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March 2010 cover image 12 Great State Park Walks

From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

The third time was the charm. After successive cancellations because of a nearly unprecedented flooding event along the Rio Grande and the swine flu border scare, the Big Bend Ranch Fiesta finally made its debut last November. Rest assured it was worth the wait.

Visitors from near and far made the trek out to Big Bend country to celebrate the opening of the state park’s approximately 300,000 acres of new and improved campsites, hiking and biking trails, scenic loops, four-wheel-drive roads and other public amenities. They came, young and old, to see, experience and wander through Texas’ only true wilderness-like state park, a former sheep and cattle ranch of Texas-size proportions.

And, for those who ventured out into the wilds of the Solitario, up into the Bofecillos range, down into Fresno Canyon, atop Guale Mesa or into the Sauceda Ranch headquarters complex, they were not disappointed.

The fiesta had another purpose that weekend. Two native sons of considerable state and national conservation renown, Bob Armstrong and Andrew Sansom, were honored for their Herculean efforts to establish Big Bend Ranch State Park.

For both men, the decision to acquire the ranch for the use and enjoyment of all Texans was an easy one. Yet, as friends, colleagues and members of their respective families recounted over the course of the weekend, the journey to accomplish that aim was anything but. Over a nearly two-decade span, they persevered through several changes in ranch ownership, a host of local and state political minefields and significant funding constraints that would have dissuaded those of lesser fortitude.

I think you will be glad they did. Big Bend Ranch State Park is a natural jewel waiting to be discovered and explored by all those who cherish West Texas’ wide open spaces, vast vistas and high country mesas. And, while you are out that way, plan to stay a little longer and visit the legendary spring-fed swimming pool at Balmorhea State Park and the cool, high-mountain country at Davis Mountains State Park.

Speaking of getting outside and enjoying the best of Texas this spring, I hope you will read through Allan C. Kimball’s article on some of Texas’ best hikes in your state parks. As he duly notes, there are ample ways to enjoy nature and realize your New Year’s fitness resolution by visiting one of your many state parks. I think you will find that a trek up Enchanted Rock, a walk along the Cave Trail at Mother Neff State Park or a stroll through the Lost Pines at Bastrop and Buescher state parks will be good for the mind, body and spirit. Life is, after all, better outside!

Thanks for caring about Texas’ wild things and wild places. They need you more than ever.

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