Texas Road Trips Sampler

Take a leisurely drive and avoid traffic, feel reinvigorated along the coast, and how to enjoy a north-south road trip

Ready to take the roads less traveled? Along this pair of spring road trips you have an option to avoid the traffic of Interstate 35 from DFW to the Hill Country and feel invigorated along the coast. This drive takes you along Texas’ version of the Pacific Coast Highway. If you want to see the variety of vistas that Texas has to offer then load the RV, buckle up, and get ready for these fun spring drives.

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hug the Coast Highway

Distance: 217 miles

Overall vibe: Seafood and seaside breezes

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t be fooled by the name. State Highway 35 is the antithesis to the behemoth with which it shares a number. Interstate 35 is a white-knuckle fight for highway survival while its country cousin is an easy cruise through green marshes and across bays with intermittent glimpses of the Gulf of Mexico.

Tricolored heron © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Otherwise known as the “Hug-the-Coast” Highway, this 35 predates I-35 by more than 40 years. With only one lane on each side most of the way, it’s a quaint retreat—a throwback to Sunday drives where the journey was the destination.

Related Article: 4 Texas Road Trips: These You Have to Take

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This slow ride begins south of Houston in West Columbia, the tiny town with the distinction of having been the capital of the Republic of Texas for about three months in 1836. 

Along the coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continuing on the road as Route 35 steers you straight toward Matagorda Bay. In the town of Palacios, home to birders and fishermen, stop at The Point. The hybrid convenience store and Vietnamese and Mexican restaurant has become the social hub of the town. You can grab fishing gear, breakfast tacos, and authentic Vietnamese food or grab takeout for a picnic on the docks overlooking the bay. If you’re lucky, you might catch the flash of a roseate spoonbill in flight.

Port Lavaca

Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales.

Port Lavaca © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.

Related Article: Texas Road Trip Playlist: Sing Your Way across Texas

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can keep on trucking toward Rockport or take a 45-minute side trip to the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. This pristine sanctuary overlooking San Antonio Bay attracts more than 400 species of birds and is the winter home of the endangered whooping cranes. Heron Flats, an easy 1.5-mile walking trail, promises glimpses of leggy birds high-stepping through marshes as they seek their supper.

Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The natural wonders continue 10 miles north of Rockport in Goose Island State Park where the Big Tree prevails. Scientists have calculated this live oak could be more than 1,000 years old—and it’s so resilient even Hurricane Harvey couldn’t knock it down.

Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fulton and its historic mansion and the seaside resort town Rockport are worthy stops, especially for dockside seafood at places like the Boiling Pot or Charlotte Plummer’s.

Fulton Mansion State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Rockport, it’s only 28 miles to Portland where it’s time to say goodbye to this laid-back coastal road as it merges south into the bigger US-181. 

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading toward Corpus, you are thrust back into the rush of multiple lanes and cars in a hurry to get somewhere—a jolt after so many miles of traffic-free driving. The intensity of it brings to mind the other bigger, faster 35. It’s a reminder of just how good you’ve had it on the mellow side of the coast-hugging highway.

Related Article: Visit SIX Iconic Texas Landmarks on One Road Trip

San Antonio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The DFW Metroplex-South Texas Scenic Workaround

Distance: 370 miles

Overall Vibe: Pretty as a picture

San Antonio

No matter where you are or the time of day, Interstate 35 is a crapshoot. You never know when traffic is going to back up, or why. There is an alternative for a north-south road trip: US Highway 281 running between the western Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex and greater San Antonio. It is less traveled, less billboarded, and less congested—and usually, worth the extra hour especially whenever I-35 is all jammed up.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alas, US-281 is no longer a secret thanks to Google Maps and Waze. The route which goes through Hico, Hamilton, Lampasas, Burnet, and Marble Falls has unpredictable bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go traffic. To bypass these conditions the time has come to suck it up, factor in at least two more hours of drive time, and take the long way to South Texas. Fortunately, you’ll be passing through some of the prettiest western landscapes Texas has to offer.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After leaving Dallas, make your way to downtown Fort Worth then drive 75 miles west on Interstate 30 and Interstate 20 to Exit 361, south of Strawn. Head south on State Route 16. The two-lane road starts in the Big Country and transects the Hill Country. If you’re relatively new to Texas, this is a fine introduction to some of the state’s finest natural beauty. Plus, you’ll be avoiding the horrible, ongoing interstate highway construction in Waco.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Granted, SR-16 is a longer way and posted speed limits drop below 55 passing through small towns. But since each one justifies stopping for one reason or another depending on your level of curiosity and available time, slow down at least and enjoy the scenery.

Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this route you’ll pass through the boomtown ghost town of Desdemona to Comanche where you can stop for a bite to eat at Stone Eagle Beer Garden. If in need of a beautifully crafted custom pair of boots set up an appointment at the family-owned and operated Kimmel Boot Company.

Related Article: Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Best Road Trips from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin

Drive past the wind farms of Priddy on your way to Goldthwaite, home to the Texas Botanical Gardens at Legacy Plaza and Mills County Historical Museum (note, the museum is only open Monday through Friday).

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue on SR-16 until you hit San Saba, the Pecan Capital of the World. If you have some time, park your car and take a walking tour of downtown and the lively main drag. Then, head to Cherokee where the bluebonnets should be in full bloom this time of year. If hungry, make a pitstop at Cherokee Corner Cafe.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next up is Llano, the heart of the granite part of the Hill Country and a traditional barbecue town with options that include the original Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que and Inman’s BBQ and catering (known for turkey sausage). Take the Farm to Market Road 965 junction to see the bulging pink granite mountain known as Enchanted Rock within Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. From here, you’ll drive to Eckert, a ghost town at the western end of the Willow City Loop wildflower drive, and Fredericksburg where all the action can be found on its charming Main Street.

Windseed Farms near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From here, you have the option of cutting away at Fredericksburg onto US-290 and going to Austin or taking US 87-and Interstate 10 for a more direct route south to San Antonio.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

7 of the Best State Parks in Texas to Take Your RV

Desert, mountains, sandy beaches, clear blue rivers, and deep canyons. The Lone Star State has it all—and you can find it in a state park.

