Today, Julie and I make the long haul down to Garner State Park, another idyllic park located in Texas hill country.
Garner State Park could be considered the flagship of the Texas state park system. It receives half a million visitors a year, the busiest of all the Texas state parks. Enchanted Rock’s quarter million visitors per year may sound paltry by comparison, but then think that Garner is about five times the size.
There are over 300(!) developed campsites (not including the cabins), and RV spots with hookups are available. The tent sites start at $15 a night, RV sites go up to $26 a night. Like E-Rock the entrance fee is $7 a person, unless you have the $70 annual Texas state park pass.
You might almost think you were visiting a village instead of a park. Garner has a gift shop, restaurant, numerous headquarters (including one specifically for Geocaching), numerous day use pavilions, and 11 miles of trails are available for hiking. And if that doesn’t give you enough to do, fans of outdoor sports can enjoy the basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts.
But the defining feature would have to be the river. The Frio river runs for 2.9 miles through Garner State Park, held in place even in times of drought by a small dam. The water is crystal clear, the current is lazy, and the river bottom is level and free of obstacles. It’s a great place to go swimming, and there is water equipment available for rent. Enchanted Rock’s busy seasons are fall and spring, but Garner comes to life in the heart of summer, when a refreshing plunge in the river provides welcome relief on the hottest Texas afternoon.
Which means on a day like today the place is pretty much ours.
It’s overcast and in the 50’s, poor weather for water activities, but just fine for hiking. Julie and I park down by the gift shop, and do the 0.53 mile hike up Old Baldy for starters.
The trail is not very well maintained, but it’s not entirely the park’s fault. The rock here is not granite, it’s limestone, which crumbles easily leaving loose scree that is easy to slip on.. The vegetation is also quite different from Enchanted Rock, a forest made up mostly of Ashe Juniper and the uncommon Texas Madrone at higher elevations, but changing to oak and beautiful Bald Cypress down by the river.
The view from the top is breathtaking. The hills are more, well, hilly here, and today are huddled together in the mist. It’s amazing how much landscapes can vary even two hours away from each other. I never cease to be surprised by nature.
As it turns out Garner also has a cave, and we feel it necessary to visit it to compare it to “our” cave.
From the Old Baldy summit trail, we detour down Foshee trail, to Bridges trail, to Crystal Cave trail, a total of about 2 miles. Crystal Cave has been carved into the limestone by water and weathering. It only runs back about 100 feet, so no light source is required. There are indeed crystals, but there is also sadly a lot of graffiti. I may be partial, but I think ours is better.
After hiking, we meet up with a fellow park hosting whom contacted me on RVillage a while ago.
He’s been here about six weeks, and his account of the park host experience is a bit different than ours. They have a lot of flexibility about the days and hours they work compared to Enchanted Rock, which is sometimes nice and sometimes a drag when you can’t find something to do to fill up your hours. He’s been doing a lot of trail maintenance, and always avoids working on the weekends to avoid the traffic.
Not that the weekend traffic here at Garner gets like Enchanted Rock this time of year. Tonight being a Friday, he figures they’ll have about 20 sites filled, whereas the Boy Scouts will likely have reservations for all 45 of our sites at E-Rock. In a few more months, the tides will change.
Julie and I leave shortly after 4 pm. There is no phone signal to speak of within miles of Garner (even on top of the peaks), and I need phone access to finish hammering out my summer Yellowstone job (which I do manage later that evening, see the last post).
So long Garner, it’s been fun! That’s two Texas state parks down, only… 50 more to go. Julie and I shouldn’t run out of places to visit while we’re here.
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