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.
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.
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.
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.