Three weeks down, eight to go… time for a break! I’m up bright and early at the
crack of dawn errr, 8 am this morning to pack a picnic lunch and hiking essentials. There isn’t a cloud in the sky and the humidity is up. It’s going to be another warm day in northern Texas, better get a move on.
Sometimes it’s hard to summon the motivation to get out and do stuff on weekends. After a hard week of work, it can be really tempting to sleep in late and be lazy on days off. It’s not always convenient or easy to get out and have an adventure while working full-time hours, but in my experience the payoff is always worth it. Time spent out in nature rejuvenates the soul in a way that hanging out inside can’t.
Today’s destination is Ray Roberts Lake State Park, which is hard to pin down on a map because it has nine units along the shore of Ray Roberts Lake in several different townships. I pick the Johnson Branch unit, which is in Valley View on the north shore, but I hear the Isle du Bois unit on the south shore has good hiking too, and true hiking enthusiasts can tackle the Greenbelt corridor which runs 20 miles from Ray Roberts Dam to Lake Lewisville. The entry fee is $7 per person, there are year long passes available that get everyone in the vehicle in.
A need to make use of the facilities upon arrival lands me in the first parking area with an outhouse that I find. It also happens to be the trailhead for the Dorba loop, a 3 mile paved trail that sticks to the interior of the park. Parts of the trail that follow the lake shore are closed right now due to flood damage, so this works out well. Given the rapidly rising temperature, I don’t waste any time getting started.
The park is all but empty this morning, which I am happy for. After being cooped up in a concrete box most of the day during the work week with a couple thousand people, the peace and solitude of the trail, surrounded by the hum of insects and occasional chirping of birds is a very welcome change.
Also very welcome is the tree cover. Ray Roberts lies smack dab in the center of the Cross Timbers, a narrow band of hardwood forest sandwiched between Blackland Prairie to the east and Grand Prairie to the west. Post Oak dominate the landscape, their branches arching over the trail to provide shade on a hot day.
Part-way down the trail, an ancient dilapidated house is barely visible as a pile of rotting wood mostly covered by leaves. A more recently built corral is still upright nearby and in better shape.
A sign explains that the Jones family moved here from Missouri in the 1850’s to start a homestead and farmed here for120 years over the course of several generations before the land became a state park. Early settlers liked this area for the abundant timber, easy access to water, and plentiful wildlife. They survived by planting vegetable gardens and raising hogs and chickens and keeping a cow for milk and butter, and trapping and hunting wild game like rabbit, quail and squirrel to help fill out their diet. Seasonal treats included wild blackberries, dewberries, plums, and wild greens such as dandelions, pokeweed, and wild onion.
I’m notoriously bad at identifying plants and would probably be dead inside a week if I had to survive off the land. For instance I have no clue what this next plant is, but the purple berries sure are pretty!
Identifying wildlife is easier… if I can see it that is. Several times on the trail I hear rustling in the woods but can’t spot anything through the thick foliage. The crows, however, are about as stealthy as a marching band on parade and are easy to find, they caw loudly to each other in the branches and circle overhead – stark black against the blue sky.
Interspersed with the stands of oak are more open prairie areas, brown with the coming of fall. In one field a grass snake is sunning itself on the walkway. It holds very still as I crouch down for a picture, hoping I don’t notice it. Well fella, your camouflage works great in the grass but here on the gray concrete, not so much.
By noon I’m finished with the hike, and not a moment too soon. When I get back to the truck the thermometer states that it’s up to 80 now. Luckily the rest of my planned activities here are more leisurely.
The next order of business is finding a good place to eat lunch, which I find at Oak Point along the shore of the lake at the end of the road. A good breeze rises off the water and makes for a pleasant picnic. Oh, and the view isn’t bad either.
Last year this part of Texas had record-breaking rainfall totals, which brought up the level of the lakes up from drought stage to overflowing. While not as dramatic as last year at Lake Tawakoni the water level here at Ray Roberts is still high, so I’m guessing there’s been plenty of rain this year too.
Fishing is good from what reviews online say (and at 29,000 acres, there is plenty of lake to fish). I wouldn’t know about that, but the beach at the point is quite nice looking. This whole area looks like it’s meant to hold a lot of people. There are tables and shelters all over and the beach is big, the bathroom here has flush toilets and a lot of stalls, the playground is impressive in size and scope, but there isn’t a soul around. I bet that will change this evening when people get off work and families come out to camp for the weekend.
And there is plenty of camping to be had at the Johnson Branch unit. I mean a lot of camping –166 sites from what I can tell on the map. Juniper Cove and Walnut camping areas (93 sites total) have concrete pads and electric and water hookups and a dump station at the entrance.
Most sites are 30 amp and $25 a night (plus the entrance fee), but 11 have 50 amp hookups and are $26 a night. Some of these sites have tent pads (most of those with two smaller parking spots side by side) and some can accommodate big rigs. Most are back-ins and most have at least partial shade, Juniper Cove 1-6 and 36-39 are in a more open area though.
Oak Point and Dogwood Canyon areas are developed walk-in tent sites with water nearby, most with less than a ¼ mile walk from a parking lot. The cost is $15 a night. Some of these are spaced pretty close together, shade varies. Willow Cove is home to more primitive walk-in sites, you have to hike in to them and all of these have good shade.
All sites have a picnic table, grill, and firepit. Very few sites are actually on the water (11 and 12 in Juniper Cove, and I think 50-53 in Walnut), although many have water views between the trees to varying degrees, and there may be paths that lead from these sites down to the water.
With my campground reconnaissance mission complete, I head home to write this blog post and prepare for work tomorrow. Have a good weekend all.
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