In and Around a River

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Jake had a calm, easy-going manner, and a relaxed pace of conversation when we met for lunch in Johnson City. Thinking we are likely the only two owners (so far) of Ocean Air Cycles Ramblers in the vast state of Texas, we took advantage of my business trip to the San Antonio area to arrange a meet-up. Fortunately, it coincided with a two-night stay I had planned at Pedernales Falls State Park. There was wonderful ramblin’ terrain in abundance.

He only had one afternoon to spend with me, so we didn’t bother much with planning ahead. We simply hauled my camping gear to the primitive camping area, dumped it on the ground, and set off for the trails. Jake rode consistent with his relaxed, easy-going manner. His excellent balance and smoothness over the rocky, switch-back climbs reminded me of a cat. He was deceptively fast. Every time I pulled out my camera on some reasonably smooth terrain, he vanished around the next curve. After a couple of hours of chasing him up and down the paths, double-track, and single-track, Jake headed home and I went about the business of setting-up camp…and resting.

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By morning, I was recovered and ready for more exploration…and coffee. I rode up to the northern limits of the park and found the falls for which the park is named. The area has some interesting geologic features, but to me it was simply a beautiful place for breakfast. Fly fishermen and a Blue Heron pursued their morning refreshment from the river. I sat up high on a flat rock, fired up my Trangia stove, listened to the rushing flow, and watched the sunlight sparkle on the water’s surface.

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South Texas was significantly warmer and more humid than where I live.  The air was steamy, and I experienced a couple of rain showers, but the river water was delightful. I spent the entire day exploring by bicycle, walking along the river bank, or wading in the shallow areas. At times I was wading knee deep in the Pedernales River, and awhile later I’d be up on a hilltop looking out over classic Texas hill country terrain.

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My camp was set-up on a rocky bluff high above the river. The vegetation was too dense for me to see the river, but I could always hear the flow rushing across the riffles. It wasn’t a tiny babbling brook, and it wasn’t a mighty roar. It was just right mellow river music for bluff top meal times and a little hammock lounging.

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There is a low water crossing that allows access to trails on the opposite side of the river from where Jake and I rode the day before. The park map indicated a scenic overlook on one of the trails, and that sounded like a perfect afternoon destination. I lifted my bike and carefully found my footing through the fast flowing knee deep water. When I reached the other side, the steepness and looseness of the trail forced me to push my bike up the first quarter mile or so. After that, I was able to pedal the rest of the way. I found the overlook, and it was (as we all say) much more spectacular than my photos would indicate. What luxury to find the breeze, see the view, and not be in a rush to leave.

On the descent, I came across this snake in the path. Figuring I could “encourage” it to scurry off, I tossed a stick at it and hit its tail. To which he responded by turning around aggressively, holding his ground, and daring me to approach. That’s when I got off the bike, and walked off the path, and stepped cautiously around him. In the end, it was me doing the scurrying.

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There are some remarkable Cypress trees along the river’s edge.  The knees made for some scrambling as I made my way for some views of the river. This is the part of the river down below my camp spot on the bluff. This is also the spot where I hiked through head high grass and picked up my first load of chiggers for the season. Why do these little buggers always take me by surprise?

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Wolf Mountain has a short ring trail around it near the top. The trail was almost level, and allowed for easy pedaling and views in every direction.

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After sundown on the second day, I was sitting at about this spot on the edge of the bluff with nothing to do and nowhere to go. It was too early for bed, so I sat still and watched the light leave the sky. I had told myself that once the lightening bugs came out, I’d climb up the rocks to my hammock and call it a day.

I heard a noise behind me. When I turned, a large horned animal, about 40 feet away, was staring at me. It was a light brown color like a deer, but larger and stockier. It also had those roundish spiral horns of a ram. I didn’t recognize what it was, but it was clear that I was offensive to him.  After giving me a motionless stare-down for about 3 seconds, he bolted up the mountain even more smooth and effortless than Jake pedaling his Rambler. After returning home and doing some internet research, I believe it was a Desert Bighorn Sheep that I saw. Magnificent.

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The grand finale included one more freshly brewed cup of coffee, with the sound of the Pedernales River flowing behind me, the warmth of the first rays of sunshine on my side, and rocky trails of Wolf Mountain in front of me. After two nights, and almost two full days in and around the river, it was time to return home.

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14 thoughts on “In and Around a River

  1. Thanks for the wonderful glimpse into the Pedernales region. If I recall, this is a great boating river. I lived in Houston for 6 months, near my husbands relatives, who mentioned canoeing the Pedernales. And now that I know where the river is located (thanks Google) my husband and I probably pedaled just north of the park en route from Austin to Lubbock in 1984. Cool!

    • Yes, you probably did. It sounds like you saw a wide variety of Texas, including (most likely) some of the lovelier spots…and some of the not so much. I hope you enjoyed the trip. I graduated from Texas A&M University in 1984…and my wife and I moved to Houston for my first job. We’ve since moved north, and glad for it.

    • Yes, the hill country is special. But I can’t complain too much about our gently rolling terrain and lots of empty gravel roads. It is a different kind of beautiful.

    • Haha…great point! The photos of Jake and his bike that I posted on Instagram didn’t make it into the blog post. My apologies for that! But I did go back into my Instagram account to make sure, I saw the photos…so he really does exist…right?

  2. Wondering if the “Tim” from above and I are the same. I don’t remember in the least the luxurious winter beard nor the amazing pictures of this TX region. I’m assuming there is another admiring “Tim” out there.

    That said, this area of TX country is wonderfully gnarled and dusky. If I ever do a Great American Loop, this might have to be on it, perhaps en route to Big Bend. Wanna join?

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