Texas is one of the most geographically diverse states in America—it is the largest state in the contiguous United States after all with a thriving state park system to match that has more than 80 different sites across the state to explore.

Officially established in 1923, Texas’s state park system was loosely modeled on the United States’ national parks. When Texas was annexed into the U.S. in 1845, the state government stipulated that Texas must retain control over its public lands, so when the country’s national park movement was first gathering steam in 1916, very little land was allocated to the federal government. There’s now a grand total of 603,748 acres of Texas state parks to traverse, so there’s a little something for every type of adventurer.

Here are the 10 best Texas state parks to visit.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Davis Mountains State Park

Why go: Desert mountain hikes and a historic lodge

Nearest town: Fort Davis

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to stay: Davis Mountains State Park offers primitive camping, campsites with electricity and water, and full hookup campsites for RVs. If you’re not into camping, check out the Indian Lodge, a full-service hotel in the state park. 

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you ask any Texan what they think of when they hear the words “West Texas,” the first thing that probably comes to mind is Big Bend National Park (or, alternatively, the cool little art town in the middle of nowhere, Marfa). But about 140 miles north of Big Bend country are the Davis Mountains which are geologically classified as a “sky island”—an isolated mountain range surrounded by a radically different lowland.

Davis Mountains © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The mountains were created 35 million years ago after a series of violent volcanic eruptions which gave the area a large outcropping of rare (for Texas) igneous rock. The park offers a variety of hiking and biking trails and horseback riding corridors plus what the park fondly calls the “best little bird blind in Texas.”

McDonald’s Observatory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to the state park’s proximity to the McDonald Observatory, the area enjoys mandatory dark skies making it an ideal spot for stargazing.
Davis Mountains State Park isn’t known only for its outdoor activities. One of the most distinctive hotel options in the area is the Indian Lodge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933. The pueblo-style lodge functions as a full-service hotel and has 39 rooms and a dreamy swimming pool.

Related Article: 10 Things You Need To See and Do At Least Once In Texas

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park

Why go: Big Bend’s geography without the crowds of Big Bend National Park

Nearest town: Lajitas or Terlingua

Where to stay: Primitive camping only. Nearby towns of Lajitas and Terlingua have RV parks, hotels, and motels.

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend Ranch State Park is often overshadowed by its spectacular national cousin, Big Bend National Park. But just a few minutes down Highway 170 (which, by the way, was named one of the most scenic drives in the country) is this state park—the biggest in Texas at a whopping 300,000 acres. Admittedly, Big Bend Ranch State Park is not for the faint of heart: There’s only primitive (a campsite with no water or electricity, but can be driven to) and backcountry (campsites with no water or electricity either, but require a hike to reach) camping in the park.

Big Bend Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because of its size and remoteness, it offers little in the way of amenities. What the park does have is 238 miles of multiuse trails for hiking, biking, and riding horses. Bring plenty of water—temperatures can reach as high as 130 degrees in the summer, so plan your visit for sometime during late November to early March. This west Texas park also makes a great place to stargaze.
For an extra dose of personality, add a stop in Terlingua to your trip. The famous revitalized “ghost town” serves up some serious western-inspired grub, drinks, and music at the Starlight Theatre. 

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area 

Why go: Hike a gorgeous pink granite monolith

Nearest town: Fredericksburg

Where to stay: Group campsites, campsites with water, and backcountry camping are all available.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As any Texan knows, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a must-visit park. You can see what makes the region special from miles away along the drive on Ranch Road 965—a gargantuan hunk of pink granite that’s completely unique to Texas. (The state capitol is made of the same rock.) Geologically, the unusual formation is known as a ​​monadnock, a hill of bedrock that rises above its surroundings.

Related Article: Discover more on a Texas-sized Outdoor Adventure

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The stunning monolith has always had a mystical ambience. Before the Spanish and Anglo settlers arrived, the Plains Native Americans who frequented the area called the formation the “Singing Rock.” When the granite would cool from Texas’s ultra-hot summer temperatures as the sun went down, the stone would moan and groan as it shrank in the cool night air. If you’re lucky, you can still catch this phenomenon during a sunset hike.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are 11 miles of trails in Enchanted Rock State Natural area; the most popular hike goes straight up to the top of the rock, the Summit Trail. The “trail” (there are few ways to mark a path on bare rock) can be slippery at times but the view of the Hill Country at the apex makes the near vertical trek worth it. Because this hike is up a hunk of granite, the trail has little to no shade or vegetation, so be prepared with hats, sunscreen, and plenty of water. 

Mustang Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mustang Island State Park

Why go: White, fluffy sand in Texas’s best beach town

Nearest town: Port Aransas

Where to stay: Campsites with electricity and primitive camping are available. There are also RV parks in the area.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

OK, so calling Port Aransas Texas’s best beach may be a controversial statement—South Padre Island is regularly flooded with spring breakers each year, Galveston enjoys a steady stream of tourists, and let’s not forget Latina superstar Selena’s hometown of Corpus Christi. But many Texans will say that Port Aransas easily beats them all. And if you’re into fishing, the reel-’em-in heaven of Rockport is only 18 miles away from this island community. 

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What makes Port Aransas so special? Think small-town Texas with charming coastal vibes and the whitest, fluffiest sand your toes will ever have the pleasure of knowing. Plus, being located on the barrier island, the area enjoys an ecosystem populated by seabirds, 600 species of saltwater fish, sea turtles, dolphins, and even a few alligators. One of the best places to experience the island’s environment is Mustang Island State Park.

Port Aransas ferry © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park has five miles of coastline where visitors are encouraged to camp, bird-watch, kayak, fish, or simply play in the surf. Camping here is a little different than in most Texas state parks—though there is a designated camping area with electric hookups, guests can also camp primitive-style directly on the sand near the surf with the appropriate permits. 

