Pace Bend Park, Spicewood, Travis County Texas

After our July 4th getaway to Mineral Wells I continued my tour of the Lower Colorado River Authority parks. This is the last of the LCRA parks around Lake Travis or should I say the last that offer hiking. Several others are mainly boat ramps, swimming holes and picnic grounds. This is like Arkansas Bend a “vendor ” park and that vendor is Travis County.

I usually start with the entrance sign, but this park really didn’t have one other than a brown road sign. You knew you were here because you reached a point on Farm to Market Road 2322 where you had to pay to go any further. Weird. So, I will start with a flower?

Pace Bend is a large park with 9 miles of shoreline, 1300 acres and around 15 miles of trails. The Mountain Bikers have naming rights to the trails so here we go.

I started the day from the east trailhead on the “Straddle your Saddle” Trail. This was the quickest way into the back country from this trailhead. I then came to the North Croton Creek Trail.

as you can see by the trail to the right of the post there is a heavy biker presence at this park

The North Croton Creek took me to the northwest trailhead. I exited the trail system to go to the closed picnic areas on the west coast of the park for some views. I have learned that these old picnic sites are going to be re-constructed as more primitive camping.

I came back onto the trail system and took the South Croton Creek Trail to the Paleface Pass Trail. This was the highest trail near the west shore in the park. The views from here were outstanding.

This was once known as the Paleface Ranch hence the name of this one.

Who doesn’t like bird pictures?

The Paleface Pass trail was a bit rugged, so I lost the bikers through there. But it dumped me into a large field with a dozen trails leading everywhere. So, I pulled out my trusty REI Hiking Project App and found the Pancho Trail. This trail along with the Lefty Trail would get me back into the east trailhead. Yes, Pancho and Lefty. Obviously, the namer of those two trails is a country music fan. After the hike I drove to the east shore of the lake as no trails go there directly.

In the distance is Tournament Point the day use and beach area.

Like Arkansas Bend this side had the white limestone cliffs that contrasted well with the blue water of the lake.

I liked this park but dodging bikers all day is not my description of a great hike. By the time I left it was also very crowded.

Old Fort Parker Historic Site, Groesbeck, Limestone County Texas

entrance sign

When I did my previous post on Fort Parker State Park, I indicated that when I got the chance to get momma to the old fort I would. Well, here we are on the way home from Mineral Wells. It was a bit out of the way, but we are here.

Old Fort Parker is a recreated model of the Parker’s Fort of Texas History. It is a privately run affair but desperately needs state help.

There is some discussion as to if this is the original site. The spring is there, or a spring is there but many believe the original fort’s location is lost forever under the water of Fort Parker State Park Lake. Anyway, these folks are putting on a good show. But they are showing their years and the fort is falling into disrepair.

The original reproduction fort was erected by the CCC in the thirties.

Once this model fort fell into disrepair it was rebuilt once again in 1967 using cedar logs harvested at Buescher State Park.

Fort Parker

Why even bother you might say. It wasn’t a military fort it was a private fort. But here an important event occurred in Texas history. The Parker’s came to Texas in 1833 and built the fort on the frontier as protection from the Indians. One morning in 1836 several hundred Kiowa and Comanche warriors showed up at the fort carrying a white flag asking for beef, water and a place to camp. Most of the men were out working in nearby fields. Only five adult men were at the fort. Benjamin Parker bought time for the women and children to flee by negotiating with the Indians. The Indians massacred or captured all the occupants except the few who got out a small gate near the back of the fort leading to the spring and hid in the woods. The most famous of the captives was Cynthia Ann Parker a nine-year-old girl.

Cynthia Ann Parker ended up staying with the Comanches well into adulthood. She married Peta Nocona chief of the Kwahadi tribe of the Comanches. Her son Quanah Parker was the last war chief of the Comanches. Quanah eventually led his people to the Fort Sill reservation after the devastating Red River War between the Comanches and U.S. Troops under General Ranald McKenzie which ended in Palo Duro Canyon when McKenzie’s troops massacred 1500 of the Comanche’s horses. This left the majority of the tribe on foot and unable to mount another major battle. Although not elected as chief of the whole tribe the government named Quanah chief and he spoke often for the Indians before the US Congress.

Quanah became a wealthy rancher and gave generously to his people. He is buried at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

Things are becoming overgrown here that’s why I say these folks need state help. The fort and story would be much more meaningful with a guided tour and some additional explanation that doesn’t appear on the signs about the place.

It was a bit disappointing just walking around reading story boards.

Probably a great field trip for school kids.

