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.
Scott and I finally made it to our 50th Texas State Park, Pedernales Falls State Park, just outside of Johnson City. We were able to do a little hiking and just enjoy being in the outdoors. While we were there, we took a few minutes and did a quick Outside Our Box so we could celebrate our latest goal achievement.
We had such an amazing time getting lost on the hike and seeing some of the Pedernales River. The camping looked to be clean and comfortable so we will be looking to visit again so we can kayak the river eventually.
Thanks for all the support all of you have shared and all the encouragement.
There are times have to go through frustration to find our strength and purpose. We have been dealing with many health issues but are we going to allow them to stop us? There are times it seems we will never achieve the things we want to because it feels too difficult, but that is when we find answers if we will just stop and figure out how to overcome it all.
Scott and I were both told by our parents to continue with the traveling and to do what it is we love. This is what we love to do, but with us in our 50’s is it too late? Take a look at the video and see what the answer to that is.
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Saturday morning we got up and made plans to visit two more parks. Leaving before we ate, we decided to find a place to have breakfast on our way to one of the two planned parks. A sign we passed said Gonzales was 22 miles ahead when Scott stated that he thought something historical happened in Gonzales, but wasn’t sure. As we neared the city, he remembered it was where the first battle of the Texas Revolution occurred. This caused a huge change in our plans; it had become a trip about Texas History.
Texas History is something both Scott and I have been interested in for quite some time. I think it is mostly because we are not originally from Texas and we did not actually learn this state’s history in school. It was not shoved down our throats so we feel as if it is our choice to learn it. What I love most is to find out what historical thing has happened that has impacted this country and why it matters to me as an American and now a Texas Transplant.
While eating breakfast at the Rodeo Restaurant, an authentic Mexican restaurant, we made some decisions about what our sudden travel plans were. There was so much to see and learn about in Gonzales considering this was where the first Texas Revolution battle happened. We decided to do as much as we could until noon and then we would travel down to Goliad for the rest of the day. There we would visit Goliad State Park and Presidio la Bahia. This would give us a Texas State Park to mark off, many more counties to cross, and history to visit.
Gonzales is one of those towns with the County Courthouse in the center of town and the downtown circling it on the four streets around it. It is full of Texas Revolutionary history, pioneer history, and Civil War history. You can see proof of all this by just walking around an eight block area of the courthouse. Here you will find a large statue dedicated to those who were the Old Gonzales 18 (the 18 men who stayed behind to battle Santa Anna’s men), the Immortal 32 (the 32 men who, after the Gonzales Battle, went to the Alamo to fight), as well as the wives and daughters (those who created the first battle flag of Texas). This was the history we had come to see, to witness, to remember.
We went from the the square to the Gonzales Memorial Museum where, we had been told, that the actual “Come and Take It” cannon was housed. We drove to the other side of town with only forty-five minutes to spare before they closed for the weekend.
This Cordova cream limestone building was built in 1936 for the Centennial of the Texas Revolution. It was one of many, many, many buildings, statues, and monuments built with the Cordova cream limestone which was only used for this special date in Texas history. Within the fossil covered stone walls you will find artifacts from the Texians who fought for Texas to be a free nation, but the most treasured by Gonzales people is the actual cannon Santa Anna tried to take from the town in 1835.
No, it may not look like much, but for those 18 men who stood against the Mexican army it was a huge issue. Four years prior to this instant in time, the Mexican government had given the town of Gonzales a cannon to protect them against the Comanche attacks. Since that time, the Mexican government had begun to show their true colors and were doing what they could to push out the Texians. Due to a government authority change there had been extremely high duties placed upon the colonists, an increase of military presence, and the seizing of a schooner loaded with supplies. The Texas colonists were angry and with the order for Santa Anna’s men to take the cannon was the last straw.
On October 1, 1835, the numbers grew from 18 men to 167. Because of the efforts of the original 18 men, there was no ferry for the Mexican Army to use to cross the Guadalupe River. There were comments made from one side of the river to other when, out from the Gonzales side a “Come and Take It” was shouted. It was from that shout the first Texas Revolution battle flag was created. The women of Gonzales took a silk wedding dress and made the flag with a cannon in the center with a Lone Star above it and the words “Come and Take It” below so the men would remember why they were fighting. Early in the morning hours on October 2, the men quietly crossed the river and settled themselves for battle.
