Texas: The Lay of the Land
Texas is big and bold. The diversity of the state allows visitors to combine outdoor adventure activities in the myriad of national and state parks, or experience the Wild West and cowboy lifestyle followed by some time in one or more of Texas’ premier cities. There is something for everyone, once you grasp the lay of this vast and vibrant land. Each of its seven varied regions offers its own dramatic landscape, storied history, and opportunities for exploration and adventure.
The Panhandle Plains are in the northwestern corner of Texas where the landscape is rugged and flat, changing to reveal dramatic canyons such as the stunning Palo Duro Canyon – second only to the Grand Canyon in size. Amarillo is the largest city in the region with ranching and farming as the main industries. Other key cities in the Panhandle include Lubbock, home of Buddy Holly, and Abilene, the heart of the Texas frontier.
Big Bend Country is the most remote part of the state, but arguably the most beautiful. Hailed as one of America’s largest national parks, Big Bend National Park covers more than 800,000 acres along the Rio Grande River in West Texas. The park ranges in elevation from less than 2,000 feet along the river to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains and encompasses massive canyons, rock formations and vast desert expanses. In addition to the region’s two national parks – Big Bend and Guadalupe Mountain National Park – visitors will discover old forts, abandoned mining camps, quirky historic towns and luxurious ranch resorts. El Paso is at the western tip of the state, where Mexico, New Mexico and Texas meet. It’s a blend of the Wild West, colorful Mexico and the heritage of Native Americans. In Odessa, visitors can see a 550-foot meteor crater, the result of a barrage of meteors crashing to the earth 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.
The Texas Hill Country features rolling countryside and a strong European heritage with settlers from the United Kingdom, Germany and central Europe. Many of the state’s dude or guest ranches are located here, near Bandera and Kerrville. Austin, the state capital, has a delightful mix of youth, sophistication, culture, live music and eclectic dining and shopping options. The city refers to itself as the “Live Music Capital of the World” and hosts two major internationally acclaimed music events each year. In addition, as Texas is the fifth largest wine producer in the country, 16 wineries are located along the region’s wine trail. Outside the town of Fredericksburg is Enchanted Rock State Park, named for the 425-foot, 640-acre granite dome, where visitors can camp, hike, rock climb, stargaze and view interesting birds and wildlife. This state park is one of the country’s largest batholiths (underground rock formation uncovered by erosion), and has been named one of the nation’s top ten campsites.
The South Texas Plains expand from San Antonio to the Rio Grande River, with changing scenery from rolling countryside to desert that is a delight for birdwatchers in the Rio Grande Valley, bargain hunters who visit the border towns, and history enthusiasts touring The Alamo and Mission Trail in San Antonio. Located between Corpus Christi and Brownsville, King Ranch – larger than the state of Rhode Island – is the country’s largest ranch and one of the largest in the world. A national historic landmark, King Ranch is home to 60,000 cattle and 300 quarter horses, and offers a variety of tours to the ranch and museum.
The 600-mile Texas Gulf Coast is protected by barrier islands stretching from Galveston to South Padre Island. Texas is also a resting place for over 600 bird species, more than any other state. Visitors can wander along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail, which offers 308 individual birding sites, enhanced by boardwalks, observation platforms and special landscaping designed to attract native and migrating birds.
In addition to a world-class bird-watching experience, adventurers who hike, bike, kayak or even camel trek their way through Texas will find opportunities to chase rare butterflies, spot an endangered ocelot, enjoy dolphin watching excursions or watch sea turtles make their nests. Fishing is a major sport in Texas, given the more than 90 freshwater lakes and saltwater bays, and enthusiasts will enjoy everything from tournament fishing for black bass to fly fishing for rainbow trout. Deep-sea fishing excursions from South Padre Island, Corpus Christi and Galveston offer fishermen a chance to bring home a prize catch from a day in the Gulf of Mexico. The Lone Star State offers numerous swimming, rafting and scuba diving adventures, such as premier diving destination Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.
In Houston, nicknamed Space City, visitors can choose from a plethora of dining and cultural options in the Museum District and 17-block Theater District. For shopping enthusiasts, the country’s fourth largest city offers a wide variety of choices for any budget, including the famous Houston Galleria, Rice Village, or Harwin Drive for bargain shopping. Houston is also home to NASA and the Johnson Space Center, and it hosts the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, the world’s largest such event held annually in February or March.
The Prairies and Lakes Region is dominated by the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, which – with its vibrant nightlife, cuisine, shopping and culture – is likely one of the first areas tourists visit. Dallas was made famous by the TV soap “Dallas” and today is a vibrant sophisticated city with a superb nightlife and more restaurants and shops per capita than New York City. In Fort Worth, visitors can experience the city’s western heritage at the historic stockyards, by watching a herd of longhorn cattle driven down Exchange Avenue, or enjoying country and western music at Billy Bob’s Texas, the world’s largest honky tonk. Beyond these two cities, the region stretches south through charming small towns filled with antique shops and folklore. Nature abounds in this region of the state, with freshwater lakes, forests, and authentic dinosaur tracks in the bed of the Paluxy River in Dinosaur Valley State Park.
The Piney Woods offer a landscape filled with forests and streams, lush meadows and quaint historic towns. For the plant lover, this region offers amazing azalea and rhododendron displays in the spring, and is a significant rose cultivation area for the entire United States. The region’s four national forests draw visitors for their beauty, peace and outdoor pursuits. Nature enthusiasts will especially enjoy the Big Thicket National Preserve, where diverse plant groups such as orchids, cactus, cypress and pine thrive as well as many species of birds, insect-eating plants and a wide variety of wildlife. Caddo Lake, located in the northern part of this region, offers tours through its cypress swampy environs and is a haven for canoeing, fishing, and nature photography.
For more information about all there is to see and do in Texas, visit www.TravelTex.com.