Now taking reservations ONLINE!

For those that haven’t heard you can now reserve your spot at our state’s parks using the online reservation system. This is great for those parks that are difficult to get to and then you do get all the way there and see the dreaded “park full” sign. Not any more. You can now reserve a day pass to popular parks like Enchanted Rock and not worry about there being space when you get there. Plan ahead though as parks are filling up faster than ever.

Reservations!!

Rain, Rain, don’t go away

Some state parks in Texas got some much-needed rain this weekend. The pictures below are all from facebook posts from the parks. The location is in the caption below each picture.

flooded creek
Hill Country SNA (Memorial Day 2014)
flooded road
Palo Duro Canyon SP (Memorial Day 2014)

 

fishing pier at bastrop state park
Fishing Pier at Copper Breaks State Park (Memorial Day 2014) This is the first time in 5 years that water has been remotely close to this pier. Nice reopening of the pier even if only temporary.
Hopefully the parks get more rain today.

Muir Woods National Monument

On a recent trip out West I had the opportunity to visit a special park in Northern California. Muir Woods National Monument is a “Tree Lover’s Monument” as John Muir said in the early 1900s when he bought the land. He would later donate it to the newly established National Parks System.

It is normally $7 to enter the park, but I was there on a free weekend.

parking at muir woods

Wear/bring shoes that are appropriate for slippery, muddy, wet, and potentially long uphill trails (more on that later).

We left San Francisco and arrived at Muir Woods about 25 minutes later. We arrived early and it was a good thing we did.

 

The limited parking lots fill up quickly. You are probably going to have to park some distance away and hike up to the park.

It’s worth it.

trail in the woods

Pictures don’t really do the park justice and I’m not nearly a good enough writer to come close to describing the sites and sounds.

It was a little difficult to take pictures. My GS4 did not like the odd lighting of the park.

And here’s one with people for a reference to the size of some of these trees.

Now, for the helpful hints part of the post. The ocean view trail is long, narrow, muddy, rocky, steep, and a great challenge. Enter at your own risk. Don’t blame me if/when you make it to the top and realize it’s too foggy to actually see the ocean. 🙂

Garner State Park

Park #34 on our quest to visit all the Texas State Parks and Historic Sites was Garner State Park.

It was very cold and started to rain when we arrived to the park. Even with the conditions we enjoyed the unique features of this park. The Frio (pictured above and below) is frequented by many during the summer for tubing activities. You wouldn’t want to do that in November. Besides being really cold, there’s also very little water.

Check the visitor’s center in the center of the park for path tags, wildlife viewing suggestions, and other park souvenirs. The main office at the entrance is for entrance fees ONLY and don’t forget to take a number on the way in.

There is plenty for the whole family in this park. There is a sand volleyball court, a basketball court, a miniature golf course (seasonal and weather-permitting), camping, hiking, swimming and tubing (seasonal), and much more. You can see why this is one of the more popular parks.

Guadalupe River State Park Visit

We went out to Guadalupe River State Park on a recent outing. I knew this park would be dry, but when I saw the flow rate posted at the park store I knew it was worse than I thought. The sign said “0 feet/second.”

There’s no tubing, very little to swim in, and if you’re fishing, bring the small hooks.

It wasn’t more than a few inches deep on avg through this area. Upstream was a little better, but it wasn’t a long stretch of waist-high water and then back to near dry conditions.

Above you can see where the water has carved into the rock along the river. This was probably a good 25 feet lateral and 15 feet above the current water level. Did I mention the river was low?

Government Canyon State Natural Area

April 27th we visited Government Canyon State Natural Area.

This relatively recent addition to the parks system is a combination of so many parks in Texas it’s almost too good to be true. There’s a prairie of wildflowers, canyon trails, lookouts to view the Texas Hill Country, Dinosaur tracks (yes, really), and much more.


This is another park that you may encounter an unfriendly creature or two.

Mind the warnings and you’ll be fine. Oh and as the park ranger said, “Don’t pet or feed fluffy.”
The visitor from up north somewhere did not find that joke funny. I hope he remembered what she said though.

About two miles down the Joe Johnston route you’ll find a trail off to the left that leads to some old ranch buildings. It is rather snakey back in there so go at your own risk.


If you make it back to the path…just kidding
When you make it back to the path continue on down the trail, but keep an eye out for a relatively unused trail off to the other side of the trail.
This path takes you down to a creek bed with some nice picture opportunities.

It was difficult to capture in the picture, but a lot of the vegetation is growing with the flow of the creek. Obviously this creek bed fills up with any rain so be careful and mindful of the weather on the day of your visit.

