On Top Of An Enchanted Rock

On Top Of An Enchanted Rock

In 2016 Scott and I were just over 20,000 miles in travel miles; this included a trip to San Francisco, Yosemite, and Athens, Georgia. We also visited Oklahoma and the Western edges of Arkansas using up about 9,000 miles for all of that, the left over miles were in Texas. We are actually focused on visiting all 95 of the Texas State Parks and have managed to visit 48 of those before the end of the year. This took us all over the plains areas of the state, the piney woods, and even into the Hill Country just north of the Austin area. Fortunately, we also were able to visit the far southwestern area of the Davis Mountains helping to give us many, many miles of travel in Texas.

Over the first three weeks of January 2017, we have worked hard at not traveling outside the Dallas-Fort Worth area; but instead, we are finding things locally to keep us entertained. However, we were not able to tame the travel bug much longer. Since I was having to attend the Texans for State Parks Board Meeting in Austin, Scott and I decided it would be the perfect jumping off point to visit a few new-to-us Texas State Parks west of Austin. He took off Thursday and Friday from work and we were set for a good amount of traveling on a four day weekend.

Thursday morning we left later than we had expected from our friends John and Faye’s, but it was worth spending a few more hours with good friends. They are always generous and happy to play host to us. They sent us on our way and we headed to our first of eight state parks, two of which were the only ones not new for us.  We needed to move quickly, but stopped to view a couple of the scenic overlooks on our way towards Inks Lake State Park.


We stayed at Inks Lake State Park for two nights because they had an available cabin. Unfortunately, weekends in Texas there are rarely campsites or cabins available, no matter the time of year. If you are expecting to stay within the Texas State Park system, especially on weekends, you must make reservations as soon as you know when you are planning to visit, even then you are not always able to get a cabin.


We arrived at Inks, obtained our cabin key, and dropped off bedding, clothing and other such things then immediately headed towards Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.  The is located just south of Llano off highway 16. Just before reaching the turn off (RM965), we noticed a sign that said, “Closed When Flashing – Enchanted Rock State Natural Area 9 miles.” It was not flashing, but according to Texas Hill Country website, the pack fills up fast on weekends and is closed due to lack of parking space and the insane amount of people.  Fortunately, we were there on a Thursday so it was not full, but there were a lot of people.

This location is the site of a huge pink granite rock that stands 1825 feet high and is one of only two such sites like this in the United States; the other location is Stone Mountain located just northeast of Atlanta, Georgia. While the Texas batholith is much smaller than the one in Georgia, it is still impressive. Both of these granite rocks were once magma chambers for what was once volcanos.  Over time, the magma became granite and the soil around them was eroded away leaving these beautiful stones.


This giant rock welcomes all who wish to climb its seemingly smooth surface to enjoy a unique landscape called sky islands and vernal pools. Here we found what could be compared to tide pools only with cacti and lizards. These depressions shelter different types of plants and animals that have adapted to this hot/cold, windy, and barren environment. In fact, by studying these depressions, ecologists learn how plants and animals come together and live in this habitat; how they modify their environment and help develop soils where there is no soil; and, how plant and animal communities are created and change over time and situation.

In the stone, as we climbed we saw long lines of crystals which have been created by an intense pressure of earth movement and the heat from having been a magma chamber.  Unfortunately, I am not a geologist so I do not know all the right terms and explanations. I do know when the sun hits the granite just right, you can see the crystals within it shine and shimmer reflecting the rays of light.


Scott and I took our time to climb this giant rock, which is an estimated 45-minute climb. Unsurprisingly, it took us over an hour, but we were more concerned with my knee and our safety. Taking it slowly, we took many breaks so we could evaluate my pain level; they were definitely needed breaks for this, resting, and drinking water. Neither of us are use to the hiking, especially such a vertical path; however, we were both determined to reach the top to see the view and to find the survey marker we were positive would be there.

At one point, I almost gave up. I was two-thirds of the way up and I was just exhausted, of course, the knee was telling me off at this point. I told Scott to just continue and I would wait for him. He suggested we sit and drink some water and rest a bit. This was definitely good advice because about fifteen minutes later I was ready to attack the rest of the climb. He reminded me it was okay if I didn’t go, but asked me if I would regret not reaching the top. I would have regretted it very much. This was something I had on my personal “bucket list” and I decided I was just tired and not in much pain.  I was wearing my knee brace and using my trekking poles so the knee did not have as much pressure as it would have.  It always amazes me how using the correct equipment can make an activity so much more enjoyable.

