Friday, February 21, 2014

Hike Report: The Big Hill

Most of the time we hike in the south section of San Angelo State Park. Our hikes in the north section have been few and far between. Recently, we decided to take another hike in that section.

The north section of the park is located just a couple miles west of Grape Creek on FM 2288. The main entrance for this section of the park is on the east side of the North Concho River. But the trailhead is at the end of a road on the west side of the river. That road, however, is gated. You need to check in at the office at the main entrance and get a combination for the lock on the gate. On this particular day, the lady at the entrance told us that we could also use the code to get into the gated area farther west called River Bend. This was great information, for this will give us easier access to trails in the center of the park about halfway between the north and south section. We've hiked those areas before, but they have been long hikes from either the north or south sections.

But for today, we decided to hike a loop that took us atop the Big Hill and then back along the North Concho River. This trail is similar to one I reported in San Angelo SP: January 23, 2012.

It was an extremely windy day. The first part of the hike was in a level area where the wind really swept along. I had trouble with my camera on this day, and not all of my pictures came out as I expected, so the ones I have are rather limited.

After leaving Bell's Trailhead, we turned due south on Dinosaur Trail. One of the unusual things about this park is that there are often dual trails, one for horses and one for bikes. Hikers can travel either trail, but bikes MUST stay on bike trails and horses MUST stay on equestrian trails. From time to time the trails cross or even merge, but when separate, each to his own. On this day, we followed the horse trail as we believe it is safer to be with horses than bike riders.

Trails at the park are usually appropriately named. For example, Roller Coaster Trail dips up and down and around, like a roller coaster. Tasajillo Flats Trail winds among tasajillo plants. I have heard that there are dinosaur tracks in the park, but these are not indicated on any maps that I know of. However, there are occasional guided tours, I believe, that will take visitors to the dinosaur tracks. If I were a betting man, I would bet those tracks are located near the Dinosaur Trail.

The Big Hill in the distance. It doesn't look like much from here, but as you get closer, it becomes a bit more imposing.

The Big Hill looks a bit more pronounced as we near it. Towards the right center, you can see a crane. Oil activity is taking place on the Big Hill, which mostly sits on private property. Note the dirt trail. Most of the Dinosaur Trail is easy walking on level, dirt trails.

The dinosaur trail heads south across a western prairie, then turns east where it dips into a creek. Just after turning east, the horse and bike trails merge into one for the next section of trail. Whenever I hike, I always look on the map for landmarks that we will encounter. These help break the hike up. A landmark can really be anything, from a scenic overlook to a river crossing to a campground. On this particular hike, I made note of several landmarks. The first was a watering trough just beyond the creek. Since horses use these trails, water troughs are provided. Most also have a bike rack or two for bikers as well as a hitching post, a map, and maybe even a bench.

After leaving the water trough, the trails soon diverge again and turn north. The trail gradually works up a slope towards the Big Hill. Near the top, the trail then switchbacks down. At the north base of the Big Hill is a trail junction. We decided we needed a workout, so we took the trail straight up the Big Hill (no switchback this time). At the top, we paused at the cross (see San Angelo SP: January 23, 2012) and to enjoy the view north along the North Concho River. Mature pecan trees line the river; it is a rarity to see mature, natural trees in this part of the country. They usually only occur along rivers and streams.

We were disappointed to see that just on the backside of the cross an oil well was being drilled. The entire area had been scraped clean of all plant growth and the foundation was being put up. The land is private property, I believe.

Most of the land atop the Big Hill has been cleared for an oil platform. The cross is still standing, though, and is just to the left, outside this picture.
Mature trees lining the North Concho River. Taken from the Big Hill. Note red tint to sky. Something was wrong with my camera during the mid-section of our hike, and many of the pictures did not turn out at all.

From the Big Hill, we continued east, taking the Badlands Trail, another appropriately named trail. There is a section on the trail where the dual trails merge to cross an area that looks somewhat like the Badlands. By the way, after emerging from this dip, the left trail is the horse trail.

Donna in the Badlands, an appropriate place for a bad girl like her.

Just beyond this area, we encountered a herd of longhorns. They were peacefully grazing near the trail, and they were curious about our presence and kept an eye on us.

Longhorns near the east end of the Badlands Trail. They were having a drink at the local watering hole.
 At this point, we came to the paved road that leads to the River Bend area previously mentioned, and we took that road north. From there, we followed the Slick Rock Trail, another appropriately named trail, as it followed the river back towards the trailhead.

We then picked up the multi-use trail and followed it until we split off onto the Shady Trail for a final walk along the North Concho River. There isn't much water in the river. There will sometimes be isolated pools of water, but no flow; it's just too shallow for that. But it's nice to be able to walk underneath the trees along the bank.

The Shady Trail is appropriately named. Lots of trees and thick undergrowth in some sections along the river.

Sometimes the river just dries up. You can see just a trickle continuing downstream.

Sometimes there will be a nice body of water in the riverbed. Note all the trees on the opposite bank.

The end of the trail is always a welcome site.

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