Resting in the shade next to a pool of clear water, I could almost forget that miles and miles of West Texas desert surround me. But in fact I was in the middle of the Chihuahuan Desert, one of the most biologically diverse arid regions in the world.
Big Al looks as though he might be dozing at the edge of his murky pond. Closer inspection reveals, however, that the 1,000-pound alligator keeps a wary eye open just a slit, scrutinizing a group of visitors hovering behind a chain-link fence.
The river rounded a bend and ahead of me, civilization dropped away. A heron soared overhead, Pterodactyl-like, and a few dragonflies hovered around the front of my boat.
I’m thinking to myself, “That cave doesn’t look big enough for all those bats.”
A pleasant breeze rocked my kayak and rustled pale green and brown marsh grasses around me. Overhead, a few wispy clouds drifted across a blue sky.
From a sheltered platform more than 40 feet high, I step out into darkness, my heart beating a little faster than usual. The zipline cable from which I hang hums as I gather speed, cool air rushing past my face.
My kids and I are near the end of the 1½-mile Wood Duck Trail at the Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary in McKinney. The route meanders in and out of the woods; skirts wetlands where ducks, geese, and egrets commune; and wends past stretches of prairie with gracefully waving grasses. My daughter Susanna stops suddenly to watch a giant swallowtail butterfly flutter down, back up, and out of sight. I smile when a gasp of awe escapes the mouth that had, moments before, complained of being hot, tired, and in need of something—anything—from the gift shop. Meanwhile, Samuel is ahead of us as usual, just around the path’s next curve, the back of his head barely visible through the tall grasses. He’s been reading the warning signs posted along the trails excitedly, reminding us to “Watch out for copperheads!”—and in the process, likely scaring away this or other examples of native wildlife.
So there I was, 2,000 feet above the ground without an engine or parachute, relying solely upon the wind and a man I had just met to keep me from plummeting to my doom. I was soaring—and loving every second of it.
To see south Texas in its natural state and how the Rio Grande Valley looked before it was cut into farms and cities, you’ve got to travel to the state’s southernmost tip. Here, on the bank of the once-mighty river, you’ll find the last remaining stand of original Texas Sabal palm trees, one of only two palm species native to Texas.
From my shady perch on a high, breezy ridge, I scanned wooded slopes and rocky ledges fading to blue in the distance underneath a cloudless sky. It’s somehow comforting to know that hundreds of years ago, explorers sitting in this spot would have taken in roughly the same view of the rugged Balcones Escarpment landscape, now within the boundaries of Lost Maples State Natural Area.
From her vantage point hundreds of feet above a grassy plain bisected by a meandering stream, Beth Yoes of Beaumont aimed her digital camera at the sweeping vista, clicked the shutter, and captured the breathtaking scene.
My family has made a number of trips to Big Bend National Park over the past 30 years, driving the scenic routes, hiking its many trails, camping, and enjoying stargazing and hot springs. We love this 800,000-acre park for its incredible and diverse landscape: swaths of thorny Chihuahuan Desert, verdant springs, sand dunes, rocky ridges, and entire mountain ranges hiding waterfalls and spruce-filled canyons. Even more, we cherish its opportunities to get away from the madding crowds.