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Randy Rogers sang, “All the leaves have turned to rust, and the air is getting thin”, and while the air is quite not thin, the leaves in central Texas are definitely starting to change.
It was at about mile 4 that I realized that I’d never been to Pedernales Falls State Park in the fall. When I did my original post about this park it was from my experience hiking in the dead of summer.
The blistering heat, the lack of shade, and the under-preparedness created a whirl wind of discomfort for the days after that original hike, but this time around I’d hiked more, and learned much more about eating and hydrating.
Coming back to this park that taught my so much about hiking was turning out to be an unexpected challenge. With the increase of people spending time in the outdoors, the reservations were filling up fast.
As my days off are set I knew when I could go, but on a random additional day off was when I finally saw my opening.
The Friday before Indigenous People’s Day was when my opportunity finally opened, and this time around I had a little more knowledge and a little more information about preparation.
The only thing I didn’t know was what trails I was going to hike.
This trip was for documenting. I wanted to bring my gear and record whichever trails I decided to hike. I knew what I was wanting to showcase: the falls, the hike, maybe some scenery, and definitely some of my favorite flowing water.
I arrived just after the park opened with grey skies and low humidity. The park was already buzzing with guests, and the parking lot around the headquarters was being frequented by multiple cars.
I got my printed park pass from the bulletin board outside of the headquarter building and taped it into the inside of my windshield, and then walked over to use the restroom.
The bottle I was drinking from on the way to the park was now empty, so I filled it at the nearby water fountain, and I took a second to appreciate how much water I’ve already consumed. This was always big neglect on my part. I always had my coffee on the way up, but never enough water. When you’re not hydrated enough before, you’re body is always playing catch up to get its full hydration.
After I grabbed my tripod and camera from the back seat I set up for a few shots of the headquarters. From there I turned around and started walking down towards point of interest number 1 for the day; the scenic overlook.
Just below check-in is a platform with a stone wall that circles around. You can step into it and enjoy the lush view of the Texas landscape. Being October the color was much darker from previous visits, with a stark contrast against the grey skies.
Even with a slight haze, you could see far into the distance. Out here you do forget you’re away from the big city of Austin. You see signs of life in the distance, but you don’t hear it. I noticed that multiple times during the day. Just pausing, closing my eyes, and listening to only the wind blowing through the leaves, and the tree branches rubbing together like deer battling for attention.
Part of my anxiety stems from my obsessive over-thinking. Sometimes my brain overthinks something too much where my brain just has to pause for a second before continuing on.
When I got back into the car I stared at the map for what felt like a lifetime of indecision.
What do I want to hike today? What do I want to hike, but also record today? What do I think would offer the best visually?
Those thoughts battling for the top spot, eventually I settled for doing a hike I’d never done before. The Juniper Ridge Trail it is. At 8.92 miles I knew I could have a great, challenging hike, get some exercise, and have a lot of space to record some great content.
When I pulled into the parking lot for the trailhead there were multiple cars already taking up spots. My self-consciousness was taking hold, would there be too many people out? Would I be interrupting other people’s day showboating with a camera on the trail?
I parked and got out to do some warm-up stretches.
There was a couple also just out of their vehicle trying to figure out where they were on the map. This parking lot marks the beginning of multiple trails. The one I was planning on hiking, then the Wolf Mountain Trail (5.4 miles) and the South Loop Equestrian Trail (10.68 miles).
They seemed to be confused about which end of the parking lot they were on. The gentleman was mumbling something to the person he was with, and they went into the trees where I had just been standing.
After warming up my calves and thighs, I grabbed my gear and started walking towards that same opening. I opted to change up my gear for this trip. For the other hikes in 2020, I’d been using my Patagonia Refugio 28L. It’s more of a traditional backpack, but it offers a ton of compartments and a water bladder sleeve. It also houses my Peak Design camera clip on the strap quite nicely.
Using it never felt like I’m over-doing-it, but it was at this same park that I realized what under-doing-it meant. Because of superstition, I opted to bring my more ‘traditional’ backpack.
My Osprey Skarab 32 doesn’t offer much more in capacity, but definitely in functionality. It also features a waist strap that would come in handy as I decided to bring the majority of my camera gear.
The previously mentioned hydration bladder actually came with this backpack, so that was standard, and along with that, I brought an additional water bottle that had my Liquid I.V. hydration powder already mixed in. Also packed my lunch, additional snacks, and a rain jacket, because it said it might rain on the weather report before I left the house.
