Steve and I took a trip to Texas Hill Country, visiting three state parks: Garner State Park, Lost Maples State Natural Area, and Enchanted Rock State Natural area.
We still hope to walk the Camino Santiago when Spain opens up to Americans. Until then, Texas Hill Country is a great place to practice walking longer paths over more challenging terrain than our usual route.
The Texas State Park trail maps rate hikes as “easy,” “moderate,” and “challenging” based on the length, steepness, and technical components of the path.
We spent most of our time on “challenging” trails because that’s where the interesting sights are.
Younger, fitter people would not have found these trails terribly challenging. Even for me, if it doesn’t induce tears, vomit, or extended moments of frozen fear, I’d be hard pressed to call a hike “challenging.”
The hikes on this trip hit that nice note where the physical and mental stress was invigorating, but there was no notion of helplessness or despair.
Garner State Park
Old Baldy Trail
This is a short but strenuous hike to the top of Old Baldy Mountain.
We spent some time at the top where previous hikers made a giant rock pile beneath a well-worn American flag.
While I studied birds and butterflies, Steve took pictures of the scenic landscape below. He made a misstep and fell down, opting mid-air to land on his knee instead of into a cactus patch. Fortunately, he is tough and his knee is resilient. We made our way down slowly, and his knee held for the rest of the trip, tender but not seriously damaged.
Bird Trail, Bridges Trail, Crystal Cave Trail
This loop is steep and rocky, not unlike the hike up Old Baldy. It was harder than we expected, but with big climby rocks and two caves to explore, it was lots of fun.
Blinn River Trail
The Texas Frio River is cold, clear, and blue. A perfect place to soak my sore feet and have a picnic.
Old Horse Trail
This was a spooky, narrow path through the forest. Situated about 100 feet above an old park road, it seemed like the kind of route bandit cowboys would take to get a jump on a stagecoach passing below.
The path itself was only a couple feet wide, and it sloped significantly down from right to left. It might have been fine for a horse, but for us it was a tiresome, slanted walk.
Lost Maples State Natural Area
Lost Maples is a popular spot for Texans to get their fill of autumn colors. While we were a few weeks ahead of peak foliage, there was plenty of color all around.
We hiked the East Trail in a counter-clockwise loop. The first mile and a half is mostly flat but rocky. I was glad to have the tough soles of my hiking shoes between me and the river rock.
The aptly named Monkey Rock is tucked away on a cliff about 1 mile into the hike. Steve said it looks like something out of Raiders of the Lost Ark and that an army of monkeys could fly out with spears in their hands to chase us away. My mind went more toward Curious George.
The trail turns to a steep and rocky climb for about ¾ of a mile. It was a lot like Old Baldy in Garner State Park, with large rocks requiring some big, clambering steps.
Once at the top, it flattens out and the ridge provides nice views.
Going down was a challenging, a 3/4-mile counterpart to the steep rocky climb up. Instead of large, sharp rocks, the path down was made of small, loose stones. The stones give way with each step necessitating small, considered steps all the way down.
This was my favorite part of the hike. Everything slows down when you have to take baby steps.
It’s no use looking at the path ahead; all there is to do is focus on your next, one step.
It becomes meditative. Marvelously so.
I said the rosary on the way down, silently and counting the prayers on my fingers. I did this a lot when I ran marathons several years ago. I still do it when I’m on a long walk by myself.
Saying the rosary becomes a mantra that at once suspends and focuses my awareness on every step.
Prayer after prayer, decade after decade, you eventually get to the end. Rosaries are reliable in that way.
Climbing Enchanted Rock is a blast! The Summit Trail is hard in the way that climbing several flights of stairs is hard. The trail is steep, but the footing isn’t precarious.
It is a tremendously playful hike because it beckons to the kid in you–the one who was always told to “climb down from there, it’s dangerous!” Now I am an adult and I can go all the way to the top. Watch me!
Walking atop the rounded pink granite, I sensed a cool, stony, and ancient pull coming from somewhere deep in the earth’s core. How many generations of Texans have climbed this rock, under how many flags and languages?
The Summit Trail at Enchanted Rock is not an isolated hike. There are dozens of people climbing the rockface at any time. It seemed to me they were mostly young, perhaps college students from nearby University of Texas. I like to eavesdrop, and I heard them talking earnestly about themselves, their families, their friends. They are figuring out their relationships in the world, and I find that encouraging and hopeful.
After the Summit Trail, we took a hike around the rock, following Turkey Pass Trail, Base Trail, and Echo Canyon Trail. This loop provides a good look at the far side of the rock and the handful of rule-breakers climbing up dangerous, non-designated routes to the top. Oh to be young.
Parts of loop trail were steep and rocky, requiring large steps and careful footing. But all the families and young people on the trail made it seem easy.
For more on our trip to Texas Hill Country, read my post: Snout Storm.