The City Park on Steroids, Garey Park, Georgetown, Williamson County Texas

This city park may be one of the largest city parks in Central Texas. At 525 acres it is huge! Garey Park has 7 miles of trails over two hills and river frontage on the South San Gabriel River. How did a small town get a park this large?

Well enter the Gareys. Jack and Camille Garey bought the 525-acre ranch in 1966. They loved the land and wanted it preserved and not developed as it is sandwiched between Leander and Georgetown. So, what did they do? In 2004 they made a public statement that they were going to give the ranch to the City of Georgetown, AND five million dollars to develop a park on the condition that Georgetown match the funds and keep the land as a park forever.

original chimney of the cabin of A. B. Brown who first settled the land in 1853.

The land was first settled in 1853 by A. B. Brown.

When Jack Garey first purchased the ranch there wasn’t even a house on it.

Jack Garey served in the U.S. Navy and upon discharge entered the University of Texas at Austin where he obtained a business degree in 1955 and a Law Degree in 1957. Garey was a personal injury attorney and handled workman’s compensation cases. But Garey made his fortune when he switched to construction forming the Garey Construction Company in 1978. Garey’s construction company constructed roads and highways.

Garey was also involved in real estate and ranching, having two other ranches in Runnels and Falls Counties. He also loved raising racehorses.

Planning to live in the 6500 square foot house they had built on the ranch until they passed away the timeline was moved up when Camille died of ovarian cancer in 2012.

The Garey House now a popular wedding and event venue.

Jack Garey moved from his beloved ranch in 2017 so the city could begin work on the park. Jack Garey was also a great benefactor of Southwestern University in Georgetown establishing a 15-million-dollar scholarship fund. Jack Garey died in 2022 at the age of 92.

I started out on the Highlands Trail which took me up and over the first hill.

ascending the Highland Trail.

After this I headed for the Saddleback Trail which ascends the second hill. from this trail I got to the Cedar Ridge Trail Overlook.

view from the overlook

I then came down out of the highlands and headed for the river. Along the side of the trails was a lot of Sideoats Grama the state grass of Texas.

Sideoat Grama

The meadow trail leads to the South Fork San Gabriel River.

along the meadow trail

The river was beautiful.

South Fork San Gabriel River
South Fork San Gabriel River

As I headed back to the car, I was thinking how fortunate the city and the area in general were to have this nice place.

the urban sprawl is on the doorstep

The sprawl is closing in but thanks to the Gareys generous gift, this land will remain wild forever.

Vicksburg National Military Park, Vicksburg Mississippi

At last, I am here, I am so excited. I’ve wanted to see this for years!

Maybe you don’t like history or maybe the Civil War doesn’t excite you as it does me, Vicksburg National Military Park is still something you need to see. This massive battlefield has 1325 historic markers and monuments, 2 antebellum homes, twenty miles of trenches and earthworks, and 144-gun emplacements. There is a sixteen-mile driving tour to see the battlefield. I have been to three other battlefields, New Market, Virgina which had a lot of monuments, Bentonville, North Carolina which had monuments etc. around the Harper House area and Kennesaw Mountain which just had a bunch of story boards and a couple monuments. I have never been to Gettysburg, but Momma has. She said even Gettysburg doesn’t compare with what we found here.

Memorial Arch where the driving tour begins.

How did this all get here. Well, what makes Vicksburg unique is that most of the positions of the markers were put here after the war by soldiers who were actually in the battle. They marked the position of their units, the paths of attack and the Union highwater positions while it was still fresh in their minds and before the elements had changed the landscape. Then states were invited to erect monuments to their troops in the vicinity of where they served.

Battery DeGolyer was the largest concentration of Union artillery on the siege line. It consisted of units from Ohio, Michigan and Illinois. The battery contained twenty-two artillery pieces. Because of the firepower of Battery DeGolyer, Confederate General Pemberton was forced to withdraw many of his cannons allowing the Union Troops to begin tunnelling towards the Confederate lines. Now tunnelling is a loosely used term. The tunnels usually were deep trenches which were then covered with branches and stuff so the opposing forces couldn’t see the men digging and shoot them. In some instances, as you will see later, they were actual tunnels.

Battery DeGolyer

The next stop was the Shirley House and Illinois Monument. The Shirley House was in the midst of the battle as the Confederate troops retreated from the battle at the Big Black River. The house and all outbuilding were ordered to be fired and destroyed. All the outbuildings were but the soldier assigned to fire the house was shot before he could accomplish his task. Mrs. Shirley her son and their servants huddled in the fireplace corner as the battle rage past the house. Eventually Union soldiers moved them to a safe place.

Shirley House

Before we continue let’s look at why this very important battle occurred. Vicksburg was known as the fortress city. It sat above the Mississippi River on a 300 foot bluff that bristled with Confederate guns. After the fall of New Orleans and Memphis it allowed the South to continue to control the river as nothing could safely pass Vicksburg. General Ulysses Grant was given the job of taking the city.

