Often, when we travel, we do not stop very long in one place because we are trying to collect as many counties as possible and this means a lot of distance has to be covered in a short amount of time. This means that often all we see of a town is the courthouse and the travel center, gas station or restaurant. But is this really enough for those long 400-1,000 mile trip. We decided a couple of months ago, we were going to do more than just a quick stop at a gas station and call it good. There needed to be more movement and less spending of money; it would help our health days after a trip and save our wallet. But how were we going to do this without looking like those strange people who pile out of their vehicles and do yoga at every rest stop they come to? A plan needed to be made; even if it wasn’t a planned plan.
Scott doing the Pirate Rum Stretch at Petit Jean State Park
Because we are driving across counties to learn about them, their people, and cultures, we felt we needed to start spending just a bit more time seeing what made each county special. This has caused us to find some pretty unique things in the places we visit. We do not really plan more than a destination and a basic route there. There really is not a plan as to where to stop for a driving break, we just allow Serendipity to do what she wants. Since we started doing this, we have found some of the most amazing places and events.
Standing in awe of a true national treasure.
We had taken a planned trip to the Black Mesa State Park in the panhandle of Oklahoma, the most western park in the state. Since Scott could not get dark sky photos due to clouds, he wanted to go see the mountains in nearby New Mexico. Thinking this would be a day trip, we headed to Cimarron, New Mexico. To our surprise, there was a National Scenic Drive, a National Monument, a National Forest, and two State Parks just west in the mountains. We went and ended up taking the Enchanted Circle Drive finding a rather wonderful place to stop and stretch our legs. About three miles west of Taos was the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument and we were going to drive across the bridge over the gorge. This is the second highest bridge in the United States and we just happened to need a break and it was the perfect spot to do so. We ended up staying overnight in Eagle Nest, which was a wonderful opportunity to rest in itself.
What a surprise to find a museum about the beginning of Wal-Mart in the Bentonville, Arkansas, town square.
We visited Bentonville, Arkansas, recently to attend a viewing of photos for the Bedford Photography Contest entries and capture the Benton County Courthouse (by capture, I mean we took a photo). While we were there, after spending two hours in the SUV, we needed a break. Since the gallery for the photos was closed, we were not happy about the idea of spending two more hours headed home so we wandered about the quaint Bentonville downtown square. As we walked through the area, we found The Wal-Mart Museum! What a surprise! This place was free to the public, had all types of historical memorabilia, and a refreshing soda fountain type restaurant. We, of course, didn’t partake in the ice cream and such since we are on a budget and a diet, but it was there and we were so stunned to find this little gem to help us relax a bit before we headed back home.
A bit of history to help refresh us.
Sunday as we sped along Missouri Highway 176, we were capturing another county courthouse when Scott noticed something about a Y Bridge Park. It intrigued us and, realizing we probably needed a short break from hours driving, we decided to see what it was all about. There, over the James River, was an old 1926 built bridge. Often, when a new highway is made, the old highway dies. Fortunately for this county seat Galena, Missouri, they took their Y-shaped bridge and turned it into a tourist stop. We took advantage and spent a good thirty minutes wandering along in, filming. I was even able to get a great close up of the cutest little caterpillar. It was one of my favorite stops so far.
I think this is a Common Buckeye Butterfly Caterpillars.
We love traveling and finding interesting things. Since we have decided to stop more often, we hope not only to help our bodies be less stressed after a trip but feed our minds as well. This will enable us to enjoy the long drives more and help us have more to share at the end of the adventure.
Sitting on the cliff above Petit Jean State Park outside of Dardanelle, Arkansas, watching the birds fly below me is one of my favorite things to do. This was the place my parents came for their honeymoon 55 years ago this month so it has a special place in my heart. I could sit in this place for hours and spend days exploring what this park has to offer. Unfortunately, this trip and all of the rest of them are not everyday life for us. I wish it were so, but at this time we do have a mundane life that happens Monday through Friday.