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balmorhea State Park

Why go: Visit one of the largest spring-fed pools in the world

Nearest town: Balmorhea

Where to stay: Campsites with electricity, group campsites, and cabins are available.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barton Springs in Austin is indisputably one of Texas’s favorite swimming pools thanks to its year-round cool temperatures and convenient location in the heart of the capital. But if Balmorhea were a little closer to central Texas, it would definitely be a fierce competitor. It offers a sizable spring-fed pool that hovers around 72 to 76 degrees all year, right smack in the middle of the desert.

Related Article: Absolutely Best State Parks from San Antonio

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before the Civilian Conservation Corps built the concrete swimming pool and cabins in the 1930s, the San Solomon Springs provided water for local wildlife and hunter gatherers who are believed to have first made their appearance in the area around 11,000 years ago. During the 1800s, cattle ranchers and railroad workers often used the springs.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, the pool is most commonly frequented by Texans looking to escape the oppressive summer heat in an appealing desert landscape. Visitors can swim, snorkel, and scuba dive at the pool which hosts two endangered species of fish: the Pecos gambusia and the Comanche Springs pupfish. Though Balmorhea State Park is a bit out of the way from any major city (the nearest one—Odessa, Texas—is 116 miles away), getting to take a dip in the turquoise gem of the west Texas desert is an experience not to be missed. 

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park

Why go: Play on the Sahara-like dunes

Nearest town: Monahans

Where to stay: Campsites with water and electricity are available; also equestrian sites.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can surf on the Gulf Coast in Texas but you can also surf at Monahans Sandhills State Park in West Texas. A virtual island in a Permian Basin sea, the narrow strip of dunes runs for 200 miles from just south of Monahans north into New Mexico and creates a unique habitat that’s home to a variety of wildlife and supports one of the world’s largest oak forests—albeit the oaks themselves are of the diminutive variety. The Harvard oaks that cover more than 40,000 acres here seldom rise above three feet in height even though their root structure may extend as deep as 70 to 90 feet in the dunes.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park offers an interpretive center and museum, as well as picnicking and RV camping and a favorite activity of many visitors, sand surfing. The 26 campsites offer electric and water hookups, picnic table, and a shade shelter. Rent sand disks to surf the dunes or bring your horse and check out the 800-acre equestrian area. Just make sure you mark off “surfed in a desert” from your travel bucket list.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look for “fulgurites” (melted sand created by lightning strikes), ride your horse, or borrow a disk to surf the dunes. This park seriously reminds me of a scene from Aladdin. Oh, and did I mention that you can surf down the sand dunes? I can’t think of many activities more fun than that!

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park

Why go: Lapping water and Gulf breezes

Nearest town: Rockport-Fulton

Where to stay: 

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bounded by the waters of the St. Charles, Copano, and Aransas bays, 314-acre Goose Island State Park is a coastal delight. Popular with Winter Texans during winter months, birders during spring and fall migration, and campers year-round, Goose Island State Park is located 10 miles north of Rockport-Fulton, off State Highway 35.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to the Island engage in a variety of activities, including camping, birding, fishing, boating, water sports, picnicking, hiking, photography, geocaching, and wildlife observation. A leisurely 1-mile hiking trail is available. Swimming is not recommended as the shoreline has concrete bulkheads, oyster shells, mud flats, and marsh grass.

Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park is best known for two celebrated residents, one of which is the Big Tree—an enormous 1,000-year-old coastal live oak that has survived prairie fires, Civil War battles, and hurricanes. With a height of 44 feet, a circumference of 35 feet, and a crown spanning roughly 90 feet, the massive coastal live oak has survived Mother Nature’s fiercest storms including Hurricane Harvey (August 25, 2017) for more than 1,000 years.

The other resident is the rare endangered whooping crane that returns to the area every winter

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Goose Island also has 25 walk-in tent sites without electricity, and a group camp for youth groups.

Read Next: 16 of the Best State Parks in America

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

13 More Parks That Snowbirds Should Explore This Winter

Here are some of the best parks for snowbirds to explore

There are 63 national parks across the US. That’s not counting the hundreds of national monuments, historical sites, battlefields, memorials, trails, and more. When you count all of them together, the number of protected sites that fall under the US National Park Service is well over 400. And America’s state parks number over 8,500.

So it should not surprise anyone when I say that there are scores of incredible sites worth exploring in America.

Whether you’re looking to explore waterfalls or rivers, volcanoes or deserts, canyons or mountaintops, there’s a park for snowbirds to discover this winter.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona

The remote Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument is a gem tucked away in southern Arizona’s vast the Sonoran Desert. Thanks to its unique crossroads locale, the monument is home to a wide range of specialized plants and animals, including its namesake.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This stretch of desert marks the northern range of the organ pipe cactus, a rare species in the U.S. With its multiple stems, the cactus resembles an old-fashioned pipe organ. There are 28 different species of cacti in the park, ranging from the giant saguaro to the miniature pincushion.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park in Texas

Lapping water and Gulf breezes: We must be on the coast! Goose Island offers camping, fishing, and birding along St. Charles and Aransas bays. Camp, fish, hike, geocache, go boating, and observe and take photos of wildlife, especially birds. Fish from shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot long fishing pier.

Related Article: Parks That Snowbirds Should Explore This Winter

The Big Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries and has withstood several major hurricanes.

Elephant Butte Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte Lake State Park in New Mexico

Enjoy camping, fishing, and boating at Elephant Butte Lake, New Mexico’s largest state park. Elephant Butte Lake can accommodate watercraft of many styles and sizes including kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats. Besides sandy beaches, the park offers restrooms, picnic areas, and developed camping sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park in Utah

Zion is a park that you have to see to believe. It is a true desert oasis and an American icon. The surrounding area looks desolate, dry, and barren, but when you drive into Zion Canyon, a massive formation, miles wide, with sheer rock walls that rise thousands of feet, await you. There is something so incredible about seeing the oranges and yellows of sandstone mixed with the greens of the Virgin River and the vegetation that grows so easily there.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park in Texas

Big Bend National Park is home to more than 1,200 species of plants, more than 450 species of birds, 75 species of mammals, and 56 species of reptiles. Big Bend is named after a stretch of 118 or so miles of Rio Grande River, one part of which forms a large bend in the river at the Texas-Mexico border.

