TX Caprock Canyons State Park
by Roger Due [1-1-2022].
Visiting Caprock Canyons State Park in Texas has been on my list for quite some time. It is 6 hours from Albuquerque & 1.5 hours south of Amarillo. About 300 bison roam over 10,000 acres in the park.
There didn't seem to be any lodging available in Quitaque, just a few miles south of the park, so I drove to Plainview on 12/24/2021 where I had reserved a motel room. Although I took along some apples to munch on, I should have prepared some additional food to take along. Even the fast-food places were closed when I got to Plainview. The 24/7 IHOP seemed to be the only choice. Although I had a simple meal that I thought would be safe to eat, it caused stomach issues during the night! Scratch IHOP.
I spent most of Christmas day driving through all of the roads in the park, taking photos, & hiking. I was surprised to see quite a few people in their RVs and even some camping in tents. I also saw a couple riding horseback & others hiking.
Bison grazing allows plants to flourish, reduces the amount of dead vegetation, and encourages new growth, all of which influence the variety of plants and animals of the prairie. Their role in this ecosystem is as important as prairie fire.
Even the wallowing behavior of bison creates a unique mini-wetland environment while their waste provides needed fertilizer, all benefiting the prairie ecosystem.
Historically, bison were a valuable food source for predators, scavengers and humans. They provided everything needed for human survival on the plains including food, shelter, clothing and tools.
At one time, 30 to 60 million bison roamed the North American plains. Early Spanish explorers in Texas, including the Coronado expedition, said they were as numerous as “fish in the sea.”
The vast herds weren’t in danger of extermination until professional hide hunters arrived on the plains. With their superior weaponry, they could kill over 100 bison at a time.
Thus began the “great slaughter.” From 1874 to 1878, hunters decimated the great southern bison herd. Estimates from 1888 were that less than 1,000 head of bison remained in North America.
Towards the end of the great slaughter, a handful of people worried about the fate of the bison and began the difficult task of saving them. These people took on the care of orphaned calves and started their own herds.
Mary Ann Goodnight urged her husband Charles to capture some orphan calves from the southern herd in 1878. The Goodnights raised the bison calves on the JA Ranch as the nucleus of the Goodnight Herd, which soon grew to over 200 head.
The descendants of these animals now constitute the Texas State Bison Herd. The Goodnight Herd and four other herds provided the foundation stock for virtually all bison in North America today.
Following the death of the Goodnights, the herd faded from public awareness until wildlife conservationist Wolfgang Frey learned about the remaining 50 or so bison on the JA Ranch. He contacted the state of Texas in 1994.
Genetic testing by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department discovered a rare genetic marker revealing that the herd was perhaps the last remaining group of southern plains bison.
The JA Ranch donated the herd to Texas Parks and Wildlife. The state moved the herd to Caprock Canyons State Park in 1997. Unique not only in its historical importance but also in its rare genetic makeup, the herd is now the Official Bison Herd of the state of Texas.
The herd remains in a portion of its natural home range on what was once a part of the JA Ranch and is now Caprock Canyons State Park.
Of course, these are just sculptures of bison. The building in the back has a lot of information about the bison and the surrounding landscape. There is also a small amphitheater on the far side for lectures.
Here is my first encounter with a bull bison. He eventually rolled around on his back and then got up to walk across the road. My camera has a 5X zoom, so I could get some 'close up' photos while standing next to the car. Since I grew up on a dairy farm where we always had one or more bulls in the pasture with the cows, I learned to never show fear & to always be mindful of their behaviors. This bison showed no concerns about me being there & I didn't do anything to get his attention.
This is some of the rugged landscape in the northern part of the park.
I parked the car along the side of the road and hiked closer to this beautiful outcrop.
Prickly pear cactus. This is a dry desert area where the shrubs & vegetation have learned to adapt.
This photo of my car gives some size perspective.
Later in the afternoon when I was finished exploring in the park, I drove on the dirt perimeter road to the east outside the park and saw these two in a cotton field. They quickly ran away, even though I was the only car driving slowly on this road.
I decided to head back towards home and stop at the first place open to eat something. Of course, nothing appeared to be open on Christmas day. I filled up with gasoline at a truck stop and decided that I wasn't interested in the Subway, so just kept driving. I finally arrived home at 8:30pm on Christmas day and fixed myself a meal.
Yes, I drove about 800 miles in 2 days, yet I enjoyed getting out of the house and exploring this park and a part of Texas I hadn't been in before. I've also learned that there are bison herds in northern NM around Cimarron & some of the Ted Turner properties. I would like to drive up there this winter and look around when there is fresh snow on the ground. Stay tuned...