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Written by Texas Highways

Stolen Horses rgb300The six-hour miniseries Lonesome Dove first aired in February 1989 while I was taking an evening painting class in Fort Worth. My fellow students and I usually didn’t pay much attention to the television in the studio, but that evening we couldn’t focus on our still-life lesson. As retired Texas Rangers Capt. Augustus “Gus” McCrae and Capt. Woodrow Call rode off on an epic cattle drive from Texas to Montana, they took us along, too.

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I do a lot of traveling and have developed a system over the years. I keep a kit packed with toiletries, a backpack stocked with such essentials as binoculars and sunscreen, and I carry my passport and emergency-contact information in a small case. All I have to do is toss these into the car or a suitcase whenever the travel opportunity arises.

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“I think it’s sort of like a choose-your-own-adventure,” I say to my boyfriend, who’s driving as I study a colorful map of Waco’s Cameron Park from the passenger seat. We’re making the two-hour drive from Austin to enjoy an active weekend of hiking and sightseeing, but neither of us knows what to expect. We’ve read that the 416-acre park, which is celebrating its 106th anniversary this year, has sweeping views of the Bosque and Brazos rivers, options for paddling and fishing, and more than 20 miles of trails for hiking or biking. Yet it can be a little hard to know where to begin.

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Typically, a kingdom can be measured in its vast stashes of gold and millions of faithful subjects. But here in Texas, a grand kingdom needs only acres upon acres of beautiful land and a seemingly endless supply of cattle. And that’s exactly what I found in the South Texas town of Kingsville.

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The first time I saw the Monahans sandhills, I thought I had been taken in by a mirage. What else would explain the presence of beautiful rolling dunes out here in the middle of West Texas, with no ocean within 500 miles?

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Remember the Alamo? It was there that William B. Travis penned his famous letter, signed “Victory or Death,” on February 24, 1836. In command of Texas forces besieged by the Mexican army, Travis sent the missive by courier east to San Felipe de Austin, addressed “To the People of Texas and All Americans.” In it, he declared, “I will never surrender or retreat.” Yet he also pleaded for reinforcements “to come to our aid, with all dispatch.”

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Many folks currently residing in Texas arrived only in the past few decades. And while those of us who go much farther back make every effort to educate these newcomers on important aspects of being a Texan, some things must be learned through experience.

villagecreekSunshine beams down through the limbs of soaring bald cypress trees as though the light has been filtered by the stained glass of a grand European cathedral. Then I hear the bark-like chuckle of a pileated woodpecker. Two swift knocks follow from a nearby tree, and I raise my binoculars expectantly to scan the canopy for a positive identification.

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This month, Texas Highways offers a Special Issue spotlighting the National Parks 100 year celebration. Most especially, we explore the national parks within the Lone Star State. And there is much to celebrate.

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The National Park Service operates more than 400 sites around the country as part of its mission to preserve natural and cultural resources for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. Established in 1916, the NPS celebrates its 100th birthday this year, and everyone is invited to the party.

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Every corner of the state—from the Big Bend to the Big Thicket, and Padre Island to the Panhandle’s Lake Meredith—is home to spectacular getaways and historic places worthy of national notice. If you haven’t visited some of the Lone Star State’s national parks and historic sites before, or haven’t been in a while, the National Park Service Centennial celebration adds special events to the many reasons to explore these places in 2016.

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Some 65,000 years ago, a small herd of female Columbian mammoths and their babies wandered through a grassland in what is now north Waco during an intense rainstorm.

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