Related: Top 10 State Parks to Visit This Winter

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 150 miles of trails give visitors the opportunity to venture out on a day hike on their own or participate in a ranger-led program with a ranger as your guide, teaching you about the science, history, nature, and culture of Big Bend National Park. There is a little bit of everything for those visiting this unique part of the world.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park in Arizona
Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park is located at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along with the most popular feature of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support the hanging gardens of Rock Daisy.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV with water and electrical hook-ups, a dump station, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, and a fire ring.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Myakka River State Park in Florida

Seven miles of paved road wind through shady hammocks, along grassy marshes, and the shore of the Upper Myakka Lake. See wildlife up-close on a 45-minute boat tour. The Myakka Canopy Walkway provides easy access to observe life in the treetops of an oak/palm hammock. The walkway is suspended 25 feet above the ground and extends 100 feet through the hammock canopy. The park features three campgrounds; 90 campsites offer 50 amp electrical service and water; some with sewer hookups.

Related Article: Ultimate Collection of National Parks Perfect for Snowbirds

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park in Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland (adjacent to Bay St. Louis), Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. The use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s. Buccaneer Jean Lafitte and his followers were active in smuggling and pirating along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park in Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of Mobile Bay and is a day-use, picnicking and scenic park with modern camping hook-ups for overnight visitors. A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta.

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park in Texas

In the Rio Grande Valley, you’ll find wonderful bird-watching opportunities. Approximately 360 species of birds have been spotted at Bentsen-Rio Grande. Butterflies, javelinas, bobcats, and more have also been seen at the park.

plain chachalaca at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You will definitely want to bring your binoculars for birding with you. Like many other state parks, nature is the most intriguing part of the journey. Cars are not allowed to park on-site to help preserve nature. You can leave your car at headquarters and explore on bike, foot, or even tram.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico

Hidden beneath the surface are more than 119 caves—formed when sulfuric acid dissolved limestone leaving behind caverns of all sizes. Regardless of the snow and cold temps above, the cave is always a temperate 56-57 degrees.

Related Article: The Absolutely Best State Park Camping for Snowbirds

The most popular route, the Big Room, is the largest single cave chamber by volume in North America. This 1.25-mile trail is relatively flat and will take about 1.5 hours (on average) to walk

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park in California

Joshua Tree is a diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases. The park is home to two deserts: the Colorado which offers low desert formations and plant life, such as ocotillo and teddy bear cholla cactus; and the Mojave. This higher, cooler, wetter region is the natural habitat of the Joshua tree

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park in Arizona

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak. The unique shape has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. Many hiking trails traverse the desert landscape and offer hikers both scenic and challenging hikes. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views.

Worth Pondering…

Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

—Rachel Carson

10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

In the Lone Star State, find natural springs, granite batholiths, and even gypsum sand dunes

Texas is known for big skies, wide-open spaces, and starry nights. Parts of it bristle with cacti. Others glisten with swampy, tea-colored water. Along the coast, endangered sea turtles nest along sandy beaches, towering cypress trees lean over cool green rivers, and fossilized dinosaur bones poke out of dry creek beds.

Every corner of the Lone Star State serves up its own version of Texas terrain, from mountains to beaches and well beyond. And less than five percent of its land is publicly owned. In all, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department oversees nearly 100 parks, historic sites, and natural areas across the state. The National Parks Service operates 16 more public spaces including national parks, monuments, recreation areas, preserves, trails, and memorials. Below, I’ve picked 10 of my favorite state and national parks in Texas to plan a trip around.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Balmorhea State Park, Toyahvale

It’s hard to imagine finding a giant blue-green swimming hole swirling with fish in the middle of a desert but that’s what beckons at Balmorhea State Park where more than 15 million gallons of water flow daily from San Solomon Springs into a 25-foot deep pool with a natural bottom. Native Americans, early explorers, and passing U.S. soldiers have all watered up here and in the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps turned the desert wetland into the largest spring-fed swimming pool in the world.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now, it’s popular with land-locked scuba divers, swimmers, and anyone looking to take a flying leap off a 7-foot 3-inch-high diving board. It’s also home to two small endangered species of fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and Pecos gambusia.

Related: Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Best Road Trips from Houston, San Antonio, and Austin

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, far West Texas

At first blush, Big Bend National Park in far West Texas looks desolate and uninviting. But get out and hike its prickly folds, armed with plants that poke, scrape, and stab, and you’ll discover spectacular geologic formations and a diverse range of inhabitants from javelina to tarantulas, black bear, snakes, and mountain lions.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Backpack the South Rim high in the Chisos Mountains at the center of the park, raft the café-au-lait-colored water of the Rio Grande or explore the desert floor and the old farming and ranching ruins it holds. The largest of the national parks in Texas, Big Bend sprawls over 801,100 acres, so one thing you won’t find is big crowds. Peak season is November through April—no surprise, as temperatures can soar to over 100 degrees in summer.

Big Thicket National Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Thicket National Preserve, near Beaumont

Four types of carnivorous plants live in the Big Thicket and chances are you’ll be able to watch one of them turn an unsuspecting insect into a slow-cooked meal if you visit. But first, stop by the preserve’s visitor center to get the lay of the land at this diverse park which is made up of non-contiguous units that cover 113,114 acres of land and water in seven counties.

Related: 10 Things You Need To See and Do At Least Once In Texas

Big Thicket National Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find sections of longleaf pine forest, swampy bayous, and wetland savannas, crisscrossed by about 40 miles of hiking trails including a few wooden boardwalks that take you past carnivorous pitcher plants. Paddlers can explore the waterways by kayak or canoe, too. Just remember to bring the bug spray.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, near Fredericksburg

Enchanted Rock looms like a giant pink onion, half-buried in the Hill Country scrub. It formed a billion years ago when a pool of magma pushed up through the earth’s surface and hardened into a granite batholith. Most visitors make the 30- or 45-minute beeline to the top of the 425-foot dome passing fragile vernal pools where water collects in shallow pits providing a home for freshwater shrimp.

