I got that restless feeling again — the urge to travel, to see new things, to walk in a wilderness. The least expensive way to satisfy that thirst is to visit a state park, so I googled state parks near Central Texas. Colorado Bend State Park came up early in the search, so I checked the route, gathered a camera and two lenses, and set out.
Getting there did not take an hour and 14 minutes, as Google Maps had suggested; it took a hour and 45 minutes. Even if I subtract my five-minute stop for food and a pointless 10-minute delay in the middle of nowhere, it was still 15 minutes further than Google thought it was.
I took 190 west from Killeen and used the (relatively) new bypass around Copperas Cove to Lampasas. There, it was easy to find FM580, which took me the rest of the way. Somewhere west of Nix, Texas, I started seeing dreaded road construction signs, including the worst one: “Be Prepared To Stop”. Rounding a curve, I came upon a temporary traffic light erected by the side of the road. A sign before it said “Stop Here On Red” and pointed to the pavement. Another sign said “Wait For Pilot Car”. So I waited. After two minutes of seeing no other vehicles, I turned off my car. It was eerily quiet out there. I’d been sitting still for five minutes before another vehicle showed up, behind me. It was a pickup I had passed as we left Lampasas. A couple of other cars pulled up behind him. After I’d been sitting still for 10 minutes, the “pilot car” arrived, escorting one vehicle through from the other side. I assumed the construction must be a long one, if it took 10 minutes. But no, it only took three minutes to pass to the other side, and then I was running free again.
To actually enter the park, you have to drive quite a ways across private property; quite a few signs warn drivers to stay in their vehicles and keep an eye out for livestock. A few miles and several cattle guards later, I finally got to the park entrance. Instead of the expected kiosk like I see at most state parks, this one just had a “self-pay” station, saying to insert $5 into an envelope and drop it into the lockbox. Well, I didn’t have a five-dollar bill; I’d been expecting to pay with my debit card. To do that, the sign said, I’d have to drive six miles to the other side of the park, at 20 mph. Not willing to spend 20 more minutes just for that, I was about to put a $10 bill into the envelope when a man in a pickup truck pulled up and offered me his park pass. “If you want to cheat the system”, he said. His bumper sticker said he was a Cruz voter. I told him I didn’t mind paying, but that I didn’t have the correct change. He gave me two fives for my ten, and I was in.
The park includes 5,328.3 acres, which is a little more than I can cover in an afternoon, so I opted for the first parking lot on the free map I found at the self-pay station. After using the composting toilet there, I set out on the first trail I could find, which turned out to be the “Gorman Falls Trail”.
I was dressed in long pants and a long-sleeved shirt because the day had begun cloudy and cool, but I should have known better. It turned out to be the perfect day for hiking — if I’d been wearing shorts and a T-shirt. So I rolled up my sleeves and hiked away, working at burning off the extra pounds I’m still carrying.
The scenery is unremarkable — at least in this part of the park — especially to someone who’s lived in Central or South Texas for a while. Chunks of rock, cactus, tiny wildflowers, and short wild grasses were interspersed with clumps of short trees. The trail wasn’t marked, but was well-worn enough so I didn’t lose it. Besides, I knew if I kept walking east, I would hit the Colorado River — I pretty much can’t get lost if I’ve looked at a map ahead of time.
I didn’t see a single person as I hiked the 1.3 miles from the parking lot to Gorman Falls, which turned out to be a 65-foot waterfall with eight senior citizens sitting on benches at the foot of it. One remarked to me: “Oh, you brought a real camera. I’ll bet you’re getting some great photos.” I just grinned and said I hoped so. As it turned out, it was my phone that got the better photos at the waterfall, due to its built-in HDR function. My DSLR did not do well with the sharp contrasts between bright spots of light and deep shade, though I worked to correct that in post-production.
On the way back up the fairly steep trail (the guide calls it “challenging”), the elderly people motioned for me to go ahead of them, which I regretted because it meant I had to pretend to not be out-of-breath and actually move faster than they did. Worried that they might keep up with me, I took a different path at the next fork in the road and found the solitude I’d been looking for.
Getting back to the parking lot was a simple matter of retracing my steps, just with less energy and more sweat. I wondered if anyone comes to this park in the summer.
My drive home was 77 minutes, including a five-minute stop for gas in Lampasas ($1.779 per gallon), which was right on Google’s estimate. (During my driving time, I listened to conservative talk radio, which was mind-bending.)
I saw enough to know that I’ll want to go back someday. There are a dozen other trails to contend with, including the “very challenging” Tinaja Trail, which I hope to attempt with a lighter load.
Some of the many wildflowers I saw during my hike
(Copyright © 2016 by Wil C. Fry. Some rights reserved.)