Fort Parker does do some events throughout the year the biggest being Christmas at the fort.

Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Trailway, Mineral Wells, Parker County Texas

Wait a minute didn’t my last post put Mineral Wells in Palo Pinto County? Yes, it did but the city extends slightly into neighboring Parker County and that is where the state park is. Lake Mineral Wells was built in 1922 as the town grew and outgrew its water supply wells. The lake also supplied the now defunct Fort Wolters, a Texas National Guard Base. The present park encompasses a large portion of the forts former firing and testing ranges.

Fort Wolters was the largest infantry training center during WW2. It also served as a POW camp for German soldiers.

The main feature of this park besides the lake of course is Penitentiary Hollow which I coaxed momma to hike into with me.

Penitentiary Hollow gets is name because cattle rustlers were said to corral the stolen cattle here until they had enough to drive to market. Therefore, any person caught in the hollow was likely to see the penitentiary.

the steep trail down into the hollow
Penitentiary Hollow

Penitentiary Hollow is one of the few places in east Texas where one can hone their climbing and repelling skills. The walls are about 40 feet high.

Penitentiary Hollow

We also got some great views of the lake from the top of the cliffs

Company 1811 of the Civilian Conservation Corps were garrisoned at Camp Wolters in 1933. Using the natural stone found in the park they built tables, fire pits, the stone steps down into Penitentiary Hollow and railings at the top of the cliffs. They also built the very nice Trailway Trading Post, the park store.

Lake Mineral Wells

We visited the park store which was a very well stocked camp store. One of the best I’ve seen. We bought some…. you guessed it Crazy Water and lounged around by the lake for a while.

Now about that trailway The Lake Mineral Wells Trailway is a rail to trail affair. It starts in Downtown Mineral Wells and runs 20 miles to near Weatherford in Parker County. The right of way used to be the Weatherford, Mineral Wells and Northwestern Railroad which ceased operations in 1992.

The CCC built Trailway Trading Post

although I would have like to do more hiking that’s another Texas State Park off the list!

Mineral Wells, Palo Pinto County Texas

Welcome to Mineral Wells.

Yes CRAZY! Mineral Wells is the home of the Famous Mineral Water Company, the bottlers of Crazy Water. Yes, Crazy Water!

Mineral Wells was founded in 1887 two miles from the Brazos River. People soon got tired of hauling water that far, imagine a four-mile round trip for water, so they pooled their resources and brought in a well driller who drilled a well in the center of town. The people felt the water had a funny taste and smell, so they used it to water their livestock. Well, the cows didn’t die so people started using the water and recognized the “healing powers”. Soon more wells were drilled, and several water companies, spas, drinking pavilions and bathhouses were started. Mineral Wells became the “Spa” of Texas and the southwest.

The Baker Hotel

Several Hotels sprang up also. The above hotel, the Baker is said to be haunted and ghost tours are still conducted. The other, the Crazy Water is where we stayed.

rear of The Crazy Water Plaza.
The shops in the lobby of the Crazy Water Plaza

Although an old building the Crazy Water was completely renovated in 2018 financed by an 88-member group of citizens to make it the focal point of Mineral Wells and Palo Pinto County. And boy did they do a great job. My guess is that at least part of the building was being used as apartments prior to the renovation as our room would have been a comfortable fulltime dwelling.

Today the Crazy Water is becoming an event venue, especially weddings for the area.

full kitchen
living area

The room also had a nice big bath and king bed.

Mineral Wells hosted the 1919 Chicago White Sox for Spring Training. They also had the St Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds for Spring Training in the 1910’s and 1920’s.

Now why Crazy Water?

When the third well was drilled an insane woman drank it and claimed to be cured, ever since it’s been known as Crazy Water!

We visited the Famous Mineral Water Company the only original water company still in business. Formed in 1904 by Ed Dismuke it continues to serve customers today with a drinking pavilion and water sales. It is the only well left that has not been capped.

Downtown Mineral Wells

Downtown, are shops, mostly antique shops and restaurants. Nice little burg……

And Crazy water is quite refreshing…….

Oh No! Lake Georgetown, Georgetown Texas.

Trailhead at Cedar Breaks

One of my favorite local hikes is the San Gabriel trail from Cedar Breaks Park to Crockett Gardens and back. It’s about a five and a half to six-mile trip, just right for a quick morning hike. It is rugged and has some good elevation changes. And Crockett Garden Falls is one of the most unique falls I have ever seen.

Crockett Garden Falls

One of my first hikes in Texas was to Crockett Garden. Crockett Garden is so named because the area was at one time a truck farm. Started by James Knight It was then purchased by L.M. Crockett for whom the falls are named. Knight Spring feeds the falls.

