Bastrop State Park: Hike It Baby: Thoughts on Hiking
















Last weekend, we went camping with the Hike It Baby group at Bastrop State Park.  The focused activity of the day was a planned mid-morning hike along the Red Trail (with a later connection to the Purple and Orange Trails, I think).  We didn’t get to the park until just before the hike began, due to timing of a work trip I had to take and then subsequent slowness of getting the car packed up.  Once there, we decided that Jason would go set up camp for us while the boys and I made the hike.

During the hike, the group of about 22 families split up according to speed.  There was a time when we were in the front of the pack, but then I slowed down as I started to pull out the binoculars to look at birds.  My oldest son stayed with the front of the group, but the middle one stayed with me for a bit, until I got annoyed with him for throwing a stick into a pile of brush, making a20151114_104525 crashing sound that chased off the woodpecker I had just asked him if he wanted to look at through the binoculars.  After that, he took off to join his brother at the front.
There was a time when another couple or two and the hike leader Jennifer were walking with me, but then they forged on ahead and I kept stopping to look at birds.  Pretty soon, I found myself alone on the trail (except for the sleeping baby in the BabyBjorn up against my chest).  I knew there were people behind me, but for some reason they didn’t catch up, and I didn’t feel like I needed them to.  It seemed like it was about the last half mile I walked alone, because I remember that Jennifer was still at my side when her odometer chimed off the one mile reading.

In that time, I had some time with myself and my thoughts.  I considered 20151114_103302what it would be like to be backpacking alone on a long distance thru hike, and contemplated if I had what it took to do something like that.  Mentally, I believe that I have what it would take, because I am enthusiastic and persistent. I am always game for physical activity, and I am absolutely thrilled with being outdoors.  The sight of a trail makes my heart pump faster like a person in love.

However, physically, I was feeling the effects of the hike, even though it was fairly short in distance.  My lower back was in a lot of pain, and although that probably had to do with the seventeen pounds of baby dead weight on my chest and a possibly ill-fitted baby backpack (we discovered the next weekend that we had failed to adjust it since his last growth spurt).  One could argue that I would probably not be carrying a baby on a thru-hike, but I would also be carrying my gear20151114_102952 on my back instead.  Depending on the fit of the pack, that may or may not be easier to handle.

Also, my bum ankle was giving me a hard time.  I didn’t really consider when I was laying on my back that fateful day in December 2012 with my bone hanging out and my ankle twisted the wrong way that my hiking aspirations were now toast.  I thought with the miracle of modern medicine that I would be as good as new in a few months.  I was still in denial until the doctor explained to me that the pain I felt in my ankle would probably always be there, and although I would be able to resume normal activity, it would not be at the level I was at before and I would have to adjust.  The cushion between joints at my ankle is gone, and also the strength of my muscles and ligaments has not returned, so after a day of hiking even a short distance, my ankle is swollen under the joint at the inside and I am limping.  How could I possibly hike fifteen miles a day or so for months on end, when I am not even sure I can actually hike fifteen miles ONE day?  
There was a steep incline on the trail before we got to a stopping point, which was about halfway through the hike that the group had planned.  The older boys were up there sitting on a rock waiting for me, complaining that they had enough hiking and could we just call Jason to come get us now?  They were bored of it.

I was not bored of it, and I wanted to continue on with the group, but I wanted to wait with the boys to make sure Jason could find them, and by the time this all happened, the group had already started hiking the rest of the way and I was going to have to play catch up.  So, I only got to do half the hike, but even though my spirit was willing, the flesh was not, and this makes me reconsider future endeavors.

20151114_112853It might be that backpacking and thru-hikes were always just a pipe dream for me. I have had those before and had to let them go, and it always sucks but after a while, you forget about them.  It might be something I can get around to later, after the kids are older and we have more time for our own pursuits.  It is not a bad idea to continue to challenge my bum leg and appeal to my outdoor schemes by taking some hikes, perhaps even overnight ones, and see how I feel afterwards.

