Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Farewell Texas Hill Country, Hello Freeport/Surfside

This is my last post from the Texas Hill Country. Tomorrow I pack up and head for Surfside. I have very much enjoyed my time here in Bandera, but even so I am looking forward to some new experiences on the Gulf Coast. Before I leave I wanted to show a few pictures of the Hill Country from the last few days.

Last week I visited the Hill Country State park again and took the above picture of the old ranch house at the entrance to the park. Then I took several trails further West in the park, which are the more rugged areas. The following were from Cougar Canyon overlook.

Also, I noticed over the past few days that Cool Water Acres has undergone a transition in colors since I've been here. When I arrived the cypress were in full color, but little else was changing. Now, the cypress are nearly defoliated and the spanish oak are a brilliant red and the pecan/hickory and other trees have turned yellow. So, for your enjoyment I'm including a couple more pictures from here on the place where I've continued to enjoy hikes despite the fact that I've been over all the trails many times.

Also, on Sunday night I decided to visit a church in Utopia that I had seen when I visited Garner State park. I was invited to dinner with several members at the Lost Maples cafe and had a great visit with Christians both at church and at the cafe. I plan on visiting again for an old fashioned singing tomorrow evening. On the way I couldn't resist stopping to take this picture of the scenic road near Utopia.

Today I visited Kerrville and Fredericksburg. I took a short hike along the Gualalupe river near Kerrville and took this picture of a small waterfall over a dam and the picture below of the trail.

One of the more amazing things here is the wildlife...deer, wild pigs, armadillos, etc. I've seen axis, llama and even a buffalo. I've even seen a few woodpeckers with partially red heads. I think of them all as redheaded woodpeckers, but according to a bird book I found around the place they may officially be ladder backs. Amazingly, they always seem to avoid getting caught in a decent photo. But probably the funniest is this ostrich (I think) which was strolling along highway 16 between Medina and Kerrville this afternoon.

I hope everyone is doing well and if all goes according to plan I will weigh in soon with a post from Surfside, although I won't have full time internet access as I've had here.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Bandera City Park at Medina River

I had driven past the City Park in Bandera several times. I noticed it looked nice, but had not taken the time to visit. Today I was in town for an oil change and groceries and decided to take a look. It was a pleasant surprise... Despite the fact that Bandera was bumper to bumper with hunters and bikers, the park was very quiet and relaxing. There were just a few people fishing and a couple of hikers, and the park turned out to be surprising in size and scenery. It runs a half mile or more down the Medina river, with 2'-4' diameter cypress trees lining the banks. As I looked down from the banks I could clearly see the bottom 6-8' down through the blue green water. Here are a sampling of the views:

I thought my walkabout was about seeing things I've never seen and certainly there is some of that. But, amazingly, a big part of it is reliving my younger days. Here is an example of that...a rope swing. When I was a kid they were fairly common, but I haven't seen one in years. And yet, here in City Park there were several. You'll see the steps up the tree in the foreground, but that is just for beginners. Look carefully across the river and you will see a much taller tree with steps and a crude platform about 20' high hanging out over the river. From that point I can imagine quite a ride along the length of the river.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Medina River, Forest Fire, Utopia and Garner State Park

I was out driving south of Bandera a couple of days ago looking for hikes along the Medina River. I didn't find anything, but just after I took this picture of the river I noticed there was a forest fire just up the hill. It was pretty scary, since it has been dry here and and the a dry NW wind was blowing about 30 mph from a front which came through the night before. I was there before the fire department, although they showed up a couple of minutes later. The fire was amazing, going from a small fire to a huge one within just a few minutes. The small local volunteer firefighters apparently battled it all day and eventually got it out with the help of helicopters.

Today I finally pulled myself up by my bootstraps and headed over to Garner state park. I went through Utopia about noon and spent the afternoon hiking at the park. I started by taking the Old Baldy trail to the top of the mountain shown here, from the bottom and a few views from the top.

Then I hiked past George's Patio overlook and down the Bridges trail. I assumed there must be some spectacular bridges, but I didn't see anything like that. Maybe it was named after someone named Bridges. Anyway, here are some photos from the trail.

Then I took the Madronas trail along the Frio River and the Bird trail up to rock cave.

Garner was on my list to see, but I was a bit discouraged by Shannon's unfavorable comparison to Hill Country SNA. I enjoyed some nice hiking and found it very nice, although if you are looking for quiet nature I could see Hill Country would be better. Garner is very developed, with several huge campgrounds, shelters, cabins. It has a couple of stores, volleyball courts, tube rentals, etc. Obviously it is pretty much oriented to recreation on the Frio river and so was pretty quiet at this time of year, in contrast to the summer months.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Oak Hills Church of Christ- WOW!

