One of the best things about road trips is discovering out-of-the-way gems that we would never otherwise visit. When we’re traveling across the vast expanse of Texas, there are always plenty of opportunities for new adventures, often in the most unlikely of places.
Leaving Austin, we headed to Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico. In between is almost 500 miles of West Texas—a drive that can seem interminable. But our journey took us through the beautiful Hill Country at the peak of wildflower season, to interesting and art-centric San Angelo (in the middle of nowhere) and to sledding in the sand dunes at Monahans Sandhills State Park (in the middle of another nowhere). Should you find yourself traveling through this area of Texas, we highly recommend both.
San Angelo State Park: San Angelo, TX
This was our second visit to San Angelo State Park, so we knew we had something to look forward to at the end of our 200-mile drive from Austin. We settled into our lovely, spacious site beneath the shade trees, and spent a couple of days enjoying the peace and quiet. Our only expedition was a drive into San Angelo, 15 miles away—in part for a laundry extravaganza and truck washing, but mostly to enjoy a walk along the Concho River and to see if anything was blooming in the water lily garden.
The River Walk in San Angelo is one of the prettiest we’ve seen anywhere. It meanders for four miles downtown along the Concho River, named for the freshwater mussels that contain beautifully colored freshwater pearls (concho means “shell” in Spanish). Along the banks of the river many other treasures can be found—interesting mosaics, sculptures, fountains, and a few slightly bizarre sheep statues, each one decorated by a local artist to honor San Angelo’s heritage as a wool marketing center. (Lots more sheep as well as a plethora of murals can be found in the historic downtown.)
Close by is the International Water Lily Garden, certainly not something one expects to find in West Texas. When we were there a couple of years ago in the fall, there were hundreds of various water lilies in bloom. This time, in late April, just a few were blooming. But even one water lily in bloom is a beautiful thing to behold.
About the campground:
There are two camping sections at San Angelo State Park. Although it’s further from town, we prefer the north (Bald Eagle) section, which has large shade trees—a good thing in West Texas. Water and electric hookups, good Verizon, $20/night plus $4 per person daily fee if you don’t have the Texas State Parks Pass. (We always buy the annual pass—it’s $70 per year, and worth it if you stay more than seven nights in Texas parks because of all of the assorted discounts.)
Monahans Sandhills State Park: Monahans, TX
Another reasonable drive of 170 miles brought us to Monahans Sandhills State Park, in the midst of a truly barren part of Texas. This place has a stark beauty and makes a fun stopover for a couple of days (as long as no high winds are forecast).
The rangers at the Visitor Center loaned us a couple of neon orange discs for sledding and we took to the dunes the afternoon we arrived and again early in the morning. Each night, the slate is wiped clean and the sand dunes are again pristine. We discovered that early morning is the best time for sledding—when the sand is cool, there’s no friction to slow you down. We had a blast—and it’s a good workout sledding down and climbing back up the dunes.
It’s a windy place, and I was curious as to why the dunes haven’t completely blown away. Displays at the interesting little Visitor Center explained why: The wind changes directions from season to season, and although the dune tops change continually, they end up in just about the same position over the course of a year. It’s described as “a constantly shifting yet balanced state of dynamic equilibrium.” Sounds almost spiritual, doesn’t it?
About the campground:
The park has 26 campsites at the edge of the dunes with water, electric, and a covered picnic table. Quiet, dark night skies, and magical when the moon rises over the dunes. Good Verizon. $15 per night (plus $4 per person daily fee if you don’t have the Texas State Parks Pass).
Next Up: It’s A Long Way Down: Carlsbad CavernsRead More