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Have you noticed that state parks are looking particularly lovely these days? Maybe they’re glowing in anticipation of a special upcoming birthday party. The state park system turns 100 in 2023, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department is preparing to mark the occasion in a big way. We've got a lot to celebrate: 86 state parks covering 600,000 acres, with intriguing new parks on the way.

Texas state parks contain many of our state’s most spectacular natural features — the dramatic canyons of the Caprock Escarpment, the cypress-filled bayous of Caddo Lake, the desert mountains of West Texas, the spring-fed waters of the Guadalupe River and the peaceful piney woods of East Texas. Our new magazine photographer, Maegan Lanham, has checked off 70 state parks on her quest to visit them all. Through her lens, these wild places glow with a magical light. 

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The great thing about Monahans Sandhills State Park is that every visit is different. The landscape is constantly changing as the wind blows and shapes the dunes and valleys across the park. I love the challenge of knowing that when I set out to photograph the sand dunes, it won’t be exactly the same as the last time.

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While Franklin Mountains State Park lies completely within the city limits of El Paso, I was pleasantly surprised that it doesn’t feel as though you’re surrounded by a city at all when you're in the park. After a long day of hiking and exploring, I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the sunset over the mountains from the comfort of my campsite.

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The bald cypress trees covered in Spanish moss draw me to Caddo Lake State Park each fall. I really enjoy hopping into my kayak at the park's Sawmill Pond and venturing out toward Big Cypress Bayou and the rest of Caddo Lake. 

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The scenic overlook at Davis Mountains State Park is one of my favorite spots to watch the sunset in Texas. Even though I have more parks to visit in my quest to see them all, I still keep coming back to Davis Mountains. I might be a little biased, but I think the Texas state parks have the best sunsets. 

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Caprock Canyons State Park was the place I chose to take my first solo camping trip and where my goal emerged to visit every Texas state park. The colorful canyon walls and the official Texas State Bison Herd are great features of the park, but the dark night sky is what brings me back time and time again.

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Sometimes my reason for visiting a certain state park is simply to take pictures of the scenery. The rapids of Guadalupe River State Park were something I’ve always wanted to photograph, and being able to go swimming in the river afterward was a nice bonus.

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I visited McKinney Falls State Park for the first time on an end-of-the-year camping trip I take each winter. Now that I work at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department headquarters bordering the park, I can pop over anytime to get away from hustle and bustle of city life and spend time in the peace and quiet of nature, with incredible views of waterfalls.

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Sometimes planning trips to state parks can be tricky when you don’t know how the weather will be when you get there. I showed up to a very foggy Lake Corpus Christi State Park when I was hoping for a bright sunny day. But even through the fog I could tell this was a beautiful place.

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Tyler State Park was one of the first state parks I visited, and it’s one of my favorite places to experience the beautiful East Texas Pineywoods. While there’s a lot to do at the park, including fishing, kayaking, hiking and mountain biking, the activity I’ve always enjoyed most is driving through the park and winding between the tall pines.

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