Sunday, May 23, 2010

Inks Lake State Park

Inks Lake is the most popular of the very extensive Texas State Park system. Lucky that I didn't know that when I arrived (after my Longhorn Cavern adventure) at 5 pm with no reservation. Yes, they did have plenty of room, but sorry the new computer system was down. After waiting for 45 minutes with another couple in a 5th wheel I suggested we come back in the morning to register.

My campsite on the water and the gorgeous sunset more than made up for the aggravation of registering.

There wasn't much sunshine, mostly clouds, some thunder and lightening, and a few sprinkles.

The park store rents kayaks (yay!), but sorry, it's closed for inventory with the new computer system. Rats! By noon when it opened, the storm had everyone off the lake.

It's a huge campground, on the order of Pinecrest, with more than 300 sites. I walked all the loops to get acquainted with the lay out. So many years working with the Forest Service have left me always interested in the infra structure and how the systems work.

This cool vine lives in an oak behind my campsite.

There's also an extensive trail system that I wasn't interested in hiking this time. Too hot and dry. I will be looking forward to some lovely hikes here next spring. Lots of wildflowers and pink granite.

Longhorn Caverns State Park

On my Inks Lake several signs for Longhorn Caverns piqued my interest. By happy serendipity I arrived just in time for the last tour of the day.

All the work to make Longhorn Caverns into this fantastic state park was done by the CCC crews in the 1930s. They worked for 8 years cleaning 6-8 feet of debris, rock, and dirt from this mile long cave that was created by an underground river. Even today in heavy rains (think 2003) sections of the cave will fill up with water.

The CCC also built this gorgeous visitors center and a fabulous archway with stairs down to an easy entrance to the cave.

A circular room in the Center is created by this unusual 'dry wall' techique.

Several natural entrances to the cave were used traditionally by Indians and according to legend....outlaws! (umm, sounds like Joaquin Murrietta in the Mother Lode). One story is told of a young woman held hostage by local Indians who was rescued by a Texas Ranger. They married and were among the first settlers in the neighboring community of Burnet.

The arch leading down to the main entrance is quite impressive!

And the beautiful stairs.

The cave has a great system of spot lights to highlight different features. My photography skills were not up the challenges here. Except in the 'Crystal Room'. (Again, the CCC crews cleans layers of dirt and mud off the walls to expose the crystals!).

It's hard to tell from the pics, but these are anywhere from 1 to 8 or more inches long. They were brilliant!

The darkness just absorbed all light from the flash. There were a few sections with white rock like this one.

Finally, here is our tour guide, Owen. He has been working here at the cavern for 10+ years and clearing loved his job!

Hamilton Pool

Hamilton Pool is located in another section of Balcones Canyonlands that is administered by Travis County. It's a very popular swimming hole and often closed on summer week-ends due to over use or water quality problems. They close when the parking lot has 75 cars. I think 25 would be more appropriate. On a Monday morning in early spring with only 3 cars in the lot, it was perfect!

The trail down to the pool is maybe a 1/4 of a mile and then circles the pool under the waterfall. There's another section that goes down the creek that I will explore another day.
A group of young people were doing beautiful rock work to re-build a section of the trail.

In this view from behind the fall, the tiny dots on the far left side of the beach are our girls.

The limestone in central Texas creates these very cool overhangs along the creeks and rivers.
It's easy to imagine an Indian family finding protection here from a rain storm.

This might have been Pai's first experience in a 'natural' pool.

She loved it!!! and so did Grandma!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Balcones Canyonlands

Recently I visited Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge to try to catch a glimpse of a bird called Painted Bunting. The refuge is only an hour northwest of Austin.

After confirming my site at the Sunset Point RV Park in Marble Falls I headed out FM 1431 to find the refuge. My maps weren't the best and the mangers of the park knew nothing about the refuge so the afternoon turned into a great adventure involving about 40 miles and a couple wrong turns. Eventually I found the headquarters and got to visit with an employee just before the work day ended. Turns out the refuge is 20,000 acres of patchwork land that hopes to one day fill in the empty spaces to be 40,000 acres. The logo is a flying duck and it was beautifully part of the gate that closed while I was still inside!

Back to the park I felt right at home camped along the shores of LBJ Lake with Wurtz Dam in the distance. This section appeared to be earth fill while there are several gates at the far end that may be the spillway. No access across the dam and I didn't drive around to the other side to check it out this trip.

A natural area past the rv sites is actually a big pink granite rock. That was a very fun surprise! A dam and granite too!

Along the way were several vernal pools (like on top of Enchanted Rock?) that were outlined with a bright green plant around the edges.

It was easy to see why the area is called Sunset Point. There was an amazing sunset each night I was there.

The next morning I headed out to a different section of this refuge, Doeskin Ranch. It was shaping up to be a hot day and I wanted to get out on the trail early but two bus loads of elementary school kids beat me there!

There were artifacts left over from ranching days and many new (to me) wildflowers, but not so many birds, and no Painted Bunting. It was hot and windy, probably not the best conditions.

Loved this cool flower....

So parts of the trail were wooded.

Some were marshy and so overgrown that I was keeping a keen eye out for Coral Snakes.

And then there was a long stretch of completely exposed trail where I got really too hot!

This area seems to have been cleared for cattle grazing at one time. The trail was marked by really big 'ducks'!

Looking out across the Canyonlands. It's rough country.

Next year I will visit earlier in the spring. In April they had guided walked that would be a fun way to learn more about the flora and fauna.

Everywhere there are new (to me) wildflowers. This lavender one I haven't seen anywhere else.

Way back in the late 1800s people used cedar (Ashe juniper) for everything. The men who cut the cedar were called 'choppers'. This H-brace was part of a fence that separated a meadow from the creek. While I don't know how old they really are, it was very far sighted of the ranchers to separate the cows from the creek.

According to an interpretive sign this structure (also cedar) might have been a corn crib. Now I'm betting it's home to a granddaddy rattlesnake!

And this beautiful old live oak has probably seen many, many Painted Buntings. Maybe next spring I will too!

Happy Mother's Day

We went to the Kid's Show this morning at Ruta Maya. After we played 'catch me Grandma' around the fountain!

Happy Mother's Day from us!!!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Wildseed Farms

The corn poppies are blooming at Wildseed Farms.

Pai learned about migrating before we visited the Butterfly House.

The Monarch caterpillars held Pai's attention longer than the butterflies.

The Butterfly House employees are great about letting the kids hold the caterpillars.

Here are a few of the beautiful butterflies we saw.....

And a passion flower....

More corn poppies looking towards the highway. Those are cows in the field on the other side of the road.

It was getting late in the afternoon and Pai was glad to have a ride around the farm.

Afternoon sun was too bright for her eyes!

One last snap of cactus flowers in the evening light.