Upon reaching the final five feet of the climb, the sky island made itself known and I was stunned at the beauty of vernal pools. There were small trees, cacti, pools of creatures and algae, I even found one of in the shape of a lopsided heart containing fern looking plants. I was amazed to see the life growing out of the large, round granite rock. Then I looked up and saw the surrounding landscape. My eyes tried to take it all in at once, only to find I was tearing up. I had made it to the top and was able to see the quick rising hills all around the country side full of cedars, scrub oaks and green winter grasses. Needless to say, I was completely overwhelmed and thrilled at my success.


Suddenly, Scott says, “There has to be a geological survey marker somewhere on this rock!” He quickly walked towards the location he believed to be the highest spot on the rock and there it was; the US Geological Society had placed their mark on the hill to show that it was significant. For hikers today, it is a symbol that they have beaten nature and achieved a great height. For me, it was proof that if I had to stay focused and not give up; I could not have done that without my husband, he encouraged me and reminded me not to give up.


Eventually, we decided it was time to climb down the granite mountain and prepare to take some night sky photos, which was the true reason we had visited this park. The Milky Way was supposed to show itself near the center between the two granite domes and he was determined to get a very nice shot of it. Fortunately for us, I had packed hot chocolate and plenty of warm layers. It was so extremely cold and I hate being cold.

The nine figures at the top of the rock are people.

At one point, while he was taking photos, we heard the worst sound (link goes to TheCrotalusfreak‘s YouTube channel).  It sounded like a person in pain screaming in bursts of three. It sent chills up my spine for sure. I am very prone to my imagination running off with me and it had jumped out of my skin and was running around in fear. It didn’t help any that Scott says, “I sure hope that’s not a person hurt or worse.” I then began to think the worst. Come to find out from another couple who were also taking night sky photos, they had seen a bobcat approaching. They shined their flashlights at him and scared him off. I felt relief to know it was nothing more than a cat named Bob.


At one point the cold had convinced Scott it was time to pack up and return to our little cabin at Inks Lake State Park. We had an hours drive late in the evening, but it was sure to be an interesting one. Deer roam all over the area and often there are carcasses near the road showing the dangers for the wildlife among humans. We actually saw about three deer, but, fortunately for them and us, we had no ill-fated meeting.

This deer was hanging around at Inks Lake State Park when first arrived, he was one of at least a dozen we saw that day before the drive in the dark.

Upon arriving at our home for the next two days, we made beds and promptly went to sleep. The day seemed as if it had been 24 hours long between the driving, climbing, and adventuring. We were ready for a rest because the next morning we would be up and ready to adventure again at a new-to-us Texas State Park; Pedernales Falls State Park would be our 50th State Park and we ready to celebrate.

Camping Packing Tip

Camping Packing Tip

While thinking about the camping trip this next week, I came across something really helpful.  It’s one of those Pinterest poster lists.  It opened my eyes to a couple of ways to pack the kitchen box!  I thought I would share it with you!


Source: Fix.com Blog

This was pretty helpful for me, hope it was for you too!  I love Pinterest.
lifelife-ren

Abilene State Park Adventure

A couple of weeks ago we decided I needed to have a break from the Black Friday craziness so we headed out to Abilene State Park.  It was a really nice trip; well, for a day trip.

Abilene is about 150 miles from Fort Worth and that comes out to about 2.5 hours travel time.  We started out fairly early, about 9am, and it took us forever to get there!  It was a little after 4:00pm when we pulled into the Ranger office.  Fortunately for us, it was due to the wonderful surprises we came across on the drive there.

80bridgeCollage

As we drove towards Abilene on highway 20, I noticed a white bridge just off to the right.  Well, I pulled off 20 and headed to the bridge.  Turns out it was a bridge built over the Brazos in 1932 along old Highway 80.  This was the main highway to be used until the new Highway 20 came about.  Unfortunately it bypassed this small area causing there to not be much traffic.  However, it has been preserved by a family who decided to keep it alive by creating an RV/camping area.