With the gear on my back, I started walking, but the thing about this trailhead is you don’t know immediately where you’re heading until about 30 yards beyond the parking lot where you have your first choice to make.
The wooden sign, with its carved-out letters painted in yellow, gave you your options: go left for the Wolf Mountain Trail, go right for the Juniper Ridge Trail.
I was frozen in my tracks with sudden indecision. I was ready to tackle the challenge of doing a new trail. To set out on a journey that would be a fresh viewing for me and for my camera. I pulled out the trail map and studied the path. What if I want to do multiple trails today? Shouldn’t I do something shorter? I’d really like to go see some of the actual falls.
Defeated by my own thoughts, I put away my map and went left. Down the familiar path I went.
WMT as it’ll be called, for now, is described as, “[h]ome to the ‘prairie wolf’ or coyote, the Wolf Mountain Trail offers scenic vistas, cool springs and Hill Country creek to enjoy and explore”.
The difficulty rating is curiously
described as challenging, and the map states it should take about 4 hrs. to complete. I was looking at an older map when I first typed this but realized the newer map changed it to moderate. Even more curious actually.
It begins familiarly for the hill country. Crushed rocks crunch beneath your feet as you pass oak and mesquite trees going slightly downhill towards the first of four creeks you’ll cross.
Regal Creek was mostly dried up, but looking into the distance perpendicular to the trail you could see a bit of water puddling. I thought this was a good sign. Slight displays of water meant that I’d surely see more where it counted. After a quick pause to record myself walking away from my camera, and then back again to retrieve it, I was off.
For about two miles you see a bit of the same. You pass another creek, Bee, and then multiple points of curiosity; the pit toilet and the trail towards the primitive camping site.
So if you’re interested in primitive camping it is two miles from the parking lot. If you’ve never done it before this means that you have to hike with all of your gear for two miles to get you your campsite. Not drastic by any measure, but a great way to learn if you brought too much gear on your first primitive expedition.
I stopped to use the restroom and had a bite of my protein bar. The restroom isn’t quite as rustic as it sounds. This is a modern structure that is definitely a step above outhouse but also used by hikers, and overnight guests at the campsites just beyond.
There were sounds of laughter and the general squeaks that children make when they are playing down at the campsite, and that made me smile. After a chug from my water bottle, I grabbed my gear and was ready to make the next decision of the day.
The toilet marks the beginning of the loop. You can go left or right, but eventually, you’ll be right back at this point.
I started my day going left, so that is what I decided to do here. I knew that the main thing I wanted to see on this hike, Jones Spring, was quicker to get to go left, so if you’re just wanting to do that portion of the trail keep that in mind.
WMT has multiple off-shoot trails that normally I’d confuse as deer paths or waterways. On this trail, they offer some amazing views of the water that flows through the park. There are multiple options, but be mindful of the pathways. They aren’t primary trails, so increased traffic will do more harm than good, but there were some notches that were brimming with amazing views of the Pedernales River. More water, a good sign.
As the trail starts to bend towards the right I saw a familiar post creeping above tall yellow grasses. Just beyond the sign was a wooden bench constructed by Eagle Scouts, and then another sign with a map of where I stood in the park.
At that moment I noticed something else. The absence of the sounds of trickling water flowing through the trees, into a pool below. Just sounds of crickets, and birds chirping. Walking into the path towards the water the landscape shifted from greens and oranges to browns and yellows, and down the path, under some branches, I made it to an opening of rock ledges, smoothed by years of water, now steps for me to sit and stare at the green pool of stagnant water below.
The sounds are now replaced by the buzzing of horse flies on my arms and legs, and mosquitos with a higher pitch by my ear. I’m glad I could swap out memories from a previous visit, and thankfully the sun was still hiding behind clouds, as normally this is a perfect place to dunk your hat into the water and place it on your head letting the water drain onto your face and neck.
I was planning on stopping here for the rest of my snack no matter, so I took off my pack and grabbed the remaining protein bar from earlier in the day.
With the camera now set up in front of me, I entered my lament into the video journal. The bugs did not appreciate my tone, and they showed their dismay by attacking me and forcing me to show more appreciation. I ended the video clip by saying I was still really appreciative of the experience, and the opportunity to spend time outdoors. There. Camera closed.
After a brief pause to stretch out, the pack went back on and back up the path towards the trail I went.
There is a bit of history at this park to be on the lookout for. About 30 feet after the sign for the spring is another sign warning visitors about defacing and removal of park property. On the other side of that lies the remains of a stone building once occupied by D.G. and Nannie Jones, the namesake for the just-visited spring.