I often wonder if people who read our blog and watch our videos think we live in our SUV. It must seem like it because we take so many videos and photos of us in it. Then, of course, you are only hearing about our adventures while we drive down a back road and sleep in our hammocks alongside flowing rivers. We decided you may want to know just a little bit more about what our normal day-to-day lives.
Until August 2017 we lived in Texas and for five months prior to then, we lived in a 122 square foot RV park hosting at Eisenhower State Park. Due to family issues, we decided to move back to Oklahoma and help out our parents and spend time with our children. We sold the RV and moved into a 1910 apartment building that was used at one time to house teachers of a school. The building is old and has plenty of issues, but we love it here. If you want to know more about the apartment, check out our blog post on our website: It’s All About The View.
Scott has a job that pays the bills and provides insurance while I work daily on creating. The creating is not just here blogging and posting photos on social media, but it is working in a place called Fablab where I work with various types of machines such as vinyl cutters, laser cutters, and a wood mill. It is here I create t-shirts and county themed trinkets. It is not much, but it will hopefully turn into something someday so we can get on the road permanently. I am working on the goal and that what’s important.
For me, the day consists of many other things other than just creating. We have been trying to become healthier and lose some weight. I, myself, have tried many diets and none have really been able to keep me focused until we started on the Ketogenic Diet. At one point we tried this diet in November of 2017, but with the holidays in full swing and us not understanding how it worked exactly, we failed at it. However, we started it again in May 2018 and have had amazing results. Please know that we have discussed the diet with our doctors and are extremely careful to watch our numbers. Because of this extreme care, I spend a lot of time researching recipes and cooking almost every meal to make sure we are doing it correctly. If you are interested in more information about the Ketogenic Diet, please take a look at Thomas DeLauer (a doctor of nutrition) and Keto Connect (a couple of who teach about the diet and recipe creators).
When I am not cooking, I am helping my parents out and picking my grands up from school. Then, of course, there is the laundry to take to the laundromat, an apartment that always needs straightening, and taking care of the fuzzy butt Cordie. In the evenings we are plotting our next big trip and trying to keep our website, videos, social media, and photos up-to-date. We have recently found a new medium called “Steemit” and that is helping to add to the amount of upkeep for us, but we have been lucky that people there like us. If you are interested in looking us up on Steemit and dtube we are xcountytravelers.
As for Scott, he is busy trying to get his photography good enough that people will be interested in purchasing his photos. We have been lucky because he was able to sell a couple of photos a few weeks ago. It seemed to be the thing he needed to see that he was good at it. Now to figure out just where to go to sell more. When he isn’t dealing with photos, he is playing music on his guitar. He started this in about 2014 and he is better than he thinks he is. I would love for him to get the courage up to start making music for our videos. That would just top the amazing scale for me.
See, we are just your normal, average people with our fears and busy everyday lives who enjoy hopping in the SUV as much as we can to drive down the backroads to find adventures in as many counties as we can.
When Ren and I travel, often we do not have a definite plan in mind. In many cases, we didn’t even plan that we were taking a trip, let alone plan out the trip. At some point during breakfast, one of us will ask what we want to do this weekend, and an hour later we will be hitting the road. Some of our best trips have started out this way much like our trip to Houston. Other times we plan things out in detail. We know when we are leaving, how far we will drive, where we are staying, what gas will cost, and what our budget will be for the trip. Both of us exhaustively research the area, to see what is available. Sometimes we even have a list of specific things that I want to photograph while we are there. Our Davis Mountain Trip is a great example of this. Then there are trips that start out with a very detailed plan, but we end up scrapping it all and winging it. Our latest trip was one of those. I have been crazy about astronomy since I was a kid. I got into photography three years ago because I wanted to do astrophotography. Specifically, I wanted to take photos of the Milky Way. When I told Ren I wanted to get a camera and learn photography, she supported me. One of the things I love best about our marriage is how we support and encourage each other. I never imagined how much I would love photography, or how much it would change my outlook on life.
