Wednesday

Native Americans, Native Plants

November is Native American Heritage Month. Many Texas state parks have ties to Native American tribes, in the past as well as today.

These tribes have long recognized the many beneficial uses for Texas’ native plants. Here are four plants you can discover all over the state.


 

Prickly pear cactus, the yellow rose of Texas, was named our state plant in 1995. It’s also an important plant to Texas’ Native Americans, who eat both the prickly pear pads and fruits. Used for medicine too, a cut prickly pear pad can treat a burn.


©Gary Nored

 

There are many types of yucca in Texas, but they all have something in common. Native Americans of different tribes use them in their daily lives to make soap, fiber for cordage and clothing and often as food.



Cattails aren’t just a place for ducks to hide, Native Americans in Texas use them for roofing materials. The pollen from cattails is often used in their ceremonies, too. 


© Sally and Andy Wasowski, Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

These beautiful, red honey mesquite beans are loved by wildlife such as deer, javelina, turkeys and more. Native Americans in Texas also harvest and enjoy the sweet beans by crushing the pods into meal to make small round cakes. 


To learn more about the legacy and heritage of our state subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Monday

Mammal Monday - The American Bison

"It will be remembered that it was in southeastern Texas, in all probability within 50 miles of the present city of Houston, that the earliest discovery of the American bison on its native heath was made in 1530 by Cabeza de Vaca … They were also found in immense herds on the coast of Texas, at the Bay of St. Bernard (Matagorda Bay), and on the lower part of the Colorado (Rio Grande, according to some authorities), by La Salle, in 1685, and thence northwards across the Colorado, Brazos, and Trinity Rivers. They afterwards landed in St. Louis Bay (now called Matagorda Bay), where they found buffaloes in such numbers on the Colorado River that they called it La Rivière aux Boeufs.

It is a curious coincidence that the State of Texas, wherein the earliest discoveries and observations upon the bison were made, should also now furnish a temporary shelter for one of the last remnants of this great herd."

— Mr. William T Hornaday, Superintendent of the National Zoological Park. From the Report of the National Museum at Smithsonian Institution, 1886-1887.


I'll be honest. This post ended up going in a very different direction than originally planned. My intent was to highlight the bison, particularly as this past Saturday was National Bison Day. But then, as I was doing a bit of research, I stumbled across Mr. Hornaday's report. And it is a fascinating piece of American history that's intrinsically tied to Texas. So Mammal Monday went a little sideways. It's still about the bison, but more about why we still have them than the bison itself.

Every American knows the story of the buffalo, an animal so plentiful that vast herds covered the landscape from Alaska into Mexico, 60-million strong. But by the time Mr. Hornaday's report was published in 1889, he could only confirm that roughly 635 wild bison remained alive on the continent — 85 of those in the U.S.

The report itself is rather breathtaking in its scope. It is a celebration of the animal, a mourning of its systemic slaughter, and a plea for "preservation of the species from absolute extinction."  In his preface, Mr. Hornaday writes, "The wild buffalo is practically gone forever, and in a few more years, when the whitened bones of the last bleaching skeleton shall have been picked up and shipped East for commercial uses, nothing will remain of him save his old, well-worn trails along the water-courses, a few museum specimens, and regret for his fate."

Thankfully his report was something of a wake-up call. Today it is considered one of the first important treatises of the American wildlife conservation movement. 

According to the report, there were bison "running wild and unprotected" in Texas on January 1, 1889. About that small herd he notes that a "miserable remnant" of the great southern herd could be found in the Panhandle along the Canadian River. It numbered about 100 individuals in 1887, but over the course of two years a local rancher, identified as C.J. Jones, had killed 52 and captured 18. Jones and the men in his hunting party "saw about all the buffaloes now living in the Panhandle country, and it therefore seems quite certain that not over twenty-five individuals remain. These are so few, so remote, and so difficult to reach, it is to be hoped no one will consider them worth going after, and that they will be left to take care of themselves."