To the north was the Yazoo River, a wide swampy stream, Haynes Bluff, and the Chickasaw Bayou. After several attempts to take the city from the north by a failed attack at Haynes Bluff, a Union disaster at Chickasaw Bayou and several failed ventures into the swamps Grant had to find another way. The Mississippi in 1863 did a very sharp 180 degree turn at Vicksburg. In essence a watercraft had to pass the city and its defenses twice with only a low-lying peninsula between ships travelling south at that point and then a direct trip past the city on the side of the bend that headed north. Grant’s first plan was to dig a canal across the peninsula just below Vicksburg. Unfortunately, the river wouldn’t co-operate as the water refused to flow into the canal at a depth that would allow the troop transports and gunboats to float through.

“The Mississippi River will always have its own way; no engineering skill can persuade it to do otherwise.”

Mark Twain

Next Grant proposed to run gunboats and troop transports past the city and march his troops down the swampy Louisiana side of the river. This plan succeeded with the loss of only one transport. The vulnerable areas of the ships were re-enforced by piling cotton bales and haybales over them to deaden the impact of the Confederate artillery shells. Grants troops crossed the Mississippi at Bruinsburg near the Windsor Plantation, fought battles at Grand Gulf and Port Gibson and continued northeast towards Jackson. Finally, Pemberton came out of his fortifications and counter attacked at Raymond Mississippi, and Champion Hill. After being defeated at Champion Hill the Confederates slowly fell back towards Vicksburg and were finally routed at Big Black River as the Union forces chased them back into the fortifications at Vicksburg. After several attempts to breach the Vicksburg lines Grant laid siege to the surrounded city.

Abraham Lincoln saw Vicksburg as the key to the south a nickname it still uses. Jefferson Davis called it the “Lynchpin of the Confederacy”, “the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together,” 

“See what a lot of land these fellows hold, of which Vicksburg is the key! The war can never be brought to a close until that key is in our pocket…We can take all the northern ports of the Confederacy, and they can defy us from Vicksburg.” –Abraham Lincoln

The North wanted it so they could split the south and prevent goods from flowing in from Arkansas and Texas, and they already controlled New Orleans but could only get there by sea. The south wanted it so it could control the lower Mississippi and keep the supplies coming from the West on the Arkansas and Red Rivers.

20000 Americans lost their lives at the gates of Vicksburg. This land, as is Gettysburg, is considered hallowed ground. And remarkably both battles ended in Union victory on the same day, the fourth of July in 1863. In fact, the 4th of July was not observed in Vicksburg for more than 80 years. No day off work, no fireworks, even the Post Office opened on July 4th!

Illinois Memorial

The Illinois Monument was the largest in the area. Here is a fact most people don’t know.

Although he was born and raised in Ohio Ulysses S Grant was a resident of Galena Illinois at the start of the Civil War. His father was a somewhat successful businessman and tanner/maker of leather goods and had several shops across the Midwest. He was running a tannery/leather shop for his father in Galena. Grant entered the conflict not through Ohio but as Colonel of the 21st Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He gained that high rank because he was a trained officer as he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. He Graduated in 1843 served in the Mexican American War, had several postings on the west coast but quit the Army in 1854. He requested to be reinstated to the regular army at the wars outbreak, but the commanding general George McClellan refused his offer.

Grant was also married to Becky Dent of a Missouri slave holding family. The family gave the Grants a plot of land he named Hardscrabble, and a slave. Grant worked the fields alongside his slave as an unsuccessful farmer and eventually set his slave free.

At the Louisiana Redan the Union soldiers from Ohio and Illinois began a tunnel, yes, a real tunnel under the fort. The Louisiana Redan guarded the approach along the Jackson Road…..

The tunnel was completed and packed with dynamite and the Redan was blown up. Confederate troops were able to re-enforce the area and the Union soldiers could never fight their way out of the crater they had created.

3rd Louisiana Redan

Ransom’s gun path

One section of the siege line needed more support so troops under Brigadier General Thomas Ransom disassembled some artillery pieces and hand carried them through here. One soldier Private Albert Cashiers participated. 50 years after the war Cashiers was injured in an accident and doctors discovered that he was a she named Jennie Hodgers who had disguised herself as a man to fight in the war.

Looking down Graveyard Road from Stockade Redan

Sherman’s troops attacked at Stockade Redan along the Graveyard Road

tunnel towards Stockade Redan

Still visible is this section of tunnel dug into the approaches.

Now for educational purposes and because I keep using the word… A Redan is an arrow shaped protrusion in a fortification line. These were built to allow protection along different approaches instead of just one direction.

The Monuments! The states of Ohio and Iowa put one at every point their troops served, several states just put one or two large monuments.

