By Owen Clarke
If you’re as enthralled by the rugged badland canyons of the Southwest as we are, then you can’t pass up an opportunity to visit Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway in the Texas Panhandle.
Situated along the eastern rim of the Llano Estacado (or “Staked Plains”), one of the largest mesas in North America, the park, which opened in 1982, covers a whopping 15,300 acres (24 sq. mi). This makes it the third-largest state park in Texas.
With over 90 miles of hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails winding in and out of the canyons, camping sites (both drive-up and primitive), and a 120-acre lake for no-wake boating, fishing and swimming, there’s plenty to do and see here for all ages.
Water flowing down to Texas’ Little Red River has laid bare a variety of geologic layers in the park, dating back nearly 280 million years ago. These unearthed layers of siltstone, shale, sandstone, and mudstone are called “red beds” due to their striking red hues. As you trek through the Caprock Canyons, you’ll see that geologic age is defined by different colorations, with varying shades of red, orange, and white.
The Caprock Canyon badlands are also home to a plethora of plant life, from mesquite, cacti, and junipers to plums, hackberries, and cottonwoods. Animal life includes Barbary sheep, coyotes, opossums, raccoons, white-tailed deer, bobcats, bats, foxes, black-tailed prairie dogs, porcupines, and many species of snakes and lizards.
The skies above Caprock Canyons are flown by over 175 species of birds, including golden eagles, while the park’s Lake Theo is home to bass, catfish, and rainbow trout.
But the coolest part about Caprock Canyons is the buffalo!
The canyons are the sole home of the mighty Texas State Bison Herd. This is one of only FIVE cornerstone bison herds remaining in the United States.
These herds are the foundation keeping the American bison (or “buffalo” as it is often colloquially called), the largest land animal in North America, from extinction in the wild.
In ages past, an estimated 30 to 60 million bison roamed the plains and prairies of North America. Upon the arrival of European settlers, they were still as plentiful as “fish in the sea,” according to early explorers.
The massive herds of bison on the plains were more than just food for the Native Americans who lived there. The Plains Indians sourced not just food, but shelter, clothing, and tools from the bison. In early times, they circled bison herds on foot, using their arrows to bring down the bison they needed. Later, when horses became part of plains life, they used different hunting tactics, stampeding the herds over cliffs or driving them into bogs and blind canyons.
Once the tribe killed the bison, they used every portion of the creature. The meat was eaten (raw, cooked, or dried). The hides were used to craft footwear and clothing, or flooring and sleeping mats for shelter. The sinew was applied to sewing and binding tasks, while bones made needles, spoons, and tools.
The bison also played a critical role in the prairie ecosystem. Grazing bison cleaned up dead vegetation but didn’t crop grass too closely, allowing fresh and diverse plant growth to take place. Bison wallows (areas where the bison rolled in the dirt and mud), created small wetlands, boosting prairie diversity even further. Bison hoof prints left small holes to collect water, and bison waste made fertilizer. Without the bison, myriad critical components of life on the prairie could not occur.
Sadly, from 1874 to 1878, European hide hunters and settlers decimated bison populations. By 1888, less than 1,000 bison remained in North America.
Luckily, Mary Ann Goodnight convinced her husband Charles, a famed Texas rancher, to adopt several orphan bison calves in 1878. The couple raised the bison on their ranch, in a herd that eventually grew to over 200 head. After the Goodnights passed, the herd remained on their ranch, which changed hands several times in the subsequent years. Sadly, the herd dwindled again over time.
In 1994, however, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department heard about the remaining bison, and they were donated by the ranch to the state, later being moved to Caprock Canyons State Park in 1997, where they still live.
Today, those bison saved by the Goodnights so long ago are the official Texas State Bison Herd, and number nearly 100 individuals. Bison across North America have made a resurgence, too, and now number over 500,000, though most of these aren’t in the wild, but kept in private herds.
So, when you visit Caprock Canyons, you aren’t just able to experience the beauty of nature, you’re able to share that beauty with a relic of a bygone era. You’re getting to see one of the most iconic animals of the American West in their natural habitat.
If you’re really passionate about bison, you should also make sure to attend the annual BisonFest (or the “Texas State Bison Herd Music Festival”). This music festival, supported by Caprock Canyons State Park and held each September in the nearby town of Quitaque, is used to generate funds to maintain the Caprock bison herd.
Visit Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway at 850 State Park Rd. Quitaque, TX 79255
Here at Raised By Coyotes, we aren’t just focused on crafting slick, comfortable, and stylish apparel. We’re passionate about honoring our home in the deserts of the American Southwest. With each piece of apparel we design, we try to pay tribute to the natural places we know and love.
Our Caprock Buffalo Polo
Sporting an intricate southwestern red bed buffalo pattern, our moisture-wicking Caprock Buffalo Polo honors the colorful, rugged environs of the Caprock Canyons and the colossal buffalo that call these canyons home.
Laser-engraved buttons, lightweight 4-way stretch fabric, antimicrobial design, UPF 50 fabric, an athletic “True-To-Size” fit, and our iconic white embroidered coyote head on the back neck round out the Caprock Buffalo Polo’s appeal.
All told, this is a functional, comfortable, and eye-catching polo that wears equally well whether you’re hitting up 18 holes, stopping into your local brewery for a pint, or setting out on a hike around Caprock Canyons.