When: January/February 2019
Length: About 23.5 miles (the route I chose)
Scenery: Varied from dusty desert cactus fields, a river under calico bluffs, a lush green water fall, gorges, prairie grasses, and even a cave.
Elevation Change: Not much (even for a flatlander). Low – about 1,000’ along the river. High – about 1,500’ off trail
Route Finding: Easy. Trailheads were well marked. Reflective markers along trail.
Printable Trail Map: https://tpwd.texas.gov/publications/pwdpubs/media/park_maps/pwd_mp_p4507_0140n.pdf or you can find a topo map at topozone.com
Of Note: CBSP is a fairly new park that opened in 1987 after the Texas parks department purchased part of the Gorman and Lemon ranches. The 5328 acres contain a diverse landscape and you can see a wide variety of environs in a short trip. Stop at the Bend General Store on the way out for some music and a breakfast sandwich or burger.
The Details (for those with too much time on their hands)
Of all the places to go backpacking, how did an Indiana boy end up in Colorado Bend State Park in Texas? And why is Colorado Bend State Park in Texas? Does the Colorado River go all the way to Texas? And why am I asking so many questions? Is this a quiz? Well, rest easy, dear reader. I can see you have a troubled mind, and I have the answers for you.
1. I had to go to Austin for work and this park was only two hours the city so I tacked on some vacation time. 2. The park is on the Colorado River which runs through Texas. 3. No, that one out west is a different Colorado River. 4. I don’t know but it’s NOT a good way to start out a trip review. 5. No, it’s not a quiz, but with your newfound knowledge you can now quiz your friends and look really smart or nerdy.
Day 1, Thursday (getting there)
I was traveling to Austin, Texas other reasons and decided to take an extra day to do a quick two-night backpacking trip to treat the Indiana winter blues. A little research found Colorado Bend State Park (CBSP) as a good spot only about 2 hours from the Austin airport. The plan was to fly out of Indiana early, land in the morning, stop for some water and fuel, hit the trail in the afternoon, hike 3 ½ miles to my campsite along the Colorado River, and maybe have time to do a little fishing before dark.
It was a good plan until an 8 hour flight delay changed it. Instead, I arrived at the park around 10 pm, loaded up my pack at the trailhead, and hit the trail at 10:20. Heading into unknown country in the dark isn’t ideal. The light mist was like walking through a cloud, and created a surreal effect. Fortunately for me, the path I had picked in advance was relatively flat and did not have any exposure. It was also lit up by my new Fenix HL60R rechargeable headlamp that I had received for Christmas (see Gear Review). I was never off the trail thanks to the power of my headlamp and the trail being well marked. The 8 ½ x 11” map I had printed showed a large picture of a rattlesnake and I had no desire to run into one, especially in the dark.
I parked at the Cedar Chopper Loop trailhead and headed east on the Lemons Ridge Trail, the first mile or so of which paralleled Park Road and the southern border of the 5328 acre park. My headlamp cast some creepy shadows at times through the scrub pines, prickly pear cacti, and trees, but the only animal I saw was an armadillo that scampered across the path in front of me. It was no surprise that I didn’t see another hiker that night. The Lemons Ridge Trail ended at the River Trail, where I turned south for 0.3 miles before heading into the River Backpack camping area. I covered the 3.6 mile for the night in 1 ½ hours, arriving at my camp at 11:50 pm. After setting up camp and journaling for a bit, it was lights out at 12:40 am.
People encountered today: 0
Mileage for the day: about 3.6
Food highlight for the day: none for food. Because of the flight delay I had a sub on the drive in instead of my backpacking chili.
Friday, February 1, 2019
I awoke at 7:20 am. It was 52 degrees according to my watch. The previous night I hadn’t been able to tell, by sight or sound, how close I was to the Colorado River. I awoke to find I was only about 20 yards from the bank, which tells you how quietly the river ran. It ran slow and wide here, maybe 100 yards across. On the other side, a few houses were scattered along the river.
I moved my tent to a nearby tree to dry it out, made myself some oatmeal, then tried my hand at fishing for white bass. On the third cast I got hung up and lost my Carolina rig. I put on a new rig and at 9 am I took my pole and headed south along the River Trail, leaving the rest of my gear behind. I hiked through the Grey Fox Group Camp Site, which was empty save a few of vehicles, to the camp office, which had been closed by the time I had arrived the night before. I checked in and bought an ice cream sandwich. I was really roughing it. I tried my luck fishing along the river as I headed back to my campsite. Nothing.
At 10:30 I packed up the rest of my gear and left the River Backpack area. This area of the park is fairly flat and would be a good place for a car camper to go for a run. I carried my pole for a while, stopping for a few casts every now and then. I think I managed to hit the park just a bit early in the year for the white bass.
I reached the junction of the Dogleg Canyon Trail at 11:10 am, and continued along the river trail to Gorman Cave. I had tried to book a tour of the cave, which range from kids tours to climbing tours not for the claustrophobic, but none were being held during my visit. So I dropped my pack, grabbed my headlamp and peered into the opening of the cave.