Keep going past Twin Oaks trail and Caroline’s loop and you’ll make it to the bottom of the bluff.

Here you’ll find many picture opportunities including dinosaur tracks.

I would go see these earlier rather than later as they are completely unprotected and will probably not stay this pristine for too long. Remember, this park was private land for many years and only so many people have had the pleasure of visiting the park. Around the tracks you’ll also see some blackberries, butterflies, trees/fern growing out of rocks…


and…a bee hive! (sorry, no pictures. It would’ve been blurry anyways as we were running at that point.)

Continue on the trail up the hill and before you get to the Zizelmann Homestead you’ll see quite an amazing site.
Right in the middle of the park is a naturally occurring Spanish Moss growth that just takes your breath away.
You go from this:

to this:



(read the sign at the trees for more info)

Continue up the trail and you’ll see the Zizelmann House.

There’s not much to see as they’ve protected the house like it was some fossilized dinosaur…oh never mind.

If you follow the fence around the house and brave the steep trail down, past the spider webs, over the snakes, and…
Wait. Let me me stop you here. Don’t risk it. It’s really not worth it. There are some springs at the bottom of the hill. You can’t see the spring though. You just see a nasty, still pool of water with bees (yes…again) and very little else. The spring is a sensitive area and you can’t/shouldn’t explore it too much. Again, take my word for it. It’s not worth a twisted/broken ankle.

This is the best picture I could get of it.

If you really want to see a nice spring flowing in a state park check out Pedernales Fall State Park and the Wolf Mountain Trail there.

Continue on up the trail and you’ll get to the top of the bluff. At the bottom of this is the dinosaur tracks. Take my word for it. Don’t look over the edge. Because of the angle, you have to actually lean out over the cliff to see the tracks. Just trust me, again, and know that they’re there.

Continue on Overlook trail until you get back to Joe Johnston Trail. Then you can head on back to the headquarters and parking. There’s no water along the trail and you can get lost if you’re not careful. We had a signal for most of the hike, but we were told of a story by the ranger that explained how important water can be. They recently had to send out a search party for a man who got away from his group and was lost for over 4 hours. There’s over 12,000 acres at this park and it’s easy to get turned around if you venture off the trail.

Another important reminder of this park is that sections of the park are only open for parts of the year.
The Protected Habitat area is only open from September to February. I’ll definitely be back here in September as there were pictures of caves, caverns, sinkholes, creeks, and more back at the headquarters. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Colorado Bend State Park

waterfall: gorman falls
Gorman Falls at Colorado Bend State Park

We headed out from Austin at 7:30 am to try and knock out more parks on our list of 93. On the agenda for the day was Colorado Bend State Park and Abilene State Park. We had Lake Brownwood as a “if we have time” destination for the way back to Austin.

Word of caution: Don’t use Apple Maps to get to Colorado Bend State Park. You’ll encounter a nice sign that warns you “don’t enter or else.”

We found the park using Google Maps about 9:30 am and headed down the road past Gorman Falls to find the park headquarters. The road into the park is unpaved but covered in rocky gravel. Any car can make it down the road fine, but you will need a car wash afterwards. About 6 miles down the road you’ll find a dreamy oasis with plentiful camping, a beautiful river, and the park headquarters. The restroom is 100 yds past the headquarters so if you are in need keep driving to the right and park closer to the restrooms.

Campground below bluffs next to Colorado River
Campground below bluffs next to Colorado River

The group unanimously decided that this was the most beautiful camping spots we’ve encountered on our state parks quest so far; nice camp area with spacious fire pits and tent spots, the slow moving Colorado River flowing close by, a bluff reflecting the morning sun hanging over the river, and a restroom close by.

park store
park store

tree

We headed to the park store to pick up a souvenir and get our permit. There’s a really cool tree outside that appears to be very old.

The staff inside was helpful though seemed like they may have needed more sleep or an extra cup of coffee. After getting our permit we headed back up the 6 mile unpaved, dusty road to head to our trail head to Gorman Falls.

The trail to Gorman Falls is about a mile from the parking area, but the closer you get to the falls the harder you’ll have to work to get there. “That escalated quickly” was a commonly held opinion among the members of our group.

rocky path
rocky path

I advise you to be careful, wear proper footgear and don’t pack too much for the last section of the hike. You’ll have to make some leaps of faith to get to the best view in the park. It is worth it and it is safe if you take it slow and think about your route down the steep, rocky path. The picture below is the beginning of the steep section of the path. It only gets more difficult from there. Hold onto the steel cables on the sides of the path. I don’t have any pictures of the more precarious section because I was a little distracted trying not to break my ankle.

