Wednesday, October 16, 2013

McKinney Falls State Park (Austin, TX-2013.10.12)


From downtown Austin, take Interstate 35 south to exit 230 for Texas 71 East toward Bastrop. Merge with E Ben White Boulevard then turn right onto Chapman Lane with a left onto Burleson Road not much further. Turn right onto McKinney Falls Parkway and the entrance to McKinney Falls State Park is on the right.


Onion Creek is the main trail encircling the southern part of the park with all the camping sites. I parked near the showers in the Big Cedar Camping area which is always beneficial after a hike. It was also near an unmarked entry to the trail that could easily be overlooked and leads to and from the loop connecting the campers to the trail. Here are the coordinates of N 30 10.613' W 097 43.509'. Besides my Garmin Montana, I had the trail map given to me at the entrance that listed very good trail etiquette:

  • Stay on designated trails
  • Lease your pets
  • Trash your trash
  • Take only memories and pictures
  • Respect fellow trail users

First impressions gave a narrow concrete trail which is good on a cloudy possible rainy day. Once I connected to the loop, I decided on going counter clockwise and learned early how narrow the trail can be with bikers. Nevertheless, there weren't any crashes that day.

Most of the attractions in the park are along the second quarter of my hike leading up to the Smith Visitor Center with hands-on exhibits and educational exhibits. But before arriving there, I passed the Horse Trainer's Cabin, remains of the former residence of John Von Hagen. It is a two-room structure build in the 1850s and the center of McKinney horse training operations. I imagine back then the air was cleaner and being outdoors was pleasant, thus no need for a living room and all the structure was used for was shelter. How times have changed.

The main attraction of this trail however is the Upper Falls. The map states that 'water cascades through natural channels within a massive bed of exposed limestone.' However, today the falls was more like a drip which allowed us to see the limestone and what causes the effect of the falls. More interesting is the over-hang. Luckily, it is relatively strong and didn't crack as I sat for a moment and let my feet dangle. A few cautions to consider: there are no lifeguards on duty, swimming only allowed during daylight hours, and no pets in the water all leading up to swim at your own risk.

After leaving the Upper Falls, the trail followed Onion Creek full of picnic tables with side routes to restrooms and the amphitheater. A little further and there is a row of primitive camping sites mostly occupied with weekenders. It was a beautiful quiet day until the row of cub scouts rode by on blazing bicycles from the youth camping area. They looked happy and I wish I was both their age and riding with them. Especially down the steep hill that curved to make things just a little more interesting.

The last part of my hike, it was pretty much and the cactus and the two geocaches. For one, I was on the wrong side of the trail until I noticed something just a little off and found it. The next one was my favorite kind, an ammo can full of happiness. Then it all came to an end when I finished the loop. Soon, I was in the showers, cleaning up, and headed to San Antonio for the UTSA Roadrunner game with my McKinney Falls State Park pathtag.

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Duration: 1:33:47 minutes
Distance: 3.31 miles
Pace per mile: 28:18

Total blogged miles: 244.26 miles.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Government Canyon State Park (San Antonio, TX)


From Downtown San Antonio go west on Interstate 10 to Loop 1604 and then head south. It is a highway until a little past the University, then comes the stop lights. Turn west on Shaenfield Road which turns into Galm Road and where it turns left to go south, the entrance to park is on the right. If a ranger is not at the entrance there is a self-play station. Follow the main road and it will take you to the park headquarters.


It's 08:23 and 82°F on Saturday, September 28th as I started hiking north on Joe Johnston Route. One of the two main trails in Government Canyon. Good trail maps can be found at the entrance or by printing off the park website.

In addition to hiking, I wanted to do some geocaching and there were a few in the park. By 08:44, I get close to the first cache on the trail and low and behold, it is next to a sign that reads: Caution Rattlesnake area. Nice! I turn down my wireless earphones and get attune to hear rattles. I am not so worried because I have a heavy step and make a lot of noise. If a rattlesnake cannot detect my presence then that is one not so keen snake. I find the cache, sign the log, and get back to the main trail. Made it without getting bitten.

At 09:11, I get to an open area field, Hoffman Hayfield, used for medevac helicopters. There is a cache there and also people there cutting the grass and keeping it clear. I have come across more people from walkers to runners to bikers. The park is coming to life.

Where Joe Johnston Route intersects with the Carolina Loop, I divert. There is an overlook trail that perks my interest, by just the name of it. Before I go to the Overlook, I decide to take the loop for a short diversion to a cache. Carolina Loop is about 2.2 miles and I wish I had more time today to take it, but maybe next time. The good thing about these two trails is that they are narrow and designed solely for foot traffic.