If you want to do astrophotography, one of the things you have to deal with is light pollution. You have to get where it is dark, far away from the city lights. Living in Fort Worth, that was not terribly difficult. I was about an hour and a half from reasonably dark skies, and three hours from very dark skies. The other thing you have to deal with is that you need to shoot when the moon is not in the sky, so the New Moon is ideal. Once we moved back to Tulsa, really dark skies were further away. Looking at the Light Pollution map on http://darksitefinder.com I saw that the darkest skies in Oklahoma were found at the far western end of the panhandle. In fact, these were as dark as any place in the continental U.S., and right there in the middle of these wonderfully dark skies was Black Mesa State Park. I wanted to go. The problem was that it was over seven and a half hours away; this would be a major trip. I had suggested it a few times, but Ren had not been enthusiastic because she was worried about the heat and the distance. When I saw the August New Moon was going to fall on a weekend, and that it was going to fall during the middle of the Perseid Meteor Shower, I told Ren that I was going to want to be somewhere DARK that weekend. I was surprised when she suggested that we go to Black Mesa. It took me about half a second to agree. We started our planning. More accurately, Ren started planning. She presented me with three plans with a break down of costs, driving times, and the number of new counties we could get.
We figured out what we wanted to see while we were there, which counties we would visit, how much gas it was going to take, and even where we would buy our gas, as we were headed into areas where you could not count on gas stations being nearby when you ran low. We knew we were headed to the park. There were three tri-state markers we wanted to visit, (A tri-state marker is where three states meet. If it’s not in the middle of a river, there will usually be a marker of some kind.), and, since Ren loves geology as much as I love astronomy, we were going to visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico.
Taking a half-day Thursday off from work we hit the road as soon as I got off work. We drove straight to the park along Highway 412, with only a minor detour to visit Gloss Mountain State Park, which was right on the way. We arrived at camp just after dark and got our first surprise. For a park that brags about their dark skies, they had the place lit up like downtown. Street lights everywhere. We would have to get away from the park to get our stars. We set up our hammock stand camp for the first time in the dark, but they are very straightforward and it went quickly. It was cloudy that evening, with a small chance of rain Thursday and Friday, but we got lucky, while there were storms around us, they passed us by. We spent Friday, as planned, exploring the park, visiting two of the three tri-state markers, and a couple of canyons in Colorado. Friday evening I found a location and set up to take pictures, but it was pretty cloudy and I didn’t get the dark skies I had anticipated. Saturday the plan was to get the third tri-state marker and visit the Capulin Volcano National Monument in New Mexico. We left camp and headed toward the Oklahoma-Texas-New Mexico border. When we got close enough to civilization to get a cell phone signal, I checked the weather forecast. The clear skies that had been predicted, were looking more and more unlikely. I wasn’t going to get my stars, again. I wasn’t too upset about it because we were having a great trip, and if you do astronomy long, you know that this is just part of the hobby. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t.
As we headed into Clayton, New Mexico, on the way to the Volcano, I looked at the map and told Ren, “If I can’t have stars, I want mountains. Lets go to Taos.” She asked how far it was, and I told her it was just over two hours. I expected a little resistance to scrapping the plan she had worked so hard on, however, to my surprise, she agreed right away. At this point ,we knew nothing about Taos except that there were mountains. While Ren drove, I tried to figure out what we wanted to do when we got there. We aimed to stop at a place called Eagles Nest Lake State Park, and figure out where to go from there. While I looked over Google Maps, I saw a marker for Cimarron Canyon State Park, but it wasn’t clear what it was. We drove on toward the mountains, which were becoming more and more impressive the closer we got to them. Reaching the town of Cimarron, we stopped at a tourist information booth to pick up some brochures and spoke with the attendant. I noticed a National Park Passport stamp and asked her what it was for. It turns out that Cimarron Canyon was a National Scenic, and Historic drive and we were driving right through it to get to Eagles Nest. We always try to take any Scenic Byway we pass. This was as beautiful as any with its huge cliffs and thick forest while the Cimarron River flowed the length of the canyon. I love Rivers, and the Cimarron is not just any river, it flows into Keystone lake just a few miles from where we live in Oklahoma where I have camped many times. It had an entirely different character here near it’s beginning. The middle section of the canyon was the state park, with lots of campsites along the road. We were in love with the place.
Reaching the town of Eagles Nest we had decided that we could see lots of interesting places by taking the Enchanted Circle Scenic Loop, which includes Taos and goes through large areas of the Carson National Forest. The only issue was that it was nearly 3:00 pm and we were about three hours from camp if we skipped the volcano. I wasn’t willing to skip the volcano because I knew how much it meant to Ren. I called my boss, asking if I could take an extra day of vacation, while Ren tried to find a reasonably priced hotel; turns out that reasonably priced and Taos, don’t really go together. After a bit of searching, we found a room right in Eagles Nest so we booked the room. While we chatted with the manager, he told us that if we were driving the Loop, we should be sure and drive over to the Gorge Bridge, and told us how to get there. We were set with a basic plan for the afternoon so we headed out on the Enchanted Circle Scenic Loop and it was well worth taking the extra day. There is something about the mountains that call to me, something that feels like home. Whether it’s the Davis Mountains in Texas, the Ozarks in Arkansas, or the Sierra Nevadas in California. I love the mountains. These were no exception. It was a gorgeous drive through mountains, forests, and quaint little towns. The highest pass we drove through was just over 9,800 feet. There were several roadside parks that were part of the Carson National Forest when we stopped at one to stretch our legs a bit, we crossed a small stream flowing gently over the rocks. To my surprise, it was the Red River. We had lived on the Red River for five months when we were park hosting on Lake Texoma for Eisenhower State Park. We had even made a point of crossing every Red River bridge from Texas to Oklahoma, and here we were crossing it again in New Mexico; it was so small.
As we made our way around the loop we reached the intersection where we turned left to go to Taos, or right to go to the gorge bridge. We turned right. Wow! Just Wow!. On this trip, we had seen mesas, huge mountains, beautiful lakes, canyons, cliffs, forests, and scenic rivers, but this was by far the most majestic, and impressive thing that we saw. It was the Río Grande del Norte National Monument. The Rio Grande. We have traveled extensively in Texas, spent the better part of three years trying to see as much of Texas as possible, yet this was our first time to see the Rio Grande. It was amazing. This is the seventh highest bridge in the US, 565 feet above the river. There is a parking area on either side, with a scenic overlook, and you can walk out on the bridge. It was truly awesome, in the best sense of the overused word.
Reluctantly, we left the gorge and headed into Taos. I won’t spend much time on Taos, as this is getting rather long enough already. We drove around for a few hours, loved the place. Ren wants to move there; of course, she says that about every place we visit. I guess it’s a good thing we plan to buy another RV someday so we can live wherever we visit..
I suggested that we visit the Taos Ski Valley before heading back to the hotel. This was the first place I got any real pushback from her. Not that she didn’t want to go, but she is frightened about driving down twisty, turny roads, especially since it was getting late in the day; however, me driving scares her even more because, in her words, she is a bad passenger. One of the things I admire most about Ren is that she does not let her fears get the better of her. It took her a few moments to work up her nerve, but she agreed. The Hondo Canyon Road is the road that leads up the valley to the ski lodge. I know I’ve said this several times already, but it was a beautiful drive through the valley with huge cliffs and tall trees, and is a valley, there was, naturally, a stream named the Hondo, Rio. As is usual in this area, we were in the Carson National Forest and there were lots of scenic roadside campgrounds. We drove up to the lodge, but it was getting late, so we didn’t get out of the car, then headed through the valley again, stopping at a few of the parks. It was time to be heading back to the hotel. The last leg of the drive was the twistiest and turniest road of the entire trip, and it was full dark, so we didn’t see most of it. When we got back to the hotel, Ren went to bed; she was exhausted from the last leg of the drive. The hotel manager told me earlier I could get a good view of the milky way from the deck on top of the hotel overlooking the lake. I went to take some pictures, but between the hotel and city lights, they were not the skies I had come seeking, but they weren’t bad.