Still, for now, we are still enjoying the outdoor activities and sense of community offered by Hike It Baby.  We enjoyed the rest of the camp out, although for some reason we missed out on some group activities and group knowledge (like when the hot dogs were being served).  It might have been because our older kids got bored and we ended up going into town to appease them for a bit (visiting our favorite shop, Bastrop Goldsmith, as well as finding a new favorite shop).
Luckily, another mother in the group offered to make Kaleb a grilled cheese sandwich (since all the hot dogs were gone).  The rest of us were fine eating varieties of salad and chili for dinner.  Sebastian survived his first camping trip, although he did come down with a mysterious fever in the middle of the night (causing Jason to have to leave camp at one in the morning to find a place open to buy fever reducer at).  There is more drama that ensued after (re: car breakdowns and missed work etc), but that is besides the point.
20151114_112907The point is that we did end up having a good time exploring this park with the group, despite physical and logistical challenges.  It was so awesome to camp with a group of people who all had young children, because there were many activities to enjoy together.  One of the best parts was the hangout site, where there was a sand pit and some safe activities for young ones to explore together.  We would camp with this group again, and hopefully I would be able to enjoy an entire hike with them (without complaining older kids, perhaps).

Caprock Canyons State Park: Free Verse Style

_DSC0700Rising from a dream,

Noticing a sky full of stars,

I look over and Jason met my eye

We go outside to look,

my oldest son following silently

We all marveled at the detail

Of the galaxy above us

And go back to sleep in awe


Morning’s first light,

We sneak away for a daybreak drive

Blue Grosbeak male singing a song in a cedar

The female sits close, admiring

A whistle in nearby brush

reveals the Northern Bobwhite

Elusive little quail,

looking right at us just feet away


Trails stretch off invitingly in the distance

Red rock canyons rising up all around us

But we don’t have the time to explore it all

Just these things:

Bison shaking their shaggy heads

Rolling in big patches of warmed dirt

Their calves standing chest high in Lake Theo

Cooling off from a summer sun


We saw a ladybug that morning

On our way back up from swimming in the lake

The youngest wanted to keep it

“Wouldn’t it be great if ladybugs were immortal?”,  he asked

I try to imagine a world

Where ladybugs never die

All good things must come to an end, my son

And likewise, too soon, our time at Caprock Canyons


But this is how it ends:

With me, sitting in the morning sun

Watching prairie dogs cavort

Whistling alerts for kids on bikes

Freshly washed hair blowing in my face

Birds singing, a scissortail flying low

Searching for bugs

Bees, crickets, horseflies all humming a tune


A goodbye lullaby

For a park that won our heart


South Shore Park, Bastrop


It was twilight, and my little son and I stood at the water’s edge.  He was so excited to get to the swimming area of the park, but excitement turned to trepidation when he realized this was a lake, and not a pool.  It had inhabitants.  He could hear the occasional splash as a fish breached the water’s surface and made a jump.  His older brother had filled his head with stories of unknown horrors, straight out of Twilight Zone episodes and brotherly teasing, of what kind of dangers could be lurking in there, and now he couldn’t let it go.

“Will the fish eat me?” he worried tremulously by my side. “Nope.  Come on,” I said, trying to encourage him to step out a few more feet.  “But what will they do?”

“They might kiss you, that’s all”  “Will it hurt?”

On and on this went.  I wondered how this child came to be mine, so full of fears, while I was always the brave one.  I thought about my more daring years, when I would go out to lakes late at night with boyfriends, skinny dipping with who knows what swimming around us, and I marveled that I was brave enough to cast all concerns aside and be completely vulnerable to the creatures of the murky lake.  I wasn’t scared now, but I did like the relative safety of a clothing barrier.

But maybe a boy like that needs a mother like me, as I finally coaxed him out to the middle of the swimming area, sitting on our bottoms on soft mud, reveling at the sounds of the night.  We became a part of nature, he and I, experiencing it from the inside.  It was just a short time, and then he was done, which was fine by me, and we climbed out as wet sand fell off our rears.  We got on our bikes and rode back to our cabin, excited to see what tomorrow would bring.


Dawn breaks at South Shore Park, on the shores of Lake Bastrop, and the birds begin calling.  Now is the time to set the fishing poles out, as the fish are jumping in the nearby cove, but the park is sleepy yet.  I was wearing my bright blue flannel pajamas, not bothering to dress yet before biking off to the bathroom and then the bench, sitting quietly with J as we enjoy the sunrise together.

