Dogs in Spurs
What do you do when life gives you lemons? You make lemon-flavored dog biscuits. What do you do when the land where you live is so hilly and rocky it's almost useless for farming and ranching livestock? You ranch people and dogs. Bandera County is the dude ranch capital of Texas, a place where people and dogs with Texas in their souls and Houston in their lungs come to kick back and live their own version of City Slickers.
The Hill Country State Natural Area is 5,369 acres of rocky hills, flowing springs, oak groves, grasslands, and canyons that leashed dogs will love to roam. There are 34 miles of trails. The terrain ranges from flat, broad creek bottoms to steep, rocky canyons. Several spring-fed streams and stock tanks in the park provide swimming holes and limited fishing for catfish, perch, and largemouth bass.
The bulk of the site was a donation from the Merrick Bar-O-Ranch with the stipulation that it "be kept far removed and untouched by modern civilization, where everything is preserved intact, yet put to a useful purpose." There is no more useful purpose than taking your dog for an outing, and the area's 22 trails make it possible to do so time and again without ever getting that "been there, done that" feeling that so often plagues jaded traveling dogs. At least until they find the next disgusting thing to sniff.
While the park is primarily for equestrian use, hikers and mountain bikers are welcome, as are their dogs. As at all state parks, dogs must be kept on a six-foot leash and may not enter any buildings. Dogs are permitted to swim in only one area; have a ranger mark the location on your map. Your dog might make a new buddy here: the adjacent Running R Ranch offers horse rentals from two hours to all day; (830) 796-3984. You'll still pay your entry fee when you ride into the park.
The trails have such intriguing names as Ice Cream Hill (before you tackle this one, remember the Texas penchant for dry wit, such as nicknaming 300-pound linebackers "Tiny"), Good Luck, and Cougar Canyon. You'll get a detailed trail map when you enter the park. It shows all the trails with mileages so you can plan your hike according to the energy level you and your pooch have that day. Remember this is steep, rocky country that can be hard on a dog's tender paws. It will also remind you both of those times you should have pushed back from the feed bowl a little sooner.
In keeping with the desire to maintain the park in as natural a state as possible, facilities are limited and spaced far, far apart. (Dogs who are used to parks where they have to sleep nose to rump with neighboring dogs will shout Howlelujah!) There is a composting toilet at the park headquarters and chemical toilets at two primitive camping areas, but that's it. Note that there is no potable water. You should bring or be prepared to chemically treat all the water you will need for drinking, although your dog will probably be more than happy to slurp wild water from the creeks and springs. Using soaps is not permitted in the springs and creeks. You are also required to pack out all garbage. Human and animal wastes must be buried at least 100 feet from water.
The following facilities may be reserved by calling (512) 389-8900 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Reservations are strongly recommended.
The West Verde Creek area has three primitive campsites. You'll have to walk no more than 50 yards to reach them.
- The Comanche Bluff area also has three sites no more than 25 yards from parking.
- The Chaquita Falls area has four sites no more than 75 yards from a road. Sites have fire rings and picnic tables, and adjacent West Verde Creek offers swimming and fishing opportunities.
- There is a small fee for all campsites. Also available by reservation are group campsites designed for equestrian use and a group lodge (where dogs are not allowed).
- Four camping areas are available on a first-come, first-served basis only. The primitive backpack camping areas with fire rings are located 1.5 to 3.5 miles from trailhead parking. Call the park at the number below for availability.
From Bandera, follow Highway 173 south. About a quarter mile past the Medina River, turn right on Ranch Road 1077. Go eight miles to the end of the pavement and continue on the caliche road another two miles, crossing two cattle guards, to the park entrance. There is an entry fee, and a slightly smaller charge for campers.
The park is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday from early February through October. Staff hours are 8 A.M. until 5 P.M., and overnight camping is not allowed on Monday nights. From November through early February, the park is open from noon Friday until 10 P.M. Sunday. For more information write Route 1, Box 601, Bandera, TX 78003; (830) 796-4413.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication