Valley after seeing my parents (Harlingen to Zapata to Laredo to San Antonio).
I persuaded a co-worker with a Jeep to join me at Devils River. (My Prius is no match for the bumpy, 22-mile dirt road to get there.) I went on a five-day, 15-park trip to the Panhandle and back on spring break. I wrapped up my journey with a five-day, 18-park trip in East Texas.
For the days I visited multiple parks, I had to plan wisely. Where would I want to take a long hike? I’d hit that park first. (It is Texas, after all. It gets kind of warm here.) Was I going to hang out at several lake parks that day? I don’t fish, so those didn’t require a ton of my time.
Let me be clear — it wasn’t just about the numbers. I wanted to spend enough time in each park to understand its essence. I don’t feel as though I missed anything, but there are some parks I definitely need to visit again. There’s a list in my brain — places like Tyler, Martin Dies Jr. and Big Bend Ranch. (I just need to persuade my friend with the Jeep to head back to Big Bend Ranch with me. It’s also not Prius-friendly.)
I ended up putting about 40,000 miles on my car last year. It killed my trade-in value. But it was so worth it.
Palo Duro Canyon
Which park was my favorite?
Palo Duro Canyon is the simple answer. The Lighthouse Trail is my favorite hike in a state park, and Palo Duro is simply gorgeous. I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, but Palo Duro is quite literally the next best thing. It’s the second-biggest canyon in the country. I’ve been there four times now, and I find some new marvel each time.
About an hour and a half away from Palo Duro, you’ll find Caprock Canyons State Park. Put those together, and it’s my favorite “one-two punch” in the state. When I think of Caprock, I think of red. The canyons, the rock, the dirt. The park is known as the home of the state bison herd, but it also has breathtaking views, great hiking and some friendly (albeit nervous) prairie dogs.
My favorite feature of any state park is Gorman Falls at Colorado Bend. You hike a couple of (fairly arid) miles before you reach a metal pole with a cable. Grab on and walk slowly down the slope. Your eyes will appear to be playing a trick on you. It feels as if you’ve entered the rainforest, but you’re right in the heart of Texas. Take a book or a picnic or a nap and enjoy the small deck beside the waterfall.
I’m also a history buff, so I have a soft spot in my heart for parks like Mission Tejas. I got goosebumps hiking the original El Camino Real trail, following in the footsteps of historic heroes like Davy Crockett. I always make sure to talk to park rangers and ask for anything unique — particularly when it comes to history — about that particular park. That simple conversation is what led me to El Camino Real at Mission Tejas.
What did I learn along the way?
A lot, actually. Let’s start with the big stuff.
Most importantly, I found myself on this journey. I know it sounds cheesy to say that, but it’s true. I’ve never before felt more complete as a person. This whole adventure was prompted by a sense that something was missing in my life. Whatever that was, I found it over the course of the past year. I found it in our state parks.
Part of that was discovering I’m a hiker. Who knew? My weekends now feel incomplete without hitting the trails. From a 13-mile trek in Seminole Canyon to a jaunt along the boardwalk in Sea Rim to a walk from bird blind to bird blind at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, I’ve hiked all over this great state.
Author with Lucy at Caprock Canyons
I love Lucy
It was on one of those hikes that my life completely changed. I was about halfway through an 11-mile hike in Buescher State Park in October 2014 when I met a man and his dog at the intersection of the trails. We finished the final six or so miles together. All I could think about was how great it would be to have a dog for a hiking buddy. As he headed out, I asked the man’s opinion. He told me I’d never regret it.
When I left Buescher that day, it was all my brain could process. I was going to do research on rescue dogs as soon as I got home. But I didn’t need the research. Actually, I didn’t even need to go home. The pet store across the street was hosting four pet rescue agencies that afternoon. A few minutes after pulling into the parking lot, I met Lucy.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Lucy has joined me for about 50 of my state park visits (and counting). She’s a natural hiking buddy. In fact, she knows the word “hiking.” So I have to spell it out when talking with other people — H-I-K-I-N-G — or she goes crazy. She knows that Saturday and Sunday mornings are park times, so she gets anxious, and a little perturbed, if I sleep in. She loves to climb rocks. She hates the water (I’m still working on that).
As cliché as it sounds, she’s become my best friend. And I found her because of our state parks.
A few more takeaways
GPS is a great thing, but I’ve learned it’s OK to get lost every once in a while. I can’t tell you how many dirt roads I drove down in the past year or so. I was a little nervous when my phone sent me due south on FM 666 to reach Lipantitlan State Historic Site, a tiny state park property near Corpus Christi. (You have to stop and take a picture of the South 666 sign.) You might think that’s strange enough. Then my phone told me I needed to drive through a trailer park to reach the site. But there it was. Never in doubt, right?
I also found that park rangers are some of the nicest, most helpful people on the planet. Take advantage of the friendly folks at the entrance stations. They give great advice. For example, the rangers at Lake Tawakoni and Eisenhower state parks showed me the exact places to catch the best views of sunset.
I’m hoping this passion will become part of my professional life as well. As a social media teacher at Texas State University, I’m partnering with TPWD to search for grants to help park rangers and parks with social media strategies. My end goal is to have my students help teach workshops as part of a complete course on state park social media. And I’m writing a book about this crazy adventure.
I do have one confession to make. It took me 367 days to see all 95 parks. It feels good to get that off my chest.
And that leaves one question I’m again asking myself.