Thursday, April 12, 2018

Spicewood Springs Trail, Colorado Bend State Park

It’s sunrise! Or at least it would be sunrise here at Colorado Bend State Park (Texas) if the clouds weren’t in the way.

But I’m not going to let a minor thing like that get in the way of the day! Especially since it’s been 6 months since I blew the hell out of my travel budget and had to mothball The Van while waiting for our finances to catch back up again. It’s also the first time since tramping around Illinois’ Little Grand Canyon last September that I have a chance to take a real hike. (I don’t count the one-mile laps around the property as real hikes)

The couple in the FEMA trailer were quiet last night, I slept well, most everybody’s still in bed, and I’m ready to go!!

Today’s pick is the Spicewood Springs Trail way down in the far southern tip of the state park. Not to be confused with the nearby Spicewood Canyon Trail which stays up on the rim of the canyon while the Springs trail stays down in the bottom.

To get to the trailhead I first have to walk south along the Colorado River. Fortunately I only need to cover about a mile and a half of its 862 mile length before reaching my intended trailhead.

Being the second day of April, it’s firmly into spring around here

but still pretty cool in the mornings and on this day of heavy mists tiny little, watery gems are sparkling all over the place.

And this guy was busily foraging. I first spotted him right at the edge of the trail where he was happily digging up an ant-nest. I could tell he was happy because his back legs were dancing while he jammed his bulldozer nose and front feet deep into the nest looking for any grubs the ants might have tucked away in there.

Armadillos can’t see worth crap so I was able to sneak up fairly close, but even so, it took a long time before I was able to get even this partial shot of his head since when foraging they tend to keep their flat-ended nose right down in the ground as they plow along.

Not doing any foraging yet this morning are these vultures roosting in a dead tree across the river. 

They like dead trees because vultures are big and clumsy so leafy branches just complicate things for them. Even from a dead tree, when they launch themselves you’ll typically hear several sharp crack - crack - cracks as their wings slap against branches and each other. This is usually accompanied by a whooeep – whooeep - whooeep as large amounts of air are forced through their flight-feathers as they work to generate the initial lift their heavy bodies need.

Here in Central Texas we mostly see Black Vultures, but this is still within the considerable range of the read-headed Turkey Vulture and here you can see at least two of them mixed in with the Black Vultures.

And yes, the difference extends beyond head-coloration. While Black Vultures are primarily scavengers and lack the maneuverability, speed and silent flight of most  hunting birds (When in flight you can hear a distinctive swish with every beat of their wings from quite a distance) they will in fact hunt some prey, while the Turkey Vulture is strictly a scavenger.

Despite the distractions along the way, including the sheer joy of being out on a trail again, I do eventually get to the Spicewood Springs Trail. As is typical in this limestone country, Spicewood Creek drops its way from pool to pool. The trail attempts to stick close to the creek down here in the bottom of the canyon

but that’s not always possible in the rugged terrain down here so once in a while the trail gets a little scrambley. The Spicewood Canyon trail, staying up there on the rim, is actually less scrambley and is suitable for intermediate mountain bikers, (Which does not include me!) whereas bikes aren’t even allowed on the Springs trail.

In addition to occasionally climbing onto ledges up above the creek,

the Springs trail weaves its way across the creek a half-dozen or so times.  (If you look just above and left of photo-center you can see the pale-yellow rectangle of the trail marker over there on the other side.) At the current water-flow none of these crossings really challenged my ankle-high, waterproof hiking boots, but in this hard country water tends to flow on top rather than soak in, and though it was only sporadically sprinkling on me (With the added bonus of the occasional tap of small hail later in the day) it might be raining harder upstream so I kept a close eye on the water-level.

The reward, as I worked my way up the canyon, was a series of small pools, each one unique and to be lingered over and savored.

This limestone country is riddled with caves and I have to wonder if this might be the opening to one of them. Not being much of a spelunker (as in not at all!) I’m content with just wondering.

Another feature of limestone county is that water tends to percolate slowly through all that porous rock and when it does come to the surface, though it may be loaded with minerals, it’s also crystal clear. This ‘grove’ of thick, fuzzy plants was growing in the bottom of one of the pools.

I spent a long time sitting at the edge of this pool watching 2 inch fish, probably Guadeloupe Bass, darting out of the grove in single file, sometimes just two but often three at a time, all playing follow-the-leader as the first fish, a harassed female, put her suiters to the test by darting around the obstacles in the clear water trying to see if she could shake them off. If she was successful the lagarts would circle aimlessly then eventually drift back into the grove.

Amongst all this frenetic activity floated 4 inch juggernauts, moving nothing more than the occasional fin until it became necessary to defend their patch of pool-bottom from the darting little upstarts.

There was one stretch of the creek, no more than a hundred feet long, with obvious sign of what appears to be beavers, both fresh sign

and old, but only along this one short stretch and I never did see a lodge or dam.

Eventually the creek crosses out of the park and onto private land so the Springs Trail climbs out of the canyon and joins the Canyon Trail, traversing a whole different terrain up here away from the creek.

But in addition to more uplandy type scenes such as this

the sprinkles/heavy mist still painted little wet mini-scenes such as this bowl-shaped web heavy with captured droplets

and these tiny little bedazzled blossoms.

And I think it’s a rule that when you pass by a blooming yucca you have to take a photo of the thick, waxy blossoms. I don’t know what the penalty is for not doing so, but I didn’t want to find out.

When I climbed up out of the canyon I could have turned riverward on the Canyon trail (the dashed black line) and returned to The Van after a little less than a 5 mile hike, but I chose to continue up the Canyon trail which, in another mile reaches the park road. Just across the road is the Lemons Ridge Pass trail which I followed back down to the river about a mile and a half upstream of The Van, extending the total hike out to about 6.5 miles.

Turned out to be a pretty dang good first day back out on the trails!


  1. Thank you for the tour. The only time I have been there was in the first month or two they opened for tourists. It was a grand experience.

    1. Since they paved the 6 mile long Park Road more people are using the place, but it's still pretty good.

  2. Nice to see you back on the road. Great photos.

    1. Yes! Finally!

      My secret to photos is take hundreds of them. Statistically speaking, one or two are likely to come out fairly well.