Photos in the January/February 2016 issue
The Year of state parks
Welcome to the first installment of our 2016 series: The Year of State Parks. Each month’s cover and lead story will feature one of Texas’ iconic state parks. An accompanying State Parks List will focus on parks across the state that offer similar attractions and activities. This month, we feature Franklin Mountains State Park and a list of state parks with stunning views.
This Month's Features
Candy-striped roadcuts and lava-bubble caves offer geological whimsy and breathtaking vistas.
By Melissa Gaskill
The bright orange car swayed slightly on a thick cable as it rose up the slope of 5,632-foot Ranger Peak carrying a park employee, two tourists and me. Cars on the Wyler Aerial Tramway in the Franklin Mountains near El Paso make a four-minute trip past 600 million years of geologic history.
The trip starts at the bottom with Red Bluff granite, molten magma that crystallized a billion years ago. Above that granite lies Bliss sandstone, made of sand and creatures from a sea covering the area 550 million years ago, and above the sandstone, alternating layers of limestone, some 900 feet thick. At the top we see dolomite, or magnesium limestone, also left behind by a tropical sea.
Higher parts of the Franklin range contain a 5,000-foot-thick layer of Precambrian rock perhaps 1.26 billion years old, according to University of Texas at El Paso geologist David LeMone. The Precambrian era spans about 88 percent of all geologic time, from the formation of Earth some 4.5 billion years ago up to the Cambrian Period, which began about 541 million years ago. When the El Paso area faulted 20 million years or so ago, it lifted and tilted these layers of ancient rock to form the mountain range.
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.
A formidable mesa defines this slice of northwestern Texas.
By Russell A. Graves
In the blackness of the early morning, the rhythmic flashing of dozens of red lights atop a large wind farm catches my eye as I drive through the badlands near Matador.
To the east, millions of acres of Rolling Plains scrublands spread out across a sparsely populated landscape. To the west, the lights blinking in the distance span across a broad plain that rises well above my location. For those who have not witnessed it, the abrupt change in elevation over such a narrow linear path is foreign — especially for Texas. Mountains and plateaus rise predictably from the surrounding plain, while much of the rest of Texas retains a topographic similarity as far as the pitch and roll of the landscape go. For a thin slice of northwestern Texas, however, the landscape breaks all the rules.
Primarily running along a longitudinal line, the Caprock Escarpment (or Caprock, as it is colloquially known) is a relatively narrow slice of land that separates the flat plains to the west and the broken and rough rolling plains to the east. Shaded relief maps will give you an idea of how the country transitions from west to east, but it’s best understood in person.