This is an environmentally sensitive area as Crockett Falls is one of those travertine falls so prevalent in Central Texas. In fact, when the lake was built precautions were taken so that even when full the water of the lake would not submerge the falls.

view from the 100-foot cliffs

The first treat on this hike is the 100-foot cliffs and the outstanding views of Lake Georgetown. After a mile of ups and downs and a long steady climb to the top you are definitely rewarded with the view.

I press on.

Here at the vandalized mile marker two, I am about 3/4 of a mile away from the falls

At mile marker two you can almost see the falls as it is across the canyon from here. But I have to walk this canyon rim and then drop down into the upper part of the canyon. But I hear water running. I have never heard water running here before.

Crockett Falls has a small cascade next to it, so I thought well maybe that is running hard although we haven’t had any rain since before Christmas. I go on.

here’s my turn

The cascade next to the falls.

I arrive and OH NO! Crockett Falls has collapsed! It Is gone!

The collapsed falls.

It is estimated that Crockett Falls took about two thousand years to form. It was a must-see landmark when visiting the Georgetown area and now it is gone.

On the bright side there is now a thirty or forty foot free falling waterfall that could rank in the top ten or fifteen as far as tallest continuously flowing waterfalls in the state.

What happened to Crockett Falls. We had a bit of rain followed by a hard freeze right before Christmas. Since Crockett Falls continuously flows it is believed that the ice buildup may have been just too much weight for the structure to handle. Travertine is not the sturdiest base (think stalactites and stalagmites; same basic composition) and the falls had extended out close to twenty feet from the supporting cliff. Probably remarkable that it took this long for the structure to fall.

I will keep doing the hike and watching to see what happens over the next few years.

It’s kinda like the death of an old friend.

Muleshoe Bend Park, Spicewood, Travis County, Texas

Another LCRA Park on Lake Travis, this one was somewhat disappointing. It has lots of hiking about ten miles of it anchored by the 6.5-mile Great Escape Trail. I will say that this trail took you into the wilderness in a somewhat developed area, but it was just a mile burner.

Hill Country View

When you get the view above about fifty steps into a hike you certainly feel good and have high hopes for the day. Not here. That was about it. These trails are hike and bike trails and I did have to dodge a few groups of bikers. Now this is the most ridiculous sign on a trail….

I have never had a biker or runner yield to a hiker. They ride/run up on you and scream for you to get out of the way.

Anyway, the Great Escape Trail was a good one except no views. It was very diverse in elevation and trail surface as some parts were dirt, some parts were rocks and some parts just walking on limestone. I know that trails erode, especially on steep elevation changes but who thought that throwing down a bunch of rocks that look like large marbles was a good Idea! Especially on a slope.

my trail buddy for this trip Loggy Doggy.

I found a unique log pictured above that I lovingly named Loggy Doggy!

I passed by an area where the trees were thinning out but still no views. So, I decided to take the eight tenths of a mile Recharge Loop Trail up the hill to see what I could see. I did manufacture a quick view of the Hill Country from there.

same hill just closer

Now about this trail… I don’t know what brave souls are riding a bike on this thing. It was hard enough just to walk it!

The Recharge Trail

As I got to the furthest extent of the Great Escape Trail, I finally got a decent view.

Lake Travis

As you can see the lake is very low. On the drive to this park, I passed over the Pedernales River one of the main feeder streams of the Colorado and the lake and it was so low that the boat houses along the bank were a good 50 yards from the edge of the water and standing on dry ground. So sad. We need rain!

This trail was a real grind for the last two miles. You are already disappointed because you haven’t seen much except ash juniper (Cedar) and mesquite trees all day and then just to piss you off the last part of the trail is a steady climb over limestone ledges.

the rocky ending to a so-so trail.

Except for the trail length and diversity, I will have to say this is one of the least favorite of the Lake Travis Parks. I think I even liked Shaffer Bend better. (See previous post on Shaffer Bend). But in all fairness maybe if the lake was full, you would somehow see it. Anyway, after the hike I drove to the campgrounds on the lake to check it out, the lake that is.

Barely there

Pennybacker Bridge Overlook, Austin, Travis County Texas

One of the best known and iconic landmarks in Austin is the Pennybacker Bridge over Lake Austin. On each side of the road which is the Capital of Texas Highway, are cliffs overlooking the bridge and Lake Austin. I finished up at Wild Basin and since I had never done this extremely short but extremely steep hike I figured to stop since it was on the way home.

