Category Archives: Camping

Once In A Blue Moon

When I made our reservations for South Llano River State Park many months ago, I had no idea our first night would be spent under a blue moon.  As fate would have it, though, that’s exactly what happened.  We arrived much later than we had originally planned and on a Friday night, no less.  It was overcast and very dark, so choosing a spot that was easily accessible, but tucked far enough away from the main trail wasn’t easy.  Once we found our campsite, the clouds rolled back and we set up camp, no flashlight required.

After we set up the tent, we stayed outside for a while to enjoy the second full moon of August.

The next morning, we were pretty pleased with our campsite selection.  While most campers had moved further down the loop, we were the only ones at the top and our campsite was nestled alone in the trees.  We had no one around us.

I was a little concerned about tent camping in August.  For those of you who don’t live in Texas, August is dry and brutally hot.  The days were topping out at 100 degrees, but the nights dipped into the sixties.   We were fortunate to have a nice breeze for most of the trip.  After breakfast on our first full day, we packed a cooler and went down to the river to enjoy being outside the only way possible…in the water.  We spent the entire day swimming, tubing, and hanging out under the pecan trees along the river banks.

The South Llano River flow rate depends on rainfall, but springs ensure the river constantly flows.  The 2600 acre park, which was donated by Walter Buck to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in 1977,  boasts two miles of river frontage, majestic pecan trees, over twenty miles of hiking and biking trails, and is one of the most biologically diverse parks in the area, particularly with regard to wildlife.  For over a hundred years, the Rio Grande turkey has made this location along the river its roosting spot.  Every year, between October and April, over 800 turkeys come to roost at South Llano River State Park.  In order to protect the turkeys and ensure their return to roost every year, although the park remains open to visitors, some areas of the park are closed during this time.

South Llano River State Park marks the beginning of a 6.3 mile paddling trail ending at Junction City Park on the north bank of Junction Lake just east of the bridge.  There are several outfitters that will rent canoes and kayaks and provide drop off and pick up services.  The river character is slow with quiet pools and gentle rapids.  The float time is 2-4 hours depending on the water level and river flow rate.  We are looking forward to a return trip when the weather cools off to stay a little longer and kayak the river.  Being on the water offers an entirely different experience and the seclusion will offer some great opportunities to see the wildlife.

In the evening, once it became a little cooler, we took the two mile hike up the hill behind our campsite to the scenic overlook.  Hiking a little later in the day would have yielded some much better photos.  Still, it was quiet and beautiful.

Overall, we loved the park, but everyone agreed some cooler temperatures would have made this trip much more enjoyable.  The park has so much to offer, but when it’s over 100 degrees outside, it’s hard to do anything but stay in the water.  We will definitely come back to kayak the river, hike a few trails, and hopefully see some turkeys.

Camping keeps trying to teach me to let go a little and enjoy the ride.  Unable to arrive early on Friday, I wondered what sort of campsite would be left to choose from.  The bottom of the barrel, I imagined.  The same thing happened at Colorado Bend.  I got the leftovers.  And you know what?  I ended up with the perfect spot both times.  I’ve learned that you can’t make the perfect camping trip happen.  It happens when you let it.  It’s hard for me to remember that, but once in a blue moon, I get it right.

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Guadalupe River State Park

When I think of summertime in Texas, there are several rivers that immediately come to mind.  Among my favorites are Medina River, Comal River, Frio River, and The Guadalupe.  I have heard South Llano River is well worth the trip and one we plan to take later this summer for the first time.  When the temperatures were warm enough for tubing, we took a trip to Guadalupe River State Park.  This park is tucked away in the Texas Hill Country between Blanco and San Antonio. If you find yourself in the Texas Hill Country, don’t miss the opportunity to visit, or even better, set up camp for a while.  On our way to the park, I envisioned myself hanging out by the river reading my book.  Instead, I found myself staring at and listening to the river for hours.

We arrived Friday afternoon and pitched our tent in the Wagon Ford Walk In Campsite Loop.  The campsites at the end of the loop are more spacious and surrounded by trees which give them a secluded feel.   Although the park was booked for the entire weekend, our campsite was quiet and felt worlds away from civilization.   The walk-in or hike-in sites are becoming my favorite areas in most campgrounds to set up camp.  It requires a little more planning and effort, but the reward is experiencing nature more and my neighbors less. Nature is what pulls me out there, so it’s worth it to me to go out a little further.  I’m learning the importance of becoming a minimalist, though, which I am convinced will only improve everything.

The trail to our campsite

Wagon Ford Walk In Tent Area

Our campsite

 On the second morning of our stay, I took a hike down the trail behind our campsite.  The trail disappeared quickly with overgrowth and I almost turned around, but decided to keep moving forward, hearing the water in the distance.  I’m glad I did.

The nights were cool and the days were warm.  We spent our days down by the river, swimming and tubing.  There is a large day use area down by the river.  We took a picnic and a few chairs and set up under a cluster of bald cypress trees along the riverbanks.  Occasionally, we would hike upstream with our tubes and float back down to our spot.