Scott and I found the memorial commemorating this battle just outside of Cost, Texas. It is five miles south of Gonzales and is about a mile from where that very first shot was taken by the Texians of Gonzales. It too was put up during the centennial using the same Cordova limestone. Scott got out and took photos while I worked on our next move. That move was heading down to Goliad and finding some lunch.
We made it to Goliad, had a quick lunch, then headed to get the county courthouse. It, once again, was in the center of the downtown area with old buildings circling the courthouse. It is amazing to see these very old courthouses and the work they were built. There was so much true workmanship and care about it.
I am not sure what I was expecting at Goliad State Park; whatever it was, this was not it. There was a mission! This was the Mission Espiritu Santo that was established in 1749 and became a secular church in the 1930’s. It was just so strange to me to see this huge white mission sitting above the park headquarters. Many of the camping sites at this site were closed due to the recent flooding, but there were still plenty of spaces and they were rather well kept.
The park has worked very hard to keep the items in the mission and decorations painted on the walls to be what was actually found there or from the missions in the same time period. Not only have they been able to create a very good replica of what the mission sanctuary looked like, but they created a very nice museum with dioramas.
As I was discussing this being a Texas Revolution History trip, we had decided to visit Goliad because of the battle that happened the following February after the battle in Gonzales. The state park was not the actual location of the Goliad battle, it was about half a mile south of the park at the Presidio la Bahia. At one point there had been a battle after the Alamo fell near Fannin, Texas. The Texas men that were taken prisoner were force marched back to Presidio la Bahia and eventually massacred there. I often wonder how many of those souls still wonder about the rebuilt ruins.
Visiting the Presidio was such an amazing thing to me because for such a long time I had heard the cry, “Remember The Alamo! Remember Goliad!” to spur on the men fighting the battle of San Jacinto. We are all taught about the cry “Remember the Alamo!” but rarely are we taught about the massacre at Goliad. Yes, the Alamo was a massacre as well, but we are all taught about it and taught to remember each of the heros.
After visiting the the town of Goliad, Goliad State Park and the Presidio la Bahia, we headed back towards Bastrop. On the way we found we were only a couple of minutes from where the Battle of Fannin happened so we made a quick stop. Here we found something very interesting; we found a Texas Historical Commission site called Fannin Battlegrounds.
Photo credit: Texas Historical Commission
We found a found area with sidewalks from the north, south, east and west leading to the monument. Unfortunately it was beginning to rain and we did not get out to walk towards the monument. However, Scott was able to take a few photos of the grounds. There was a pavilion built and a bandstand for the Centennial to help honor the men of the Fannin battle as well as those massacred in Goliad.
This trip was something that had a bit of surprise for me. While we were visiting the Presidio la Bahia we came across a plaque with the names of the 300 men who died there as a result of the prisoner massacre. On this plaque were two names that caught my attention because if is a family name; Ellis.
Those names are James and Michael Ellis. Unfortunately, these men are not direct descendants, but they are distant cousins on my mother’s father’s side. This however, was not the only pleasant surprise for me on this trip.
We had only spent a few moments at the Fannin Battleground Historic Site, but turns out there is a second connection to Fannin other than the Ellis Boys. Even though it was many, many years later, my grandfather’s father was born in Fannin, Texas. I was elated! I have always wanted to be a true Texan, and here is link. I will not be able to become a Daughter of the Texas Republic, but I am a TEXAN and that is important.
Friday we went with our friends John and Faye Cobb to Bastrop and Buescher State Parks. John and Faye are part of the Friends of the Lost Pines group and they LOVE these two parks. True Bastrop has been through a lot of major changes over the past five years between a huge forest fire in 2011 and the loss of their CCC built dam in 2015, but it is a very, very nice park with so much history. While we drove the along State Park Road 1A, B, and C, they told us stories about the building of the parks, visiting of the populous, and the violence of Mother Nature.
When we drove through the CCC built entry way, I could see why John and Faye loved this park; it was beautiful. The drive towards the headquarters building meandered lazily past loblolly pines and a mix of late summer wildflowers. Before you arrive at the office, there is a large spring fed pond. This pond is where many El Camino Real Travelers had stopped along their travels to San Antonio; portions of the historic road run through the park. Bastrop State Park is part of the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail.
We stopped in to the park to get paid up and introduce me as a representative of Texans for State Parks and Stitchntravel.com. It is always nice to go inside to check-in instead of just stopping at the gate. Scott and I have found we love meeting the park staff and volunteers. I honestly can’t say we have ever met anyone working for/volunteering for the parks that we don’t enjoy meeting. When you visit one of the Texas State Parks, stop in to the office and visit with them. You will also find, at many of the parks, a Park Store where you can pick up patches, t-shirts, and other souvenirs. Most of the time these stores are run by the park’s Friends group.
