Great Texas Wildlife Trails

Rita Blanca Loop

Rita Blanca Loop map

Rita Blanca loop mapAlibates Flint Quarry National MonumentLake Meredith National Recreation AreaCactus PlayaLake Rita Blanca City ParkRita Blanca National Grassland

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More information:

  • Borger COC, 806-274-2211, 800-687-5694,
  • Dumas COC, 806-935-2123,
  • Dalhart Area COC, 806-244-5646,

046.gif PHP 046 Alibates Flint Quarry National Monument

Suggested Seasons to visit: Migrations, Summer

Site access restricted. Fee charged.

From Thompson Park in Amarillo, go south 2.5 miles to I-40D and head east 2.9 miles to TX 136. Take TX 136 North 26.4 miles, turn left on Cas Johnson Road and enter Bates Canyon.

Continue on Cas Johnson Rd. through mesquite/yucca grassland. During late spring, the roadside and surrounding slopes are carpeted in wildflowers. Watch for Bullock’s Oriole, Blue Grosbeak, Greater Roadrunner, Cassin’s and Lark Sparrows, and an occasional Box Turtle. At the Y, take the right fork to the Flint Quarry and drive about 2.5 mi. This site provides guided tours of the ancient flint quarry that served as a major source of tool material for Native Americans over a period of several thousand years. If you continue past the park ranger building to the boat ramp, lakefront habitat that includes reeds and trees provides good cover for migrating and resident birds. In spring look for Brewer’s and Clay-colored Sparrows, as well as Lark Sparrows and Lark Bunting. The reed beds and the salt cedars and willows adjacent to the boat ramp form a habitat that is very different from the surrounding rocky, juniper-covered slopes. Painted Bunting is a common nester here; Great Blue Heron, Mallard, American Crow, and a variety of migrants including Yellow-breasted Chat, Swainson’s Thrush, and Ovenbird occur here as well.

McBride Canyon is a great place to watch birds. To reach the canyon, instead of taking the right fork to the Flint Quarry and boat ramp, go left for 2.6 miles at which point the paved road becomes dirt, and a sign announces your arrival to this scenic and historic site. The avifauna of this site is quite different from what you’ll find elsewhere on the lakeshore. Red-headed Woodpeckers, Carolina Chickadees, Blue Jays, Yellow Warblers, Northern Flickers, Ash-throated Flycatchers, Bewick’s and Rock Wrens, Painted Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, and Northern Cardinals all occur here.

806-857-3151, Call for reservations.

047.gif PHP 047 Lake Meredith National Recreation Area

Suggested Seasons to visit: Migrations, Summer

Site open for day use only.

From Alibates Flint Quarry National Monument, return to TX 136 and go north into Fritch. After 9.4 miles turn left at FM 687. Go 5.4 miles to Sanford and turn left on FM 687. Continue north 2.6 miles across the Sanford Dam on 1319 to FM 3395. Go south/left on FM 3395 for 8.0 miles to Plum Creek Rd. Turn left and continue 5.5 miles to entrance.

Lake Meredith is one the three major reservoirs along the stretch of the Canadian River that flows across northern Texas. Numerous access points provide opportunities to scan for grebes, ducks, geese, and loons. The red rock descent to the lake’s surface is scenic and makes a good backdrop for photographers, especially during spring when yuccas and other wildflowers are in bloom. The stands of trees at Plum Creek by the boat launch provide habitat for songbirds during migrations, and the lake’s surface attracts water birds year round. The fringing reed beds also attract migrant birds.

Return to FM 1913 North for 2.8 miles and continue to the Blue West entrance. At the pier check the trees and juniper-studded cliff sides for woodpeckers, flycatchers, and wrens. Unlike Plum Creek, the lake view at Blue West is expansive. Scan carefully for water birds, particularly during migration. Pied-billed Grebe and Common Merganser are expected here in winter, and Mallards and lingering waterfowl during spring and summer. Scoters or Loons may also be seen during winter.


048.gif PHP 048 Cactus Playa

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter, Migrations

Site open for day use only.

