When you hear people talking about the Texas landscape you often hear about the beautiful red canyons and orange mesas and cactus everywhere seen in the old western movies. However, Texas is surprisingly much more diverse in its landscape. There are seven distinct regions in this massive state: Panhandle Plaines, Prairies and Lakes, Piney Woods, Big Bend Country, Hill Country, South Texas Plains and the Gulf Coast. Each of these areas are extremely beautiful and both Scott and I have found something special in each region. One of these regions we had been told how amazing it was but had no clue just how breathtaking and beautiful it was. Not only did we fall in love the landscape but we were in awe of the down below.
April of 2016 we ventured out toward Hill Country and were stunned to see these hills of limestone covered with trees and plenty of wildflowers. There had been so much rain that the wildflowers literally covered every inch of the hills along the road. We saw Bluebonnets (the Texas state flower), Indian Blankets, Indian Paintbrush, Milkweed, Texas Sunflowers and Winecups. So many colors blurring along the road as we drove along the roller coaster type road towards one of our destinations that weekend.
Scott, being the photographer of the family was wanting to stop way to often to take photos of this wildflower phenomenon, but we had a short window to get from our home in Bedford to the state park we were planning to visit that day. It seemed as if every hill we went over became more brilliant with blues, purples, oranges, and yellows. It almost made the eyes hurt it was so bright. I know it was killing Scott because you could hear him howl with anticipation and pleas to stop so he could take photos. However, I tend to be focused when we are on a deadline and rarely stop unless it is a bathroom break. This is one of the main reasons we do not plan a lot on trips because it seems to breed anxiety in me and that gets rather ugly.
With our destination in sight, I was able to relax a bit and pull over so Scott was able to take a few photos. There was this one hill where an old abandoned stone built building stood in the middle of a field covered with Indian Paintbrushes and I knew that was where he needed to take his photo. We found a semi-dry spot, pulled over and out he flew with his camera in hand. You could hear the shutter clicking as he tried to find the best angle. It was like seeing a child in the toy store trying to find the best toy; yes, I was seeing pure joy and loving every minute of it.
You see many old abandoned buildings such as houses or barns all over Texas. I always feel a bit of sadness because these were once homes to people who must have loved the land, how could they not? So much history and beauty in this state. These buildings take you back to a time when life was all but simple and there were so many dreams of a Texas that was still young. Unfortunately, progress tends to pull people away from the countryside and these buildings are left unattended and forgotten. In this spot, I just imagine a woman outdoors doing her laundry while admiring the thousands of wildflowers blooming all around her home. However, the time of dreaming had come to an end and we needed to be getting along to our destination, Longhorn Cavern State Park.
The Texas State Park System has a wide variety of state parks ranging from historical sites like Fort Richardson State Historic Site to gulf sea shore like Galveston Island State Park; from massive canyons filled location Caprock Canyon State Park to the mesa perched Big Springs State Park; then there is Longhorn Cavern State Park in the middle of Hill Country. This park is unique in many ways. One, it is CCC park built during the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps giving thousands of families an opportunity to live by sending their sons away building parks, roads, and buildings. This program enabled these young men to receive $25 a month to send to their families, saving many from starvation and giving them skills to help them in the future. When WWII pulled the United States into the fray, Company 854 was called to serve their country.
The buildings of the CCC era has a distinct style. The materials used to build the structures on this 639-acre state park were sediment and limestone and they were all from below them. Here over 2.5 tons of silt, rock, and debris was hauled out of the cavern that had been used by the outlaw Sam Bass. It was also where the Confederate army obtained bat guano to make gunpowder for their weapons. But this was not the only history of this location, it was also a church, nightclub and now a state park.
Longhorn Cavern is a very unique cave because of the way it was formed. At one time Texas was under a shallow sea and the limestone was created by the weight of the mud and millions of years of dead shelled sea creatures. Eventually, there was a mountain-building force that caused an event “Llano Uplift” that caused fractures which allowed water to get through the cracks and dissolve the limestone. This caused the caverns that are now gated and protected by the Texas State Park system. Here we enjoyed the normal tour, but we did learn that there were Wild Cave Tours for those who liked to venture on the “wild” side.
Scott and I try to keep an open mind when we travel. We have found things that have increased our knowledge, enabled us to teach others, and given us an opportunity to experience new cultures. This has given us an open heart enabling us to have empathy for others and their situations. We travel to learn, we travel to experience, we travel to find out much more about ourselves. Here, in the Hill Country, we were able to learn about the down below geological history of a state that is rich with tradition and history. It was one of our favorite travels in Texas, but there are so many more of them to tell you about; however, that is for another time.
Safe travels and see you on the next Travel Thursday.
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.
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.
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.