Once checked-in and all the “technical” stuff was finished, we hopped back in the truck and headed further into Bastrop. John drove us to the rectory which is a CCC built building. This building is definitely a work of art and craftsmanship. Arthur Fehr was the architect for this part and he wanted to make sure that it did not distract from the rolling hills and pine forests that surrounded this building. He required the use of native materials in the construction of the rectory, cabins, bridges, and dam.
Because of the history of this park and the importance the CCC, there was a huge fear during the 2011 fire that these would be destroyed. Looking to the north of this building you can see just how close the fire came. Fortunately, the buildings escaped the danger, and it is here for future generations to cherish and enjoy.
We continued to drive through the park and see the destructions of the 2011 fire. I was just stunned at how much of a loss this park had and how so many of their beloved pines had been affected. How often do we hear about forest fires but yet never truly think of the damaged landscape? Scott and I were faced with this damaged sight and were completely speechless.
Fortunately, Scott and I try very hard to find the beauty in all places, including places that have been ravaged by disaster. Because Faye and John were giving us a tour, we learned about all the things the park, conservationists, and friends group were doing to help the park heal. All throughout the park you could see signs of life and the land working at healing. I will save the details for a future post, but know that the success of this park is due to the volunteers and staff working hard to care for this land by planting trees and disaster clean up. Their efforts are definitely noticeable.
We really loved the camp sites at this park. Those sites that were were for RV use were nicely situated and had some amazing views.
Since we are tent campers still, we seem to really take notice of the areas were tents can be placed so they are flat and in a good position. Not only this but, since each site can have up to four tents, is there room for more than one and no crowding. This camping area was very well set up for just this type of situation.
And then of course the bathhouse is near and an area to camp under a sheltered area with plenty of space. I do love the CCC era construction very pretty to look at.
One thing Bastrop State Park is known for is her cabins. These were all made by the CCC and are all unique from each other. Each cabin has a sitting area and fire pit as well as bathroom and kitchen. I so want to stay in one of them eventually.
As we continued, John took us to the failed dam. The water that rushed from the downed dam was said to be 40-feet in height and tore down trees and destroyed camping areas. You can see here the damage from that failure. Keep in mind this dam was built in the 1930’s and the area was receiving more rain than they had. It didn’t fail because of the construction, it was just overwhelmed from the amount of rain over the past year.
John wanted us to enjoy one of the best views of the park so he took us up to one of the overlooks that survived the fire. This is another CCC built building and it has so much character. The cement used to make the foundation was made with the local pebbles, the stones to build the structure are from the area, and the wood used to create the interesting interior of the space was from the area as well.
We neared the 1A road loop, we noticed we were heading out of Bastrop State Park. The road we were on would connect us to the back of Buescher State Park.
The road we would take to Buescher State Park was Park Road 1C. It was an eleven mile drive and it would take us up hills, down into valleys, and through the original loblolly pine forest. It was beautiful. The road was only wide enough for two vehicles and was very twisty, turny. With every turn we took, Scott wanted to stop and take photos while all I could say was, “Oh, wow…”
We finally arrived through the back “door” of Buescher and were greeted by a small sign telling us we were entering the park. There was a definite difference between these two parks. While Bastrop was a park in the middle of a loblolly pine forest, Buescher had no loblolly pines that I could see. Here the majority of trees I saw was Post Oaks with other varieties mixed about.
Because we arrived through the back entry, our first encounter was the CCC built group pavilion. There is an outdoor fireplace and plenty of picnic tables inside. Across the way you will find the bathrooms and plenty of locations to enjoy a day outside.
This park had another one of those twisty, turny roads that traveled through a canopy of moss covered trees and past a small waterfall of water coming off Buescher “lake”.
As we turned one of the turns, we were completely surrounded by the trees on either side of the road. It was literally a tunnel and I felt as if I were in a dream or story book. I have always loved these types of drives, surrounded by trees and mysterious turns. Because of the efforts of those who fought for the park system we are able to have a small glimpse into the world our ancestors traveled through.
If you find yourself in the Austin, Texas, area, you really should go about 30 miles east to the city of Bastrop and visit these two state parks. You will not regret your time there and you will view a world where nature has taken the destruction of a forest fire and use it to make something of even more beauty.