Although not high in adventure, this trip was just what we needed at the time.  A couple of lazy summer days spent on the banks of the river.  Summer makes an early appearance in Texas.  Although it wasn’t officially summer yet, the thermometer had it’s own opinion on the matter.  I was concerned it would be too hot to sleep, but the nights were cool enough to need blankets.  When we camp here again, we plan to visit the nearby Honey Creek State Natural Area.  Entry to the area is only permitted with a guided interpretive hike which focuses on the history and geology of the area.  Although I am sure the hike is beautiful, I have a feeling our favorite place will still be underneath a cypress tree, on the banks of the river.

Return to Colorado Bend State Park

After visiting Colorado Bend State Park for the first time with my daughter’s troop back in January, I knew a return visit would be top priority for our family in the spring.  We have since added this park to the list of our top favorite places to camp in Texas.

My intent was to stay in the same campsite as before.  I loved that spot.  It was shady, with a nice, slightly elevated view of the river. I realized the day of our trip I had reserved a spot in the walk-in camping area by accident.  Unable to change our reservation since the park was full, I decided to remain optimistic.  After all, there was nothing I could do, and we had all been looking forward to this camping trip for some time.  After our last camping experience, a few friends suggested we stay in a hike-in or walk-in campsite to help weed out those noisy neighbors.  I’m a believer.  This was quite possibly the best camping “mistake” I’ve ever made.   When we arrived late, there were only three spots available, so at check-in, I asked which site was best of those that were left. I was worried. Usually I go to great lengths to make sure we get a beautiful spot. It turns out fate had better plans. We ended up in the most beautiful and peaceful campsite. All the planning in the world could not have rendered better results.

Our campsite

So, I’m learning to let go more and allow myself to be surprised every now and then.  It may not always turn out the way I imagined, but I think it makes for a much better experience.  That might be true with just about anything, really.

We arrived late Friday night.  We were exhausted from the long day of work, packing, driving, and then setting up camp.  When we were finally still and in our tents, I smiled at the only audible sounds; the river and the frogs.   The next morning, we were able to see just how fortunate that mistake really was.  Although we had no shade at our campsite, the open feel was perfect against the backdrop of the neighboring Colorado River and drastic cliff walls on the opposite side.

A trip to Colorado Bend State Park is incomplete without a hike to Gorman Falls.  I have not been able to take a picture that does this breathtaking place any justice, but I am determined to keep trying.  After hiking through the rocky hills with surrounding mesquite and cedar trees and blooming cacti, the trail’s end descends steeply into another world.  It feels as though you’ve been dropped into a rain forest, millions of miles away from Central Texas.  If you have the chance to visit the park, don’t leave without visiting Gorman Falls.  It is worth every step and more.

On the trail to Gorman Falls

Gorman Falls

Gorman Falls

Gorman Falls is a living travertine waterfall.  Over 65 feet tall, this waterfall is growing instead of eroding.  The water from Gorman Spring slowly dissolves the limestone bedrock below.  The water that surfaces is rich in a mineral called calcite.  As it spills over the falls, the calcite is deposited over time creating travertine which is porous and contains nutrients to allow the unique plant life you see here to flourish.

Photo credit for photo above: Scott Siebert

If you follow the trail beyond the falls, you will reach the Colorado River.  The falls spill into the river here and it’s a perfect spot to just sit for a while and take it all in.  We stayed here for the rest of the afternoon.

You won’t find electricity or showers at the park and there are rare pockets of cell phone service, but I love it that way.  The natural beauty here has been relatively untouched.  After driving 8 miles down a dirt road from the park entrance to the campsites and making the descent from the hills down to the river, and yes, even losing that cell phone service, it’s just you and this beautiful place.  Worlds away from the daily grind, distractions, and the calendar that’s always too full, it doesn’t take long to let that all go and just be.   A few deep breaths and you’re good.  Warning:  You may never want to go back!

Life Is Better Outside

I wonder sometimes why it took me so long to get back into camping. I camped with my family as a child every summer at Inks Lake State Park. For a week we would live outside. I loved exploring. I loved the water, sitting under a tree or by the water, catching frogs and turtles, or just watching and taking it all in. I always made new friends. Everything was better outside, the food was better, the games were more fun, reading, sleeping, you name it. People are better outside, too.

I knew this as a child. Get home from school, go outside. Bored, go outside. Angry, go outside. Sad, go outside. Lonely, go outside. When my girls were babies, if they wouldn’t stop crying and I had tried everything else, I would take them outside. Most of the time it worked like magic. They would calm down, open their eyes and look around. I’m like that, too. When I go outside, I feel better. There is something about being a part of nature that feeds my soul and renews my spirit. I feel more spiritually connected when I’m camping than at any other time. I have certainly never found that inside any building. The more I separate myself from nature, the more anxious, sad and fearful I become. Going outside changes all of that. Suddenly anything feels possible and I am part of something bigger, more meaningful. I am connected, peaceful, and happy.

So I’m trying to remember all the wisdom I held as a child and forgot when I became an adult, but this one is pretty simple. When life gets too overwhelming, if I’m feeling unbalanced, anxious, or disconnected, the last thing I need to do is surround myself with four walls. All I really need to do is go outside.