You may remember from my last post that I went to Pedernales Falls State Park with my daughter. Well, I went back Saturday alone as I wanted to do a lot of hiking, including going up to the river overlook to see what it looked like around sunset. Pedernales Falls State Park is west of Austin along the Pedernales River, which is its main attraction, but there are also miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails. Below is an excerpt of the park trails map showing about two thirds of the park.
The area that makes up the state park had been periodically occupied by various bands of aboriginal Americans for centuries and many of their artifacts have been found in the area. When Spanish explorers entered the area, they named the river the Pedernales River as they found an abundance of flint rock or “pedernales” in its bed. But the Spanish didn’t attempt to settle the area and it was mainly occupied by the Lipan Apache at this time.
When the area became part of the new nation of Mexico, multiple land grants were given to encourage settlement in the area, but by then the Comanche had moved in and forced the Apache out and strongly resisted any white settlement. Significant settlement by white Americans didn’t begin until the 1850s after the area had passed from Mexico, to the Republic of Texas, and eventually to the United States. During the US civil war, federal soldiers no longer kept the Comanche at bay and many settlers began to abandon the area. But once the war was over, many German immigrants and immigrants from other parts of the American south began moving to the area to attempt farming and ranching.
Farming and ranching was apparently good in the area until the mid-1880s when a drought began and drove most people away. The land that is now the park passed through many families and was eventually mostly bought up by one German-American man in the early 20th century and was mainly used for grazing cattle. The land was eventually sold to a family that had made money in the oil business and they used the area as a hunting and fishing retreat until eventually the land was sold to the state of Texas in 1970 to become a state park.
Trammell’s Crossing in the park is named after a prominent land-owner from back in the 1800s and was originally a low-water crossing for wagons heading into town and back. The crossing is still in use today, though for hikers and park vehicles.
The flora and fauna of the park is not much like it was before settlement, as the ranching and farming techniques dramatically changed the wildlife of the area. Gone are the long grasses and many of the birds, and now Ashe Juniper trees dominate the landscape and suck every drop of moisture out of the ground and mostly wreck the view.
My hike on this day was from a parking area at the day-use area, through Trammell’s crossing, and up to the River overlook. I had never been to this overlook before and on the map it looked like a fantastic place to catch sunset. This was a mostly clear-sky day though, and I didn’t expect much of a cloud show at sunset. The hike was about 2.25 miles and begins by descending through a dry creek bed densely populated with Ashe Juniper and some other trees. Once climbing up the winding trail out of this creek bed, you then join up with the main trail and descend to Trammell’s Crossing and then climb up the opposite side. Once up the ridge on the opposite side, the hike is mostly flat to the overlooks. After I crossed the river, I didn’t see another person on the hiking trails.
I got to the overlook area about an hour before sunset, and wandered around checking out the view from different places. There are a few short trails that lead along the edge of the ridge near the park’s boundary and most of the views are obstructed by the afore mentioned Ashe Juniper, but there are a few places with rough benches where one can sit and enjoy the view.
Below is the view from the River Overlook as the sun is sinking in the west. The rustic bench is in the bottom of the frame, from which you can sit and look down upon the river valley. I took the photo with a wide-angle lens at 20mm and stopped down to f/20 to get the sun-star through the trees. Using a very tight aperture like f/20 results in a flared effect of a very bright pin-point light source like the sun through the tree branches. The final image is an HDR merge of five photos in order to get the bright yellow sun and the landscape below.
The warm soft light of the setting sun tends to saturate the earth-tones both to my eyes and to the camera. It looks so much better than the washed out colors with midday sunlight. You can see the river winding its way through the landscape, but there is not a lot of water running through it at present as it has been a very dry year for central Texas.
After the sun set, as expected there was no beautiful cloud color show. I stuck around for a little while watching a long cloud above, but it only briefly picked up some color before fading to gray. You can see that the sky is a bit hazy on the horizon as the yellow takes on a dirty tinge.
I began my hike back as it began to get dark and by the time I got to the river crossing, I couldn’t see well enough to avoid stumbling on the rocks. But, I carry a head lamp in my backpack and put this on to cross the river and take the winding trail through the creek bed back to the parking lot. This lamp does attract a lot of bugs and at one point I saw some very bright eyes reflecting my light back to me off in the dark woods. It was probably a raccoon coming out for the evening.
I was a nice afternoon of hiking and solitude. Most people seem to come to the park to play in the river and once you get beyond that, you kind of have nature to yourself. I would love to see what it looked like before the settlers arrived and changed the landscape.
There is an interesting write-up about the families that settled here over the last two centuries available on the Texas Parks and Wildlife website here.