Pennybacker Bridge from the west cliff featuring graffiti

The Percy V Pennybacker Bridge opened in 1982. The steel arch bridge was purposely made of weathering rusted steel to better fit into its surroundings along the Capital of Texas Highway. The Bridge spans Lake Austin which is the Colorado River. The lake is formed by the Tom Miller Dam. It is the second to the last of the Highland Lakes. It starts below Mansfield Dam which forms Lake Travis.

Now who are these guys? Percy V Pennybacker was an engineer for the Texas Department of Transportation who successfully pioneered the use of welded joints on steel bridge structures as opposed to using rivets. This saved the state millions of dollars.

The Tom Miller Dam was constructed in 1940 to provide flood relief and to generate hydroelectric power. It is named for Robert Thomas Miller a former mayor of Austin.

The Pennybacker Bridge lies along The Capital of Texas Highway or Loop 360. This road is considered one the most scenic urban drives in America. I will admit I drive it quite often coming home from hikes south of Austin because of its scenic beauty.

Lake Austin from the west cliff downtown skyline is in the distance

Ugh! The west cliff was dirty, lots of trash and beverage bottles, graffiti, and it was crowded. There is a trail downriver and although the fence had a break in it the posts were painted purple so to a proper hiker that is a no-go. But since I had researched the area on REI’s Hiking Project App I knew as possibly others didn’t that there is also a trail up the east cliff.

The east cliff from the west cliff.

There was no one on the east cliff so I walked up to a nearby traffic light and crossed the very busy road to the east cliff trail. It was much cleaner, but the trail was also a lot tougher.

Pennybacker Bridge from the east cliff
Lake Austin from the east cliff.

That’s a local hiking bucket list item off the list. Actually two, Wild Basin was on there too, but I will do that again, the Pennybacker Overlook?……… probably not.

Wild Basin Preserve, Austin, Travis County, Texas

Wild Basin is unique in that it is open to hiking by reservation only on the weekends. It is five bucks a car with no more than 6 occupants or if you are two days older then dirt like me it is three dollars. It is a very well-maintained preserve run by the City of Austin and St. Edwards University whose students use it as a living lab for environmental studies.

Like the nearby Balcones Wildlife Preserve, Wild Basin protects habitat for the endangered Black Capped Vireo and the Golden Cheeked Warbler, I have never seen either yet.

Both birds live only in Central Texas although they do migrate to northern Mexico for the winter returning in mid-March. The efforts for the Vireo have been somewhat successful and it is no longer endangered. But the Warbler continues to struggle with numbers as the constant pushing of development west into the Hill Country continues to destroy its habitat. in fact, in Wild Basin’s 227 acres they have found only two pairs of Warblers on the property.

Now about Wild Basin. It was established in 1974 by the city of Austin after a group including former Texas Governor Ann Richards pushed for development in the area to be stopped. The city traded land to the development company in return for them leaving Wild Basin unspoiled. The park contains 227 acres and has about 3 miles of very well developed and maintained trails.

view from the Arroyo Vista Trail

I started out on the Arroyo Vista Trail. This trail had an almost constant view of the Hill Country.

beautiful view

Some good views and some not so much……….

ugly view

This preserve is great for people who like elevation gain because it was up and down all day. I descended towards Bee Creek on the Triknee Trail. Yep, if you have a trick knee this one is not for you. It was a steep decline over several natural rock steps.

The Triknee Trail. all the trails in and out of the canyon were like this.

I then hit the Creek Trail. As you get to the creek there is a great surprise waiting for you, A waterfall, with actual water!

Waterfall area

It was just a large trickle on this day, but it has been very dry around here for the last month or more.

I ascended the canyon on the Warbler and Laurel Trails. then I found the Woodland Trail so had to check that one out as well.

Grotto under the Woodland Trail.

And of course, it had a view….

nice one

The people here were very friendly. They invited me back any weekday for free entry and no time limit. Oh, I forgot to mention the reservations are for three hours on weekends then you have to leave before the next flight of hikers arrive. The way natural areas are packed with people and trashed around here on weekends; I find this to be a great way to control the amount of people visiting.

Along the Ledges Trail

Austin Steam Train, Cedar Park, Williamson County to Burnet, Burnet County Texas

When we first arrived in Texas we heard about the train to Burnet. Since the two older grandkids are old enough to enjoy it, we decided to go, although we took them all.

The Austin Steam Train is actually now pulled by a diesel locomotive. Steam Engines have become almost impossible to maintain as most parts are no longer made so everything has to be hand built to specifications and it gets very expensive. We learned this in Arkansas when we rode the Eureka Springs and Northern Arkansas Railroad. They were using a diesel also.