Ohio placed a monument at the position of every division and regiment

Tennessee Monument

Wisconsin Monument

Iowa like Ohio had monuments everywhere

Louisiana Monument

Mississippi Monument

Texas Monument

There were also a lot of monuments to some of the commanding officers of both sides.

Then came the Vicksburg National Cemetery. 17000 Union Troops are buried here. Unfortunately, 13000 are unknown. It is the largest Union cemetery in the nation. Where there is a headstone, the victim is known. Otherwise just a block with a grave number marks a grave. All these men didn’t die at Vicksburg. Many were brought from surrounding areas where they had been buried in hastily dug graves as the Army continued to advance. Two Confederate soldiers are interred here one from Texas and the other from Arkansas. 5000 Confederate soldiers are buried in the Vicksburg City Cemetery known as Cedar Hill. That area is known as Soldiers Rest. These bodies were originally buried throughout Vicksburg but were re-interred here together. We never could find where to enter that cemetery although we could see it from the highway.

Why you might ask are there so many Union cemeteries with very few Confederate graves. Well, the answer is that the cemeteries were developed by the United States Army to honor its Civil War dead. Obviously, the Confederate soldier was not a part of the U.S. Army during the Civil War therefore were excluded from interment in the cemeteries.

Section of the Vicksburg National Cemetery showing headstones and the blocks marking unknown soldiers graves

Next to the cemetery was the USS Cairo. The Cairo was one of seven shallow draft Ironclads built for duty on the Mississippi and named for Cairo Illinois. While sailing in the Yazoo River north of Vicksburg, clearing away mines and Confederate fortifications near Haynes Bluff, The Cairo hit a mine and soon sank. It was the first ship in history to be sunk by a hand detonated mine from shore. A sister ship knocked the smokestacks off the ship so the Confederates couldn’t locate the boat and try to raise it for their use. As time went on and sailors died, and the rivers changed course the exact location of the sunken ship became lost. In 1964 the Cairo was located covered in mud and silt which actually preserved the ship and the artifacts it held.

The captain of the ship Lt. Commander Thomas Selfridge commanded a battery of cannon taken from the Ironclad. These were the only Navy personnel among the ground forces at Vicksburg.

USS Cairo

Of course, some of the ship is a reproduction but the hull, the steel and the engines are the real deal.

USS Cairo

We then went up to Fort Hill the main fort guarding the Mississippi.

View from Fort Hill

This was the view of the Mississippi in 1863. You can see the problem of sailing past Vicksburg. A ship had to sail south on the right of the picture and after rounding the bend another pass was made on the opposite side of the peninsula.

But what you are seeing is not the Mississippi today. The bend was naturally cut off the river during highwater in 1876. Today it is just a ship channel with a manmade canal to the Yazoo. Vicksburg is no longer the river town it once was. The Mississippi has re-carved its channel to the south and west over the years. Today only the southern tip of the city remains on the river.

What a great experience to visit this battlefield!

Vicksburg, Mississippi

Vicksburg Mississippi! This one has been on my bucket list for years. Being a Civil War buff, I have read multiple books on this important battle and many of the people who were involved. Vicksburg still calls itself the “key to the south”. As long as Vicksburg stood the Union could not use the southern Mississippi River and the south could not be divided.

First about Vicksburg. It didn’t get the preferential treatment that Natchez enjoyed. The Union bombed the hell out of it. So, this is a town full of museums not mansions. When you visit your first museum you are given a stamped Vicksburg City Passport. As you move around the city’s museums all of which have a fee, you get your passport stamped. Five stamps and you get a free Vicksburg Tee Shirt. I thought that was pretty neat as you are going to visit these places anyway and they are not nearly as expensive as the Mansions of Natchez were.

Here’s what we decided to see

Vicksburg Coca-Cola museum….

Vicksburg Coca cola museum

A candy company? comeon….. Yes, but it was here Coca Cola was first bottled. Oh no you say Coke comes from Atlanta…. yes it do….but in Atlanta it was only served as a fountain drink. You see Joesph Biedenharn ( bee-den-harn) bottled seltzer water besides selling candy. He got the bright idea that he could use his carbonated water machinery to bottle coke by adding a bit of the syrup to his carbonated water. He contacted Asa Candler who had bought the syrup recipe from John Pemberton, Coke’s inventor. Asa Candler sold Biedenharn the rights to bottle Coke for $1. So, thanks to Joseph Biedenharn we now drink coke from bottles and cans instead of just as a fountain drink.

As Biedenharn’s business grew he opened more bottling facilities throughout Louisiana and Texas. With the profits Joesph Biedenharn and his sons, with other investors, purchased a crop-dusting business in Monroe, Louisiana. They soon expanded the business to eighteen planes and began carrying mail from Dallas to Charleston S C . Today that little crop-dusting service that carried the mail and occasionally offered people rides is known as Delta Airlines. Oh no you say Delta is in Atlanta…. yes, it is….. but it was started in Monroe Louisiana, By the Beidenharns and C. E. Woolman and moved to Atlanta in 1941. In fact, until the late nineteen nineties when Henry Biedenharn III retired, a Biedenharn sat on the board of Delta.

