Tag Archives: Texas

Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park

Overview

The first battle of the Mexican-American War took place on May 9, 1846 north of the Rio Grande near present-day Brownsville, Texas.  General Zachary Taylor and a young Ulysses S. Grant (both future presidents) led U.S. troops during this engagement.  Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park was established in 1991 across 3,400 acres, and in 2011 an additional 38 acres were added in the heart of Brownsville to commemorate the Resaca de la Palma Battlefield.  Plus, a few earthen mounds remain of Fort Texas (later renamed Fort Brown) near a golf course on the campus of the University of Texas at Brownsville.

Highlights

Museum, film, cannons, interpretive trail

Must-Do Activity

The 1846 battle was primarily an artillery conflict, so there are many cannons at Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park today showing how close the battle lines were.  This skirmish and a subsequent fight at Resaca de la Palma pushed Mexican troops back across the Rio Grande for the remainder of the two-year long war.  History buffs will also be interested in the Civil War history of this region, including the final battle of the war fought May 12-13, 1865 at Palmito Ranch.  Information about all of these sites can be found at the small yet nice visitor center that opened here in 2003. 

Best Trail

A half-mile paved interpretive trail leads through the battlefield from the visitor center.  While here you can also learn about Harris’s hawks, horned lizards, javelinas, and other remarkable species that live in the area and the surrounding Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you make it to this remote southern corner of the United States, make it a point to take a guided tram tour through Resaca de la Palma State Park.  The park is a great place to see bird species found nowhere else in the country, like the great kiskadee (pictured) and rose-throated becard.

Peak Season

Spring and fall

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/paal/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None for the NPS site, but there is an admission fee at Resaca de la Palma State Park.

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

There are several private campgrounds around Brownsville, Texas.

Related Sites

Chamizal National Memorial (Texas)

Big Bend National Park (Texas)

Amistad National Recreation Area (Texas)

Explore More – Who was the president that campaigned on the platform of extending the U.S. border to the Pacific Ocean and subsequently annexed Texas in 1845 (fomenting the Mexican-American War)?

Big Thicket National Preserve

Overview

When most people think of Texas they do not think of the bayou, but since 1974 this unique ecosystem and eight others were preserved in several units in the southeastern portion of the state.  The Big Thicket once covered 3.5-million acres, however, now only 112,000 acres is protected by the National Park Service (NPS) in 15 remnant sections.  Here you can also discover longleaf pine savannah, saltwater estuaries, and wetlands harboring carnivorous plants.  Understandably, the region is noted for its high biodiversity, highlighted by 85 tree species, 20 orchids, and wildlife as dissimilar as alligators and roadrunners.

Highlights

Kirby Nature Trail, Pine Island Bayou, Cooks Lake Paddling Trail, Neches River, birding

Must-Do Activity

We recommend you start by learning about the nine different ecosystems within the preserve at the NPS visitor center located eight miles north of Kountze, Texas.  The best way to get to know Big Thicket National Preserve is on the water.  Motorboats are allowed in most units, but paddling is preferred for exploring the shallow bayous.  Lined with baldcypress trees, Pine Island Bayou is best explored by kayak or canoe, as is the Cooks Lake Paddling Trail (a five mile loop).  It is also possible to float the park’s 80 miles of the Neches River depending upon the amount of water released from B.A. Steinhagan Lake.

Best Trail

There are 40 miles of hiking trails, but it may be best to start with the Kirby Nature Trail near the NPS visitor center in Kountze, Texas.  Also located in the Turkey Creek Unit, the short Pitcher Plant Trail is best in the spring when the carnivorous plants bloom in the wet savanna.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Inside the NPS visitor center located eight miles north of Kountze, Texas, you can pose with a giant-sized pitcher plant model.

Peak Season

Fall and spring to avoid peak mosquito season.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/bith/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but some boat launches may be dirt.

Camping

The NPS offers free backcountry permits, but the nearest campgrounds are at Village Creek State Park and B.A. Steinhagan Lake (managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).

Related Sites

Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve (Louisiana)

Big Cypress National Preserve (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Explore More – In addition to pitcher plants, how many other carnivorous plant species are found in Big Thicket National Preserve?

Padre Island National Seashore

Overview

To experience the natural side of this semitropical region, make a trip to Padre Island National Seashore south of Corpus Christi, Texas.  Unlike touristy South Padre Island, this barrier island offers 65 miles of undeveloped beaches for exploration by foot and 4-wheel-drive vehicles. 

