Monday, April 1, 2013

Hike Report: South Llano River SP: Walter Buck WMA Trails

March 19, 2013

Most of the hiking trails at South Llano River State Park are in the southern part of the park in the area known as the Walter Buck Wildlife Management Area. The trails are not named on maps provided by the park with the exception of the Fawn Trail (see map of park). However, on the maps that appear at strategic locations on stands throughout the parks, names are provided for a few of the trails, though not all of them.

Since this area was a working ranch once, most of the trails actually follow ranch roads, so hiking is fairly easy. There are hills, some steep, but most of the time grades are slow and gradual. Loose rock is common, so footing can be tricky, but bare earth also abounds throughout.

Trail head for Fawn Trail and other trails; located behind the park headquarters building.
We began our hike at the trail head located behind the park headquarters. For the first half mile or so, this is a single track foot path. The trail is lined with plaques with information about the plants along the trail. The plaques are flip-top. When I first saw them, I thought they were stands merely waiting for the information cards to be attached. Then I noticed the hinge and flipped one. The top merely protects the information cards. 

Flip-top information stands line the foot path
A bird blind is located near the start of the trail. There are actually 4 bird blinds in the park (that I saw). The park is popular with birders, and we saw numerous bird watchers during our stay.

This is a drift array, a device used to trap ground dwelling lizards. When lizards encounter the metal, they drift along it to the end, where they fall into a trap -- in this case, a 5 gallon bucket -- where they may later be examined and released. We saw several of these along the trails we hiked.
After about a half mile, the dirt track merges with a paved road for a short distance before giving way to a double-track trail. A bit farther on, the Fawn Trail turns sharply east at a junction where a windmill is located. We continued on in a southerly direction on what is now called the Golden Cheeked Warbler Trail. 

Fawn Trail veers left; we took the road to the right. Note windmill on left side of picture.
Juniper and other trees are pretty thick along the rolling trail. We then came to the first of what the park calls box-type house blinds. These are animal blinds located near the trails. The WMA opens up the area to hunts during the year, and these blinds are assigned to those whose names are drawn to participate in the hunt.

Sign indicates a box blind nearby. It is in the left of the picture. Can you see it?
About half a mile past the Fawn Trail cutoff, another trail veered to the west up a steep hill. This trail wraps around the perimeter of the park. That distance was too great for us, so we continued along our route, which soon passed a primitive camping area to the west. A bare wall of limestone soon appeared on our left (east), carved by years of water erosion. It’s quiet here, very peaceful and very shady. 

Exposed limestone wall carved by centuries of erosion. It's very peaceful and cool along this stretch of trail.
Near blind #10, I looked for a trail leading east, but never saw it. I don’t know if I simply missed it or that it is not a clear trail. We continued on south. After more than half a mile, we came to a marker with a “You are here” map indicating that we were on the trail I wanted to take that crosses the park to the east. I saw no trail, though. Not wanting to return on the same route we had followed out, we cut across a clearing. I saw  something ahead that might be a trail, and we soon came to our trail. Had we stayed on our southerly trail, we would have come to it, but the posted sign misled us.

This trail crosses the park to the east side, where we intersected with the trail that returns to the north and our camp. The cross trail is a very slow and gradual slope up. Once atop, we had great views, especially to the west. The landscape atop this hill is more open with fewer trees. A short half mile hike brought us to our trail junction, and we turned north for the return to camp.

Looking west from the top of the cross trail
There are few ups and downs along this trail, and even those are very slight for the most part. At one point, the trail turns west to flow around a hill. After this turn, we intersected with the trail I had failed to see on our way out. It is a clear trail, so I obviously must have been daydreaming when we passed it. We curved back east, then intersected with the perimeter trail along a fence line marking the eastern boundary of the park. After a gentle up and down and curve, we rejoined the Fawn Trail.

At the intersection of the perimeter trail, looking north.
At first, the trail looked simple, then we encountered the most challenging part of our hike. It is a steep downhill grade on loose rock. We slowed down, planted our feet sideways, and used our hiking poles to steady us as we slowly worked our way down. We slipped and slid a few times, but nothing major. We took our time and finally arrived at the bottom. 

It looks like the trail just drops off, and it actually does to some degree.
The remaining three-quarters of a mile was an easy hike through a tree-covered section, often running parallel to a dry creek bed. We then intersected with the scenic overlook trail we hiked upon our arrival at the park and worked our way back to camp.

Technically, our hike for the day was 5.3 miles. However, since we walked from and to our campsite, the total distance was probably 6.5 to 7 miles. The hike is easy to moderate, mostly easy. There are several sections with baseball and softball sized rocks where you need to watch your step. The total hike took us about 2 hours and 45 minutes. We encountered only 2 other people on the trail, bird watchers whom we passed soon after we split off the Fawn Trail near the beginning of the hike. During the entire hike, we heard only the sounds of nature with the exception of a small plane that flew over near the end of the hike. This is really a great way to spend some time.

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