The next morning we found the entire town socked in with fog. We were not eager to drive through the canyon again until the fog lifted, so we walked through town to find breakfast. What we found instead was there wasn’t anywhere in Eagles Nest to get breakfast at 8:00 on a Sunday Morning. Did I mention that Eagles Nest is tiny? Did I mention that Eagles Nest is at an altitude of more than 8,200 feet? We hadn’t really paid much attention to that before taking our walk, but as we were walking back the thinness of the air became apparent. We were huffing and puffing by the time we got back. When the fog burned off we headed back through the valley to Cimarron then north to Raton, where we found breakfast. Then we took the Raton pass into Colorado where we visited Trinidad State Park, before heading to the Capulin Volcano National Monument. This is an extinct, cinder cone volcano, with the cone remarkably preserved. There is a visitors center and a road that wraps around the cone to a parking lot near the top. From there you can hike down into the vent, or around the rim. We intended to hike around the rim, but between the altitude, our exhaustion, and general lack of fitness we turned back well before we reached the top. It was still worth the trip, and even from the parking area near the top, it is an impressive view.
It was time to head back to our camp in Black Mesa and Google wanted to take us back to Clayton, but we hate taking the same road back as the road we came on, so we took the road less traveled; literally. What a difference. We went north through Folsom then took a small road east. It alternated between paved and gravel, and usually, the gravel was smoother, but it was so worth it. The road led through a canyon we didn’t find on the maps, and where there is a canyon, there is a stream. The canyon, river, and road were all named the Dry Cimarron. Yes, another branch of the Cimarron River. The canyon went on for hours, almost entirely empty. Huge, rugged and beautiful in a very different way than the other Cimarron Canyon, but no less impressive. It was one of my favorite parts of the trip.
We got back to camp at a reasonable time, and as we were settling in, it became apparent we were going to have clouds again that night. Realizing I was not going to get the perfect night sky photo, I suggested we pack up camp and head south into Texas. In visiting the Texas Panhandle a few weeks earlier, we now had visited all but two counties in Oklahoma. The last two were down south and we decided to go get them. In no time we were on the road. An hour and a half drive, and a minor crisis involving so many bugs hitting the windshield we could barely see out took us to Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. Being Sunday night the place was empty and we found a nice site overlooking the lake, and slept under the stars, with a cool breeze to keep the bugs away. The next morning we visited the Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument. Walked through the visitors center, watched the informative movie and took a short hike, then got back on the road. We headed into Oklahoma to get those last two counties. On the way to Kiowa County, we were passing right by Quartz Mountain State Park. We couldn’t be this close without stopping. It is a very pretty park, though the lake was very low at the time. We spent about an hour here before heading to our next destination.
The Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge is a place I had to hear about for a while but had not yet managed to visit. It was getting late and I was thinking we should just head home, but Ren knew how much I have wanted to go here and insisted that we take the time. I’m so glad I listen to her. I had been afraid that after seeing New Mexico, that Oklahoma would seem dull and unimpressive by comparison. I needn’t have worried. The mountains of Oklahoma may not be as tall as those of New Mexico, but they are no less beautiful. We ended up staying much longer than we intended and it was getting dark by the time we headed home.
Arriving home late, we were tired and sore, however, the trip had been more than we ever expected because we abandoned our plans and took a chance. Sometimes having a plan is important because it tells you the when, the where, and the how; but it often causes you to miss the unexpected treasures of traveling along the backroads. Our motto is “Get out, live life outside your box,” sometimes that means getting outside of your plans. Take a chance, do something unexpected, live your life to the fullest. I still want to go back to Black Mesa. I still want those dark skies. But I wouldn’t trade this trip for the one we planned.
My last post here was in February when we came back from the Enchanted Rock trip. I was a bit shocked at how long it had been because it has been an extremely busy and fast moving month or so. See, we purchased our RV on February 24, 2017, and did a test run at Eisenhower State Park for Spring Break, but never returned to reality! I know, shocking!