On page 458 of the report, Mr. Hornaday begins listing every bison herd and individual bison in captivity on January 1, 1889. Every single non-wild bison in the United States, Canada and Mexico appears on the report, along with their sex, provenance and value if purchased or sold!  He notes that an I.P. Butler of Colorado, Texas, owns a young bull buffalo and a half-breed calf. At the top of page 461 we find the following:

"Herd of Mr. Charles Goodnight. Clarendon, Texas. — Mr. Goodnight writes that he has been breeding buffalos in a small way for the past ten years, but without giving any particular attention to it." At present his herd consists of thirteen head, of which two are three-year old bulls and four are calves. There are seven cows of all ages, one of which is a half-breed."

Records indicate that this small herd left on its own to wander Goodnight's JA Ranch, slowly grew in number. In 1894 there were between 25 - 30, in 1903 there were 45, and by 1914 it included 35 bulls, 107 cows and 22 calves. In 1996 the JA Ranch donated the herd to the state, although first the state had to find them.  

It's been over a century since conservation efforts by men like William Hornaday and Charles Goodnight ensured that the bison would survive. Today the Official Texas State Bison Herd, descended from the Goodnight herd, with unique genetics of the great southern herd not shared by any other bison in North America, is a living testament to those efforts. 


To learn more about the about the animals that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Mammal Monday - Playful River Otters

In East Texas, along the Gulf Coast, a sinuous line in the water may alert you the presence of the river otter. These inquisitive and graceful mammals are, like badgers, Mustelids — a family of animals well-represented in Texas. 

© Ray Carroll | #inthewildhood

River otters, as their name implies, are generally associated with water. However, they also spend a considerable amount of time on land. Their long, lean bodies and undulating gait appear awkward on dry ground, but make no mistake, once this creature slides into the water, it has entered its domain. Otters have webbed hind feet, ears and nostrils that can be closed underwater, and a long, tapered tail that aids in their aquatic escapades. River otters are masterful swimmers and divers, and can hold their breath for up to eight minutes.

Otters can live a decade, grow to four feet long and weigh up to 20 pounds. They are well known for their playful antics, and are often observed slipping, flipping and sliding into the water. They are active throughout the year but are seldom seen because of their secretive, mostly nocturnal nature. Otter dens are typically located near water and have two entrances, one on land and one submerged. They are not finicky eaters; their diet consists mainly of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, amphibians and invertebrates.

© Linda Taylor | #inthewildhood

Otters normally mate in the water and produce an average of two to three pups per litter. Pups are born about 10 inches long, blind, toothless and fully furred. At one month they can open their eyes; after four months they are fully weaned, waterproof and ready to face the world.

Once heavily trapped for their pelts, river otter populations are now believed to be expanding in Texas. This is welcome news to those wishing to have their very own close encounter. It is definitely a good day when you get to see a river otter.

Portions of this post were excerpted from the August/September 2013 Wild Thing, written by Tucker Slack.

To learn more about the about the animals that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Thursday

Celebrating Bats During #BatWeek

Bats, unfortunately, get a bad rap. In reality though, bats are some of the most fascinating and misunderstood critters throughout the world. Bat week is an international, annual celebration, held October 24-31, that aims to raise awareness about the need for bat conservation and the vital role they play in our natural world. 


Many old horror movies and tall tales portray bats as blood-thirsty creatures, all of whom carry rabies, that will intentionally fly into and get stuck in your hair. Let’s start there and bust some bat myths!

Indeed, while it’s true that a limited few species of bat, 3 out of over 1400 species, eat blood from other animals, bats around the world have hugely varied diets, including insects, frogs, fish, nectar, pollen, fruit, birds and even other bats. Researchers believe that the variety of bat species is associated with their ability to adapt to available food sources. Most bats in Texas are insectivorous. As such, bats can act as natural pest control. Researchers have estimated that bats save farmers billions of dollars in pesticide due to their appetite for bugs. So, more bats = fewer bothersome insects and more affordable produce!  

Speaking of some of the ways bats benefit humans, bats provide economic services to people by providing opportunities for tourism. The Congress Avenue bridge in Austin is thought to bring millions of dollars in tourism to Austin each year.



For the gardeners, bat guano is a very effective fertilizer because it is so rich in nitrogen. It’s such a rich energy source that it is the basis of cave ecosystems that operate largely independent of the sun. If you want to use it at home, the rule of thumb is “one teaspoon per tomato plant”.