I happened upon this article and thought I would add it to this post, since it provides at least one perspective on the dynamics of a church. Interesting, also, that there seem to be some correlations to what I previously noted in the post. Just click on the link.

Since my cabin is within about 35-40 minutes of Oak Hills Church, where Max Lucado is the minister, I decided to visit there this morning. Wow, I could feel the energy as I was entering the parking lot! Hundreds, or maybe thousands, of people converging on the building. And there was something about them...they seemed excited, enthusiastic, young. It felt more like going to a big football game than the typical church. Even the sheriff's deputies directing traffic were quick with a "good morning, have a good day."

Yes, even the parking arrangements made it clear something big was happening. The parking lots, which were massive, were one-way, flow through. Enter on one side, exit on the other. As I became more familiar with the proceedings, it only made sense. There are several services-at least 3 this morning as well as others on Saturday and Sunday night. Normal traffic patterns in the parking lot would lead to gridlock with crowds arriving as others are leaving.

Inside the building was no less energetic. The building had the feel of a mall at Christmas, with teeming crowds moving about the various booths, the visitor center, the education wing, the bookstore. To be honest, I've never seen anything like it.

I'm not sure what to make of the service itself. Dozens availed themselves of the opportunity offered before the sermon to have an elder pray with them or to approach a prayer alter for private prayer. The sermon was a short, simple, but effective lesson typical of Max. No invitation, just something to get you thinking. I was a bit disappointed with the music...I'd hoped for an inspirational, powerful acapella, but instead there was keyboard, band and praise team with minimal audience participation. Felt a bit too much like a performance rather than worship, right down to the applause after each song. Of course, with so many people and so many services, no one recognized me as a visitor and so I missed the brother to brother interaction that I always look forward to at church, and which I think Hebrews 10:24-25 indicates is a big reason we meet. A few people did speak to me...all were visitors looking for information!!

One interesting side story. As I was leaving I saw a tall man entering. My first thought was that he looked familiar, and the first name that came to mind was David Robinson. A figment of my imagination I thought, until I heard the 3 women just ahead of me turn around and look, saying with as much surprise as I felt, "That was David Robinson!". Since I'm no fan of papparatsi(probably misspelled, but even my spell check doesn't recognize it and I can't find it in my 4" thick Webster's Unabridged), there'll be no pictures in this edition.

I'm glad that I went, and my experience was contrasted this evening when I attended the small conservative congregation here in Bandera. There was no crowd, little of the energy and excitement, but a very nice sister I've known less than a week called me by name and mentioned that she had missed me this morning. Most of the people in the congregation spoke to me and mentioned that they were glad to have me visit again and I could hear their rough voices belting out praises to God.

All this brings back to me questions that I often ponder...What makes one place thrive, while another struggles? Why is there great energy at one congregation, quiet determination in another? What is the trigger for excitement? What is best, the energetic atmosphere and crowds or the place where everyone knows your name and considers how to stimulate you to love and good deeds? I know it all comes from God, from the Spirit, but what is the proper combination to unlock the enthusiasm, the energy? Is it the personalities of the leadership? That seems likely from one vantage point, but it hardly seems likely God would leave his kingdom to such vagaries. Okay, this blog does have a comment feature and I really would like to have your perspective!!!

Until next time, may the Lord bless you and keep you!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Lost Maples SNA Revisited

As you may recall, I visited Lost Maples a couple of weeks ago. While it was a great trip, I was a bit disappointed that the color was not yet changing much and that my camera crashed half way through the trip. So, when I heard a story on the news last night indicating now was the time to visit, I decided to head over there this morning.

Since it is only about a 30 minute drive from Bandera, I left my backpack sitting next to my nice comfortable bed and went with just my camera and a couple of bottles of water, along with some Ritz crackers and my EasyCheese canned cheese for lunch.

I went first to the Maple/East trail famous for fall colors. It was beautiful, although a bit crowded. Here are a few pictures from this trail.

After an hour or two I decided to try the West Trail. To my surprise, it was almost deserted and was just as beautiful. In fact, in many ways it was nicer since it was more peaceful. I think in the future I may try taking the West Loop Trail, which extends 2.5 miles further west from the far end of the West Trail. There are some walk-in camp areas up there and last time I was there I met another backpacker who was heading to that area.

One thing has struck me funny… I think of backpacking as primarily a male activity, but I think there are just as many, if not more, female backpackers than male. I have noticed numerous groups of women/girls backpacking, hiking and camping on their own. I’ve noticed this many times from Yellowstone to Texas, but particularly at Lost Maples. I’m happy to see that not all women consider “roughing it” a visit to the Holiday Inn, as most of the women I know seem to think. Anyway… here are a few pictures from the West Trail.