They purchased the house from T.J. Trammel in 1885, but there isn’t much left besides barely standing walks, some rusted metal scraps, and a collection of rock bits on top of one of the remaining walls.
To the side, you’ll notice a rock wall still pushing through the trees that may have been a fence for their property, but without exploring into the depths of the unknown here, I’ll just assume and let the professionals answer that one for you.
At this point, you’ll also see an opportunity to extend your hike a bit farther and jump onto the eastern part of the Juniper Ridge Trail. I decided not to and continued on. If you change your mind, you’ll eventually see the Wheatley Trail marker(.73 miles), and you can take that southwest and hop on the Juniper trail too. That’s its sole purpose it seems, as it doesn’t really take you anywhere else.
As you continue on you’ll hit another intersecting trail, Windmill Road (.6 miles), and this will take you onto the South Loop Equestrian Trail, and from there you can hike down towards the Madrone Trail (4.3 miles). In fact, the only way to access this trail is from another trail, so food for thought.
The namesake for the trail is an actual mountain. I mean, it says it’s a mountain on the map, but the Wolf Mountain isn’t what you think of when you type mountain into a web search.
The trail loops around the base of the, ahem, mountain, but there is no peak to hike to. No signage to celebrate your ascent, no metal pillar of success to photograph yourself as you hug it and wave into the sky. Just a trail that loops around. Once I arrived at the loop my decision-making was a bit quicker, ‘go left’. And I did.
The end of the trail is just like it began.
The pit toilet, the sign for the primitive camping, but one thing had changed. My pace.
I consumed a Honey Stinger energy gel pouch, and with my tripod, in hand, I started to zoom through the last couple of miles.
My watch was already telling me that the stated mileage of the trail had been passed a few miles back, and a lot of that was in account of going back and forth while recording myself walking.
But even with the additional steps, this trail does still feel a bit longer than it says on paper. That’s why I was ready this time. I checked my water levels, and was good, but was definitely ready for lunch.
I walked back through the shadow of the overhanging branches of oak trees to my car having just hiked the last mile in 16 minutes. With my gear off and into my car, I took a moment to cool off by my car and record a quick segment about the trail.
The visitors I had passed finally made it to the parking lot, and while there were no trophies being handed out I was pleased with my conditioning and happy I wasn’t sick of thirst.
In my car, I studied my map that was now slightly damp. I traced the dotted lines on the paper with the tip of my finger and studied where I had just been, and where I wanted to adventure to next.
My finger stopped in between points of interest numbers 4 & 5 on the map. Trammell’s Crossing and Twin Falls Overlook respectively.
I really want to see the Twin Falls real quick. Let’s see if I can just park and run down there and get some video.
The car was started and towards the Twin Falls Nature Trail, I went.
The only way to access the Twin Falls Trail ( .5 miles) is via the campsite. There is technically no parking lot for this trail either, so you should park outside of the campground and walk-in. There is a small patch of crushed granite at the trailhead to park a bike, and I’ll just leave the rest up to your imagination and risk level.
Once there the scenery drastically changes from the wide-open, sky-filled views seen on the WMT, to dense foliage and carved-out boulders to make way. This is where you’ll start to see some trail blazes notating which direction you should go.
The blue and silver markers pointing to your correct direction shine and reflect what little light that creeps through the trees. And with the sun finally starting to break through the clouds, the markers were starting to reflect just a bit.
The tree stumps are more noticeable, and flying through the trail isn’t as simple as it just was. While notating each step, I made my way down the path and recording the trail with my smaller camera all while trying not to fall.
The sounds here were also changed. The sound of leaves rustling was thicker, and the branches creaked together louder, and a familiar sound of water trickling off in the distance greeted me as I traversed down.
Eventually, you’ll see signage reminding guests to stay on the trail, and not venture below the wooden platform just down below. The dirt here is soft, and the signs of this notice being ignored more often than not were starting to show.
History of footprints eroding the dirt can be seen just away from the stone staircase that leads you to the viewing area. But there it was. Two young ladies were sitting in the corner discussing work and eating lunch. “Don’t mind us” one of them stated. I wanted to repeat her words back as I started to take out my camera gear to record.
I skipped the narration and just photographed the water and the trees. It’s amazing how much water we take pictures of when it always acts the same. It flows down, or across, or doesn’t flow at all, but water typically looks like water. I’m not sure why so many people want to walk down below this platform to get a closer look, but yet the changing landscape was ever more unsightly.
