While in Austin we decided to go to Big Bend National Park, but needed some time to plan, so we stopped at a state park on the way. John chose Garner State Park because it had good reviews on Google+. Once there I realized why it had good reviews on the social networking site, while most parks have no reviews; this is a very popular retreat, presumably for residents of nearby San Antonio. We arrived on Saturday to a fairly full park, even though it was the end of December. The size of the entrance station suggests that what we witnessed is just a fraction of the users that descend on the park on busy days.

The original, CCC-built stone entrance gate to Garner State Park. The new entrance road is multi-laned to handle the back-up of cars waiting to check in on busy days. This park is so popular that there are eight registration windows in the entrance station; usually parks just have one desk, staffed by one or at most two employees.

The original, CCC-built stone entrance gate to Garner State Park. The new entrance road is multi-laned to handle the back-up of cars waiting to check in on busy days. This park is so popular that there are eight registration windows in the entrance station; usually parks just have one desk, staffed by one or at most two employees.

Our plan to research our trip to Big Bend while at Garner was foiled by the lack of internet reception, but we had a great time hiking on the beautiful trails. Crystal Cave is the most popular hiking destination in the park (at only 30 feet deep, I am not sure that it really qualifies as a cave). Several people made comments about a bat in the cave…it seemed to be part of the lore of the crevice, though it is too shallow to be a bat hibernation cave . The ceiling of the cave glitters with flecks of crystals. Park staff informed us that there used to be stalactites of crystals, but they had been stolen.

Later that day we witnessed a large family tearing branches off a living tree on the top of a rocky hill. Between the stolen crystals and the damage we witnessed, it appears that this park exemplifies the tragedy of the commons, where the disrespect of a few users can ruin the shared resource for everyone. The high-level of maintenance and security patrol necessitated by the parks popularity may explain it’s price – this is the most expensive state park we have camped at, on par with private campgrounds we’ve been to.

Old Baldy, a sheer-faced hill. We climbed to the top after taking this picture from Painted Rock scenic overlook.

Old Baldy, a sheer-faced hill. We climbed to the top after taking this picture from Painted Rock scenic overlook.

John joked that a view point uphill from Painted Rock wasn’t really a view point because it wasn’t marked as such. I took this picture the following day to show him that I did come across a “real” view point.

John joked that a view point uphill from Painted Rock wasn’t really a view point because it wasn’t marked as such. I took this picture the following day to show him that I did come across a “real” overlook.

Cacti on an overlook.

Cacti on an overlook.

Frio River from Old Baldy. River activities (boating, swimming, etc) are the draw for the crowds during the busy season.

Frio River from Old Baldy. River activities (boating, swimming, etc) are the draw for the crowds during the busy season.

Trees growing below the dammed part of the river.

Trees growing below the dammed part of the river.

The flower stalk on this plant is really impressive. I later learned that it is a sotol.

The flower stalk on this plant is really impressive. I later learned that it is a sotol.

Sotol leaves sport some mean teeth.

Sotol leaves sport some mean teeth.

Really cool air plant, but I don’t know what it is called.

Really cool air plant, but I don’t know what it is called.

We watched these ants carrying dirt out of their home in their jaws.

We watched these ants hard at work building their home by carrying dirt out in their jaws.

One evening while we were walking we noted that groups of vultures were flying in to congregate in a couple trees next to the river. We sat watching the vultures as more and more arrived, over one hundred in all. A vast majority crowded into the same two trees, though many more were available. Their behavior in the trees reminded me of middle-schoolers in a cafeteria. Squabbles would erupt, beginning with some squawking and pecking, with one getting kicked or even chased out. Arriving birds would circle around the trees, checking out who was where before deciding where to land. Once landed, others on the branch would scoot over to make room. A few outcasts sat in adjacent trees, not welcome in the two popular trees.

Vultures roosting across the river. The two trees in the middle hold most of the birds; the one at the left had a fair number, and a few other trees on the periphery have only a handful of birds each.

Vultures roosting across the river. The two trees in the middle hold most of the birds; the one at the left had a fair number, and a few other trees on the periphery have only a handful of birds each.

Closer view of roosting vultures.

Closer view of roosting vultures.

After watching the vultures, we continued our evening walk and came across the biggest tree we’ve ever seen! We think it is a baldcypress, but it doesn’t have knees.

This tree is so big we need four people to hug it.

This tree is so big we need four people to hug it.

I tried to do tree pose next to the tree…it was hard to balance on the uneven rock, though. There was a more level area to stand, but it was very close to the edge.

I tried to do tree pose next to the tree It was hard to balance on the uneven boulder; there was a more level area to stand, but it was very close to the edge.

A neighboring tree is also large, but hollow. Can you spot me cheering next to the giant tree?

A neighboring tree is also large, but hollow. Can you spot me cheering next to the giant tree?

A look up the interior of the hollow tree.

A look up the interior of the hollow tree.

The tree is flying me!

The tree is flying me!

John was going to do the handstand in the tree’s crevice, but I convinced him that it was too dangerous and he settled for putting his hands on the ground.

John was going to do the handstand in the tree’s crevice, but I convinced him that it was too dangerous and he settled for putting his hands on the ground.

Superwoman flying out of the tree!

Superwoman flying out of the tree!

8 Thoughts on “Garner State Park

  1. rich lehne on January 12, 2014 at 4:28 pm said:

    What can I say? Fabulous! I need to revise my easterner’s image of Texas. Turns out the place isn’t all tumbleweed, cowboys, and oil rigs. Who’d a thunk?

    • We didn’t see tumbleweed or oil rigs until we headed north from Big Bend. That part of Texas is just as you imagine it. I heard a story on This American Life the other day that took place in a town called Kermit, TX. The story introduced Kermit as a town where “tumbleweed literally rolls down the main street in the middle of the afternoon”. Interestingly, the most common tumbleweed is an invasive from Russia.

  2. Wow, I love the huge trees! Great illusion picture of Heidi “next to” it. Do “air plants” exist or was that a tumbleweed or something?

  3. justin on January 12, 2014 at 7:44 pm said:

    sweet! I like this park. Thanks for posting photos.

  4. These pictures are magnificent! The huge tree picture and the pictures of the hollow tree are great, and the “Cacti on an overlook” is just beautiful. Thank you once again for sharing your journey with us.

  5. As a kid I wanted to live in a hollowed out tree like the one in the photo. Those trees are incredible!

  6. Old Baldy looks like a nice little climb. Texas actually does have some elevation and climate variation. I’m surprised you observed as much green as you did, considering that part of the country has been in a severe drought for some time now.

    Looking forward to reading about Big Bend!

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