Enchanted Rock State Enchanted Area© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But don’t miss the loop trail that encircles the main attraction. Pitch a tent in the primitive sites alongside Moss Lake and watch the sun cast a rosy glow on the rock—and maybe catch the eerie creaking and groaning that some report hearing at night.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, near Rockport

Lapping water and Gulf breezes: We must be on the coast! Goose Island offers camping, fishing, and birding along St. Charles and Aransas bays. Camp, fish, hike, geocache, go boating and observe and take photos of wildlife, especially birds. Fish from shore, boat, or the 1,620-foot long fishing pier.

Related: Spotlight on Texas: Most Beautiful Places to Visit

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choose from 44 campsites by the bay or 57 sites nestled under oak trees, all with water and electricity. Every camping loop has restrooms with showers. Be sure to visit the Big Tree which has been standing sentinel on the coast for centuries and has withstood several major hurricanes.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, Johnson City, and Stonewall

If you’re looking for a history lesson during your next park outing, consider Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park a two-in-one immersion into rural Texas life in the 1950s. First, tour the grounds of President Johnson’s boyhood home in Johnson City then drive 14 miles to the LBJ Ranch and Texas White House where you can drive past his birthplace, a show barn, a small schoolhouse, and the Texas White House (which is temporarily closed to indoor tours due to structural issues).

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you make the rounds, imagine the former president known for pulling pranks on his guests—like the time he loaded dignitaries into a vehicle, rolled it down a hill, and into a pond, hollering that the brakes had given out. He didn’t tell them it was an amphibious vehicle designed to drive on roads and float in the water. Time your visit for early spring to coincide with the annual bluebonnet display.

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, near Mission

In the Rio Grande Valley, you’ll find wonderful bird-watching opportunities. Approximately 360 species of birds have been spotted at Bentsen-Rio Grande. Butterflies, javelinas, bobcats, and more have also been seen at the park.

Green jay at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You will definitely want to bring your binoculars for birding with you. Like many other state parks, nature is the most intriguing part of the journey. Cars are not allowed to park on-site to help preserve nature. You can leave your car at headquarters and explore on bike, foot, or even tram.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi

Grab your swimsuit and aim for Padre Island National Seashore which hugs 70 miles of the Texas Gulf Coast on the longest stretch of an undeveloped barrier island in the world.

Related: Absolutely Best State Parks from San Antonio

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Splash in the ocean, admire birds (including the Pepto Bismol-colored Roseate spoonbill), sail, fish, and, during the summer, watch Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle hatchlings dash across the sand as scientists release them into the wild. Many a Spanish ship met its fate off the coastline here and visitors can park an RV or pitch a tent on the beach.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McKinney Falls State Park, Austin

Listen to Onion Creek flowing over limestone ledges and splashing into pools. Follow trails winding through the Hill Country woods. Explore the remains of an early Texas homestead and a very old rock shelter. All of this lies within Austin’s city limits at McKinney Falls State Park.

McKinney Falls State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Think of the park as Austin’s backyard; we’re just 13 miles from the state capitol. Here you can camp, hike, mountain or road bike, geocache, go bouldering, and picnic. You can also fish and swim in Onion Creek. Hike or bike nearly nine miles of trails. The 2.8-mile Onion Creek Hike and Bike Trail have a hard surface, good for strollers and road bikes.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, near Pecos

A mystical place where the wind sculpts sand dunes into peaks and valleys, Mon­a­hans Sandhills offers a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as a close-up view of a unique desert environment. These natural sand dunes are ever-changing and worth stomping around after a few hours behind the wheel.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stop here for a picnic or sled down the swirling dunes on rentable plastic lids if you’re so inclined. Entry is $4. And spend the night at one of the 26 camping sites with water and electric hookups, a picnic table, and shelter. Camping is $15 nightly plus the entry fee.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state of mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

The 15 Best State Parks for RV Camping

These 15 state parks across the U.S. have campgrounds that you really need to add to your travel list

While national parks are at the top of many RV travel bucket lists, state parks often offer more camping amenities than national parks. State park campgrounds are located in areas that feature natural beauty, recreational opportunities, and historic significance. Some state parks are smaller and may only feature a visitor center and day-use area. Some areas are large as a national park and feature several campgrounds and access to lakes, trails, and nearby towns.

Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

Spanning more than 600,000 acres, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is California’s largest park and one of the best places for camping. A diverse desert landscape the park encompassing 12 wilderness areas rich with flora and fauna. Enjoy incredible hikes, crimson sunsets, and starlit nights, and view metal dragons, dinosaurs, and giant grasshoppers. Set up camp at Borrego Palm Canyon or Tamarisk Grove Campground. Amenities include drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, RV sites, and restrooms.

Buccaneer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi

Located on the beach in Waveland, Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Use of this land was first recorded in history in the late 1700s when Jean Lafitte was active in smuggling and pirating along the Gulf Coast. Buccaneer State Park offers Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5-acre waterpark, Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail, playground, Jackson’s Ridge Disc Golf, activity building, camp-store, and Castaway Cove pool. Buccaneer has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition, Buccaneer has 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invite camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails that wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest. The park is located within minutes of the Tucson metropolitan area. Bring along your curiosity and your sense of adventure as you take in the beautiful mountain backdrop, desert wildflowers, cacti, and wildlife. The campground offers 120 electric and water sites with picnic tables and BBQ grills.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota

Custer State Park covers 71,000-acres of the Black Hills in South Dakota. This sprawling park of wildlife is made up of granite peaks and rolling plains, lush valleys, and crystal clear waters. Visitors of the park enjoy outdoor activities such as RV and tent camping, fishing, hiking, biking, and swimming. The park also hosts community events throughout the year as well as educational programs at the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center. Custer State Park also features a visitor center that highlights the iconic prairie bison. The Wildlife Station Visitor Center provides guests with unobstructed views of the rolling hills and prairie located on the Wildlife Loop Road.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

The name of this stunning state park may seem less appealing but the history behind it is interesting. Back in the days of the old west, cowboys used the area as a place to corral wild mustangs. Trapping the horses at the edge of the cliff, they would round up the desired horses and take them back to be tamed. Usually, the remaining horses were set free. However, legend has it that one time the remaining horses remained at the edge of the cliff and died of thirst. Today, Dead Horse Point provides a beautiful mesa where you can look 2,000 feet down to the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. The Intrepid Trail System offers 16.6 miles of hiking and biking trails with varying degrees of difficulty. The campground offers 64 RV and tent sites including 44 with partial hookups.

