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August 2010 cover image Franklin Mountains

Park Pick: Longhorns and Starry Skies

Rugged vistas and a ‘kissing cow’ steal the show at Copper Breaks State Park.

By Sheryl Smith-Rogers

Dustin Inge still talks about the weekend he and his Boy Scout troop camped at Copper Breaks State Park, where they hiked past rust-tinged canyons, star-gazed for hours and met a personable “kissing cow.”

“It was cool,” recalls the Wichita Falls teenager. “The park has a small herd of longhorns with really, really long horns. A ranger demonstrated how to hold a big pellet in your mouth until a white longhorn came up and took it. I shot pictures while one of my friends did it.

“I got some great photos,” he adds ruefully, “but then I dropped my camera in the Pease River, and it quit working.”

Calamities aside, Blanco Besos — Spanish for “white kisses” — usually steals the show whenever visitors gather Saturday afternoons to meet the park’s nine longhorn steers, members of the official Texas state longhorn herd. “You don’t have to kiss him, but he’ll sure make the offer,” jokes park manager David Turner. “People love to see our longhorns. They’re one of our most popular attractions.”

So are the rugged vistas and remote location of this 1,900-acre getaway in North Texas. Throughout the park, bands of greenish copper — hence the name “Copper Breaks” — streak red-rock canyons and arroyos, forming the backdrop for junipers, mesquite and other hardwoods. Ten miles of scenic trails cater to mountain bikers, hikers and equestrians.

On the trails, keen-eyed observers may glimpse a threatened Texas horned lizard, not to mention a bobcat, jackrabbit, coyote or porcupine. More native wildlife may also be spotted along Devil’s Creek, which flows into the nearby Pease River, and Big Pond, a small, spring-fed lake. The 60-acre Lake Copper Breaks lures visitors with a swimming beach and fishing pier, where anglers can hook bass, catfish, crappie and perch. Campsites include equestrian, primitive, water-only and water/electricity.

Another star attraction — pun intended, of course — is the park’s monthly star walks, held in an open field near the Big Pond campgrounds. “Before the stars come out, we often give a NASA program with props that illustrate astronomical concepts, like gravity and an eclipse,” Turner explains. “Then we point out constellations and look at the stars with our 10-inch Dobsonian telescope and two high-grade pairs of binoculars.

“After Fort Davis, Copper Breaks has one of the state’s two darkest skies,” he adds.

Longhorn programs start at 2 p.m. Saturdays; meet at park headquarters. A star tour of the night sky begins at dusk Saturday, Aug. 7. Monthly star walks run through October, weather and clear skies permitting; check the website or call the park for dates and times.

Copper Breaks State Park is located between Quanah and Crowell off Texas Highway 6. For information, call 940-839-4331 or visit (archive.tpwd.state.tx.us/copperbreaks).

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