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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

It took 20 or 30 minutes of pretty intense glassing to even spot them. Yet, there they were — nine, 10, maybe a dozen in all, no more than 450 to 500 yards away. Bighorns, high up in the Sierra Viejas, expertly camouflaged in a jumbled pile of rocks just below a steep cliff face. When we finally got our eyes on the sheep, the rancher and his wife who brought us up there smiled with a quiet sense of stewardship and an upwelling of pride that said it all.

It was a thing of beauty to behold, about as good as it gets for this outdoor enthusiast.

Looking back, I don’t think I can recall a bad trip out to West Texas. I got my first substantive taste of it as a young, budding biologist when I lived out there off and on for a few years researching this and that, from mule deer to pronghorn to coyotes to desert birds. Traipsing over places like Elephant Mountain and the Del Nortes, and later on the rolling desert grasslands and low mountain country around Cornudas, I fell in love with the place. I guess I haven’t really stopped.

In fact, it doesn’t take much to allow my brain to gin up some pretty great memories from out that way — paddling the Pecos River from Horsehead Crossing downriver to the High Bridge, stalking mule deer high up in the Apaches during a January snowstorm, scaling up El Capitan, seeing my first black hawks in a cottonwood-lined bottom along Limpia Creek, witnessing a massive monarch butterfly fall-out amid the sycamores along the Devils River, catching my first pronghorn fawn for research out in the grasslands east of Salt Flat, being trapped for a few days on the wrong side of Calamity Creek during a big summer monsoon event and camping out on sandbars under star-filled nights while paddling the Rio Grande.

I could go on and on, and so likely could you if you’ve spent any time out there. West Texas, in all its glory and grandeur, is just like that. It rarely disappoints and always seems to give us more than we can possibly give back.

The outdoors offers us many things in life, not the least of which are quality experiences and indelible memories that last a lifetime. As you’ll read in the pages of this month’s issue, there are no shortages of those to be had in your West Texas state parks.

Just above Fort Davis is the fabled Davis Mountains State Park and Indian Lodge, a prominent, picturesque inn built by the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps. From the confines of the state park, you can hike to your heart’s content and search for wildlife from Montezuma quail to ringtails to javelinas. Or perhaps you might want to head down the mountain for a dip in the restorative waters of Balmorhea springs, or at night, head up the mountain for a little stargazing at the world-renowned McDonald Observatory. 

If you want a taste of the lower Big Bend country, the national park is on everyone’s hit list. So, too, should be Big Bend Ranch State Park. This 300,000-acre jewel harbors the fabled Solitario formation, plenty of Rio Grande frontage, desert springs galore, and miles and miles of backcountry trails through some of the most rugged, scenic and remote stretches of the Lone Star State.

If that isn’t enough, don’t forget about the Franklin Mountains in the middle of El Paso, the largest urban state park in the lower 48. Or, if you want a taste of Native American art, culture and history, check out the pictographs at Hueco Tanks, also near El Paso, or those at Seminole Canyon State Park near Comstock. The ancient Native American rock art found on the cave walls of those parks is well worth the stop.

I hope your appetite is sufficiently whetted for a sojourn out west. Be assured, your state parks are there to welcome you and to send you home with memories that will last a lifetime.

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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