Goose Island State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park, Texas

Brown pelicans, whooping cranes, camping, fishing, and the waters of Aransas, Copano, and St. Charles bays draw visitors here. The CCC built Goose Island, Texas’ first coastal state park. It sits on the southern tip of the Lamar Peninsula. Dramatic wind-sculpted trees dominate the park. The “Big Tree,” a massive coastal live oak estimated to be centuries old is one of the natural wonders of Texas.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Gulf State Park has two miles of beaches, a spacious campground, and a new Lodge and Conference Center. Lake Shelby, a 900-acre freshwater lake is one of the closest to saltwater along the Gulf of Mexico. The park has a multitude of activities to participate in that includes hiking, biking, fishing, swimming, exploring, geocaching, and paddling. Reconstruction of The Lodge at Gulf State Park, a Hilton Hotel, is complete and new hostel-style accommodations are available nearby as well. The park offers a 496-site improved campground including 11 modern bathhouses, pull-through sites, back-in sites, waterfront campsites, and ADA accessible sites. The paved camping pads fit large RVs and provide full hookups with water, sewer, electricity, a picnic table, and a pedestal grill.

Lackawanna State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania

The 1,445-acre Lackawanna State Park is in northeastern Pennsylvania ten miles north of Scranton. The centerpiece of the park, the 198-acre Lackawanna Lake is surrounded by picnic areas and multi-use trails winding through the forest. Boating, camping, fishing, mountain biking, and swimming are popular recreation activities. A series of looping trails limited to foot traffic wander through the campground and day-use areas of the park. Additional multi-use trails explore forests, fields, lakeshore areas, and woodland streams. The campground is within walking distance of the lake and swimming pool and features forested sites with electric hook-ups and walk-in tent sites.

Laura S. Walker State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia

Located near the northern edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, this park is home to fascinating creatures and plants, including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. Walking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, saw palmettos, yellow-shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons. The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating, and kayaks and bicycles are available for rent. The Lakes 18-hole golf course features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates. Each fairway and landing area is defined with gentle, links-style mounds that accent the course’s three lakes. The park’s campground offers 44 RV campsites with electricity utilities.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, the park is located in the Sonoran Desert at an elevation of 2,000 feet. In the late 1800s, Jacob Waltz emerged from this area with gold. When he died in 1891, he was found with 24 pounds of high-quality gold ore under his bed. Purportedly, before he died he left clues to the mine’s location. Needless to say, it is a haven for treasure hunters today. The Park also offers a variety of hiking trails, nature trails, 35 campsites, picnic facilities, and special programs throughout the year.

Meaher State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meaher State Park, Alabama

This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of north Mobile Bay and is a scenic park with a day-use area and modern camping hook-ups. A self-guided walk on the boardwalk offers an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile-Tensaw Delta. Formed by the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is a complex network of tidally influenced rivers, creeks, bays, lakes, wetlands, and bayous. The park offers a 300-foot pier with a 200-foot “T”. Meaher’s campground offers 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30- and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. Four bay-side cabins (1 is handicap accessible) overlook Ducker Bay. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities.

Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas

Mon­a­hans Sandhills State Park offers a Texas-sized sand­box for kids of all ages as well as a close-up view of a unique desert environment. The park is only a small portion of a dune field that extends about 200 miles from south of Mona­hans westward and north into New Mexico. Bring a picnic and spend the day exploring on foot or horse­back. The park does not have marked trails; you are free to ex­plore at will. Rent sand disks and surf the dunes. Learn about the park and its natural and cultural history at the Dunagan Vis­i­tors Center. Set up camp and witness spec­tac­ular sun­sets.The park offers 26 campsites with water and electricity and a shade shelter.

My Old Kentucky Home State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky

The farm that inspired the imagery in Stephen Collins Foster’s famous song, “My Old Kentucky Home, Good-Night!” is Kentucky’s most famous and beloved historic site. Built between 1812 and 1818, the three-story house originally named, “Federal Hill,” by its first owner Judge John Rowan became Kentucky’s first historic shrine on July 4th, 1923. Located near Bardstown the mansion and farm had been the home of the Rowan family for three generations spanning a period of 120 years. In 1922 Madge Rowan Frost, the last Rowan family descendant sold her ancestral home and 235-acres to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. The golf course is open year-round. Admire the beautiful grounds of My Old Kentucky Home State Park in the 39-site campground near Bardstown. Convenience is guaranteed with utility hookups, a central service building housing showers and restrooms, and a dump station.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, Arizona

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and often in the spring overlook a sea of wildflowers. The park and surrounding area are known for its unique geological significance, outstanding and varied desert growth, and historical importance. The unique shape has been used as a landmark by travelers since prehistoric times. The park offers a visitor center with exhibits and a park store, a playground, historical markers, a campground and picnic areas. The campground has a total of 85 electric sites suitable for RV and tent camping. No water or sewer hookups are available. Enjoy the beauty of the desert and the amazing views.