A little after 10:00 am, I make it to the overlook where a couple is enjoying the view. I, of course, emerge from the bush after finding another cache. It is a steep drop, so don't get too close to the edge. At about 50 feet, the drop won't kill you, but it will hurt. After a couple of photos, I move on as I know there is more trail to see.

When I reconnect with the Joe Johnston trail from the Outlook trail, I find the Zizelmann House. Built in the 1880s, it is now blocked off behind a fence and in need of attention. Maybe someday, it will be restored and we can get up close to a bit of South Texas Back Country history.

I turn onto the Windmill trail where I a crew of workers take over the trail. The while I was hiking this section of the park, I looked for the little windmill but did not see it. Guess it was too saw or more likely, I am too blind.

The Windmill trail ends at Sendero Balcones at the entrance of the Protected Habitant area. I did not enter as time was counting down against me. There is an afternoon football game I had tickets for and did not want to miss. Instead, I took Sendero to south at a break neck pace along the rocky trail. At one point, I pass three ladies and rush through several cross paths back to the Joe Johnston Route. I get to the recharge zone trail and cross over to finish the loop. To finish it off, I stop in the state park store and buy some souvenirs. 

Government Canyon gave me what I needed that Saturday morning. Time on the trail alone, but not so much with people crossing my path from time to time. Great weather, a good defined trail, and last, but not least, some exercise in my home region, South Texas. I went back in time for a few todays that day. It is definitely a good place to take a hike minutes from the city.

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Duration: 4:21:16
Distance: 9.85 miles
Pace per mile: 26:31

Total blogged miles: 240.95 miles.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Route 66 - Amarillo (Amarillo, TX)

2013.09.02 - Labor Day

From the east it starts near Lake Michigan in Chicago and from the west near Santa Monica Peer on the Pacific Coast. However, if not traveling the whole Route 66, then exit 68B on I-40 and head north on Georgia St. to the 6th Avenue intersection where Amarillo's Route 66 district begins.

Every Trail:
We parked on Tennessee St, about half way through the district, started Runkeeper and a new app, Every Trail. I first visited Every Trail when scouting for nearby hikes, but it wasn't until this trip to Albuquerque and back that I discovered its true purpose. For one, Every Trail runs a slide show of every photo taken at its GPS location along the route. Which is fun to watch especially on this magical Mother Road. Another reason, is it gives a running elevation graph with info on duration, length, average speed, vertical up, and vertical down. A link to this trip is on the webpage under the name Route 66 - Texas.

Venturing west, we walked on the north side of Route 66 while enjoying the fanciful buildings to the South. Yet at the corner of Route 66 and S. Fairmont St. is a converted car hop restaurant from the what could have been American food to Filipino food. A good sign of the changing times. So many buildings along Route 66 are abandoned while this one lives on.

Another stable on Route 66 are biker bars and here in Amarillo, there are a couple. Skooteerz is at the corner of Western St. and Route 66 on the edge of the district. Here we turned around and head east. Another biker bar is the Broken Spoke Lounge and can be found between Louisiana and Virginia Streets.

If body art is desired there is a tattoo shop on Prospect Street. But there is also street art along the Route. Across from Cornerstone Church of Amarillo is a storage container with purposeful graffiti. The haunted house at Virginia St. has historic marker in the tombstone. Between Kentucky and Florida Streets PacMan is chasing ghosts. Then on the north side between Kentucky and Alabama is my favorite. A mural of a container store truck with Route 66 on the backside. I just love murals. The last bit of art is for Ladies Bling, a biker shop mural.

Lastly, Route 66's character is reflected in its buildings. From the Solitary building at Belleview St. to Mama's Garden between Maryland and Tennessee to Cowboy Gelato between Florida and Kentucky. What could quickly be passed and missed in a car is in full display on foot. If I get the opportunity to drive Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles again, I hope to do the same as I did that day. Get out, get up close, and feel the ever changing heart of what once was and is America's Highway.

The time spent walking was 56 minutes and 17 seconds for a distance of 2.17 miles. Our vertical up was 620 feet and average speed was 2.3 miles per hour while sightseeing.

Total blogged miles: 231.10 miles.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Woodway Park (Waco, TX)

2013.08.24 - Woodway Park Nature Trail

After a day of geocaching near Walburg in Central Texas, we cached our way to Lake Waco and Woodway Park. On the Google Maps, Woodway dubs as Midway Park and is just inside the Waco city limits. As a matter of fact, it appears the whole Lake Waco is within the Waco city limits.

There is trail head parking on the Park loop to the east of Estates Drive overlooking the lake. As we learned from our walk, this nature trails has many entry points. Some are obvious and with others, after a few trips, they maybe obvious as well.

The trail head also is the start of a night cache, but it is too bright to do it as intended. Right off, we like the dirt path and it is wide enough to not be rubbing brush, yet intimate. Within a hundred feet, we are united with nature. It feels great leaving civilization for a couple of hours. Nothing could be better.

