July 05, 2017 Slideshows » Arts

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15 Unique Nature Getaways Every San Antonian Needs to Explore 

Every minute spent in the city builds up that urge to escape. When that pops, here are some of the most fascinating, breathtaking, hard-to-get-to or just plain weird natural getaways to camp in, hike and explore.
Fossil Rim Wildlife Center/Dinosaur Valley State Park
These two nature centers in the Glen Rose area straddle US-67 and are about 15 minutes away from each other. In the early 70s, oil businessman Tom Mantzel bought an exotic game ranch, gave it the new and fittingly exciting moniker “Fossil Rim Wildlife Ranch,” and started experimenting with captive breeding to grow the herds of rare animals he began to bring in. Success with this eccentric project has helped propagate endangered species--more than 175 cheetahs have been born at Fossil Rim, and it is currently home to a slew of exotic creatures, my personal favorite being the Mountain Bongo. The Dinosaur Valley State Park is a short drive away and boasts even more exotic animals (or, at least, their footprints, and their scat that’s sold in the gift shop): dinosaurs. In addition to camping and hiking, visitors can frolic in the river atop actual preserved dinosaur footprints.
2299 Co Rd 2008, Glen Rose, TX 76043 (Fossil Rim); 1629 Park Rd 59, Glen Rose, TX 76043 (Dinosaur Valley)
Photo via paige_harrelson
Cave Without A Name
This mysteriously titled cavern is home to fabulous rock formations that range from twisty to craggy to bacon-y. It remains a steady 66 degrees all year round. The natural echoing acoustic chambers of the cave lend themselves well to live concerts that take place in select caverns--but don’t let that turn off your sense of adventure. Most of the tunnel system is reserved for serene sightseeing.
325 Kreutzberg Rd, Boerne, TX 78006
Photo via weiwei9
Enchanted Rock
Humans have camped at this inexplicably attractive giant rock dome for 12,000 years, and it is home to 400 archaeological sites. Stories of daring battles, grisly deaths and ghastly metamorphoses fog this heavily visited site: according to Tonkawa legend, this massive stone not only groans at night but also has strange fires that dance across its peak. One tale tells of a young native woman who hurled herself from the rock after seeing her tribe defeated by a neighboring enemy; one other Tonkawa legend holds that a Spaniard who escaped their capture fled to the rocks and was swallowed by them, later reborn as a native. Whether or not these particular folk tales are true, the batholith is full of Texas history and unique nature.
16710 Ranch Rd. 965, Fredericksburg, TX 78624
Photo via jessobot
Cave of the White Shaman
Speaking of legends of numinous whites, a natural rock shelter near the south border is limned with prehistoric pictures, the most famous of which shows an anthropomorphic white figure flying to the spirit world, as the predominant theory goes. Going to see this ancient visual mythology is strenuous: it’s at the bottom of a steep climb, in South Texas heat, guarded by carpets of cactus. The caves are full of this fantastic rock art, with the largest mural stretching over 4,000 feet. The remote cavern, at the confluence of the Pecos and Rio Grande, is now under the care of San Antonio’s very own Witte Museum.
42535 West U.S. Highway 90, Comstock, TX 78837
Photo via AbrashTX
Caddo Lake
Texas is interwoven with innumerable creeks and rivers, but we’re pretty short on natural lakes. Caddo Lake, a cypress swamp full of wildlife, is one of these few lakes in Texas, with Green Lake being about the only other one. Caddo Lake was serendipitously created by a log jam a long time ago and is full of creatures that weren’t stocked there by the city, like Dr. Seuss-looking alligator gar.
245 Park Road 2 , Karnack, TX 75661
Photo via tpwd.texas.gov
Palo Duro Canyon
You know what, Arizona? Texas has it’s own grand canyon. Palo Duro Canyon is the second-largest canyon in the country and looks like a chunk of Mars. Against this rust-colored background in an outdoor amphitheater, a musical drama is put on by the Texas Panhandle Heritage Foundation every summer simply called TEXAS: Outdoor Musical, which coincidentally experienced a small explosion a couple years ago (yes, literally). The natural environment, however, is probably a more enticing attraction. This tranquil, savage park is pure Southwest.
11450 State Hwy Park Rd 5, Canyon, TX 79015
Photo via _dylanknight_
Official Bison Herd of Texas
Caprock Canyons State Park has 90 miles of trails slithering up rocky mountains and through grassy plains. Clarity Tunnel, which, as you might have guessed, is totally dark, houses a large bat population that visitors can see. Also, did I mention that the official Texas State Bison Herd majestically roams the plains here? And that we have an official Texas State Bison Herd? They were all but saved from extinction by legendary rancher Charles Goodnight and preserved on the JA Ranch until 1996, when the ranch donated them to Texas Parks and Wildlife for safekeeping.
850 Caprock Canyon Park Road, Quitaque, TX 79255
Photoa via bmarks61
Big Thicket National Preserve
Very few roads lead into this veritable heart of darkness. Hiking, biking, horseback riding and kayaking are all encouraged methods of venturing into the deeper parts of the million-acre thicket, but not driving. Although permits are required for hunting, fishing and camping, they are free--there is no charge for activity in the preserve. As an interesting side note, this preserve is particularly popular for its population of carnivorous plants.