 

brazosCollageJust off the Brazos River, under the bridge is a place called Brazos River Camp Ground and The Catfish Cafe.  We stopped and walked the camp grounds to find a really nice area for both RV’s and tenting.  The RV area had good hookups and a nice area to park; however, it had a pretty steep driveway.  The tenting area was just as nice and spread out.  I can’t wait to visit them this next summer.

The Catfish Cafe is a mom and pop place as well.  They originally opened to feed the weekenders who stayed at the camp ground so their hours are Thursday-Sundays only.  The food is very good and well worth the hour trip from Fort Worth!  We stopped in and had pie for a snack and then moved on towards Abilene.

miningCollage

Thurber, Texas, Ghost Mining Town

We weren’t on the road thirty minutes when we saw this tower in the distance.  Turns out it was Thurber, Texas.  Now a ghost town, Thurber was a town owned by Texas and Pacific Coal Company and was very much alive from 1888 until sometime in the 1930’s.  It is well worth your stop to visit the ruins and grab a bite to eat at the Smokestack.

After walking around a bit, we drove onward to Abilene.  The drive is a very pretty one that was rather surprising to me.  I had never realized the landscape had huge ridges and the elevation was higher in the west than in Fort Worth.  Downtown Fort Worth is only 612 feet above sea level while Abilene is about 1,790 feet above.  While we drove up a 6% upgrade at one point that put us up to overt 2100 feet!  I realize this is nothing compared to other places we will visit in the future, but we were thrilled.  I had no idea elevation went higher the further west we went.  It has answered so many questions about why West Texas gets worse winter weather than we do in Fort Worth.

windmillAbileneCollage

Wind Farm just north of Abilene.

As we came closer to Abilene, we could see wind turbines in the distance.  Being who I am, extremely too curious for my own good, we turned off the highway and took a gravel road to find these amazing monsters!  The wet mud-gravel road and huge amounts of dust was well worth the adventure.  You could hear them cutting the air as the wind moved them. The wind farm we found was the Lone Star Wind Farm just off hwy 351.  If I would have realized there was a paved road to them, I probably still wouldn’t have taken it.  It’s just how we adventure.

After this side trip we drove through Abilene to find food and then headed out to Abilene State Park.

astp2014copyrightbystitchntravel2-2

 

It is a very pretty park and one of the few that has a swimming pool.  Most of the parks are located just off a lake and you will find all sorts of water sports to be had.  However, Abilene Lake is just down the road from the State Park entrance.  They have lots of camping spots for tenting and rving, cabins and YURTS!  I was out of my mind with excitement when we came across the yurts.  What made these so wonderful is they each come with a fridge, microwave, air conditioner, heater AND furniture.  These rent for about $50 a night and some of them come with an actual shelter and outdoor grills!  I really want to go again and stay in one for a weekend.

yurtCollage-copyrightBYstitchntravel

This park is full of other interesting structures as well as the yurts.  This was a place that was part of the Civilian Conservation Corps  (CCC). Most of the public buildings on the site are from this time period which was from the 1930’s to the 1940’s.  To learn more about the CCC there is an interactive exhibit called “A New Deal for Texas” and it is well worth your time.

abileneCollage

Abilene State Park

I am in love with this park.  There is so much to do and many hiking trails.  We actually did a short one that took us to the bird watching shelter.  After we looked around and explored, we decided to go to the lake just down the road.  It is Texas State Park owned and we had a surprise waiting for us.

Texas is in the tenth year of a drought.  Apparently the DFW metroplex area and East Texas hasn’t been hit as hard as West Texas.  Neither Scott or myself had any clue how bad the drought was until we turned the corner to enter the lake gate.  The gate was closed and locked and the lake was gone.  It has dried up. Lake Abilene is only a skeleton. From the gate you can see where the dam water works is, the shelters, the lake house, but that is it.

deadlakeabileneCollage-copyrightBYstitchntravel

Lake Abilene is no more.

After we spent time trying to comprehend what has happened to the lake, we decided it was time to head home.  This was a sobering trip and helped us to understand the great need the great state of Texas has.  So please, when you think of us, think of Texas and pray for the much needed rain.

Ren