At the first cross path, we turn to go west. I thought I had a idea of how the trail went, but not far we come across a trail map that shows me how off base I am. Woodway is divided into four sections, yellow, red, green, and blue. Yellow follows the park loop road to the lake and comes back. We entered the trail almost at the southern end of Yellow before it met Red. The Red is the largest section and the most confusing. We found ourselves making a wrong turn thinking we were still on the outer section of the trail only to realize we got on the cutoff. The cutoff is the White trail and runs north and south from the southern border of the park to the northern loop park road. In this section we heard the faint sounds of frisbee golfers and stepped aside for one biker. Thinking back, getting lost on Red with many exits was an adventure.

On the Green southern section, there are exits to a playground. Green is meant to be pass through from Red to Blue and back to Red. There are places to cut between the northern and southern park and bypass Blue, but that wouldn't be much fun. Green is also where we found our first cache, A Tree with Roots - Park 1. In the Blue section, we picked up a couple more caches, An Uphill Battle and On Olden Pond. On Olden Pond was after we made the loop back and on a blocked paved road nature is retaking. We tried for a couple higher difficulty caches but came up empty.

As we were spending time looking, the sun was quickly setting. I looked toward the lake and snapped a photo of the Texas Loop 340 bridge. Beautiful. I admired it for a moment and then we started our sprint back to the car.

We realized we got through the Northern Green section fast. I enjoyed the elevation changes of this trail. It is not flat and there are some small switchbacks. There are many dips for biker enjoyment and a couple of places where ducking is required. This may not be a long day's hike, but it is far from boring.

To our amusement, we find ourselves at the creek crossing where we made the wrong turn earlier. How did that happen? We reexamined the trail map and then decided on which way to proceed. By now, the trees were blocking the remaining sun rays. There was still enough light for us to see and when we made it to where the Red Loop completes, we could almost smell the sandwiches we were about to order at Subway. I wish we had come by earlier so we could walk the Yellow to it's end and back, but maybe another cooler day.

We walked 3.77 miles over 1 hour : 38 minutes averaging 26 minutes : 12 seconds per mile.

Total Blogged miles: 228.93 miles.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

L.B. Houston Nature Trail (Dallas, TX)

2013.08.18 - L. B. Houston Nature Trail

Like a true weekend warrior, I decided to tackle L.B. Houston on a hot, hot, hot Texas August day. Strapping on my new Osprey Viper hydration biker backpack with 1.5 liters of cool water, I headed to the trail head where I turned on the RunKeeper app and started the GPS on my Garmin Fenix Watch. It is my new toy, but I am not sure it ever acquired satellites making it pointless on this hike.

L.B. Houston is another trail maintained by Dallas Off Road Bicycle Association (DORBA) with it's own Facebook page. Unbeknownst to me, an event was being held at the Wildwood Road Parking area and could be the reason that nearly 20 mountain bikers passed me on the trail. None of them ran over me. They just whizzed by and for most of the day, it seemed I was alone on the trail.

'Do not ride muddy trails.' This was not going to be a problem today, but the dirt trail had not harden from the heat instead it had a soft bounce. Combined with the leafy canopy throughout the walk, the sun was blocked but not so much the humidity. From the beginning, I followed the big red arrow, but I later discovered there are plenty of smaller loops for diversion. However, I felt the trail was set before me with all the caution tape that blocked many of the trail exits and intersections with other trails. It felt a bit like a crime scene.

If there was one downside to this wonderful trail, it would be the amount of trash along the path. Numerous water bottles lay stranded from their bike brackets. If only they could be recycled. It was disturbing to see a trash can flipped with its contents spilled everywhere. I wonder why anyone would do this? Guess they felt the need to deface beauty.

Speaking of beauty, L.B. Houston is an off-road biker's gem. It zig-zags and winds back again. After the first few miles, I found myself going in one direction then another until I lost my bearings. If it weren't for the landmarks and big read arrows, I would have gotten lost. One such landmark was going underneath railroad tracks. It really felt like I was out in the country when in actuality, I was surrounded by city.

The section I followed the Elm Fork of the Trinity River where I encounter an older man teaching a little girl how to fish. She had the worm on the hook and was ready. It was a classic photo opportunity, but the moment past as quickly as I did.

From years before, the trail cut north but now the trail went under Wildwood road and into the park east. This section is more of a straight loop and doesn't zig zag as much, however the improvements on this side make for a fun ride much less a thrilling walk. A concrete bridge went over a dry creek bed and got me closer to the river with another concrete bridge to get me back to the other side.

