As part of Texas’s phased plan to reopen the economy, governor Greg Abbott reopened state parks for day use only. A limited number of day passes are available for visitors to purchase and print online. This minimizes contact between park staff and guest. Additionally, all visitors must follow the CDC social distancing guidelines and wear a face-mask while in the park. I understand this is a controversial step for the governor to take, but grammi and I consider it to be welcome news. The opportunity for some outdoor activity is much needed as long as it’s done safely.
Our adventure began in Bandera, the self proclaimed cowboy capital of the world. It’s one of the oldest towns in Texas and is located at the southern end of the Great Western Cattle Trail, which ran north to Dodge City and beyond. Many a cattle drive originated from this location. There is a historic district in town with preserved buildings and museums but of course with the current COVID-19 restriction they were mostly all closed. We drove around and saw some of the sites and took a few pictures.
One of the most scenic drives in Texas is from Bandera to Leakey on FM337. This fifty mile stretch makes the list on many published top ten road trips, including Trip Adviser. Snaking through the hill country, it climbs and plunges around hairpin turns and spectacular views of secluded valleys. It’s a favorite for many motorcycle riders. Ranging in elevation from 500 to 3000 feet, on this day we found ourselves in the clouds at the higher elevations making photography difficult. Driving along the sheer cliff face with patchy fog reminded me of many roads I’ve traveled while in the Smoky Mountains.
We purchased our day pass for Lost Maples State Natural Area that morning. It is located just five miles from FM337 north of Vanderpool on RM187. Our pass, which was actually a half-day pass because of COVID-19, was for the afternoon. We arrived right on time at 1:00PM. A park ranger was at the entry gate wearing a cloth face mask. She asked for our name and reservation number then verified the information on her computer screen.
The parking lot was near empty with just a few separated vehicles. Mostly it was people having a picnic at the dozen or so tables scattered around. I chuckled to myself when I visualized people trying to eat a picnic lunch while adhering to the “strict” face mask rule. We chose to park in an out-of-the-way corner near the trailhead. We donned our face mask and set off on our first hike of the day.
We walked the Maple Trail along the bank of the Sabinal River where the native Bigtooth Maple trees dominated the foliage. The steep craggy canyon walls seemed to slowly close in on us as we meandered upstream. The scent from the springtime blossoms filled the air. We immersed ourselves in the sounds: a dove cooing nearby, water babbling over the rocks, the rustle of trees in the breeze. Damn! It felt so invigorating.
It felt strange wearing a face mask while alone in the woods but occasionally we would pass by another hiker. It didn’t take us long however to pull the covering down under our chins when no one else was around. When we saw another hiker on the trail we would just pull up the mask again. This seemed to be how everyone else was handling this requirement.
We drove to another location in the park to take a hike on the East-West Trail. This hike follows along Can Creek, one of the tributaries of the Sabinal River. About a mile in, we stopped to sit on a rock and admire one of the natural ponds in the creek where a boy with his mother was fishing. The water was clear and we could see the fish swimming around. When I asked how the fishing was going, the mom proudly said her son caught a bass just a few minutes ago.
The park was certainly beautiful on this spring day. Blue Bonnets and yellow daisies were in full bloom by the side of the road. The lush emerald green trees covered the canyon. I read that October is a popular time to visit when the autumn colors are on full display. We’ll have to put it on our bucket-list to return at that time. The two hour drive back to our camper gave us plenty of time to absorb all the sights and sounds of our days experience. It was just what we need. It restored our spirit. It strengthened our desire to continue to explore the beauty of our country.
Be safe and please take a minute to leave a comment.