Biedenharn also established the franchise-bottler-distributor system that Coke uses today.

The Biedenharn family were leading citizens of Ouachita Parish in Louisiana and many of their philanthropic works are still enjoyed today.

All this from the tiny store pictured above.

circa 1900 soda fountain
This is the actual machinery that brought us bottled Coke

Vicksburg Civil War Museum……

This museum contained all manner of civil war paraphernalia. There were also a couple of very interesting movies to watch. I took no pictures as again there are millions of dollars of stuff inside.

The Old Courthouse Museum……..

The old courthouse was constructed in 1828 and was one of the few buildings to survive the Union bombing during the war. Inside was a history of the city. Best feature was the still intact 1830 courtroom.

Old Courthouse

original 1830 courtroom

McRaven House……..

This unique home was built onto at least three times, but the older parts were never updated. And it has quite a story.

The McRaven House gets its name because Harrison Street was at one point known as McRaven Street.

McRaven House

The house was started by Andrew Glass in 1797 as a hideout. 1797 makes it the oldest standing structure in Vicksburg. A hideout you say? Yes, see Andrew Glass was a robber along the Natchez Trace which was in French territory. He built his house in what was known then as Walnut Hills in Spanish Territory. After his robberies he would hightail it out of French Territory to his house in Spanish Territory where the French couldn’t arrest him. It only consisted of one bedroom and a kitchen built underneath it. It also became a way station for pioneers travelling upriver from New Orleans to Nashville. Andrew Glass was murdered in the house by his jealous wife.

the Andrew Glass or pioneer section


In 1836 Sheriff Steven Howard bought the house and added the middle section in the Empire Style. His wife died in childbirth, so he sold the house to the Bobb family of wealthy planters. The Bobbs built the final section of the house in the Greek Revival Style. The Bobbs owned the house during the siege of Vicksburg. During the siege the house and grounds were used as a Confederate hospital and many soldiers were buried in the yard. After the occupation started Mr. Bobb caught Union soldiers picking flowers from his garden and asked them to leave. When they refused, he threw a brick which struck the sergeant. He went to report the incident to the commanding officer but when he returned to his home 25 soldiers captured him and took him to Stout’s Bayou 100 yards away and shot him. The remaining Bobb family sold the house and moved to Louisiana. William Murray bought the house in 1882.

The Middle Bedroom built by Sheriff Howard

Murray, his wife, a daughter and a son all died in the house. His daughters Ella and Annie both spinsters lived in the house until 1960 with no modern conveniences except a telephone until Ella died. The house was so overgrown that many people didn’t even know it was still there.

The front section built by the Bobb Family

The last owner to live in the house was Leyland French of the French’s Mustard fortune. He bought the house in 1984 and added a modern kitchen and Bathroom in the basement. Leyland French soon walked away leaving 4 million dollars’ worth of antiques behind. His reasoning….. he could no longer deal with the ghosts and spirits he believed to be residing with him in the house! Yes, McRaven is supposed to be the most haunted house in Vicksburg!

And because of its haunted reputation interior pictures were allowed as no one goes near the place at night!

We did those four tours. My next post will be of our fifth tour to get our free shirt, The Vicksburg National Military Park. It is just too grand not to get its own post.

Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi

Our road to Vicksburg Mississippi ran partially along the Nachez Trace Parkway. The Natchez Trace Parkway runs along the original Natchez Trace an early trading route between Nashville Tennessee and Natchez Mississippi. We are going to see just a mere thirty miles or so.

But we got to visit a couple interesting sites along the route.

But before we left Natchez, we wanted to see the Melrose, which is the Mansion operated by the National Park Service, and they say it’s the best of them all.

Ever heard of Melrose China? This is where the pattern came from.

Cypress Pond at Melrose

Well, it wasn’t to be as this one is not open on Mondays……. Staffing issues…..

Our first Parkway stop was at Emerald Mound.

Emerald Mound is the second largest Temple Mound in the country. It was built by the Mississippians the ancestors of the Natchez Indians. Even today this is sacred ground for the Natchez, the Chickasaw, and the Choctaw Indians who return for a yearly pow wow.

This parkway would be a beautiful drive in the fall. We did see some beginning yellowing of some leaves so it could be imagined what it might look like in a few weeks.

Our next stop was at the Windsor Ruins. Windsor was constructed in 1861 by Smith Coffee Daniell II at a cost of 5.6 million dollars in today’s money. It was the largest Greek Revival Mansion built in the Antebellum South. The house survived the Civil war, it was at the time, on the Mississippi so it’s belfry was used as a watchtower. Sadly, it burnt to the ground in 1890. It originally had 29 Corinthian Columns of which 23 survive today. The house is at Bruinsburg where Grant’s forces crossed the Mississippi and began the campaign against Vicksburg.

