The Stars at Night are Big and Bright

    Posted on Monday, Mar 26, 2018
    “The stars at night, are big and bright…deep in the panhandle of Texas.”  For those of you who don’t know, that line, at least part of it, comes from the state’s “theme song”, anthem, fight song, or whatever else you choose to call the song, “Deep in the heart of Texas.”  If you’ve never heard the song, look it up and give it a listen.  It will give you a healthy monthly dosing of Texas pride and patriotism.  The reason I mention it, however, is that I got to experience a few of those Texas-sized phenomena over Spring Break deep in the heart of the Texas panhandle.
    “The stars at night, are big and bright…deep in the heart of Texas…”  Were they ever.  The nightly stars during my panhandle excursion were incredible.  The night air was cool and dry, which led to vibrant stars.  The panhandle isn’t exactly a booming metropolis like we have here in BCS.  There is essentially no light pollution which could in any way dull the natural light of the stars.  The black canvas of the sky is pierced by vibrant, shimmering “holes in the floor of heaven.”  Camping, like I was, is really the best seat in the house.  I have yet to find any experience that endears one to the natural world more than laying on the ground with an open night sky above.  It feels almost as if the heavens are close enough to touch…almost as if they are wrapping you up like a blanket.  Look for constellations and anticipate shooting stars.  These are moments that cannot be captured except by a vivid and treasured memory. 
    Sleeping under the stars is also incredibly refreshing.  I’m not sure what it is about the cold nights, refugia of a sleeping bag, and the watchful eyes of the stars, millions of light years up, that serves to rejuvenate so completely.  But, it is almost magical.  To close your eyes to the contrasting stars in a black sky and then wake to the sun tearing back the darkness altogether is good for the soul.  It is beautiful. 
    “The coyotes wail, along the trail…deep in the heart of Texas…” The sound of coyotes accompanied my late-night star-gazing.  By no means are their baleful moans and yelps a comforting sound when trying to fall asleep.  Nonetheless, hearing coyotes is a reminder that we aren’t alone…that wild things still live their lives in ways similar to how they’ve always been lived.  The natives of the land, coyotes mean no harm to people.  They only like to have their voices heard.  Sometimes, I can even seem to hear and envision the harmless squabbles of adolescent friends.  In areas of so much wild land, it is incredible to think of these packs roaming such extensive ranges, yelping, galloping, exploring, and hunting.  Coyotes are our version of the wolf…. maybe a little less majestic, but no less awe-inspiring for their epitomization of wandering souls. 
    Regarding the trails which these particular coyotes must have undoubtedly been rushing along (see lyrics above,) there are some incredible tromps.  Nestled amongst endless miles of flat plains in the panhandle are some ruggedly unique canyons.  Most notably (for public access,) the Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyon State Parks.
    Collectively, these parks offer hundreds of miles of hiking through country you’ve likely never seen before.  There are some unbelievable views and challenging hikes.   If you’re looking for a new place to explore, I would highly recommend planning a trip to these parks.  At Palo Duro Canyon, be sure to hit the “Lighthouse” trail.  The rock formation and view at the climax is well-worth the easy 6-mile round trip hike.  If you get out to Caprock Canyon S.P., plan some time to take in the free-ranging bison.  Not only is this a unique (think Yellowstone-esque!) experience, but this particular herd of bison has great significance.  The herd that lives in the park is the most genetically pure strain of bison in the U.S.  It was preserved by a discerning rancher’s wife years back and is still in perpetuity today. 
    “The prairie sky, is wide and high…deep in the heart of Texas…” The skies out there are breathtaking in the daylight, as well.  When you’re on a prairie, whether you’re driving, hiking, or riding a horse, you look at a lot of sky.  The lack of topography means that the sky stretches on and on.  While you’re taking in the beauty of the canyon walls, rock formations, or even the seas of grass, don’t forget to truly look at and appreciate the skies.  They are often a perfect backdrop of baby blue.  In the daytime (contrasting to the night sky), the pure, unchanging color, often even without clouds, does make it look higher than normal. It is a perfect place to enjoy the feeling of being small. 
    Texas always has been, and always will be, very near and dear to my heart.  However, the times I spent exploring the panhandle reminded me of how precious many of those “characteristic Texas” phenomena are to my heart.  This is a beautiful state in which to live.  The more of it I see, the more determined I become to never stop exploring.  I am confident that I’ll never have exhausted the priceless moments and extraordinary natural treasures that it has to offer.

    Heather Hannusch
    Heather is a masters candidate in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. 

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