Continuing northwest on the River Trail under a grey sky, I passed the Old Gorman Road Trail at 11:52 and reached the Conference Center just after. Yes, it was a conference center, though it appeared to be seldom used one. It wasn’t apparent how conference attendees would get there. I sat at a picnic table and had a couple of tuna fish wraps for lunch and watched a pair of hikers go by. Other than a pair that I saw near the large campground, these were the first of the day, and I would see them again at Gorman Falls, and later along the Tinaja Trail.
There was an aluminum rowboat next to the conference center and I stowed my pack underneath it. I hiked packless for the ¼ mile to Gorman Falls, the last fifty yards being a descent on slick rock. Gorman Falls is a lovely dispersed flow that cascaded 65’ over travertine that is bright green with vegetation. I got the feeling that it is ever changing and would look different if I were to come back in a couple of years.
I made my way back up, passing a family of four singing B-I-N-G-O to take the children’s minds off of the 1.3 mile hike they must have just taken from the main park road. Back at the conference center I realized the creek running behind it was the top of the waterfall, which sat only 100’ from the building. I put my pack back on and hit the Old Gorman Road Trail at 1:00 pm. The way the old road wound through the scrub pines, prickly pear cacti, and small rock formations reminded me a lot of northern Arkansas.
At 1:19 I took the eastern half of the Cedar Chopper Loop back to the car, where I dropped of some gear. I left the fishing equipment and the chili supper that I didn’t use the night before, as well as my water filtration bag. I had bought 6 liters of water the night before on the way in. I replaced my two empties so that I was once again carrying three liters. I left the car at 2:04 with what was perhaps the lightest pack I had ever taken on an overnight trip. I estimated it to be 30 – 35 pounds.
I took the west half of the Cedar Chopper Loop up to the Tinaja Trail at 2:22. Unlike the flat river area, or the gently rolling scrub pines and cacti area, the Tinaja Trail was three miles of changing elevation and cool rock formations, that included some overlooks and exposure along the trail. About halfway along the trail lies a small pool of water called Tinaja that supports the area wildlife.
Reaching the Gorman Falls Trail once again at 3:48, I headed west towards the main Park Road. The clouds had given way to full sun and it had reached about 80 degrees. This 1.3 mile stretch looked and felt like hiking through the desert, and I felt the miles starting to pile up on me. I reached the Lively Loop at 4:44 and the Windmill Trail where it begins to switch to prairie grass. Here I took my last brief pack-off break before the final stretch.
The Windmill Backpack Camping Area is nothing special. It is more less an open, grassy field with some small, scattered trees, and you can see the other camp sites from yours. There was the namesake windmill lying on its side in the field not far away. I had reached my site at 5:25 pm, and after getting my tent set up I began making supper. I tried a new recipe, pozole, that I had found in Backpacker magazine (see Food Review). It was definitely a keeper. I made cinnamon chips for desert (another new keeper), and a veteran banana nut bread pudding for second desert. I actually had a phone signal it this area, which is unusual when I backpack, so I laid in my tent and called home. It was lights out around 8:15 to 8:30.
Mileage for the day: about 16 miles
People encountered: 10 excluding the people at the camp office, which is pretty good for a Friday in a state park.
Saturday, February 2, 2019
I awoke at 5:48 am and broke camp at 6:30. It was a rough night of sleeping as the coyotes were loud and many, and seemed to be close by. Their yipping and howling was cool for a short period, but they went on and on, would stop, then start up again. I put in my earplugs which helped.
I was once again hiking in the dark and mist with my new best friend, Fenix HL60R. I reached the Lively Loop at 6:40 am and Lemons Ridge Pass at 6:54. I was in a bit of a hurry to get to downtown Austin where I hoped I could check into my hotel early for a shower, before my appointment at noon. I finished off my hike by doing the western portion of Lemons Ridge Trail, arriving back at my car at 7:55 am.
Just outside of the park is the tiny town of Bend, TX. I had seen a sign on the way in near the Bend General Store that advertised breakfast. That store and sign appeared to be entirety of the town. Now I stopped and looked around but saw no restaurant seating. A dog strolled lazily about the store. I was about to leave when the shop keep, who turned out to be the the proprietor, asked me what I was looking for. When I asked if they served breakfast, or any food. He perked up and said certainly – he was just firing up the grill. It turned out that the grill was out front in a trailer/food truck.
Outside the trailer was a couple of picnic tables and some large speakers for pumping loud music at the customers. I got some coffee and waited. The big man was very conversational and he told me to come pack for the party they were having later. I wondered who “they” were and figured it must be park visitors and campers, because the closest small towns (Bend didn’t appear big enough to make this category) were 15 – 20 miles away in any direction. There was a narrow street that ran next to the store, and I noticed the breakfast sign that I had seen on the way in Thursday night. It was pointing down that street. Perhaps there was more to the town of Bend. I sat at the picnic table in the gravel parking area on a sunny Saturday morning, listening to some classic southern rock and ate my breakfast sandwich.
So I had stopped at the wrong place. But then again…no. It was delicious, the company was good, and the atmosphere was something different. If you’re ever in the area of Colorado Bend State Park (and I think you would have to be by intention), stop by the Bend General Store for a burger or breakfast sandwich.
People encountered for the day: just the proprietor and his dog.
Estimated mileage for the day: about 3.9 miles
Estimated mileage for the trip: 3.6 + 16 +3.9 = 23.5 miles