Next, it should be known that not all bats carry rabies. In fact, rabies is no more prevalent in bats than in other common urban animals, including foxes, raccoons and skunks. Many people mistake bats for rodents but they’re actually a unique group of mammals known as Chiroptera. They are mammals, just like us. Bats give birth to live young, feed their pups with milk, are warm-blooded, have furred bodies, and their wings are comprised of the same bones that form our arms and hands.


Interestingly, bats are the only flying mammal. Other mammals like flying squirrels can glide, which is little more than steerable falling. Bats, though, are capable of powered flight, meaning they can generate lift and speed by flapping their wings. With minute movements of their fingertips, bats can pull off impressive maneuvers, including flips, loops and high-speed turns while they chase down their prey.

Some myths have some grounding in reality. Texas Parks and Wildlife Department bat biologist, Dr. Nate Fuller, recalls a story he heard from what he describes as “an old-timey bat guy”.

“It turns out that bats flying into hair is one of the weirdest myths in bat biology,” Fuller says. “Bats really aren’t interested in you. Sure, they may check you out and wonder what you’re doing in their home, but they don’t want anything from you.”

Fuller says that the story about bats in your hair comes from times long past when ladies would wear their hair up high and wrap them in fine nets. Meanwhile, hygiene wasn’t the best back then and smelly humans would attract bugs. Bugs would attract bats, and bats, confused by the acoustic image of hair in a net, would errantly crash into these towers of hair while chasing down a meal.



Bats vision isn’t as bad as you may think either. A bat’s vision is about as good as the average nocturnal animal, such as a raccoon or fox. However, their most effective sensory system is echolocation. Using high frequency calls and listening to the way these calls echo off objects, bats can sense their environment in extraordinary detail. Some species of bat can detect millimeter-sized changes in the environment, such as ripples on water surfaces. Researchers have also shown that the neurological pathways that provides echolocation information also translates the signals in color. So, while the colors aren’t the same that we may perceive, bats can effectively “see” color with echolocation.

You can learn more interesting bat facts, why humans need bats and how you can help bats at Bat Conservation International’s website

To learn more about the about the animals that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Wednesday

German American Heritage Month - The Food

If you've never wandered around Wurstfest in New Braunfels dipping your Kartoffelpuffers in apple sauce you're definitely missing out.

New Braunfels, like many Texas cities with a strong German heritage, celebrates with a festival honoring its founders' rich traditions. New Braunfels is unique in calling it Wurstfest rather than Oktoberfest, but the general idea is the same. Unfortunately in 2020 many of these celebrations have been canceled or are being held online due to COVID-19. And yes, we'll miss the music, the color, the fanfare. But we'll also miss the food.

Schnitzel © ChronoPhoto | Dreamstime

German immigrants brought with them an array of native recipes, and as it turns out their hearty meat and potatoes diet was a perfect match for Texas. Most of their staples could be grown or raised here as they were on German soil. In fact, two of the foods we think of today as quintessentially Texan likely owe their very existence to German immigrants.

Chicken-fried steak bears more than a passing resemblance to Schnitzel — a tenderized slab of meat, breaded and fried. Germany has a number of specific Schnitzel dishes, as the word itself simply means meat cutlet. But chicken-fried steak seems most like a Jägerschnitzel, commonly served with a mushroom sauce, or Rahmschnitzel, which is served with a cream sauce. Either way, it's clear that the much beloved CFS has its roots firmly in a German tradition.

German meal prepared at Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm

And of course we can't talk about the German-Texas food connection without discussing smoked meats. We tend to think of Germany + smoked meats = sausage. Move that equation to Texas and you get German Texans + smoked meats = brisket. That's right. Texans owe that smoky, salty, fatty, bark encrusted beefy goodness to German American butchers who decided to pop a brisket in the smoker, instead of in a dutch oven. 

Clearly we owe a lot to German food. 

Which brings us back to Kartoffelpuffer. They're a kind of potato pancake or fritter. More substantial than a hashbrown, but not precisely an entrée either. While some like there's topped with sour cream, I prefer mine with a tart applesauce. Yum!