Mother nature won’t forgive what we’ve done to her. Even in these smallest of instances.
A breath. I left back up the steps to allow the discussion of the two to continue uninterrupted.
The staircase now taller and glorious above my head winding up through the trees. What goes down, must go back up. My legs starting to feel the burn.
I took more time on the way back through the trail to admire the blend of trees and rocks. And also to take note of the darkness that was all around. So saturated with plants, the colors of everything darker, and the ground a little wetter to the touch of the sole of my hiking shoe.
The sounds of everything else still the same. And with the sound of flowing water drifting off behind me I made it back up to head towards my car.
In the 1870s T.J. Trammel settled on this land. At this point, the land that is now the park, and the surrounding area, had been settled and utilized for crops and cattle. The name of my next band by the way.
Over time the land changed hands and was later sold to the state of Texas, and I won’t go into the depths of the history, but please read up on it here:https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_p4507_0026m.pdf
During this time period access to different ranches and farms was made easier by being able to cross over the Pedernales River. One such crossing was built by T.J. Trammel, and it sits to this day as the pathway to access the 5.5 Mile Loop Trail. (5.3 miles… just kidding, it’s 5.5 miles).
The cypress trees jettison out over the water providing shade for wildlife that inhabit the water, and for anyone else that wants to cool off from the heat.
It’s here that I learned a valuable lesson about directions and properly reading a map, but there is a lot to see in this section of the park that’s unrelated to the hiking path.
The concrete walkway is slightly under the water, and you’re met with the trailhead just in front of its exit, but if you veer to the right you’ll follow a path of river rocks that’s alongside the water that will take you to a wide-open area for recreation. It was on this rock way that I learned I had taken the wrong direction, but I still hang out in the water at this section for it provides more seclusion during the week.
I brought my normal work lunch for my midday meal. Turkey sandwich with two slices of cheese placed on either side in between slices of wheat bread.
I stood with my feet now adorned with sandals just at the water’s edge. The shade and the cooling temperature of the water relaxed me, and I was able to stand and admire the colors I’d began to really appreciate for the first time.
Earlier in the day is when I had realized I had only been here during the summer, but looking around I was taking note of all of the oranges and browns that were decorating the trees, and I was reminded why I enjoy coming to this park.
It’s a hill country state park, but it’s away enough from Austin to not hear the sounds of a bustling city that’s growing faster than people can sometimes handle.
With my sandwich in hand, a group of hikers were making their way from the 5.5 trail and delicately dipping their feet back into the water. They had to walk on this platform already once, did they forget how easy it was to walk on it?
Of the group half of them decided to remove their footwear, so after crossing they stopped to rest a bit and dry, and replace the shoes on their feet.
It was at this park that I started to notice the different types of hikers. This group was the athletic type. Wearing nothing but basketball clothes and yoga pants, there’s no way to know how that sole bottle of water allowed them to hike any amount of miles.
Then you have the O.G. Hikers. Those that wear the classic style hiking boots, with canvas pants, long-sleeve button-down shirt, scarf, or bandana tied around the neck with a wide-brimmed straw hat and a hiking stick carved out of wood they found in their backyard.
The burlap sack is filled with cured meats and cheese cubes straight out of Kerouac’s Dharma Bums.
Then you have the modern, synth-blend like me. All synthetic fabrics, running shorts, and trail running shoes. Graphite trekking poles and plenty of technology to almost forget about being in nature.
One thing that I hope is true for each of us is the appreciation of the beauty that is in the Texas landscape.
The appreciation for being able to be outside, and maybe learn a little bit about the people that inhabited these gifted lands of previous generations.
After I was done with my lunch I grabbed my pack and threw it on my back. Adjusting my waist strap, then my sternum strap, and grabbed a sip of water from my nozzle that sticks to the strap across my chest with a magnet.
I tightened the straps on my sandals, and made my way back up the path from where I had just made my way down; the only thing interrupting the pure agony of walking back up this hill was looking over to the water flowing through the trees with leaves now turned to the color of rust.
Read more about the history of the settlers from this area: https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/pwd_bk_p4507_0026m.pdf
See the full map and print at home, or prepare for your next trip: https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/park_maps/pwd_mp_p4507_0026n.pdf
Read about my first visit to Pedernales State Park: https://www.thetexastrailhead.com/pedernales-falls-state-park-visit-recap/
All Images Copyright The Texas Trailhead 2020. Photos cannot be used without permission.