Finally, on the way home I went through the town of Medina and crossed the Medina river. It looked so striking with its blue/green water and lined with cypress trees, as are most of the creeks and rivers here. I stopped the car and took this picture from the road. The more I see of this area, the more beautiful is seems.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Cool Water Acres and Hill Country State Natural Area

It has been a lazy few days here at Cool Water Acres( ). I continue to enjoy quiet walks daily on the property, amazed by the beauty of the countryside and the diversity of wildlife although I regret that my pictures never do it justice. My new camera has a better zoom and higher resolution than the old, but even so, I’m finding that getting decent pictures of the deer and other wildlife I routinely see is nearly impossible. And the countryside, while beautiful, never seems so dramatic as to make a great photo.

I have to admit I’ve gotten quite lazy. I picked up a copy of Lonesome Dove which was around the house here and became engrossed in it. Amazing how it seemed so parallel with my travels. Near as I could tell the trail drive probably came right through Bandera. Then the mentions of Palo Duro, Wind River, Yellowstone and Montana and the wildlife they encounter had me traveling along with them in more than usual interest. The association of its characters with people I’ve known was eerie. And now, heaven forbid, I picked up a copy of Michener’s Caribbean and read the section about Trinidad. What a flood of memories that brought back from my days there. No more… I’m putting it back on the shelf right now.

Anyway, I’m including a couple of pictures from Cool Water Acres that I hope hint at a little of the beauty here.

I did manage to spend most of yesterday hiking in the Hill Country State Park, which is located near Bandera. It is unusual in that the terms in its donation from a private party require that it be kept as completely in its natural state as possible. So, no interpretive center, no big HQ. Just a couple of temporary buildings and a gravel parking lot, along with the largest land area of any state park. I hiked a combination of trails totaling about 4 miles leading up to a scenic overlook at about 1850' with near 360 degree views of the area( Trails 1, 5a, 5, 2 and 6). Again, I’m dissatisfied with my ability to photograph the area in a way that does is justice, but I’ve attached a couple of panoramic views stitched together while trying out the new feature of my camera. (Oops, apparently Blogger doesn't know what to do with stitched photos, so I've just put a few loose photos in.) I plan to spend some more time in the park, although I’m at a bit of a loss how to best see it. There is only one small area where parking is allowed and you apparently have to hike several miles of trails to get access to what appear to be the most interesting trails. In many ways the park is set up better for horseback, and indeed, I see more people on horseback than on foot. When looking on line, I found a blog (Shannon's Notebook)that does a much better job of revealing the spirit of the park than I can do, so I’m attaching the link here.

I appear to finally be making some progress on arranging for my December accommodations in Surfside, so perhaps I’ll soon have an opportunity to visit some friends in Houston once I’m that close.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Cool Water Acres in Bandera

It has been a great few days here at Cool Water Acres. I generally start the day off with some free range eggs. Even though I had free range eggs when I was a kid and remember how bland store bought eggs were when I had to eat them, I still was shocked to see how bright and rich the free range eggs are…absolutely amazing.

Then, I take a nice walk around the 50 acres. It is every bit as enjoyable as any park I’ve visited, with a wide variety of things to see. There is the typical hill country limestone topography. There are the beautiful live oak and red oak. Cedar, of course, and pecan and cypress trees. Apparently the cypress led to the settling of Bandera, since it started as a cypress shingle manufacturing camp. I replaced my camera, so I can show you some of what I photographed on my walk this morning. The yellow in the below picture are cypress trees along Indian Creek, which crosses the property. I’ve also included a picture of the 7 acre lake where I caught a nice bass on Wednesday. I took these pictures from an overlook just a few feet away from my cabin.

The wildlife is also amazing. The house has a sign on the back that says “This house is for the birds”, which is very appropriate. There are a number of bird houses and feeders. Apparently these were the passion of the owner’s mother, who was the original occupant. There are lots of birds, but I’ve also seen squirrels, rabbits, a fox and many, many deer. Each morning on my walk I’ve seen deer, and I was hopeful that wouldn’t change today, when I had my camera. Sure enough, I got a bonus, spotting this big buck for the first time, plus several smaller ones. There were 4 in the second picture, although I can only see one now. On Wednesday night when I left for church I could see probably 20 deer in my headlights as I drove out the drive. Deer season starts tomorrow, so they will probably make themselves much more scarce after that, but either way I’ve already done my “hunting”.

Beyond that, I’m enjoying a bit of luxury with a full time internet connection, color TV and a real bed to sleep in, as well as a gas grill and lots of good books to browse as I sit on the porch. At church I met a fellow who knew mutual friends in Trinidad. What a small world! I'll close with a couple of photos, first of the cabin and second from the porch. The landscape pictures never do justice to the view. I've got to learn how to use that stitch feature on my new camera so I can get a panorama of the view from the porch.