Roosevelt State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi

Roosevelt State Park offers an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities in a picturesque setting. The park’s scenic overlook provides a panoramic view of the Bienville National Forest. The gently sloping landscape is particularly striking during the fall when the forest is bright with autumn colors.A variety of recreational activities and facilities are available at Roosevelt including a visitor center, banquet hall, meeting rooms, game room, performing arts and media center, picnic area, picnic pavilions, playgrounds, disc golf, softball field, swimming pool and water slide, tennis courts, and nature trails. Fishing, boating, and water skiing are available on Shadow Lake, a 150 acre fresh water lake.The park offers 109 RV campsites, primitive tent sites, 15 vacation cabins, motel, and a group camp facility. These facilities are located in wooded areas with views of Shadow Lake. 27 campsites include electricity and water hook-ups. 82 sites have electricity, water, and sewer hook-ups.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

Rockport-Fulton: Charm of the Texas Coast

Rockport-Fulton has been a favorite coastal hideaway and snowbird roost for many years

Find yourself in Rockport-Fulton and discover why Rockport-Fulton is the Charm of the Texas Coast. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, historical sites, and great fishing.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life around Rockport-Fulton changed dramatically August 25, 2017 when Hurricane Harvey, a powerful Cat 4 hurricane, made landfall directly across the area. Rockport’s recovery since Hurricane Harvey three years ago counts among the great feel-good stories in Texas history. Rebounding in stunning ways, this little art colony beloved by visitors since the 1950s for its fishing, bay setting, and frequent festivals feels fresh again.

Rockport-Fulton following Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three-hour whooping crane tours depart Fulton Harbor and motor eight miles across Aransas Bay to get a close-up view of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the centerpiece of Rockport-Fulton’s ecotourism offerings. The Aransas refuge is the winter home of the only remaining wild migratory flock of whooping cranes in the world, an endangered species with a local population of roughly 280. The flock’s numbers had dwindled to about 15 birds in the 1940s, but the refuge—created in 1937 as a haven for migratory birds—provided a patch of safe habitat for the cranes to recover.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the summer when the whoopers are at their Northern Canadian breeding grounds, boat tours offer dolphin-watching and sunset cruises. There are plenty of birds to see in the summer as well. The tours also provide a thumbnail introduction to Coastal Bend ecology and industry.

Texas Maritime Museum, Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A mixture of sand and pebbles that stretches for several hundred yards, Rockport Beach is a park set on a small peninsula next to Rockport Harbor. Thatch-roof umbrellas on wooden posts offer bits of shade and a grass lawn provides space for covered picnic tables and a playground.

Aransas Pathway Center, Rockport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding, history, kayaking, and hiking and biking trails come together at Pathways Center, the principal information center for the new Aransas Pathway projects. There is also a deck for relaxing and observing Tule Creek and the adjoining Shellcrete Birding and Nature site. A bridge connects the north and south sides of Tule Creek and the nature site. This facility functions as the trailhead for Pathways eco-tourism projects in the Aransas County.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many visitors to Rockport-Fulton, the estuaries of Aransas and neighboring bays are most notable for their prime sportfishing and duck hunting. Sportsmen from Texas and beyond have made Rockport-Fulton a destination since the railroad arrived in 1888. Aransas and San Antonio bays, together covering more than 350 square miles, are famous for their redfish, trout, flounder, and drum.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ironically, it was turf—not surf—that put the Rockport area on the map in the second half of the 19th Century. The Fulton Mansion State Historic Site recalls the region’s ranching history and tenure as a shipping center.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In pursuit of distant markets for their beef and cattle byproducts, George Fulton and his associates developed cutting-edge methods of refrigeration for meatpacking and shipping. The meatpacking industry fizzled in the 1880s when the railroad arrived and shippers found it cheaper to move live cattle by rail. However, the infrastructure continued to sustain a profitable but short-lived turtle meat industry, satisfying big-city demand for a delicacy of the time period—sea turtle soup.

Fulton Mansion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Because the Fultons had lived in the eastern U.S. for a while, they knew about the latest innovations and conveniences you could have in a home, so they built it with three flush toilets, hot and cold running water, central heating, and gas lighting.

The Big Tree following Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Fulton Mansion is worth a stop to see the mansion’s stylish French Second Empire exterior and the verdant grounds shaded by large live oak trees. In fact, the majestic live oaks along this stretch of the Coastal Bend are a worthy attraction in and of themselves. Some are individually famous, such as the gnarly, millennium-old “Big Tree” at Goose Island State Park and the Zachary Taylor Oak where Taylor camped in 1845. Other stands of wind-sculpted oaks near the shoreline are remarkable for their shape—angled, twisted, and reaching inland from decades of prevailing winds and salt build-up on their seaward edge.

Goose Island Stat Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come evening, after a day of exploring Rockport-Fulton’s coastal scene, a fitting way to reflect on the experience is from the shade of one of these magnificent live oaks. As the bright orange sun sinks into the horizon, a gentle breeze blows ashore, it’s simple to understand why Winter Texans love this stretch of the Gulf Coast.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

A 1,000-Year-Old Texas Oak Tree Stands Firm

A natural treasure weathered the calamitous storm

Life around Rockport changed dramatically August 25, 2017 when Hurricane Harvey, a powerful Cat 4 hurricane, made landfall directly across the area. The storm forced people from their homes and patients from hospitals and turned quiet streets into turbulent torrents. For millions of residents it was a terrifying, catastrophic, tragedy.

The Big Tree following Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid this ongoing disaster, one iconic local inhabitant stood its ground: the magnificent Big Tree at Goose Island State Park, 10 miles north of Rockport. With a height of 44 feet, circumference of 35 feet, and crown spanning roughly 90 feet, the massive coastal live oak has survived Mother Nature’s fiercest storms including Hurricane Harvey for more than 1,000 years.

The Big Tree following Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Facebook page posted a photo of the tree on August 28, surrounded by the wreckage of its brethren. Younger trees, they wrote, might have perished in the calamitous storm—but “you don’t get old by being weak.” Texans seem to have found some solace in this 44-foot pillar of strength. Local resident Dana Brotherwood thanked them for putting the photo up, adding: “I know it’s silly but if he can make it, then no matter what else we as Texans can keep going. I am just so happy to see this.”