The light at the end of the tunnel does shine brightly. When you make it down the rocky path you are rewarded with one of the most spectacular sights. “It looks like something out of a movie.”

I highly recommend the hike down to Gorman Falls. There is a self-pay station at the trail head for Gorman Falls. You don’t need to drive the 6 miles down the unpaved road to the park store if your only destination is Gorman Falls. Colorado Bend State Park is definitely a diamond among jewels in the state park system. It is one of my favorite so far and will defnitely be a camping and hiking destination for me in the years to come. Five stars all the way. (yes, even with the road)

Lockhart, Palmetto, Monument Hill, Kreische Brewery, Buescher, and Bastrop State Park

One day back in March I sent a message to a friend and the conversation went something like this:

“I think we can do five parks in one day. And I can throw in a visit to the Memorial Museum to see “the cannon” in Gonzales.

“What time do we leave?”

There’s never any hesitation with this group when it comes to combining a great day of state parks and Texas history. Throw in a little BBQ and the fact that we decided March 2nd was the perfect day for this trip and well…that’s heaven on Earth ladies and gentlemen.

We departed Austin at 6:30 am on March 2nd. (quick stop at Starbucks for obvious reasons)

We got to Lockhart State Park right as it opened.

Lockhart State ParkLockhart State Park

This park is relatively small and its primary purpose seems to be to play host to a 9-hole golf course. It is the only golf course operated by the state parks system. There are other golf courses on state park land, but they are operated privately. We were able to cover a few of the trails fairly quickly and actually covered nearly the entire park in 30 minutes because we weren’t playing golf. Although we visited the park on this trip, I won’t mark this park off my list until I return to play the course.

On to the next park!

Palmetto State Park is right down the road.

Palmetto State Park

This park turned out to be a somewhat hidden jewel. Combine what used to be swampland with a state experiencing a serious/critical drought and you end up with a beautiful, dark green forest with wonderfully maintained trails. Because the trails are built up to account for rainy seasons (if that every happens again) the trail is in great shape and nearly perfectly maintained. This park has great camping, great hiking, and of course the Ottine Swamp Monster. Apparently, this is the Central Texas version of Bigfoot. I had never heard of it until visiting the park, but one can’t help but notice the “confirmed pictures” of the monster inside the park store. I was drawn to that area for one of my favorite flags (pictured below). I definitely recommend Palmetto State Park for a weekend camping/fishing/RV/hiking/did I mention canoeing?/relaxing destination.

Come and Take It Flag

Ottine Swamp Monster

Back on the road…we headed to Gonzales. It was a short drive and we made it to the Gonzales Memorial Museum around 11 am. This is the Gonzales Memorial Museum on Texas Independence Day.  That’s a little over the top for most, but not for this group.

Gonzalez Cannon

We were a little confused when we walked in. We were the only ones there. I understand that the big visiting season/day is in October/November to commemorate the actual event surrounding the myth/legend/fact? of the cannon of Gonzales so I’ll cut fellow Texans a little slack.

Gonzalez Memorial Museum

Inside the museum is what is allegedly the cannon guarded in Gonzales during the fight for independence from Mexico. For most Texans, whether or not this is the actual cannon doesn’t matter nearly as much as the ideas behind the story. “Don’t mess with Texas” and “Come and Take It” are fundamental to how most of us live our lives. To stand in that room, on Texas Independence Day, with that cannon, and read the stories from that era was a truly memorable trip and should be on every Texan’s bucket list.

Time for lunch. We headed to La Grange for some back porch BBQ. No really…Back Porch BBQ in La Grange, TX. This was a surprisingly good BBQ joint and will be a destination on future road trips. We downed a few pounds of brisket, a chicken, and a pound of sausage (b/w 3 people…not too bad, eh?) and then headed, slowly, to the next park.

The next stop on our 5-park day trip was Monument Hill and Kreische Brewery. This was going to be another quick trip. You can do the entire (both?) park(s) rather quickly. We spent some time at Monument Hill (more on this in a moment) and then headed down the trail to the old Kreische settlement and brewery ruins. Yes I said ruins. It’s difficult to describe without seeing in person, but the correct word is ruins.

Kreische Brewery

Old man Kreische was a stone mason and built the brewery out of heavy stone. All that is left is half of various rooms and several walls along with the foundation. The park ranger does offer a guided tour on request. It’s suggested that you call ahead. This will be a future trip of mine. I’d like to see the inside just for curiosity’s sake.