We eased back into camp, and after I dressed, he made breakfast on our cook stove at the picnic table outside our cabin.  Children reluctantly stretched and got out of bed, shaking sleep from their eyes to come sit to eat.  Of course, the first thing the little one wanted to do was try swimming again.

We were the only ones creeping into the swimming area at seven in the morning.  A mist lifted off the water, and we shivered in the adjustments to the coolness; first the ankles, then the knees, then the waist.  We watched the first wave of canoes and kayaks start to make their way across the water, dropping fishing lines in the lake that is stocked regularly with Florida largemouth bass and three kinds of catfish, as well as crappie and perch.

We abandon swimming for biking.  We had loaded up all four bikes.  The night before, we had biked around the park, exploring the fishing pier and boat dock, but then we had approached the road and I decided its deep darkness was probably not that safe to explore at that particular time.  I had promised we would go back down the road during the daytime; plus, we needed to anyways, seeing as how we arrived too late for official check in the evening before.  The camp office was down that way.

When we checked in, a lady was renting all the available canoes and kayaks for an outdoors club that was meeting today.  We considered the $5 rental for another time, but today settled on adding a cane fishing pole to our account as we settled our day fees and got our sticker.
We each took turns attempting to catch fish with the cane pole, a bit of Spam on the end for bait, but it never really panned out.  My older son was doubtful we could even catch something with that primitive pole, but I knew it was not the pole, but the timing of our fishing that was off that day.  I still had a good time holding the pole in the warm sunshine, occasionally taking a sip from the little bottle of wine in my pocket, writing in my journal, and watching the birds.

The birds of the lake were mostly ordinary lake birds this weekend:  dozens of American Coots, a lone Great Egret across the lake, a Great Blue Heron here and there.  Small flocks of snowy egrets crossed the sky.  I wanted to see the Osprey that our particular area of cabins got its name from (Osprey Point), but it did not show itself until much later in the day, delighting me as it flew directly above me, looking for a fishy lunch.  The most unusual bird of the day, and a new one for the year for me (#84), was a very small Green Heron who was almost blending in with the shoreline, slowly making his way around the reeds.  On a biking venture around the Fisherman’s Loop Trail, I got a glimpse of a yellow throated warbler, also new for the year (#85).

We were here at the park to experience everything about Bastrop that we had missed out on last month when we were in town for the Texas Challenge.  Both the state parks were booked up a month ago when I called to reserve a spot, but this park, operated by the Lower Colorado River Authority, had one cabin left.  The cabins offer air conditioned comfort and the chance to go camping without the hassle of setting up a tent.  They run about $50 a night, with daily entrance fees on top of that ($5 per adult), but for $130 for the weekend for our family of four, it was an affordable way to enjoy Bastrop without giving up too much creature comfort (not that we normally mind, but we do get tired of packing the tent equipment around).  Each cabin can sleep five, with bunk beds pictured here.
No dogs are allowed in the cabins (Scout and Breeze had to hunker down with their dog-grandparents for the weekend), and the only drawback to the campsites were that there were no individual fire rings.  We did find a fire ring near the cove, though, that allowed us to have a campfire on Saturday night.

Later, we left the park to try some of the other things the town had to offer.  It was Easter weekend, and I had a little guy  who had specifically requested an easter egg hunt ALL THREE DAYS of the weekend.  J had shaken his head at my caving to this request the day before, buying Easter eggs and goodies to hide around the cabin for a night time flashlight hunt.  This afternoon, we were on the way to an egg hunt at a Methodist church in town.

It ended up being my little one and I at the church, while J took the older one with him to WalMart for a supply run (there was a bike situation).  While we were at the church, the kids went inside to listen to the story of Easter.  I watched my son get really excited as the teacher brought out elements of the story, and he came to sit next to her to show off how much he knew about the story of Jesus.  I realized how much he was learning about his faith from the stories I told him, or the things he read in his little Bible that my old church sent him when he was born, or picking up from Sunday School.

The egg hunt ended before J was back to pick us up, so we walked down Main Street and ended up checking out a couple of stores.  I bought us ice cream cones at the the old time soda fountain in the Lock Drug Store.

