CAPROCK CANYON, Texas — The panorama of the Panhandle can’t even begin to be painted on a picture screen but if you pull on up to Caprock Canyon you’ll be more than pleased you made the trip.
But it’s not just the beauty of the majestic bluffs, there’s also the buffalo.
Donald Beard is the park superintendent and every day he has to deal with some residents that pretty much get to do whatever they want.
“The views are just absolutely fantastic,” Donald said. “I’m very fortunate to be able to be a part of the management of this herd.”
The buffalo that roam the range at Caprock Canyon aren’t just any troup of tatonka, they’re the official bison herd of the state of Texas.
“This is the only place in Texas you can come to see free ranging bison in a public setting, Donald said. “This is Yellowstone in Texas right here.”
The herd stands at around 100, a far cry from the millions of buffalo that used to stampede across the state prior to the slaughter of these native creatures. No one knows just how many bison could be found on plains but experts estimate it was around 30 million.
“It would stop the trains for days because they were crossing the tracks so just miles and miles long and miles and miles wide. Nothing but bison,” Donald said.
By 1895 there were only 1,000 buffalo left. It was then that Mary Ann Goodnight, wife of Rancher Charles Goodnight convinced her husband to round up all the calves he could find. The Father of the Texas Panhandle ended up with seven, only five survived.
“That’s when Goodnight started his heard and about four other people across the country did the same thing,” Donald said. “There were five herds where all of these animals were. Through those five herds, all bison today descend.”
Around 500,000 bison live across North America but many aren’t pure breed bison thanks to a cross-bred with cattle but the official state bison herd of Texas is true to its roots.
“All of the animals were Texas native animals and throughout time, there’s never been any outside influence,” Donald said. “These animals, through genetic testing, have some unique genetic characteristic not found in any other bison in the world. … You got probably the last southern plain bison and true Texas native bison here.”
Trent Johnson makes his way to Caprock to catch some fish but watching the bison come and quench their thirst while he casts a line is better than the biggest bite.
“It’s nice to come and see them,” Trent said. “You don’t get many opportunities to come out and see them, especially for the young kids.”
Not to be lost in all the buffalo bliss is their sheer beauty of Caprock Canyon. At 15,000 acres it’s the 6th largest state park in Texas but one of the most colorful and desolate.
“Honestly, I think this is Mother Nature’s way of making art,” Matthew said. “Just millions of years of art here.”
So if you’ve got an itch to see the official state bison herd of the State of Texas, Caprock Canyon is well worth a stop on The Texas Bucket List.
“What we are doing is a huge thing and it is very important to the conservation of bison,” Donald said. “These animals belong to the state of Texas. I’m just the manager. They belong to you and the other residences of Texas and they are a Texas treasure.”