Highlights

Malaquite Beach, Grasslands Nature Trail, Bird Island Basin

Must-Do Activity

This wild island attracts a lot of wildlife, like white-tailed deer, a variety of shorebirds, and, unfortunately, Portuguese man-o-wars.  Keep an eye out for sea turtle patrols that drive up and down the beach all day seeking females laying eggs, including the endangered Kemp’s ridley.  Head further north for more bird watching, as Aransas National Wildlife Refuge typically sees a few overwintering whooping cranes, an extremely rare species.

Best Trail

Take a walk on a boardwalk through the sand dunes on Grasslands Nature Trail to find white-tailed deer and maybe even a crested caracara.  Also look for caracaras along the roadside since they will eat carrion.

Instagram-worthy Photo

On the bay side of the barrier island, you can camp and watch kitesurfers at Bird Island Basin where herons and egrets are a common sight.  We also saw white pelicans in the spring.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/pais/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved to Malaquite Beach visitor center and from there you can drive most of the beaches with a 4-wheel-drive vehicle. 

Camping

Primitive camping is allowed on the beaches, but there is also a nice campground with water and showers near Malaquite Beach visitor center.  If you cannot find a campsite at Padre Island National Seashore, try up north at Mustang Island State Park.

Explore More – Currents in the Gulf of Mexico bring significant amounts of floating trash to the shoreline; how can you help during your visit?

Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument

Overview

Quarrying in this part of the panhandle of Texas dates back 13,000 years to the last Ice Age.  The flint found here was especially good for making spear points and was traded across the continent over the centuries.  However, the harsh climate meant few humans lived here until recently, except between AD1200 and 1450.  Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument is jointly managed with Lake Meredith National Recreation Area by the National Park Service (NPS).

Highlights

Flint knapping demonstrations, 10-minute film, ranger-guided tour of quarries

Must-Do Activity

Outside the NPS visitor center, dedicated park rangers frequently demonstrate the art of knapping points from flint blanks (not from within park boundaries) and other primitive survival skills. 

Best Trail

We recommend you take the free ranger-guided tour (offered twice daily) up to the quarries to get the full experience.  It is a bit of a climb, but is the only way access the sites.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The flint here not only holds a great edge, it is also beautifully colored.  The rangers will be happy to let you take rock samples home from knapping demonstrations (since the flint is not from within park boundaries).

Peak Season

Spring and fall, as it can be very hot in the summer.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/alfl/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Paved to the National Monument and many good dirt roads surround Lake Meredith National Recreation Area.

Camping

Free primitive camping is available around Lake Meredith where there are many dirt roads to explore, as well as developed campgrounds (fee).

Explore More – What is the origin of the interesting name “Alibates?”

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

Overview

Since there are no campgrounds at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, many people stay at Guadalupe Mountains National Park just across the state border.  The park contains the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet, so snow is not unheard of here.  One night when we stayed there in December, we awoke to an inch of snow.  It always looks like it just snowed at the Salt Basin Dunes.

Highlights

McKittrick Canyon, Pinery Station, Guadalupe Peak, Salt Basin Dunes, Dog Canyon

Must-Do Activity

The Chihuahuan Desert is home to many unique plant species,so start with the Pinery Trail behind the visitor center and learn to spot the differences between lechuguilla, sotol, yucca, and the many species of cacti. 

Best Trail

Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet and the steep trail to its summit from Pine Springs Campground crosses through several ecosystems providing wonderful views of El Capitan and the surrounding landscape.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Autumn is a great time to visit to catch the vibrant red leaves of bigtooth maple trees.  Find them by hiking from Pine Springs Campground on Devil’s Hall Trail or further north through McKittrick Canyon to secluded Pratt Cabin, built in the 1920s. 

Peak Season

Summer, though wildfires can shut down large portions of the park.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/gumo/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$5 per person or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, including the 60 mile drive to Dog Canyon at the north end of the park, except the last 7.5 miles to Salt Basin Dunes (good dirt road) and Williams Ranch (4×4 road).

Camping

Pine Springs Campground and remote Dog Canyon Campground both have running water, but no RV hookups. Free backcountry permits provide camping opportunities at designated sites, though trails tend to be very steep and strenuous.


This design we created to celebrate Guadalupe Mountains National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

Explore More – Why are the peaks of the Guadalupe Mountains full of marine fossils?

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