Next door, we found a collection of geodes and interesting rocks displayed in baskets and boxes in front of the Bastrop Goldsmith Silversmith.  We love interesting rocks, and we bought a few for our collections.  I was talking to the man who ran the store about how I wanted to add the one I bought to a terrarium (like the ones I made for my wedding), and he was excited about this idea and told me where I could harvest little plants nearby.  While I was talking to him, I noticed some interesting gems in his display, and asked about them.  They looked like bright sapphires.  He told me they were gems made out of the ashes of Mt Helens (Helenite).  As he pulled the rings out to show me, I saw J driving by, and had to rush out to meet him to get picked up.  I was so excited about the jewelry and let him know it was something I would love for an anniversary or something.  That man of mine is so awesome that he actually contemplated stopping into the store to buy something for me later than night when he had to go back into town, but realized I was so on top of the budget that he would have a hard time hiding an expenditure like that right now (I am trying to save for our vacation this summer).

After this, we stopped for lunch at the place I was craving the whole time we were in Bastrop last time – the Roadhouse Cafe.  We sat on the porch and nibbled on friend pickle spears and chili cheese fries.  J tortured me with letting me have a bite of his mouth watering cheeseburger, but I was really enthralled by the Fiesta Chicken Salad I had ordered.  Despite the kids each spilling a soda on their laps, we had a really nice time there.

After this, we went for a bike ride at the Colorado River Refuge, but that was such a cool place that I will have to write about it later.  Then we returned to the park, and all promptly fell asleep in our beds in the cabin for a nice afternoon nap.  I was woken up by “Mom, mom, mom” a’la Stewie from Family Guy style, by the little one who wanted to be fed again.  After a snack, we headed back out to the swimming area.

This time, there were other children playing in the water, so it wasn’t long before my son was off and playing with them, no longer concerned about what might eat him in the water.  I had waded out with him, but now I could just relax a bit.  I leaned back and made myself horizontal, laying in the water like a bed.   I can hear the children playing a short distance away from me, so I can tell from the sounds of “Marco!  Polo!” that my son is safely engaged in his own activities.

All I have to do is cross my feet and my arms, and I am floating along with the pull of the water.  Eyes closed, I make myself completely at the mercy of the universe.  At this moment, I literally have blind trust that everything will be okay.  All the worries of the days and weeks and months slide away from me.   When I open my eyes, all I see is sky and clouds, and I am focusing only on the water and wind.  For some reason, it makes me think about baby Moses, at the mercy of the world in that little basket on the Nile.  God saw to it that little baby Moses was found safely by Pharoah’s daughter, unharmed.  I feel a bit like that baby right now, knowing that everything will be just as the universe intends it to be.

imageThe swimming area had these big piles of sand for the kids to play in, and I had thought ahead and brought a bucket and shovel for the little one.  He got out of the water and happily played there with the other kids, while I picked the fishing pole back up, restocked my wine, got my journal and binoculars out, and spent the afternoon away on the fishing pier.  After this, we all gathered around the cabin for a delicious baked macaroni meal cooked over our campstove.  Then, we carried the firewood over to the ring and made our fire.  As we sat there, I asked the kids what is the happiest they remember being.  All my happiest memories seem to take place in a campfire’s glow, and my older son said the same thing.  Almost all his campfires have been with us, so that makes me happy to know that we are giving that to him.  J’s happiest moment is when we all slipped off to bed, leaving him alone with the dying fire.image
After all we experienced over the weekend, it was the reflection on faith and trust that touched me the most. My sons surprised me with what they knew and learned about faith, and I wonder if they thought the same from me. It was a memory we can hold on to later, and I hope we will have more here. It is definitely a place I would like to go back to.

Brazos Bend State Park: Tales of the Wilderness

brazosbend 2It is our annual tradition to spend New Year’s Eve on a camping trip with a certain core group of geocachers, give or take a few.  For me, this is only the third year I have been involved in this tradition, but for J, this goes back about ten years.  (It would be the fourth for me, but last year we had to cancel it due to weather and my leg injury).  I knew about it back in the day, but I had trouble convincing my family to go, until my family dynamic changed.  This is the second time since I have been involved that we had it at Brazos Bend.  The first year, there was a whole group of us there.  This year, it was down to a handful.