Kartoffelpuffer © Barmalini | Dreamstime

To learn more about the legacy and heritage of our state subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Monday

Mammal Monday - Prairie Dog

The word rodent generally has a negative connotation. We've been conditioned to associate it with vermin that carry disease and infest domestic and commercial buildings. But the order Rodentia is a massive one, with members that fill practically every habitat on earth. And despite an irrational antipathy towards rats and mice, people can't help but be captivated by the social nature, curiosity and interesting behaviors of the wide variety of rodents found in nature. 

Case in point — the Prairie Dog.

© Samuel McBride | #inthewildhood

Even if you've never seen a colony of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs in person, you've likely seen them featured in documentaries or on a much smaller scale in zoo exhibits. The thing you'll notice immediately is that they never seem to be alone. Prairie Dogs are extraordinarily social animals, with an amazingly structured society. Their "towns" are complex undergrown burrow systems that span hundreds of acres of Panhandle and West Texas soil. Each town is made up of wards (think suburban subdivisions) and within the wards are multiple coteries — extended families made up of an adult male, a group of females and young offspring.

Territory within the burrow complex is based on these coteries and wards. Specific burrows are for their own use and recognition is an important aspect of all social interaction.

Two individuals coming upon one another will bare their teeth and touch them. If one isn't a member of the coterie it's a swift goodbye! If the two are from the same coterie the teeth touching becomes more extended, likened to kissing, and then play generally ensues. It is their playful antics that make Black-tailed Prairie Dogs so engaging to watch. They nuzzle, wrestle and groom each other, reinforcing the bonds of their coterie.

Of course, one of the behaviors that makes them so endearing isn't a play behavior at all but rather an alarm. Prairie dogs foraging outside their burrows are constantly in communication with one another, alert to the dangers presented by their many predators. At least one sentry will remain on duty ready to cry out an alarm at the first sign of danger.  The others then run back to burrow openings and take up the warning call, dashing into burrows if the danger is extreme.

© Samuel McBride | #inthewildhood

The Black-tailed Prairie Dog is relatively common in the areas of Texas where they are still found. But the numbers today represent less than 1% of their historic populations. This is due primarily to habitat loss to ranching and farming. They remain, however, a keystone species. Other animals depend on them for shelter — burrowing owls, endangered black-footed ferrets, and a various fox species all co-opt their burrows. And of course they are an important prey item for rattlesnakes, hawks and coyotes.

To learn more about the about the animals that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Thursday

German American Heritage Month - The Language

Pennsylvania Dutch. Most people have heard that phrase, usually in conjunction with the Old Order religious communities such as Amish or Mennonite that live in and around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Those that aren't terribly familiar with what it means likely assume they speak Dutch. They would be wrong. The word Dutch is actually Deitsch or Deutsch, and refers to the Palatine German spoken by settlers who began arriving in the 17th century.  Later settlers spoke other German dialects and these blended to create, over time, the hybrid Pennsylvania Dutch. Because of it's close association with insular Old Order communities, the language is still in use today.

Now, would it surprise you to learn that here in Texas we also have our own German dialect?

Areas in purple represent German settlement

It makes sense really. German immigration into Texas introduced hundreds of thousands of German speakers that settled in an area so specific that we refer to it as the German Belt. Towns like Bulverde, New Braunfels, Fredericksburg, Boerne, Pflugerville, Walburg, Comfort, Westphalia, Gruene, Luckenbach, Schulenburg, Brenham and Weimar were safe places to speak, write and teach in a language familiar to the first generation that came to Texas. 

In 2001 Hans Boas, a linguistics professor at the University of Texas, overheard diners in a restaurant speaking a version of German he couldn't quite pinpoint. What he was hearing was Texas German. Thus was born the Texas German Dialect Project, which collects oral histories and conducts research in order to preserve Texas German and the culture and traditions it represents. 

It wasn't until 1909 that the state began mandating English only teaching in public schools. Add to that open hostility and anti-German sentiment during both World War I and World War II, and the construction of the highway system in the 1950s that opened up previously isolated communities, and the language that had evolved into Texas German over the course of a century began to die out. Today likely fewer than 5,000 people still speak Texas German fluently, most over the age of 60.

