North Ridge Trail/Tall Grass Loop
Fort Davis National Historic Site
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Distance: 2.50 Miles
Coming from the Davis Mountains State Park overlook area, it takes about a mile before you hit the boundary at the National Park site. Most of the terrain leading to the boundary is fairly mild, but once in the national park, there is a lot of boulders and steep rocky ascents and descents. Trails are well-formed and maintained, and placards along the way point out plant life and scenic areas. The steepest grades are manageable by the average hiker, but I don't recommend taking small children on this hike, as some drops may be difficult to handle for a little one. First leg after crossing the boundary is 0.3 miles. A "Y" indicates the North Ridge Trail to the left and the Hospital Canyon Trail on the right. The Hospital trail is .7 miles down into the canyon about 300 feet below and ends up at the back of the Fort area. We took the left trail up the ridge. Another 0.3 miles takes you to another split in the trail and a sidetrack to a scenic overlook. A granite outcropping lets you stand and see over Hospital Canyon, and see Sleeping Lion Mountain across the way. The Fort can be seen below the cliff a few hundred feet down. Heading back up the sidetrack to the split, you can drop down 0.4 miles, a steep, rocky drop into the canyon. We took the other leg called the Tall Grass Loop, another 0.8 miles with several scenic overlooks and historical points of interest. At the first viewpoint, look the the Northwest and you'll see a white teepee along Limpia Creek. On the downslope, expect to see a lot of quail and dove. Nice easy drop from there through large boulders. Be sure to pay at the Fort visitor's center for entry to the facility and visit the different areas at the Fort. When we were starting that morning, it was 30F and the wind was about 30-40 MPH. Colder than we wanted, and much windier.
Indian Lodge Trail
Davis Mountains State Park
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Distance: 2.70 Miles
Beginning at the back of the Indian Lodge parking area (5000 feet elev.), the trail is a gentle meander up the canyon to a ridge. As we ascended, a red-tailed hawk graced us with his presence, landing in the face of 200-300 foot cliff jutting out from the ridge. Switching back a lot to get up to the first ridge, a little sidetrack took us up to the top of that cliff where we saw the hawk land. Looking back, it's 300 feet down into the canyon below, nearly vertical. The trail then takes you on up the ridge to the fence line. As you ascend along the fence, look out to the northwest to see the telescopes of the McDonald Observatory about 7 miles in the distance. As we climbed a fairly steep grade to the next ridge, a large deer jumped out from the path. This doe was curious about us and stood about 50 feet away and watched us go by. Caught it all on the camcorder! About another hundred yards or so, all was quiet until we startled a very large animal behind a tree. The large, black, lumbering animal had to be a black bear. He made large thumping sounds as he ran off. Another 300 foot ascent took us to the highest point there in the park at a little over 5600 feet. A granite outcropping lets you look straight down into the canyon below. Just off the trail the next day we saw a group of around a dozen javelina... watch for wildlife on this trail! The descent takes you around the back of the mountain first, where you can look down into Limpia Canyon. Off in the distance you can see the Prude Ranch and the VBLA telescope dish. They were moving it as we looked. The trail gets quite a bit slippery and treacherous due to the crumbly rock at your feet. My wife slipped and fell in one area, and scared us all quite a bit... if she had slipped of the side of the trail, it is at least a couple hundred feet to the next landing. We took the "Y" to the left and continued on the Headquarters Trail, where we stopped at another boulder outcropping to find a geocache. Carefully treading, be sure and watch for another "Y" in the trail. DO NOT take the left fork. We did by mistake and got way off on a trail that was later determined to be closed - and for good reason. We relocated some of the marking rocks to help encourage folks to go to the right. The left area is very dangerous. We descended through some switchbacks, then ended up meeting the other part of the HQ trail at the road. Another 0.5 miles up the paved road took us back to the Lodge. All in all, a great 3 to 4 hours! We made a video of this hike set to music. It's available here: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5688222935386187795 . Enjoy!
Texas Oak Trail
Lake Brownwood State Park
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Distance: 1.75 Miles
This trail is advertised as 3/4 miles, but truly is longer if you take the branch that follows the beach. Starts out fairly plain and level, but as you approach the beach line, steep rocky descents and ascents are common. The trail starts at about 1500 feet, then at its lowest is 1400 feet, somewhat near the water. Some areas let you get close to the rocky beaches. Limestone outcroppings offer several scenic overlooks, where you have spectacular views of Lake Brownwood. Goat Island is almost always in the picture throughout this hike. Toward the end near marker 16, the trail splits. The right-hand fork will take you back up to the trailhead. The left-hand fork will follow the beach until you come across the fishing pier. Here is a good spot for a break. From here, follow the paved road back up a short ways until you see stairstepping stones up the hill on your right. Follow this steep rise up. Continue through the next camground where you reach the pavement leading to where you parked at the trailhead.
Be sure when you do this hike to pay at the front and ask for the Texas Oak Trail guide. 16 markers have different plant life to see, and you can also get a birding guide. Some markers have been damaged, but if you check which ones you've seen, you'll know what you're looking at. All in all, a quiet hike with only noise being occasional military aircraft from Abilene flying nearby.
Nice short guided hike
Gorman Falls Trail
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Distance: 1.50 Miles
Beautiful Gorman Falls tops off any trip to this state park. The hike is a paid guided tour only and only on weekends at specific times.
We started out with just me, my wife, our 20 yr old daughter and our newly adopted 2 year old daughter, who was walking quite well. The hike begins by showing you the top of Gorman Falls, then the guide leads you about 3/4 mile to a somewhat steep, rocky descent to the river base where the falls can be seen. The 60 to 70 foot drop does have cabling installed to assist in descent, but my 2 year old with some help did it fine.
At the bottom, you can view the falls and surrounding area for about 15 to 30 minutes before the guide requires everyone leave and hike out. While there, however, you can relax on a deck built around a massive tree. The falls are viewable only and not accessible. In years past, the falls were open, but had to be closed to protect the foliage and the falls themselves. A nice treat was to hear the story of some kids who drove their car off the falls (before it became a state park). You can see part of the car sticking out of the river bed where they crashed (they survived).
All in all it was a great hike. We will likely do it again!