Windsor Ruins

Windsor Ruins

See where the concrete is coming off the columns? It is brick underneath. As the columns deteriorate, they are becoming weak. The Mississippi Preservation Dept has a 3.7-million-dollar restoration underway to preserve the ruins. Because of that it was fenced off so we could only view it from the parking area and not wander among the columns. It is a National and State Historical Site.

At Port Gibson we left the parkway and travelled the Blues Highway a few miles.

And then we arrive!

Tomorrow is going to be a great day!

“The City too Pretty to Burn”, Natchez Mississippi.

Natchez Mississippi. This place made it onto our bucket list when we moved to Texas. Well, sort of. We passed through nearby Vicksburg and that’s where we really wanted to go but when researching the area, I found out that Natchez was the motherlode of antebellum mansions. So here we are on our yearly fall trip for a fantastic history tour of this section of Mississippi.

As you see above Natchez was settled by the Spanish around 1780. But its history goes back further. The area was first under French control in the early 1700’s and a fort was built here, Fort Rosalie. The small village that sprang up was called Grand Village and was a trading post for the French with the Natchez Indians. But the French succeeded to piss the Indians off. So, the Natchez infiltrated the town before trading day and on signal massacred the French male settlers took the women and children and burnt the town. The battle lasted less than 15 minutes. Between 150 and 200 French males were slaughtered.

We stayed at the Grand Hotel Natchez which was right on the river. We could see the river from the room but only had to walk a few steps across the street to be treated to an 8-mile view of the Mississippi River.

Inside the Grand Hotel Natchez our room was near the top of the steps although there was also an elevator.
they say it is 8 miles in view!

“The Mississippi River towns are comely, clean, well built, and pleasing to the eye, and cheering to the spirit.”

Mark Twain

On our first morning there we took an open-air tour.

Adams County Courthouse built 1821

We learned about the town, the mansions and the history of Natchez.

U.S District Courthouse

There was never a US Court in Natchez until 2004. It was built as a place to file and settle claims arising from Hurricane Katrina.

Texada Tavern

Texada was built sometime between 1797 and 1805. It is the oldest brick structure in Natchez. The tavern was sold to the first Spanish governor of Mississippi and remained the State Capitol until the capital city was moved to Jackson.

Now the homes we saw. But first, let me tell you the reason all this is still here. These mansions of the very wealthy cotton planters were called town homes. It was here they did all of their socializing. There were no plantations in Natchez. They were all across the river in Louisiana. As Union troops approached the mayor surrendered the town. It became to General Ulysses S Grant, along with Port Gibson, Mississippi, the “towns to pretty to burn”.

Stanton Hall…..

Originally called Belfast,Stanton Hall was built in the 1850’s by Frederick Stanton to mimic his ancestorial home in Ireland. Nine Months after completion Stanton died of yellow fever. To provide an income the home was turned into a finishing school for local girls and renamed Stanton Hall. The ABC miniseries North and South was filmed partially at the Mansion.

Stanton Hall


When the Union occupied Natchez commanding general Walter Gresham chose Rosalie as his headquarters. Rosalie has the best view of the river of any structure in Natchez. General Gresham had all the belongings of the home owner carried to the attic and put under guard.

Rosalie was built by Peter Little in 1823. Little came to Natchez in 1798 at the age of 17. By the age of 25 he was a successful lumber and cotton broker. He built Rosalie for his 14 year old wife Eliza. The house was then sold to the Wilson Family and then the Rumbles who lived there during the war.. 90% of the furnishings today belonged to one of the three families.



Longwood was built by Haller Nutt starting in 1860. It is the largest octagonal home in the United States, or it would be. The dirty little secret of Longwood is that it never got finished. When the Civil War broke out most of the workmen who were from Philadelphia, went home. So only the basement was finished to a livable state by using slave labor. Haller Nutt died in 1864 so the house remains unfinished. Haller Nutt was one of the wealthiest Plantation owners owing 43,000 acres, 800 slaves and having a net worth of over three million dollars in 1860. His working plantation in Louisiana, Winter Quarters, was spared destruction by General Ulysses S. Grant because Nutt was pro-Union.

Longwood was purchased in the eighties by the McAdams Foundation who spent two years stabilizing and preserving the structure.


Longwood’s unfinished interior

Only at the unfinished floors of Longwood were we permitted to take any pictures of any of the interiors of the mansions. I understand. They are loaded with millions of dollars of antiques.

Thus ended our time in beautiful Natchez Mississippi.

