At Mineral Wells Fossil Park, an abandoned city borrow pit (source of building and road material) has been transformed into a three hundred million year old playground for fossil enthusiasts. Erosion in the borrow pit has uncovered an amazing array of ancient sea fossils from urchins, corrals, trilobites, and sharks. Best of all, visitors may keep what they find so bring knee pads and a baggy! Prefer to see your nature alive and humming? Try the Hummer House, a bed and breakfast (plus birds!) and home to the state’s largest concentration of breeding black-chinned hummingbirds. Why so many? Lots and lots of hummingbird feeders. Owners Dan and Cathy Brown also hang wire containers of cotton throughout the grounds, the Brown Ranch just south of Christoval, so that hummers may use the material for nesting.
Like your critters super-sized? Take a look at the State of Texas Official Longhorn Herd at Fort Griffin in Albany. The Texas legislature endowed the designation in 1969, helping to retrieve the breed from extinction. The breed, a rogue mix of Spanish and English cattle, proved a hardy but slow developing stock, factors instrumental in the longhorn’s service in cross-breeding with other faster developing breeds and in the decline of its own genetic purity. Fencing and the end of free-range grazing meant cattle needed to develop in shorter time and within the confines of pastures and the Longhorn just didn’t fit the bill. Fortunately, Texans like J. Frank Dobie, Will C. Barnes, Charles Schreiner III, and Sid. W. Richardson rescued the breed, helping to establish herds at state parks and ranches around the state. Fort Griffin and San Angelo State Park are two of about a half dozen locations where the Longhorn survives.
But nature tourism isn’t just about the animals. Bring your slings and prepare for some top roping and rappelling at Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway, former site of rail service to Mineral Wells, part of Fort Wolters Army Post, home to Native Americans and range for early cattlemen such as Charles Goodnight. The sandstone conglomerate bluffs in the park’s “Penitentiary Hollow” offer twenty to forty foot walls and routes like “Finger Slit,” “Easy Crack,” and “PeeWees.” Or go to ground at Colorado Bend State Park, former site of the Gorman and Lemons ranches, just outside of Bend along the Colorado River where primitive caving tours take spelunkers down to a belly crawl. The park’s numerous squeezes and dark crannies are not for the phobic (claustro- as well as arachno-) but are great fun for folks who love to explore underground. The Forts Trail Region has your nature historically covered from top to bottom.