I did it! I finally made it to a Texas State Park (that’s not also a National Park)! Heading out for a hike at a state park marks the start of a new journey: one where I visit all of my home state’s state parks. After finishing the Southwest region of National Parks (more here: The Southwest Regon of the National Parks System (Finished!)), I knew it was time to start another goal. One that would let me travel close and save money for those trips to the further-away National Parks I need to see.
When some of my best friends decided to meet for brunch, I told them to keep it close to them in Fort Worth so that I could shorten my drive to Mineral Wells. After a fun brunch catching up at Fixture, I headed on to my first state park. I’d looked at the trails beforehand to plan a couple of hours of hikes, and decided it made more sense to stick to the south side of the park.
I will say right off the bat, none of their trails were marked with the name of the trail on their trail map. What? This made it a little confusing to start my hike, but when I saw a big sign for the Penitentiary Hollow, I knew that was a natural rock climbing area that was supposed to be at the end of my hike. I got out, walked down some nearby stone steps and was immediately greeted with the view of the lake and by the sounds of some rock climbers. So cool!
I haven’t really rock climbed, but it’s been on my list for a while. I made a decision right then and there that in one year, I’d come back to these beautiful short cliffs and rock climb. For now, with no experience, no teacher, and no equipment, I decided to get on my way and find the trailhead. I got back in my car and drove further down the road, finding a parking area. I assumed this was the trail, got my stuff and got started.
This trail was not very well marked but very beautiful. Heading in this way, I was going downward, just kind of heading toward the lake. I knew I was on the wrong path a times, so I had to double back and strain to see the trail – luckily, once I reached the lake the trail was very easy to find and just went right along the water. This meant a lot of beautiful views! The trail was mostly flat with a lot of variety in walkways which made it kind of exciting. There were off-shoots of the lake to tread over, rocks to scramble across, and lovely scenic “overlooks” including a couple of docks.
The other great thing about this trail was all the women! Hell yeah, force of nature women! I passed maybe four couples on my hike, all of them women except one had a man. That’s an 8-to-1 ratio, which has never been my experience on a hike. My hike ended back at the Hollow, where I realized there were more cliffs than I thought, with lots of narrow walkways – where I even spotted icicles! On a hike where I didn’t even where a jacket, if you can believe it. There was supposed to be a line of four great Elm trees, which I think I found – but nothing was marked.
I hiked out back the way I’d come, which was lovely until I got to the portion of the trail where I was supposed to ascend to the parking area. I could not find the trail. If I thought it’d been hard to find going in, it was basically impossible to find the few markers to get out. I have a pretty good sense of direction, and I knew about where to start heading up, so I ended up just having to forge my own path, avoiding some thorns and rock formations. I ended up about twenty feet past the trailhead, but still in the parking lot, so not too bad. A bit annoyed, but fine.
From there, I drove a little bit further, did the smallest little hike I could find, which led to the Mineral Wells Trailway, which was originally a railroad route but now was a 20 mile multi-purpose trail. I saw lots of cacti, what I think was a red-tailed hawk, and decided it was time to call it a day. I hopped back in the car and decided to try and find a treat.
I prefer ice cream, but Mineral Wells is small Texas town and this was a Sunday afternoon – so basically everything was closed. I stumbled across a coffee shop, You Maka Me Hot, that seemed to have a few fellow hikers grabbing coffees to go. Where were all the townspeople? I opted for an almond milk iced chai, pet the cafe’s rescue cat, and was on my way back home! Not a bad start to a Texas State Park, though I might try and plan my hikes on Fridays and Saturdays so I can explore these cute little towns more!