We arrived and were on the train in Cedar Park at 8:50 am. The train leaves at 9.

We were in the Buckeye Lake car, quite fitting for a bunch of native Buckeyes!

The Buckeye Lake.

Let’s do a little history here. The Austin and Northwest Railroad was built in 1881 to bring pink granite from the Hill Country to construct Texas’ new State Capitol Building after the original burnt down. The line was then acquired by the Houston and Texas Central to provide mail and passenger service between Austin and Burnet. The trip took 4 hours to cover the 54 miles between the cities. The Southern Pacific absorbed the Houstion and Central Texas which was itself bought by the Union Pacific. In 1986 the Union Pacific sold the line and rail right of way to Austin Capital Metro. The tracks from Austin to Leander are used today for the CapMetro train between those two cities.

Now about the Buckeye Lake. The car was originally owned by the Erie and Lackawanna Railroad providing passenger service from Cleveland OH to Hoboken NJ. One of the trains crew members actually rode the car when he was a kid! The Erie and Lackawanna sold the car to The Milwaukee Road where it was used on the run between Chicago and Milwaukee.

It is as you can see still painted in the colors of the Milwaukee Road. All the cars were maintained in their original paint schemes. That was a nice touch.

All Aboard!

The train passes through Cedar Park and Leander on the CapMetro route. Once we cleared Leander we were into the country and enjoyed the best view from the train of passing through Short Creek Canyon and crossing the South San Gabriel River.

South San Gabriel River.

Next stop was the small town of Bertram. We stayed on the train here.

Bertram Texas

As we rode on the Conductor came by to punch everyone’s ticket. He let each of the kids hold their ticket as he punched it. This was a nice gesture.

Present your ticket!

After two hours we arrived in Burnet.

We got off the train and walked 3 blocks to the Trailblazer Grille on the courthouse square where we had lunch reservations. The food was great and there was even a small candy shop in the restaurant which the kids enjoyed.

After lunch we went to the Wild West Show near the train depot. An all-volunteer cast put on a half hour skit depicting trouble in the town and a mock gunfight. It was very entertaining and funny.

The big man under the porch was caught cheating at cards with a hand of 6 kings and an ace high! The other man in the brown trousers was Cactus Jack and he was hilarious!
They are robbing the bank and are soon gunned down by the sheriff and his deputy the man in yellow

We enjoyed the two-hour ride back to Cedar Park happy, tired and with full bellies.

The train costs $40 per person. It leaves at nine am most Saturdays from the Cedar Park Depot. You have two hours to enjoy the small town of Burnet. Not enough time but that’s what you get. The train blows 4 long whistles 10 minutes before departure, and they don’t wait. It arrives back in Cedar Park between 3:30 and 4:00 PM so it is an all-day affair.

This was probably, at one time, a scenic trip but the heavy development in the Leander area makes a big part of the trip mostly suburban until you cross through Short Canyon. And as shown above the scenery is not that great between Bertram and Burnet.

Inner Space Cavern, Georgetown, Williamson County Texas

Inner Space. Been by it a hundred times. It’s just nine miles away but I had never been there. So, when Michan was visiting we loaded up the three of us and the two older grandkids and we were off to Inner Space.

Inner Space has a bit of a history. Approximately 25 million years old, no one knew it existed until 1963. It was found by the Texas Department of Transportation when core drilling during the construction of Interstate 35. Today’s entrance was blasted out.

down we go

we did the adventure tour a 1 mile and 1.25 hr excursion through the cave. The cave was amazing although the walk was a bit slippery in places. We went down 70 feet underground. The temperature inside was 72 with 98% humidity but it was still pretty comfortable.

there is also another tour where you wear a headlight and crawl your way through some of the smaller passages of the cave. If I were a few years younger and not a bit claustrophobic that would be fun.

It is believed that up to 40,000 years ago the cave had a natural entrance that has since been filled in naturally by rocks and mud. This belief comes from the discovery of bones of several mammals from that time period such as the mammoth and saber tooth tigers.

The cave is full of stalactites and stalagmites. One formation known as the kissing formation shows two that have almost touched. Since a stalactite grows approximately the length of an ice cube each century these are not expected to touch for another fifty years.

Kissing formation

once a stalactite and stalagmite touch it becomes a column. Not much else to say but here are some pictures. I don’t have any of the bones as they were displayed behind a wire screen so I couldn’t get a good picture.

I find caves fascinating I should try to get to the many other caves around here.