On Jan. 31, my husband Dave and I headed down to Texas Hill Country with our camper to spend two weeks. This was our first experience of camping as snowbirds. Our first outing upon arriving was to drive to Lost Maples State Natural Area for some hiking. We packed a picnic lunch to eat at the trailhead before starting out.
We hiked the East Trail and East-West Trail in the park for a total of about 4 miles. It was about a mile of fairly flat walking, a steep climb of 400 feet in elevation change, a nice gentle walk along the ridge top, a rocky descent from the ridge, and finally a flat walk back to the parking lot. The views were amazing from the ridge and the ascent and descent were challenging enough to be enjoyable without being daunting.
After that first foray into the Texas outdoors we were hooked! Looking at our road atlas we saw several state parks within a couple hours of our campground and starting making plans.
Our next day trip sent us to Longhorn Caverns for a small group guided tour of the cave system. Debris was removed from the cave by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) and they also built some infrastructure in the cave and surrounding area for future recreational use. As we have seen in Minnesota, the CCC buildings are works of art that are still functional today. The caves are home to bats that are hibernating this time of year and weren’t bothered at all by our presence.
After the tour, we headed 6 miles away to Inks Lake State Park. The Pecan Flats Trail was our choice there. It was across the road from the lake and introduced us to yet another type of landscape. There was prickly pear, scrub brush and reddish-pink gneiss rock but the most interesting part of this trail was a series of signs along it that told the story of the Buffalo Soldiers Iron Ride.
We had never heard this story from history. One of the four regiments of the Buffalo Soldiers was organized into the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps to see if it was practical to move troops via bicycle. Each soldier had to carry their own gear and rations on a bicycle as they rode 1,900 miles from Missoula to St. Louis in 1897. For a variety of reasons, the idea of a bicycle corps never went anywhere after that long trip but what a story they had!
Garner State Park was our destination on a Sunday. Garner is about 1.5 hours northwest of San Antonio and is very popular in the summer because it is right on the Frio River. Our first hike was on the Bridges Trail and the Crystal Cave Trail, both very rugged. Crystal Cave was only about 30 feet deep so we could explore the small space with a flashlight.
Our second hike was equally challenging and ended up at the summit of Old Baldy with its 360-degree view. The park attendant was full of information about the wildlife present including the exotic, introduced axis deer from India. There are so many of these deer and they provide so much competition for the whitetails that there is open hunting season on them year-round.
Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a short drive from Fredericksburg and we have made two trips to hike there. If you Google this park you will see the huge pink granite dome that is Enchanted Rock. The summit trail weaves through the rocks and scrubs up to the bottom of the dome. From there on it is a free-for-all scramble up the smooth rock to take in the wide-open views from the top. Our second hike was the 4.6-mile Loop Trail that goes around the perimeter of the park giving views of Enchanted Rock from all sides. A year and a half ago a three-day rain washed out a good portion of this trail and only 3 miles were available to hike. The exciting news was that the day we were there the brand new rerouted trail was finally open! As trail builders and maintainers on the North Country Trail in Fergus Falls we were so excited to be among the first to hike this brand new trail. We weren’t disappointed!
There are several more parks that we have either visited or plan to visit before we leave here. Even though we snowshoe at home we were really missing hiking and this was the perfect opportunity to get back into it for a while. I can’t recommend the Texas state parks enough. Every trail that we hiked was unique and so full of history and wildlife. We finally got to see several live armadillos at one of the parks and we certainly can’t see those in Minnesota.
We feel like we found the perfect social-distancing pandemic vacation with our camper and the Texas state parks but are still anxiously awaiting the chance to get back out on the North Country Trail!
Michelle Lackey Olsen is a member of the Minnesota Waters and Prairie Chapter of the NCTA.