Dogs in Spurs
Don't try to take your pooch to the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park here; she is not welcome. Instead, head to Pedernales Falls State Park, where at least a leashed pooch can go for a swim. And for heaven's sake, don't sound like some out-of-touch tourist and pronounce the name as it's spelled. For some reason, the name is pronounced PERD-uh-nal-is. I know, I know, by the same line of reasoning there ought to be a dog called the Saint Barnyard, but there it is. Live with it. This is Texas. We may be wrong, but it's our way.
Your dog will find much to love about this 5,212-acre park in the heart of the Texas Hill Country. It has trails to walk, hills to climb, trees galore, and miles literally miles of river to swim. The only drawback is that your pooch must remain leashed at all times. You will likely see free-roaming pooches and be tempted to let yours join them, but resist the urge. "We may bar dogs from the park in the future if people don't keep them on leash," the park superintendent warns.
A History of Floods
Swimming is what this park is all about, and as long as your pooch remains on her six-foot leash, she is free to enjoy the four miles of riverfront beach with you. The first road to the right past the campground leads to the swimming area. A trail about 200 yards long stretches from the parking lot (with rest rooms and cold-water shower out front) to the river. The climb is steep and slippery. You may notice your pooch holding his head to one side as you go down, and you may feel a touch of vertigo as well. Soon you realize that all the trees in the hundred-foot-deep gulch lean downstream. There is a good reason for this. The Pedernales, a typical Hill Country stream, has a mercurial temperament, quick to rise and quick to fall. Periodic flash floods sweep the canyon; the cypress trees along the river and the oaks and junipers on the canyon walls have all been sculpted by rushing water and given a permanent tilt. The realization that the canyon can be completely filled with raging torrents makes you appreciate the warning signs throughout the park telling you that when the flood warning sirens sound, you should vacate the river bottom areas immediately.
To gain the best appreciation for the power this measly little river can muster at times, hike the Falls Trail a short, easy walk to an observation point overlooking the Pedernales Falls. The trail winds through a cedar brake dotted with oak trees, ideal habitat for the endangered golden-cheeked warbler, which nests in the area in the spring. Suddenly the limestone strata fall away rapidly, sending the river tumbling down rockslides and through narrow chutes. At low water the river disappears into slots cut over the ages; at flood stage the rapids here rival any in North America. People and dogs can hike down to the riverbed to wiggle their toes in a sandy beach deposited by some past flood, but always keep an ear peeled for the warning siren.
To get a taste of the sublime pockets of beauty this park holds, take the nature trail that leaves the park's one campground near campsite 21. Park at the head of the trail and head downhill. The park calls this a quarter-mile nature trail; after hiking it on a well-developed June afternoon, you may decide that it is considerably longer than a quarter of a mile and was misnamed as well. It ought to be called a natural trail, because what trail making has taken place has been done mainly by the feet of people and dogs using the trail. It is steep, very rocky, poorly marked, and extremely twisting. Yet it is well worth the effort, for at its midpoint is an overlook from which you can see the Twin Falls, a limestone grotto shaded by cypress and oak trees. Ferns droop from limestone cliffs, and the sound of running water does its best to drown out the calls of songbirds. Your dog may want to do a triple somersault off the overlook above the pool, but the area is closed to visitors because they have loved it nearly to death in the past, causing soil compaction and damaging the vegetation. Watch carefully as you hike this trail, because it is easy to miss a turn. In many places the only clue you have that you are on the trail is the faint depression in the ground left by those who passed before you.
Wolf Mountain Trail
For a more challenging hike, take the 7.5-mile Wolf Mountain Trail, which begins at a parking lot reached by taking the first right-hand turn after you leave park headquarters. This is a very rugged trail that traverses several streambeds and climbs steep, rocky hills. There is a spring at the farthest point of the trail from the parking lot where a thirsty pooch can take a drink and cool down for the return journey. Dogs are not allowed to stay overnight in the primitive camping area about two miles from the start of the trail. In addition, they are banned from the trail in the park designated for equestrian use.
The person who designed the campground deserves an award from whatever group recognizes excellence in the art of packing people into parks without making them feel like sardines. The campsites are spacious, well screened from each other by oak, mesquite, and juniper trees, and have electricity and water. Most of us would be happy to have a backyard as large and inviting. Your pooch will have plenty of room to dewater, sniff around, and generally feel woodsy.
Reservations for campsites at all state parks must be made by calling the central reservation number, (512) 389-8900, between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Reservations are strongly recommended, and a deposit is required in order to guarantee a reservation. Specific sites may not be reserved; they are available on a first-come, first-served basis upon arrival.
The park is located nine miles east of Johnson City on F.M. 2766. If you are coming from Austin, it's closer to take F.M. 3232 north from U.S. 290. The entrance is at the intersection of the two highways. There is a small entrance fee. The park opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 10 p.m., except to campers. (830) 868-7304.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication