AND ACRES OF ACRES by
Hill Country State Natural Area
Hill Country State Natural Area is one of those places you have to be going to
get there; no one goes there by mistake, unless they're lost and find themselves
running out of pavement at the end of State Highway 1077. |
At the end of
the dirt road is 5,400 acres of nothing but 5,400 acres of nothing but pristine
Hill Country, just as former owner Louise Lindsey Merrick, a local rancher, wanted
it when she began donating land to the state in 1976.
of a contract with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the land was to "be kept
far removed and untouched by modern civilization, where everything is preserved
intact, yet put to a useful purpose."
In that spirit, the land debuted
as a state natural area in 1984 and has changed little in that time, just as it
had changed little since before the Comanches first rode into Central Texas. Park
manager Paul Fuentes has added fire rings and some picnic tables, but nothing
to dilute the essential purity of the place.
"We've been careful not to
add anything that will detract from the spirit of the place," Fuentes said on
a recent visit. "This is for people looking for a primitive outdoor experience.
It's geared for people who don't need a lot."
Other than making reservations,
Fuentes' most important advice to potential visitors is, "If you think you need
it, bring it."
main feature of the park is a 36-mile system of trails used by hikers, bicyclists
and horseback riders. The hikers and bikers are relative newcomers but the has
been used by equestrians since it first opened in 1984. Horses are still made
to feel welcome at Hill Country, just so long as the owner has proof of a negative
Horses and the people who ride them are still made to feel
at home with an equestrian group camp, individual equestrian camps and a day-use
staging area. The equestrian group camp has a two-acre shaded area with a large
barn, concrete floor and electricity.
The individual sites have a two-horse
corral, table, fire ring and pull-through truck/trailer parking. A water tank
and a primitive toilet are close by. Reservations are required for the group camp
and strongly recommended for the individual equestrian camps.
camping and day use staging area is offered on a first-come, first serve basis.
Despite the horse-friendly accommodations, Hill Country SNA is more than your
basic one-trick pony of park.
"People who come here for the first time
are a little surprised to find out there's other things you can do here," Fuentes
came to prominence as a staging area during the days of the cattle drives a gathering
point to begin that long journey up the Chisholm Trail.
Since then Bandera
has become known for its ranches as well as the number of championship rodeo cowboys
who learned to rope and ride in Bandera County. It's one of those rare places
where it's possible to play cowboy or be a real one.
The last time I was
there a visitor from Michigan, who wasn't dressed to play cowboy, said he had
a powerful hankering to see a black-capped vireo. Fuentes directed him to a place
where the bird could be heard, but made no promised about seeing one.
"There's lot of other interesting birds here," Fuentes said. "Vermilion flycatchers,
painted buntings, red-tailed hawks." The visitor moseyed off in search of the
White-tailed deer and wild turkey inhabit the park
in large numbers; the wild turkey are moving through the park in good numbers
now and can sometimes be spotted in open meadows of the park. Coyotes, bobcats
and ringtail cats also live in the park, though your chances of actually viewing
these critters are slim to none.
The trails are closed when it rains,
so it's a good idea to call ahead for a weather forecast and an update on trail
conditions before making the drive.
"Letters from Central Texas"
1 , 2007 Column