When the sign read, swamp loop, I thought about alligators, but I think the Texas Heat dried up the swamp. Instead there were a series of three wooden bridges. They looked bumpy to ride. Then again that may have been the point. These only added to my growing impression that L.B. is a biker's dream amusement park ride. Plus, there were logs laying around waiting for another bridge to be built or maybe something far more exciting. I will have to come back and see what other rides have been installed in a couple of years.

I hit the 5 mile marker before crossing over back to the westside. By then, I was pretty tired and I drank more and more water. The event was over and I hadn't seen a biker in a while. This meant, I couldn't bum a ride and had to use my feet to get me home.

Soon after, I came to my favorite section of the trail, the Jeep Loop. It intrigued me, because I was sure a Jeep couldn't be driven on this trail. Perfect for a hiker and challenging for a mountain biker, but a Jeep? No way. Then I turn the corner and there it is. Pretty beat up but bandaged with bumper stickers. Who knew?

That railroad I crossed under, I was looking forward to it, but I remember it was not a straight shot to it. Instead, I walked along it for a while, then cut back. Truth is, the crossing earlier in the hike was only a few hundred feet south from this one. I was so tempted back then to just take the bypass, but the caution tape prevented me. Besides, I am glad I experienced the WHOLE L.B. Houston trail. Really I am.

Before I knew it I was at an exit that would have given me a straight shot to the car. But I saw a sign. It read Lake Loop Trail. I couldn't resist. It twisted me back into the bush and I followed tired and gladly. The unnamed lake is the centerpiece to this section of the trail and provides serenity. I reflect on the walk I was about to complete and am amazed at doing such a long hike in close to triple digit heat. I drink more water.

When I get to the exit point, I eye the car and realize it is so close yet so far away. I take my time and savor the moment. I've been on longer, harder hikes, but this one took a lot out of me. It definitely was the heat. More the combination of temperature and exertion, not the lack of water. At the trailhead, I saw the infamous red arrow that continued the circle. Not today, but maybe another time.

I walked 7.81 miles over 3 hours : 8 minutes . 51 seconds averaging 24 minutes : 12 seconds per mile.

Total Blogged miles : 225.16 miles.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Sedgwick County Park (Wichita, KS)

2013.08.10 - Sedgwick County Park

This is my first walk after coming off the Wonderland Trail around Mount Rainier. It is pretty flat, paved, and just what I needed. Even the weather cooperated by providing sunshine while minimizing the heat. Couldn't have asked for a better day with a no better friend.

We started near the closed park office in the middle of the park and went west. First thing we saw was a wooden bridge resembling those from Madison County that just begged us for a visit. It was sturdy as we walked back through time and back again at the other end. It is one of several in the park, but the only one we experienced.

Sedgwick County Park is customizable to the hiker, walker, or biker. There is a greater loop that goes outside of the designated park and encircles the zoo property, the park, and the open area west of the Big Slough. However, if one just wants to see a portion of the park, there are many smaller loops, particularly around every lake. We decided to walk the perimeter of the park property.

Not surprising, there were a few caches along our route. The first we couldn't find, but since then we found more than we didn't. One great aspect of geocaching is how it can enhance an outing by giving us direction. Also, a couple of times, I couldn't realize how fast we were moving as we raced from cache to cache. My favorite cache location is at a two trunk V-Shaped Tree that is unusual, fascinating, and beautiful. Just never know what one will find while out walking.

An exercise course is at the south east corner of the park. Here the path is marked by trimmed grass instead of pavement with exercise stations. It doesn't appear to be used often and we didn't see anybody running through there in our brief passing. I hope it doesn't go by the way of the dinosaur.

The east side is photogenic. At the southern, 13th Street Entrance, there is a windmill spinning in the open prairie under puffy clouds. Along the big lake, there is a wooden dock waiting for hanging feet. Then, just when inspiration is needed, 'Push Yourself' graffitied on a bench. Perfect timing as we were about halfway through our walk.

We turn the corner and walk the Northern stretch. Around Horseshoe Lake, we notice fishermen casting their lines. It is peaceful and quiet and perfect. I wish I had the patience to fish. Not sure I am patient enough to fully enjoy the hobby, as I can't seem to stay still even when I sleep.

In the Northwest corner, we found ourselves in an open field. There is a mound in the distance and we suspect during the snowy times, the mounds makes for great sledding. Ah, the memories from my youth and how I had so much fun. But those days are long long gone, just hope next year's snow provides better memories for a youngster.

We pass a structure with two benches that face each other. An interesting place to rest, it stands out in the prairie. We didn't stop because we were so close to finishing the loop. But if we had our lunch, then this place would be perfect. Maybe a place to reflect on the beautiful day along a wonderful trail. Couldn't have asked for anything more.

We walked 4.18 miles over 2 hours and 16 minutes averaging 32 minutes : 40 seconds per mile while also caching. 

Total Blogged miles: 217.35 miles.