A Day in the Pines- Buescher State Park, Smithville, Bastrop County, Texas

trailhead sign

Buescher (pronounced Bisher) State Park is the little sibling of Bastrop State Park. In fact, State Park Road 1C connects the parks which are only about 4 miles apart. The three things they have in common; sandy trails for the most part although they are still in the hill country, Pine Trees; lots of them, and sadly, they have both suffered major damage from wildfires, Bastrop in the 2011 Bastrop Complex Fire the largest in Texas History, and in 2015 the 5000-acre Hidden Pines Fire destroyed most of Buescher’s pines.

starting out

The hike started off on the Woodland Trail. Happily, this trail winds through a forest of mixed hardwoods and Eastern Red Cedar. Red Cedar differs from Ash Juniper or Mountain Cedar in that it grows tall with the pines whereas the Mountain Cedar has a more bush like structure. Today I am headed out on a 9 mile hike which is a lollipop route to the far reaches of the park. I was here in 2018 but most of the trails were still closed due to the fire and I didn’t find the place all that nice. What a difference a few years makes! My route will take me over the Woodland Trail, the Pine Gulch Trail and the Roosevelt Cutoff, which will form the roughly 9 mile route.

starting out the pine gulch trail

Buescher is one of the parks built by the CCC. 318 acres of the land was donated in the 30’s by Emil and Elizabeth Buescher. Upon Mr. Buescher’s death his heirs gave the state an additional 318 and the rest was acquired from the City of Smithville. The park consists of 1016 acres. Once over 1700 acres the State cut out 700 acres and gave it to the University of Texas at Austin to build a research center for the M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Hospital. I think they were splitting atoms last time I was here as something at the research center was buzzing so loudly you could hear it all over the park.

recreation hall built by the CCC.

The Companies 1805 and 1811 of the CCC worked in this park between 1933 and 1936 although construction here wasn’t as extensive as at Bastrop.

Anyway, back to hiking. I turned left on the Pine Gulch Trail (see picture above) and soon came to the road and the only overlook at this park.

view from the Buescher Park Overlook

I soon saw why this was called the Pine Gulch Trail. The trail skirted a deep wide ravine that was of course full of Pine Trees. Most of the trees are only ten to fifteen feet tall as the area continues to recover from the fire. I did find some nice stands of fully grown pines that survived the destruction.

As I circled back towards the Woodland Trail, I came into the part that was most burnt. It is still struggling to regrow the pines.

The trail topped out into a prairie, so I took the Roosevelt Cutoff back to the hills and pines where I would rather be. The Roosevelt Cutoff was named for U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt who created the CCC. Back at the pine gulch area I hiked back to the overlook which had tables. Here I ate a snack and rested for a few minutes before the last mile and a half back to the car along the Woodland Trail.

view into Pine Gulch

I really liked this park, it reminded me of hiking back home in NC with the pines, sandy trails and the wonderful pine smell and a surprising amount of elevation gain throughout the hike.

It’s Wildflower Season!

Still sitting at home recovering from surgery, but at my two-week checkup the doctor did okay me to start back doing some light hiking but no strenuous up or down hills.

Since it is wildflower season I decide to load up the trusty little doggy Quincy and we are going to hit some of the paved trails around here and scout out some wildflowers.

Our first trip was to Gilleland Creek in Pflugerville. We hit a large bed of bluebonnets there. After watching some people doing photo ops with their dogs sitting in the Bluebonnets it was our turn.

Not going to happen.

Quincy is not a good subject as he refuses to sit in the flowers like everyone else’s dog will!

See how hard he is panting? That is because he was up to his usual bullshit of wanting to fight every dog we see. For a ten-pound dog he is very tough and a handful.

Next we took a little hike at Rabb Park on the Round Rock Brushy Creek East Trail. We found quite a few varieties of wild flowers here.

Large patch of bluebonnets

Next, we went to Old Settlers Park in Round Rock and we hit the motherlode!

Bluebonnets galore!
a sea of Blue Bonnets and Indian Paintbrushes
Mexican Poppy

In our area the dead-end streets of our neighborhood have been extended for a new development. Besides giving me a quicker, easier escape from our neighborhood,(depending on where I am going), the construction area gives us more walking distance about one and a half miles now as opposed to about eight tenths before. And there are a lot of wildflowers that have been graded to the side and are growing like weeds!

More firewheels
Mexican Hats

Now in Texas the word Texas is put in front of a lot of things especially wildflowers as though they don’t grow anywhere else. For example “Texas Lantana” is exactly the same as the lantana we had in our yard in Greenville North Carolina although that was known as “Patriot Star Lantana”. So, enter the lowly dandelion. I kept hearing of the “Texas Dandelion”, and I thought, Really? Turns out that there is such a thing, and it is totally different than most dandelions although those grow here also. So here it is…..

Texas Dandelion

I need to get out of the city and into the woods!

So, for my final look at wildflowers I decided to go to the very tame Miller Springs at Belton. Didn’t find as many flowers as I expected in it’s wide-open prairies but none the less got some good shots.

No idea what this one is but I found it quite pretty.
best Indian Paintbrush I have found this season
Rare White Primrose
Prairie Verbena

Back on the trail somewhat. I’m excited to get out there!