Return to FM 1913 and go west for 20 miles to US 287/87. Go North through Dumas 23.3 miles to FM 281. Exit left and turn right under the overpass. Continue 1.3 miles and turn left on Road 12 through the gate to Cactus Playa. Park on the side of dirt road at the entrance to the playa, and do not obstruct the entrance.

This is a large playa lake with wintering concentrations of geese and ducks that often number in excess of one hundred thousand birds. This site is superb for photography because unlike other playa lakes it is possible to get close to the birds. Additionally, Bald Eagle and other raptors hover about the lake. In spring this playa serves as a stopover for migrating shorebirds, and is definitely worth a close look. Most species of shorebirds that occur in the Central Flyway can be found at this site during the spring and/or fall. During summer, Cactus Playa, like any large body of water in the Panhandle, provides important wildlife habitat. Look for Snowy Plover and Least Tern (both uncommon), as well as Blue-winged and Cinnamon Teal, Mallards, American Wigeon and Northern Pintail. Dragonflies and damselflies that tolerate mineralized water may also be seen.

049.gif PHP 049 Lake Rita Blanca City Park

Suggested Seasons to visit: All Seasons

Site open for day use only.

Return to FM 281 West for 30.6 miles and turn left to enter the park. Go 0.5 mile to the lake shore.

This is an excellent site that possesses a phenomenal wintering waterfowl spectacle. Additionally, excellent hiking trails follow the perimeter of the lake, providing a quiet and enjoyable viewing experience. The dusk show of large numbers of geese returning for the evening and the large flocks moving back and forth across the lake are impressive viewing experiences. Scope the far end of the lake for ducks.

During spring, dozens of Spotted Sandpipers use the lake as a staging area and you may enjoy close looks at their attractive summer plumage. Black-crowned Night-Herons, Common Yellowthroats, Red-winged Blackbirds, and a few grackles nest in the surrounding vegetation. The vegetation, typical of much of the High Plains, is a native, short-grass, prairie dominated by blue grama and buffalo grass. The park supports a wide variety of wildlife, including Scaled Quail; Bald Eagles; Mule Deer; and Swift, Gray, and Red Foxes. Look for colorful dragonflies and damselflies along the lakeshore, including the turquoise Blue-eyed Darner, which has a limited range in Texas. Walk the trail along the lakeshore in summer for flycatchers, wrens, sparrows, and views of different coves that may harbor herons or waterfowl.


050.gif PHP 050 Rita Blanca National Grassland

Suggested Seasons to visit: Winter

Site open for day use only.

Return to US 87/385 North/left for 1.5 miles and bear off on US 385, which is hard right turn immediately after the train trestle. Go 30.6 miles north and take FM 296 West for 32.0 miles to US 87 South, which will take you back to Dalhart. To explore the Canadian Breaks Loop, travel to Spearman via US 54 and TX 15.

The Rita Blanca grasslands are mainly viewed from the roadside along FM 296. Birdlife can be abundant, and the site’s northerly location makes it a venue for birds not normally venturing far into Texas. Species that thrive in cold weather such as Rough-legged and Ferruginous Hawks, Chihuahuan Raven, and various longspurs may be common, and rarities such as Northern Shrike, Black-billed Magpie and even Snowy Owl could occur here. A raptor to watch for throughout the Panhandle during winter is Prairie Falcon, distinguished from American Kestrel by its sandy brown color, face pattern, larger size, more rapid flight, and, in flight, dark, distinctive wing linings.

During summer, the grasslands present an entirely different aspect. Brown fields turn bright green with the new growth of prairie grasses and flowers. Pheasant and Scaled Quail call from thickets or from perches. Dickcissels, Lark Buntings, Grasshopper, Lark, and Cassin’s Sparrows, Meadowlarks and Western Kingbirds line the roadsides. By late May, a new generation of prairie dog pups is exploring life above ground. Larger birds include Red-tailed and Swainson’s Hawks and Long-billed Curlew. Where clumps of trees mark abandoned home sites, look for nesting Blue Grosbeak, Bullock’s Oriole, and lingering migrants such as Chipping Sparrow, Yellow, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.

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