The Big Tree signage following Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Big Tree, as it’s usually known, is one of the oldest, most well known live oak trees in the United States. In its 1,000 years, it has survived hurricanes, fires, and even an 1864 Civil War battle that razed the rest of the town, Lamar, to the ground. The tree has its own dark history as well, as it has variously been associated with hangings, cannibalism, or pirates.

The Big Tree following Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite technically being the second-oldest live oak in the state—dethroned in 2003 by the discovery of an older tree in Brazoria County—it is much beloved and has inspired some fervent tributes from local poets, mostly written from the tree’s perspective.

The Big Tree prior to Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The “Big Tree” statistics:

  • Trunk circumference:  35 feet 1.75 inches or 10.71 meters
  • Average trunk diameter:  11 feet 2.25 inches or 3.41 meters
  • Crown spread:  89 feet or 27.1 meters
  • Height:  44 feet or 13.4 meters
  • Age:  In excess of 1,000 years
The Big Tree following Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tree has inspired several poems. A favorite is by local resident Mary Hoekstra:

I have gathered sun and rain to grow green leaves,
Swaying softly in spring, rustling like applause in fall.

My limbs have shaded generations;
My roots have reached for centuries;
My children and their children’s children surround me,
Here in this peaceful part of my land.

The Big Tree prior to Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Golden sunlight diamonds have glinted on the ground around me.
Cold fingers of ice have touched my heartwood.
Dust-dry days of sandstorms have scoured my skin.
Torrents of rain, driven by gales have rushed at me,
And I have swayed, but stayed unbroken.
Silver moonlight has kept me company many a night.

The Big Tree following Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yet through all the seasons, sorrows, bitterness, and beauty,
All of the history I have withstood and witnessed,
There has been one thing I could not do.

I could not grow green dollars, or silver, or gold.

About a mile from the Big Tree following Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Will you help me, standing here before me?
Then we may both grow old together,
As old friends should,
One of flesh, one of wood.

The Big Tree prior to Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are smaller live oaks surrounding this venerable old tree almost as beautiful. The age of it and the graceful, gnarly limbs pulled me, too, towards it. Maybe I thought of it as a survivor—a testament to standing in the face of adversity.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t get old by being weak.

Life by the Bay: Goose Island State Park

Lapping water and Gulf breezes: We must be on the coast!

Bounded by the waters of the St. Charles, Copano, and Aransas bays, 314-acre Goose Island State Park is a coastal delight. Popular with Winter Texans during winter months, birders during spring and fall migration, and campers year-round, Goose Island State Park is located 10 miles north of Rockport, off State Highway 35.

Goose Island State Park before Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life around Rockport changed dramatically August 25, 2017 when Hurricane Harvey, a powerful Cat 4 hurricane, made landfall directly across the area. The storm forced people from their homes and patients from hospitals and turned quiet streets into turbulent torrents.

Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We first visited Goose Island State Park in December 2011. During our recent visit earlier this month we noted that recovery efforts are under way. The east end of the island, the fishing pier, the Group Hall, and all overnight camping on the Bayfront side is closed to public access due to park construction and repairs. These closures are expected to last several months. This will impact fishing and birding access and other day use activities.

Goose Island State Park before Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors to the Island engage in a variety of activities, including camping, birding, fishing, boating, water sports, picnicking, hiking, photography, geocaching, and wildlife observation. A leisurely 1-mile hiking trail is available. Swimming is not recommended as the shoreline has concrete bulkheads, oyster shells, mud flats, and marsh grass.

Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park is best known for two celebrated residents, one of which is the Big Tree—an enormous 1,000 year old coastal live oak that has survived prairie fires, Civil War battles, and hurricanes. The other resident is the rare endangered whooping crane that returns to the area every winter.

The Big Tree before Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A small bridge connects the main portion of the park—one of the oldest in the state park system—to a small sliver of sand that gives the park its name. The ancient barrier island has been shrinking due to erosion caused by Gulf currents and wave action from the surrounding bays. Stepped-up efforts in recent years, including installation of offshore rock breakwater, dredging, and marsh restoration projects, have stabilized the island’s shell ridge, oyster beds, seagrass shoals, tidal flats, and salt marshes.

The Big Tree after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approximately 500 bird species have been recorded in the area, including the whooping cranes which spend each winter in the coastal marshes of nearby Aransas National Wildlife Refuge.

Bayside camping at Goose Island State Park before Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Developed RV campsites in a secluded, wooded area are available, all with water and electric service. Amenities include a fire ring, outdoor grill, and picnic table. There are also 25 walk-in tent sites without electricity. The park can accommodate a maximum of 64 in the one-acre Group Camping Area. Covered picnic tables (the Park calls them “open cabanas”) are all that remain of the Bayside camping area following Hurricane Harvey.

Wooded area camping at Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fishing opportunities include speckled trout, redfish, drum, and flounder; crabs and oysters are abundant as well. There is a regular boat launch and a kayak/canoe launch (bring your own boat). A fish cleaning station is provided. You do not need a fishing license to fish from shore or pier in a Texas state park.

Goose Island State Park before Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A nearby adjunct of the state park holds the magnificent Big Tree. With a height of 44 feet, circumference of 35 feet and crown spanning roughly 90 feet, the massive coastal live oak has survived Mother Nature’s fiercest storms including Hurricane Harvey for more than 1,000 years.

Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Facebook page posted a photo of the tree following the storm surrounded by the wreckage of its brethren. Younger trees, they wrote, might have perished in the calamitous storm—but “you don’t get old by being weak.” Texans seem to have found some solace in this 44-foot pillar of strength.

Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goose Island State Park was initially built in the ’30s by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC).

Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To reach the state park drive 10 miles north of Rockport on Texas Highway 35 to Park Road 13. Travel two miles on Park Road 13 to reach the park entrance. 

Goose Island State Park after Hurricane Harvey © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive carefully as you enter the Park and drive through the Park—some of the roads are narrow and tree lined with low or overhanging branches.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer