Pedernales Falls State Park, Johnson City, Blanco County, Texas

One of the Hill Country’s most beautiful areas is Pedernales (pur-de-nal-iss)( another Texas pronunciation that makes no sense), Falls. It can also be one of the most dangerous! The Pedernales River runs 106 miles, rising near Junction Texas flowing to the Colorado River at Lake Travis. The Pedernales is hyper prone to flooding, rising to flood stages in as little as five minutes, so yes it can be dangerous. Several deaths in the park have been attributed to people being unable to escape the canyon as the waters rapidly rise. It can be sunny but if there is a significant rainfall on the Edwards Plateau the Pedernales can rapidly rise in the park.

Pedernales is a Spanish word roughly meaning flint stones, not the cartoon, but the rock, which is plentiful in the area.

Pedernales Falls
in the Canyon above the falls

I first went to Pedernales Falls on one of my early hiking trips in Texas. When the water is low you can walk around on the riverbed above the falls.

As you can see by the above pictures there is very little of a set channel of water as it runs through cracks in the rock until it makes the last slide down the rock and out of the canyon.

After I visited the Falls I went to do the Wolf Mountain Trail. This trail takes you to the highest areas of the park. Wolf Mountain rises to about 1000 feet which is typical of the peaks in the area.

On the way up Wolf Mountain I passed by three small canyons The Bee Creek Canyon, The Mescal Creek Canyon, and Regal Creek Canyon.

Bee Creek Canyon
Regal Creek Canyon
Mescal Creek Canyon

Story time. Bee Creek Canyon as pictured is at the swimming hole. I was hiking along the edge when I had to push some cedar branches out of the way. As I turned around the bush and let go a branch caught my backpack and nearly threw me over the edge! Thought I was going swimming on that one.

view from Wolf Mountain

I found a small viewing platform atop Wolf Mountain. I figured here was a great stop for lunch. I caught a good picture of the view. It ain’t North Carolina but it’s the best they got here for now.

After descending Wolf Mountain I headed on up the trail and around Tobacco Mountain. I soon came to the ruins of a ranch house.

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Before the state bought the property from Harriet Wheatley it was known as the Circle Bar Ranch.

Before the Wheatleys, the area had several owners. The area was first occupied by T. J. Trammell in the 1870’s. The rock house pictured below was bought by D. G. and Nannie Jones from T.J. Trammell in 1885. The Jones’ were gone by 1899. There were eight or nine individual farms and about 40 people lived in the area of the park. In 1900 rancher John Wenmohs began to purchase the land. By 1901 Wenmohs had purchased most of the tracts in the park area for his ranch. The Wheatleys gained ownership around 1937 and began to try to return the land to it’s natural state.

C.A. and Harriet Wheatley met in Ohio. They married and built an oil business in Kentucky. They sold that , moved to Texas and again built an oil business near Laredo. They were both avid outdoorsmen and began to look for a ranch to purchase. While fishing in the Pedernales River they saw the Wenmohs Ranch and purchased it in 1937.

They built a home on the property (today the home of the park ranger), and began to stock the ranch with cattle while simultaneously trying to return the land to it’s natural state. But they made a mistake! To encourage more birds to come to the ranch they allowed the proliferation of the cedar trees. This has almost permanently ruined the prairie although restoration efforts are ongoing.

The Pedernales Falls area was prairie before rapid settlement after the Civil war, but over grazing and the refusal to set fire to the prairie grasses (this is necessary to renew the growth), stressed the native grasses and allowed the cedar trees to take over.

What is left of the DG and Nannie Jones homestead.
Rock fences run through the woods near the Jones Place.

Although the house may eventually be gone the Jones’ will always be remembered. Also on the property is Jones Spring, their lasting memory.

Jones Spring

I left Jones Spring for the long walk back to civilization.

My next trip I visited Trammell’s Crossing to do the 5.5 mile loop across the river from the main park. Trammell’s Crossing is a low water crossing that has been in use for years.

although this looks like an easy crossing on the far end the water was knee deep!

The 5.5 mile loop runs through the backcountry of the park. Here is Schoolhouse Flats where the community school was located. There is also the best overlook in the park.

View from the 5.5 mile loop overlook

My third trip was during the drought and the river was barely flowing. I decided to walk deep into the river canyon to see what was there.

a cave in the canyon wall

This hike was tough. There were several pools of water that had to be bypassed by a lot of hand over hand climbing up and over the boulders.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.”

John Burroughs

Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it.

Theodore Roosevelt
as far as it goes this is near the park boundary

An absolutely beautiful canyon. They may have made a couple of mistakes but the Wheatleys did a great job preserving the beauty of this area.

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