Seven natural wonders of Texas
Did you know that Texas has ninety mountains a mile or more in altitude or that approximately ten percent of Texas is covered in forest, including four national and five state forests? Texas is famous for vast cattle ranches and oil booms, but our natural wonders are what awe and inspire travellers.
“Hiking scenic canyons and dense forests, exploring mysterious caverns, or relaxing on undisturbed beaches are just a few of the ways visitors enjoy the natural wonders that are found throughout the seven regions of Texas,” said Texas Tourism Director Julie Chase.
Natural Bridge Caverns
Visitors who want to explore Texas “down under” must see Natural Bridge Caverns, recently named to the National Register of Historic Places by the U.S. Department of Interior for sites that have an important role in preserving cultural history. It’s one of the world’s premiere show caves and the state’s largest natural attraction. Visitors to this cave, 13 miles north of San Antonio, can view more than 10,000 different formations in underground chambers with either a guided tour or a self-guided tour on tape.
“ny describe it as beautiful, spectacular, and inspiring,” said Travis Wuest, vice president of Natural Bridge Caverns, Inc. “Some find it hard to believe that something like Natural Bridge Caverns could exist under the Texas Hill Country.”
The caverns have been named one of America’s “10 great places to get nature on film” in a recent USA Today article.
Natural Bridge Caverns, while the largest, are not the only caverns in the state. Boerne is home to award winning caves such as The Cave Without a Name and Cascade Caverns. Longhorn Caverns and Sonora Caverns are yet other Texas wonders that lie beneath the Texas Hill Country.
Named by Native Americans who believed the massive formation was inhabited by spirits, Enchanted Rock, just outside of Fredericksburg, rises 425 feet above ground (1825 feet above sea level) and covers 640 acres. Visitors are invited to backpack, camp, hike, rock climb, picnic, bird watch and star gaze in this Texas state park, which is the second-largest batholith (underground rock formation uncovered by erosion) in the United States. Named on MSN’s city guide Web site as one of the nation’s “Top 10 Campsites,” visitors can hike to the top of the giant, pink granite dome, explore the hundreds of crevices and caves that lie beneath the rock and enjoy spectacular views of the Texas Hill Country.
Big Bend National Park
Hailed as one of America’s largest national parks, Big Bend National Park encompasses over 800,000 acres along the Rio Grande River in West Texas. The park ranging in elevation from less than 2,000 feet along the Rio Grande River to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains, encourages visitors to explore its massive canyons, rock formations and vast desert expanses. “El Despoblado,” as the Spaniards called it, offers biking, boating, camping, hiking, fishing, swimming and opportunities for magnificent photographs.
After investigating Big Bend National Park, visitors can hop next door to Big Bend Ranch State Park, containing 17 miles of trails and 30 miles of gravel road perfect for hiking, horseback riding, 4X4 driving and bicycling.
Padre Island National Seashore
Visitors are sure to soak up plenty of sun on the South Padre Island National Seashore, which is the longest remaining undeveloped stretch of barrier island in the world. Padre Island, encompassing more than 130,000 acres, is famous for its fishing, camping and windsurfing. The Bird Island Basin area on the Laguna Madre is one of the top spots in the nation for windsurfing because of its steady wind, warm water and shallow depths. Visitors can also relax by the ocean or snorkel and scuba dive right off the coast.
The Meteor Crater
Visitors can travel back in time in Odessa where they can see the 550-foot meteor crater, the second largest in the nation, which was the result of a barrage of meteors crashing to the earth 20,000 to 30,000 years ago.
Big Thicket National Preserve
Tarzan would have had a ball in the Big Thicket National Preserve, which boasts 85 different tree species and nearly 1,000 flowering plants and brings together the eastern hardwood forests, the Gulf coastal plains and the Midwest prairies.
“It encompasses 97,000 acres and is a wonderful place for hiking, camping or canoeing,” said Stephanie Molina, director of marketing for the Beaumont Convention and Visitors Bureau.
For those travellers who prefer the more mild months from April to May, bird watching is of particular interest because The Big Thicket is on the Central and Mississippi migratory flyways.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park
Visitors will not want to miss the colorful slopes of the Palo Duro Canyon, famed as the second-largest canyon in the United States. Located just outside of Amarillo, Palo Duro Canyon, approximately 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and 800 feet deep, was formed primarily by water erosion from the Red River less than one million years ago. The canyon, dubbed “Palo Duro” (Spanish for “hardwood”) by early Spanish explorers in reference to the abundant mesquite and juniper trees, offers hiking, horseback riding, cowboy cookouts, magnificent photo opportunities and outdoor drama events.
People have been exploring and admiring these family-friendly and awe-inspiring sites for hundreds and even thousands of years. Texas invites everyone to come and join in on the adventure.
For more information on Texas travel events and vacation destinations, visit www.TravelTex.com or for a free Texas State Travel Guide call 1-800-8888-TEX.
Photo: Palo Duro Canyon State Park