Now, back to Monument Hill. “Here lies the remains of the 17 men who chose the black beans.” The short version of the story is that 17 men were killed as an example to the remaining prisoners. If they tried to escape capture again they would meet the same fate. Long story here

Monument Hill

To be at this monument on Texas Independence Day sent chills up my spine and reminded me of how rich of a history our parks have. It was a great way to relax and think after lunch. It didn’t quite prepare us for the next two parks, but it did give us a reason to pause and think about the bigger picture, the bigger story written by the history of our parks.

We headed back towards Austin to get to our last two parks before we lost sunlight. It was only about 3:00 PM when we got to Buescher State Park. We stopped and talked to the volunteers at the Park Store and shared our story of our day. Every park store we’ve come across so far has had just amazing staff. They are knowledgeable not only about the park they are stationed at, but most of them know a lot about the parks system overall. Park visitors should make it a point to take some time and visit with your parks staff. You’ll learn a lot, just as much, from that along with the remainder of your visit to the parks.

We didn’t stay long at Buescher because we wanted as much time as possible at Bastrop State Park. Buescher is another park that is still on my list to revisit and give another try.

Bastrop State Park was our last park of the day. That’s 5 parks, one museum, a bbq joint, and a lot of time in the car. It was all worth it of course.

I’m delaying a bit because this last part of this trip drew quite a bit of emotion out of me and writing about it brings it all back again. For anyone who calls the Central Texas area home, the Labor Day Fires of 2011 will never be forgotten. The experience of seeing fires burning on all horizons as you look out from central Austin is an image I will never forget. You look to the west and see fires. You look to the north and see fires. Then you look to the southeast and you see the biggest fire. I remember taking truckloads of supplies down to the Baptist Church in Bastrop and seeing the effect of the fires first hand. 50+ people sleeping on floors in the church. All of them taking care of each other because that’s what you do. Your friends are your family and that’s just how it is. I took time to talk to them and the biggest problem/fear most of them experienced during that time was not knowing. They didn’t know what to expect. they didn’t know if their homes were still standing. They didn’t know if their pets were alive. They didn’t know when it would end. They didn’t know how long it would be before help would be there. This state of not knowing is sort of what we experienced on our drive in to Bastrop State Park back on March 2nd.

It was very different from what the residents faced of course, but it felt intensely personal at the same time. We took the park road from Buescher State Park in to Bastrop State Park so we could take in the full scene of damage, destruction, devastation…no words really. After seeing how beautiful our parks can be and how important they are to our state this was very difficult. The car was silent except for the various gasps and groans as we came around corner after corner and realized we were just seeing a small part of what happened. It took every bit of energy left in me to keep the tears in. You realize how many lives this fire affected and how many generations will be affected going forward and you can’t help but feel a terrible pain deep inside. There are some signs of life, but all of them are new life. Newly planted saplings clinging to life in piles of ash. We needed rain then. We need rain now. Only time will tell.

We headed on to the park store. Just as I mentioned earlier your park store staff can be a treasure trove of information. The question I really wanted an answer to was “How long? How long is the expected recovery period?” The answer took my emotions to another level and was quite a shock.

“80 years”

Bastrop State Park

Bastrop State Park
look! I see green. It won’t last though. When they bring in equipment to remove trees a lot of the new growth will sustain damage. This is going to be a long recovery process.

“80 years before we start to see the park as it was.”

Let that sink in. 80 years is longer than a lot of us will live. That’s a lot of people who will never experience the park as it once was.

We left out of the park store and headed to the trail head. Not really knowing what to expect, but expecting the worst. We started out on an uphill trail into the woods/charred remains. It was about a half-mile in when I asked anyone, already knowing the answer, if they had seen anything green yet. Aside from the rare moss there was nothing. Ash, rocks, and charred remains of once great trees.

We continued and paused at a creek that appeared to be a mix of an orange substance and cloudy water. Nothing swimming, not even insects really. We guessed that the orange sludge was fire retardant that was still draining off of the hills and ending up in the creeks. We don’t really know, but it didn’t look natural.

We continued on the trail and came across some signs of life as we went deeper in. The signs of life were tokens of false hope really. When we finally saw green it was in what can only be described as a mortuary for the trees. Every tree as far as you could see in any direction was marked for removal. Think about what that means. Every tree in every direction for as far as you can see will have to be removed because it is dead.Thousands if not tens of thousands of trees before they can start planting new ones. Add to that the fact that this land is virtually inaccessible to any large equipment and you can imagine how long it will take to clear the land.

We finished up our 3 mile hike in mostly silence as we piled back into the car. This was a physically, mentally, and emotionally draining day. If I had to do it over again I wouldn’t change a single thing. From the company, to the food, to the destinations I will never forget this Texas Independence Day.