When we got to the park, we had about an hour until the sun went down, and it was immediately apparent that J and I had different agendas.  He was in a race to get the campsite set up, and I wanted to get those last two geocache finds to help me end the year by logging the event as my #3300 geocache find.  He encouraged me to take the dogs and make the finds while he situated camp.

In retrospect, we realized that what he meant for me to do is to swing by the other campsite and pick up our friend Diane and maybe her friend, and have them come with me.  I didn’t get that part, and plus they had their own thing going on, so I went off by myself at dusk to try to score some finds.  I think if I had a friend or a flashlight, it would have been a little different experience for me.

The picture up above is a scene from the trail I took, the Hale Lake Loop.  Also, below, a shot of the water from the bridge I crossed to get there.  I was really brazosbend 1enjoying the quiet serenity of having the park to myself – I saw a person when I first set out, but once I got on the trail, not a single soul.

However, the thing about being in the woods is – you are never really alone, even if you think you are.  I realized this as I reached ground zero for the first cache I was after, which was about 250 ft off into the woods.  I saw a big, black animal moving in the woods about 80 ft in front of me.  I thought it was a bear for a moment before I remembered I was in Texas, so it was certainly not that – but in fact, a feral hog.  They are a huge pest species in our state, and generally speaking will leave you alone – unless they are in a group, or feel threatened for some reason.  I was worried this one would in fact be threatened if my silly dogs decided to start barking and lunging at it, and considered going back for a moment – but I really wanted that cache find, so I stood still, and that is when I realized that pig was not alone.  One, two, three, FOUR pigs in a line passed within about 50-80 feet of us.  I was amazed that when I told my dogs, “quiet,” they actually listened, and stood stock still, even stopped panting, to watch the pigs pass quietly.  We made the cache find, and then got the heck out of dodge.

The sun was going down, but I wanted that next find, so I set off for the next one along a side trail that was the closest one to me.  I started reading the cache description, and started getting a little spooked.  The cache was called “Cat Tracks”, and it turns out the reason why that name was chosen is because the cache owner said they saw the biggest bobcat they had ever seen at the cache site when going for the hide.  As I got closer, I began to get the paranoid feeling that I was being stalked.  I had to go about 180 ft into the brush, which by now was kind of dark inside, and when the dogs and I were about halfway in the thicket, we heard a branch snap nearby.  We all froze…and then beat a hasty retreat outta there.

About twenty feet back down the trail, I started second guessing myself, and started to go back in…only to see or sense something jump down off a nearby branch, which then bounced up and down from the relieved weight.  Nevermind!

As I was headed out of the woods and towards the bridge that would lead me back to the campsite, I started hearing cracking and snapping of branches in the woods to my right.  Several times the dogs and I stopped to listen, and I became convinced there was a whole herd of feral hogs in those woods, about to bust out and chase us down.  As the sun was finally setting, I came to two realizations.  One: those sounds, and the faint hissing sounds I was also hearing, where in fact only vultures settling in to roost, fighting over the best spots, and knocking down dead branches as they went.  Two: that at dark, Brazos Bend State Park belongs to the creatures.  That, although a frightening thing, is also how it should be, and I am glad the creatures have a place to call their own.

brazosbend 3That night as we sat around the campfire sipping our adult beverages and telling life stories, I heard a sound.  It increased in intensity, and J noticed it, too, and agreed with my consensus: coyotes howling.  It sounded like a lot of them.

The next day, when we were hiking with Rod (from the caching team “uptrain”), he told us that earlier that day, he had come across the carcasses of four feral hogs that had been tore up.  He had told the ranger about it, and the ranger explained that was the work of the coyotes.  The coyotes lurk around the edges of the pig trails, working together to take down the weak and the young.  I am not sure if it was the four pigs I had seen the day before – Jerry didn’t think so, because they were on the far end of Hale Lake, not the side I had been on – and I am not sure whose side I am on in this nature’s scheme, but I did find it interesting to think about what kind of dramas played out in those woods once the sun goes down.