We met with a man in Krum, Texas, who had a 1982 El Dorado Firenza for cheap and the bones were good and so was the engine. It was originally from Alaska and the man he purchased it from had done some basic work to it but eventually decided he just didn’t want to continue the work. We looked at it and thought this might be a great opportunity and bought it.
There were so many things we didn’t like about the RV and they were just cosmetic so we decided to do some major changes on the inside. We took out the bathroom for future plans later, the wall between the kitchen cabinet, the kitchen cabinet, the stove area, and the ugly 80’s couch looking thing. We decided it all had to come out to fit what we needed it to be so we took a sledge hammer and began knocking out walls, counters, stoves, and couches. Like I said, good bones, scary interior.
The floorplan was pretty much for a double bed-marine shower set up and we needed a space for two twin beds, kitchen area, and a sitting area. So we decided to take out everything except the closet area and bed space. This left a very big area to do what we wanted. We were actually able to get the two twin beds in and get it somewhat ready for basic living. This doesn’t mean we were able to get cabinets, counter, bathroom, or pantry in yet, but it is a work in progress. At this point in time, we are paying off some bills and getting money situated so we can take a full two weeks to finish the rig, but that is more towards October at this point. We are just living day to day.
During the demolition, we have found some pretty interesting things about this rig. It was paneled with some 1980’s wood looking paneling, the ceiling was covered with wine-colored velour that was tufted with giant velvet buttons, had a rather odd sepia colored wallpaper and orange-red carpet. It definitely brought back the 80’s and caused me to question my thoughts about taking it back to its original interior. The answer would be “no, not a chance.
Because we were set up to spend a one-week spring break tour with Eisenhower State Park in March, we decided to just take the full week to live as we would full time. This was where the “sudden” happened and we found ourselves in a whirlwind of change. I packed everything we thought we would need from food to clothing, seating to entertainment, and It was one big mess, but we were packed and we headed off on, what I thought would be a two-hour drive.
It took me almost five hours to get to Eisenhower State Park from our apartment in Bedford, Texas because the side mirrors were not working. I would get them into place only to have the wind from driving push them back to where all I could see myself. This was not going work for my safety or anyone else’s. I stopped to have Scott help me get the mirrors right and was off again. The driver side mirror acted correctly from that point, but the passenger mirror would not stay in place. This meant I was either having to stop every time it did this, meaning I was stopping every five to ten minutes. I ended up driving in the right lane at 55 mph extremely stressed because I could not see anything but my own reflection in the right side mirror. I know, stupid decision, but the girls and I made it safely to the parking lot of Eisenhower State Park. I stopped, got out, shut the door when the driver’s side mirror crashed to the ground. I was relieved to be there in one piece.
Once I was signed in at the office, I was given my spot and what a beautiful sight it was. I was given a pull through which meant no backing in with the two useless mirrors.
This was the second weekend in March and spring break was in full gear, come to find out it was the first of three weeks called Spring Break and I was only supposed to do one week. I contacted the Park Host Coordinator, Kate, and she was shocked to find I was scheduled for the full month of March! Wait, we weren’t supposed to be full time Park Hosts until June 1! Something was not right. Scott and I discussed what we were going to do and we decided we would give a 60-day notice to our apartment and move out. Obviously, the park needed us and we thought we were ready for the move.
We took the last week in March and packed up the apartment. Fortunately, I was able to go through all of my personal stuff over the previous six months and was down to what was going into the RV and two totes which sent into storage. Scott had been busy working and was not as fortunate so most of his things went into storage along with the items we both were not ready to let go of. It had been a rough time, but we were done and out of the apartment. We had lived in a 2,000 square foot house, moved to a 547 square foot apartment, then lived in only the 14′ x 12′ bedroom plus the bathroom and kitchen, now we though we were ready to move into a 25 foot RV. Our world was not only going to change, but it was going to change in a way we were not really prepared for. They say March comes in like a lion and exits as a lamb, this would not be so for us and we had no clue what was getting ready to happen.
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.