Miller Springs Nature Center, Belton/Temple, Bell County, Texas

Looking for new places to hike is time consuming. As I was wondering about my next trip, I thought of places I hadn’t been, and Belton Lake came to me. So, I searched hiking at Belton Lake and came up with Miller Springs Nature Center. Now this doesn’t sound all that great by the name but as I learned about this place, I found out it had over ten miles of trails. And a bit of history, so I am in!

Belton Lake is formed by the damming of the Leon River by the Belton Dam. The reservoir was created for flood control and water for the Temple/ Belton/ Fort Hood area.

Miller Springs was developed as a park with the completion of Belton Dam in 1954. It was administered by volunteers until 1993 when the cities of Belton and Temple took control.

Why the change?

In the winter of 1991-1992 Belton Lake overflowed its spillway after 22 inches of rain fell on the area. The water ran over the spillway for 42 days up to 4 foot deep. It created new canyons, uncovered unknown geological features and created wetlands that needed better protection then the volunteers could provide as the place was constantly vandalized. So, the two cities stepped up.

Why both?

Well, the park straddles the line between the cities so sometimes you are in Belton and sometimes in Temple depending on which trail you are hiking.

The “new canyon”

Although this is along the Leon River and in Texas the area was known as the Tennessee Valley before the dam was built. This came about as most of the early settlers in the region came from Tennessee.

The Long Pond formed in 1992

looking out across the “Tennessee Valley”

I loved hiking here. It was a bit different than most places in Texas. There were mostly hardwood trees, no or very little cedar and no cactus. It really reminded me of being back in the mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. No wonder the settlers from Tennessee gathered in the area.

One unusual feature here was the flood wall protecting the neighboring areas of Belton. A large mural that depicted the history of the city was painted on it. And if you notice the tanks and helicopters that is because Fort Hood is very near to here.

Fort Hood is a 214,000-acre U. S. Army installation housing roughly 45,000 soldiers of the III Armor, the 3rd Calvary Regiment and the 1st Calvary Division. The fort was developed in 1942 as a wide-open place to test tank destroyers and train tank destroyer troops during WW2. (A tank destroyer is similar to a battle tank as it is a tracked vehicle with a large gun. Difference is that a battle tank is used in support of ground troops and are highly mobile. A tank destroyer is designed specifically to hunt and destroy the tanks of the opposing army and they have limited mobility compared to a battle tank.) It is the most populous base in the United States. All the business parts of the fort are in Bell County and the training areas are in Coryell County. Lieutenant General Robert White is the current base commander.

Anyway, let’s get to more hiking. The Old Woods Trail and the South River Loop were my favorite as they were so much like home.

Along the South River Trail

I went through Joplin Hollow and headed for Cox Hollow.

Joplin Hollow

At Cox Hollow I found an old bridge over the original Miller Springs.

Leon River near Cox Hollow.
Cox Hollow

Cliffs above Cox Hollow.

At the bridge the park ended, and the road was actually still paved. Obviously, this section of the trail is an old road.

Trail from Cox Hollow

Old Guardrails along the trail

I love walking through areas that still have things from the past.

Belton Lake

I will definitely return to hike here again. I will put on my to do list for this fall. I think it will be gorgeous with all the hardwoods. It was so much like the eastern forests that I love.

South Padre Island, Padre Island, Cameron County, Texas

South Padre Island

Ah, the beach momma loves ’em me not so much. But I had a good time anyway.

South Padre Island is a beach community on the very southern tip of Padre Island. Padre Island is a barrier reef separated from mainland Texas by the Laguna Madre. It stretches 133 miles from the city of Corpus Christi Texas to South Padre Island. And despite being an average of only 1.8 miles wide it is the second largest island by land mass in the contiguous United States surpassed only by Long Island in New York. It is the longest barrier island in the world.

The Island is named for Jose Nicolas Balli, (Padre Balli), a secular priest who was the islands first inhabitant. How does a Priest own and island you might ask. Well, he inherited it from his grandfather who was an early Spanish settler of the area. His grandfather received a land grant from King Charles of Spain in 1759 known as the Isla de Santiago Grant.

Today the island has been cut in half by the manmade Port Mansfield ship channel. The city of South Padre Island extends northward for 6 miles. The rest of the island is protected in the Laguna Atascosa NWR and the Padre Island NWR. South Padre Island has been named the number one destination for Spring Break.

Beach Access from our hotel.

We stayed at the La Copa Beach Inn which I highly recommend if you ever go. We had a beach front room with a large balcony overlooking the pool and beach.

our quick and easy beach set up

Of course, with that balcony we also had a prime spot for viewing the sunrise while sitting on our asses.

We went to breakfast at the hotel. The dining area was on the fourth floor overlooking the Laguna Madre and the Queen Isabella Causeway which is the only route onto the Island.