FM 420, Kountze, TX 77625 Photo via bigthicketnps
Hamilton Pool
Thousands of years ago, destruction created this pool when what was once a wholly underground river collapsed, leaving this partial grotto. A 50-foot waterfall flows off a rounded overhang into this cool blue swimming hole, creating a hidden-oasis effect.
24300 Hamilton Pool Rd, Dripping Spgs, TX 78620
Reservations and information are good things to look into before visiting this popular and potentially dangerous site.
Photo via staceywanders
Davis Mountains State Park
This remote stretch of West Texas natural area is a great place to hike, boulder, stargaze or camp while checking out the nearby Chihuahuan Desert Nature Preserve or, more excitingly, the McDonald Observatory. The observatory regularly hosts ‘Star Parties’ and viewing events that allow visitors to look through the telescopes, the largest of which survived an attempted shooting by a deranged employee several decades ago (which you may get to hear about if you score the right tour guide).
TX-118, Fort Davis, TX 79734 (Davis Mountains); Frank N. Bash Visitors Center, 3640 Dark Sky Drive, McDonald Observatory, TX 79734 (McDonald Observatory); 43869 St. Hwy 118, four miles SE of Fort Davis (Chihuahuan Desert Nature Preserve)
Photo via estherhavens
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Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge
In the middle of Lake Worth, on Greer Island, lives the unholy cryptid The Goatman, a legendary monster who throws tires at unwelcome trespassers by some accounts. Legends of a biped goat with the face of a man in the area, like some kind of angry Texan faun, have persisted for over 40 years. Whether or not the Goatman is active in the summer, many other interesting animals like bison and whitetail do wander on the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge, which is dedicated to preserving the native ecology of the land that the Metroplex sits on.
9601 Fossil Ridge Rd, Fort Worth, TX 76135
Photo via maddielinestone
The Contrabando
In an unimposing stretch of West Texas desert, there sits a dormant ghost town that not only lacks living residents today, but also never even had any to begin with. This collection of crumbling structures was originally made for a Roy Clark movie in the 80s called Uphill All the Way. There is one original adobe building called ‘La Casita’ which the rest of the set was built around, but time and, incredibly enough, water damage in 2008 have taken their toll, though ‘La Casita’ amazingly still stands intact. Now, it’s a properly ruined, decrepit ghost town.
9.5 miles west of Lajitas, Texas on the Texas State Highway 170
Photo via mlhradio
Brazos Bend State Park
In addition to more common state park activities--hiking, geocaching, and the like--Brazos Bend State Park offers visitors live encounters with alligators. You can’t just go up and pet ‘em like a poodle, but there are designated areas where they roam freely and visitors can walk about with them. This park also gets bonus points for having a working observatory.
21901 FM 762, Needville, TX 77461
Photo via Brazos Bend State Park Facebook
Jacob’s Well
Jacob’s Well is a largely vertical, very deep swimming hole fed by an underwater spring, keeping the water 68 degrees year-round. The roughly 13-foot wide hole beckons daredevils to flip and leap into the hole from overlooking rocks like Mario into the sewer pipes. It should also be mentioned that it’s been called the most dangerous diving site in the world. The labyrinthine underwater cave systems that branch out underneath the surface have swallowed up so many daredevil scuba divers that eventually a grate was put in around 100 feet down to block the depths. It was quickly removed, a plastic slate left in its place saying: “you can’t keep us out.”
1699 Mount Sharp Rd, Wimberley, TX 78676 Photo via euvounajanela
Big Bend, obviously
Big Bend National Park has got just about everything that the aforementioned parks have to offer, but bigger and possibly even bendier. This volcano-shaped stretch of land offers roadside and primitive camping, has dinosaur bones and other prehistoric fossils, is full of unique river-carved rock formations, is one of the few (and best, i.e. darkest) dark sky parks in the country, and because of its southernmost proximity, constellations can be seen here that are more difficult to see at other dark sky parks. In addition to all that, Big Bend is allegedly the grave site of an Apache maiden who died escaping a pack of malevolent bandits, throwing herself into a canyon river to perish and wander in spirit for eternity. The spot specifically is called Bruja Canyon, or Witch Canyon, and is definitely worth a visit just to hear the purported nightly moans.
Multiple directions to get to the park
Photo via bigbendnps
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Fossil Rim Wildlife Center/Dinosaur Valley State Park
These two nature centers in the Glen Rose area straddle US-67 and are about 15 minutes away from each other. In the early 70s, oil businessman Tom Mantzel bought an exotic game ranch, gave it the new and fittingly exciting moniker “Fossil Rim Wildlife Ranch,” and started experimenting with captive breeding to grow the herds of rare animals he began to bring in. Success with this eccentric project has helped propagate endangered species--more than 175 cheetahs have been born at Fossil Rim, and it is currently home to a slew of exotic creatures, my personal favorite being the Mountain Bongo. The Dinosaur Valley State Park is a short drive away and boasts even more exotic animals (or, at least, their footprints, and their scat that’s sold in the gift shop): dinosaurs. In addition to camping and hiking, visitors can frolic in the river atop actual preserved dinosaur footprints.
2299 Co Rd 2008, Glen Rose, TX 76043 (Fossil Rim); 1629 Park Rd 59, Glen Rose, TX 76043 (Dinosaur Valley)
Photo via paige_harrelson
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