But what does Texas German sound like? Dr. Boas likens it to a mix of 19th century German dialects, with about 5% English loanwords. It's so individualized however, that, "Hardly any of the Texas Germans speak alike." 

Some of the commonly noted changes are grammatical — changes in tenses, object use, and the like — as well as moving away from formal pronouns to informal. Language became more casual as strangers became neighbors and friends. But, by far the greatest change was in vocabulary.  In some cases Texas Germans used words they heard every day from their English speaking neighbors even though there were already German counterparts. Thus in Texas German rope and fence remain rope and fence, whereas in standard German the words Seil and Zaun are used. In other cases, separated from Germany by an ocean and a century of technological advances, Texas German and standard German evolved in parallel. Words like car, roundup and cultivator remain the same in Texas German as they do in English.

There are also many examples of compound words made of English and German in Texas German, similar to the English-Spanish mixture that we call Spanglish. Examples include Stacheldrahtfence for barbed wire fence, Mesquitebaum for mesquite tree or Sattelbags for saddlebags.

Texas German can be found nowhere else in the country or the world.  If the language itself dies out by 2035 as Dr. Boas fears, the Texas German Dialect Project archives may become the only place to hear examples of this unique dialect spoken.

Here are a few more translations:

Texas German                English                    Standard German

Bungis                            pumpkin                   Kurbis

Eichkatze                        squirrel                    Eichhorchen

Luftschiff                         airplane                   Flugzeug

Stinkkatze                       skunk                      Stinktier

Wasserkrahn                   faucet                      Wasserhahn

Blanket                            blanket                    Decke

all                                     gone                       leer

hiedas                              this                         dieses

mitaus                              without                    ohne

wasever                           whatever                was auch immer


Photos used in this post are available on the Internet and included in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, unless otherwise credited.

To learn more about the legacy and heritage of our state subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Monday

Protect Your Texas Lands from Wildfire

Hunting season in Texas has begun! For many, hunting season conjures up memories of cold days wrapped in layered camouflage clothing while sitting in a tree stand, waiting for a white-tailed deer to step into the sunriseThat image is certainly accurate for trips to the field during the late fall season, but many Texas hunters begin heading into the dove fields on hot September days. 


Following the summer months, conditions throughout the state remain hot, dry and windy as hunting season kicks off. These conditions require hunters, and all other outdoor enthusiasts, to use an extra level of wildfire awareness and safety.  

 

Help take care of Texas and consider these tips when heading to your hunt camp, lease or Texas Public Hunting Lands: 

 

  • Check with local officials or the Texas A&M Forest Service for county burn bans and other outdoor burning restrictions.  
  • If towing a trailer, make sure to secure all safety chains to ensure they will not come in contact with the road. Dragging chains can produce sparks that can fly into dry grass along a roadside, potentially starting a fire.  
  • Maintain off-road vehicles and ensure they are in proper working order.  
  • Avoid parking or idling vehicles over dry vegetation. A vehicle’s catalytic converter can become so hot that it ignites the grass underneath.  
  • Avoid shooting near tall, dry grass or rocks and avoid using full metal jacket or tracer ammunition.  

 

Be smart, don’t let a wildfire start!  


If you want to learn more about conservation efforts in Texas subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine.  For a limited time enjoy three months of digital access to 600+ articles and our expanded 2020 Summer issue - all for only $1.99!

Mammal Monday - Ringtail

The last softball game of the night had just finished playing at the city complex on the banks of the Colorado River. Lights on the eleven fields were going out one by one as chairs and ice chests were packed up into cars. In the soft glow of the headlights a slender creature raced up a tree just fast enough to catch the eye. 

© Mike Casey | #inthewildhood

I immediately stopped what I was doing to look up into the branches of the medium sized live oak. I was agog. "That's a RINGTAIL!" I remember saying, when my friend Rachelle insisted it was simply a raccoon. 

I'd never seen a ringtail in the wild before that night, and despite living directly on a greenbelt for the past two decades, I've never seen once since. In fact, the only reason I knew what I was looking at was from having seen ringtails being rehabbed at nature centers. But it was hard to mistake what I was looking at in that tree. 

