I was left unattended for 36 hours in Houston, Texas, with a car, a credit card, and a mandate to relax and decompress between two intense, week-long training sessions. So I took myself on a road trip, hitting Natural Bridge Caverns (Part 1), Pedernales Falls State Park (Part 2), and Austin, Texas (Part 3).
Part 2 of 3, discussing my 36 hours of adventures in Texas.
Wolf Mountain Trail and Pedernales Falls State Park
I headed up to Pedernales Falls State Park from Natural Bridge Cavern, reverting to my most natural and comfortable state: hiking.
Route 281 towards Pedernales Falls State Park is beautiful; farms and forests sprinkle the rolling hills and countryside. The morning rain had cleared and I was treated to a blue sky full of happy, fluffy white clouds. Although I have never had a deep appreciation for a view of sky, when framed by the red soil and silver trees, I could see why a beautiful, limitless sky could inspire.
I am very good at showing up to a new city, state, or country and finding a decent hiking trail. I tend to ask locals what they would recommend, discard the first three tourist destinations mentioned, and push them to think of something they would enjoy personally, not just the most visited site in the city (although, rarely, those sights are worth seeing too). It affords me the opportunity to see the city through the lens of a resident rather than a marketing campaign.
I have been known to find myself in some odd places.
Although I did not really know what to anticipate, I found Pedernales Falls State Park to be an excellent destination for a few hours of light hiking. I was rather was keen to see the terrain in a new part of the world. Upon arrival, I discovered that Pedernales Falls State Park has a veritable maze of interconnected hiking trails through the red, arid hills. It is a mix-and-match destination with options ranging from a few short 100 meters jaunts to over 30 kilometres of connected trail.
I had my heart set on Wolf Mountain Trail – how could I not with such a cool name? Wolf Mountain Trail is just shy of 14 kilometres and has approximately 90 meters elevation change. For the first five kilometres, the route meanders along the bluffs above the Pedernales River, with the occasional view of the river below. There is a campsite on the bluffs, safely away from flash flooding, before the route climbs up a small mountain (read: hill) and arrives at Jones Spring. Jones Spring is the point on the trial farthest from the trailhead and features a spring-fed watering hole and the ruins of an abandoned stone settlers house. Much of the trail is composed of an old ranch road, with some small footpaths through the trees. The trail has many spurs taking the hiker to either view points, overlooking the river, or connectors to other trails. That being said, the main trail is clearly marked, and I never felt that I was at risk of getting lost, even had I not carried my trusty little GPS.
The trail was fairly busy with people hiking the five kilometres to a walk-in campground on the Pedernales River. I am always delighted to see gaggles of people using parks and trails in the hopes that they will in turn pressure the governments to continue to create and fund natural, wild green spaces. I was greatly amused to see that in every party walking in or out, there was a minimum of one person wearing a t-shirt that declared ‘TEXAS’. I would be deeply into my blissed out hiking-zone, only partially aware of what country I was in and would be abruptly brought back to the present with a double-take.
One of my favourite parts of hiking a new trail is that the earth, the flora, and the fauna stir evanescent memories that are both pleasant and unexpected. Disconnected memories merge and intertwine. The entire route, from the red, dry earth to the arid climate and waxy trees was reminiscent of both driving through my favourite regions of Chile and hiking in Sabino Canyon, Arizona as a child. The flora reminded me very much of the territory of Davy Crockett as well as curling up to watch the Disney movie Davy Crockett: King of the Wild Frontier with my baby brother when we were both little. The stone ruins made me think of a most memorable and horrifyingly racist John Wayne movie: The Searchers.
After my hike it was getting late in the day, and I did not have the daylight hours to do another hike. Instead I took 30 minutes to head down to the Pedernales Falls themselves and enjoyed the last rays of brilliant sun from the river bed and the view from the bluffs. The light of the sun low on the horizon was spectacular, and there were some groups really taking advantage of it. A couple were doing a photo shoot with the falls as their backdrop, and another group of photographers were rushing around trying to get the perfect shot without the interruption of a long shadow.
After I the sun had set, I needed to hustle to get to the highway before it was too dark. As my car was rolling out of the parking lot, what little creature should cross my path but an armadillo! He was so adorable, wiggling in the most comically rigid way across the road and into the undergrowth.
It was a beautiful, relaxing way to end my visit to nature before heading to Austin for the night.