Queen Isabella Causeway

The Queen Isabella Causeway is two and a half miles long. It opened in 1974 replacing the original bridge of the same name. It is the second longest bridge in Texas superseded only by the 2.6-mile Hartman Bridge which spans the Houston Ship Channel. The Causeway is named for Queen Isabella of Castile and Spain.

After spending some time on the beach, we went to the very interesting Sea Turtle Inc.

Sea Turtle Inc is a sea turtle rescue agency. They specialize in the rescue, recuperation and rehabilitation of the Kemp’s Ridley species although they will take any sea turtle in need of help. The first place we visited was the permanent residence building. Here they keep sea turtles that will never be able to live in the wild due to serious injury such as missing body parts or they are just in too poor of health to live on their own.

The Kemp’s Ridley is the smallest of the sea turtles topping out at an average of 110 pounds. They are also the most endangered species of all sea turtles. The turtles come to Sea Turtle inc. due to attack by predators, ingesting plastic, or amazingly getting stuck between the rocks of the island jetties which they come up to during high tide to feast on the moss which grows between the rocks. Sea Turtle Inc has developed a secure beach for the sea turtles to hatch on Padre Island. They collect any nest they can find on the island and move it there. You see momma sea turtles lay their eggs and leave, leaving the young to fend for themselves, but as a female sea turtle ages and begins to lay eggs she will always return to the beach where she was born. I thought that was pretty cool!

Ingesting plastic…. The sea turtle has a brain about the size of a grape……. they are not the sharpest knife in the rack. They see plastic as food, and it becomes caught in their digestive system. I knew this from when we went to the sea turtle hospital years ago in Topsail Island N.C. (no story coming that was still in the polaroid days). Anyway, to this day I refuse to use a plastic straw or put a plastic cap on my drink when eating out. Hopefully a little goes a long way….

On our way home we stopped at the Port Isabel Lighthouse and this time we were too early! It was not yet open, but we got a picture.

Port Isabel Lighthouse

The Port Isabel Light was built in 1852 to guide ships through the Brazos Santiago Pass at the southern end of Padre Island. The lighthouse operated on and off until 1905 when it was bought by a private citizen. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Division accepted the light and its surroundings as a gift from the owners in 1950. The lighthouse was restored in 1951 and opened to the public in 1952. The historical site is operated by the City of Port Isabel.

The beach, a great place to sit and read a good book as long as you watch how much sun you are getting. Sunburn sucks!

Urban Hiking-Randy Morrow Trail, North Fork Dam to Bootys Road Park, Georgetown, Williamson County Texas

Loaded up Quinn and headed out to the far end of the Randy Morrow Trail. This end is really semi urban as it passes through some sparsely populated areas near Georgetown Lake.

North Fork Dam

The North Fork Dam is a rock fill dam 6947 feet in length. The crest is 894 feet above sea level. The Lake behind it, Lake Georgetown covers 5070 acres.

Now back to the trail. We, (remember Quincy is with me) started out from Overlook Park at the lake headed towards Georgetown’s Bootys Road Park. Here and for the next 1.1 miles the trail is paved. It runs along the base of the dam through a rather nice area of cedar breaks and small pocket prairies.

Connecting Trail

This portion is called the Connecting Trail which connects the Goodwater Loop around the lake with the Randy Morrow Trail. After about 3/4 of a mile, we drop steeply down into the river canyon.

North Fork San Gabriel River as it exits the dam

Now why would I want to hike a paved trail for a mile or more? Well, it’s what’s at the end that makes it worth it. The Randy Morrow Trail through Bootys Road Park is one of the prettiest sections of trail in the area.

entering Bootys Road Park

As you enter Bootys Road park the trail switches from pavement to a more natural surface. It is still about ten feet wide. On one side is the North Fork San Gabriel River. on the other the cliffs of the canyon.

Bootys Road Park

There is also a waterfall in the park which is spring fed, but it isn’t running very well today after another month with no rain.

the water is usually gushing through this cascade.

As we exited the park the trail becomes concrete and climbs upward out of the canyon and starts through the neighborhood to connect with the other end of the trail. Not going to do it, I have seen houses before. We turned around at this point and headed back towards the dam.

Quincy playing in the Spring

On the way back through Quincy decided to hit the spring for a drink and to play a bit in the water.

Trail through Bootys Road Park

North Fork San Gabriel River in Bootys Road Park

When we got back to the dam, we were ahead of schedule so I decided against Quinn’s will that we were going to walk the dam. This dam no longer has a public road atop it. The old Cedar Breaks Road has been closed to traffic and the dam now acts as a trail and the end of the Goodwater Loop as it curves around to the Cedar Breaks Park trailhead.

on the dam. you can see at the base how low the water is

Lake Georgetown and Overlook Park

Georgetown 3.5 miles away

So that’s the Randy Morrow Trail. Maybe one day they can figure out how to get the other mile out of the neighborhood and back along the river.