Ringtails are distinct from raccoons when you take more than a casual glance. While they are related to raccoons (as are coatis and kinkajous) and have a striped tail, the similarities really end there. They weigh a scant couple of pounds, three at most, whereas even a small adult raccoon weighs in at a hefty 10 pounds. Their bodies are long and gracile, more akin to a ferret or small fox than the ponderous shape of a raccoon.  In contrast to the rather squat tail of the raccoon, the ringtail's tail is long, about the same length as their body, and provide balance when climbing. 

And their faces are adorable. Large, oversized ears and eyes lend them the appearance of a child's toy.  But don't let that cute face fool you. Ringtails are active carnivores when necessary, taking birds, smaller mammals, reptiles and insects, although fruit and berries also make up a large portion of its diet. The large eyes and ears are necessary for the ringtail to be effective hunters and foragers in the dark of night.

Although seeing a ringtail seems something of a novelty, they aren't particularly rare. Ringtails are found throughout Texas — although most commonly in areas with rocky habitat that accommodate their ability to climb and preference for setting up dens in crevasses in the rock face. But given their solitary nature, and primarily nocturnal habits, most people are simply never in the right place at the right time to see one. I consider myself lucky to have been.

To learn more about the about the animals that call Texas home subscribe to Texas Parks & Wildlife magazine. Whether in print or through our mobile app, choose the version that works best for you.

Tuesday

Hispanic Heritage Month - Your State Parks

I have an odd quirk that my children have always bemoaned. When we're road-tripping through Texas, and the terrain around us becomes rugged with steep ravines, hilly outcrops, densely packed trees, drifting sand or boggy lowland, I inevitably exclaim, "Wow! Can you believe ANYONE ever traveled out here on a horse or in a wagon?"

Settlers would not have found the Texas frontier easy going. And yet they came.

Prints and Photographs Collection #1972/163-26. 
Archives and Information Services Division,
Texas State Library and Archives.

As early as 1716 women and children came to Texas from the Mexican city of San Juan Bautista. Priests and soldiers established missions and small settlements as buffers from French intervention. Texas' first municipal government was begun in San Antonio by settlers from the Canary Islands. Throughout the Spanish, Mexican and Texian periods — and well into statehood — they kept coming.

They worked the land, felled trees, cleared brush, dammed streams and plowed fields. They brought with them domestic livestock that disrupted natural resources and displaced native animals. 

People weren't unaware of the ways they diminished the land they'd come to — the 1860s saw the first laws protecting fish and wildlife passed in Texas for example. But it wasn't until 1923 that Governor Pat Neff, a man who was motivated by the idea of providing recreational opportunities for Texans, persuaded the Legislature to create the State Parks Board. 

Neff wrote, "...all breathing spots for humanity where the weak and weary and worn may be nursed in the lap of nature back to health and happiness — should be preserved wherever found, for the use not only of the present generation, but of all the generations yet unborn."

Today over 80 state parks and natural areas are spread throughout Texas, preserving the rugged landscapes that settlers would have encountered when they first arrived. 

And those early 18th century Hispanic settlers, making their slow journey into what would become Texas, left behind the words used to name many of our state parks. 

Here are a few examples.

Not surprisingly, several of our state parks are named for the rivers that flow through them. A  description and history of the Spanish words for our Texas rivers can be found in our first Hispanic Heritage Month post.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, deep in South Texas, was once part of Porcíon 50 — granted to Jose Antonio Zamora in 1767. A small village called Las Nuevas existed on the property from 1850 to sometime in the 1930s, when it was abandoned. Eventually purchased by the Bentsen family, the acreage that comprises the majority of the park was donated to the state in 1944. Today it is one of the very few continuous sections of riparian woodland native to the area, home to Rio Grande ash, Texas ebony and black willow, and a hotspot for birding activity.

Bentsen - Rio Grande Valley State Park

In fact, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park is part of the World Birding Center, as are two other parks with Spanish names. 

Resaca de la Palma State Park, located close to the very southern tip of Texas, is a tropical wetland and woodland that's little changed since Spanish conquistadores explored the area in 1535. Resacas are all over the Rio Grande Valley — remnant lakes sitting in the floodplain of the mighty river. In English they're usually called oxbow lakes. 

The Spanish word resaca has multiple meanings, none of which seem to be geographical in nature. It may be that it's a corruption of the infinitive verb resacar, to retake, in the sense that either the river is retaking its water or the earth retaking its land. It could also be a portmanteau of rio seco (dry river), in which case it's describing the eventual fate of a resaca that stops receiving water from upstream.

De la Palma is an easier translation — "of the palm."  Alternately called the Rio Grande, Mexican or Texas palmetto, the Sabal mexicana reaches it's current northern range in south Texas and can be found in the park.

Resaca de la Palma State Park

It was once part of a vast land grant given to the Hinojosa family in the late 18th century by the Spanish King Charles IV. Today, Estero Llano Grande is a 230-acre park of reclaimed wetland surrounded by riparian woodland and thorn scrub habitat. The name is fitting as estero llano grande means large flat estuary. 

The Hinojosa family eventually claimed hundreds of thousands of acres in what became south Texas, encompassing most of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. While the family name is largely forgotten today, part of their legacy remains famous throughout the country under a slightly different appellation. Padre Nicolas Balli, grandson of the original grant-holder Juan Jose Hinojosa, was a Catholic priest who in his own right held property along the Texas coastline. Savvy readers may see where this is going — we may not know the name Hinojosa, but we all certainly know Padre Island.


Estero Llano Grande State Park

The Goliad, in Goliad State Park, sounds slightly Spanish, but is it? No, but also yes. The word itself isn't Spanish, but the word it's derived from is. And how it was derived is something of a tale.
 
Almost 300 years ago Franciscan priests built a Catholic mission at Matagorda Bay next to a presidio. Presidio is one of those loanwords that we use today in English, somewhat interchangeably with its translation of fort. The mission, Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga, and the presidio, Nuestra Señora de Loreto de La Bahía del Espiritu Santo Presidio, were apparently never quite settled in place — they were moved by authorities a few times before eventually being relocated to opposite banks of the San Antonio River in 1749. The site had previously been called Santa Dorotea, but once the mission and presidio were built the town that grew up around it was called La Bahía. Thus, a town some 40 miles inland from the coast, was named "the bay." 

La Bahía had a complex history in the near century before it became Goliad. It was involved in the Revolutionary War (yes, really, that war), the Mexican War of Independence and multiple failed attempts at early Texas independence efforts between 1812 and 1821. It became Goliad in 1829, when the Gobernador of Coahuila y Tejas changed the name of the town to Villa de Goliad

But who was this Goliad the town was suddenly renamed to honor? It's actually an anagram of the name Hidalgo. And the man so honored was Father Miguel Hidalgo, who gave the famous Grito de Dolores on September 16, 1810, which marks the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence.

Goliad State Park


In far west Texas desert landscapes are beautiful, but a lack of water can also make them treacherous. Jutting high about the desert floor, the granite hills of Hueco Tanks State Park are the remnants of molten rock pushed up 34-million years ago. These weathered over time, eroding countless dips and hollows into the hard rock.  And in these voids rainwater collected— enough rainwater in fact, that in 1860 it was estimated they held sufficient water to last a full year. Water is a blessing in a place with so little, and well into the 20th century these huecos provided essentially the only water between El Paso and the Pecos River. The word hueco can be translated to several English words — hole, hollow, void, gap, opening — but all convey essentially the same meaning, an empty space that can be filled.

Hueco Tanks State Park


The canyon, running through the heart of Palo Duro Canyon State Park, is 120 miles long, 20 miles wide and, in places, reaches depths of 800 feet or more. It's the second-largest canyon in the country, and is the single most compelling geographic feature in the Texas Panhandle. And yet, it's name comes not from its majestic pinnacles, hoodoos, buttes or mesas, but rather from the trees found in the canyon. Palo duro translates to hard stick, in this case in reference to hardwood trees such as mesquite, cottonwood, willow and cedar.

Who named the canyon palo duro isn't exactly clear, but its believed that members of the Coronado expedition reached the canyon in the spring of 1541, and this is likely how the name first came into use.

Palo Duro Canyon State Park


National Hispanic Heritage Month recognizes the history, culture and contributions Hispanic Americans have made, and continue to make, to our country. Celebrated nationally since 1968, Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15, encompassing the independence anniversaries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico.


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