Spring day on Wolf Mountain

Sunday I spent some solitary time on Wolf Mountain. It was just a few days after the equinox, and I generally try to get a day of solitude around each turn of the seasons.  Wolf Mountain is a favorite place to go for spring.

It’s not really an impressive mountain.  It only rises about 200 feet from the lands below, and the trail makes a very gradual ascent.  It’s set in the karst topography of the Central Texas Hill Country, so it’s arid and rocky, mostly covered by oak and juniper, and cut by a few perennial creeks that make short sharp dashes down to the Pedernales River.

Wolf Mountain is the high point of Pedernales Falls State Park, about 40 miles west of Austin off U.S. Hwy 290.  You drive through Dripping Springs and Henly on the way. When I say it’s off 290, I mean turn north onto Ranch Road 3232 and drive seven miles to the entrance.  Then drive a couple more miles to the ranger station.

The trailhead for Wolf Mountain Trail is about a quarter mile from the ranger station, and it has it’s own little parking lot. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve parked there and hiked that trail.  Often I hiked it alone, but sometimes I hiked it with my father or my brother or both.

Wolf Mountain Trail is a loop of somewhere between six and eight miles, depending on which reference you’re reading.  It used to be just a foot trail, maybe an old cattle trail, until about 20 years ago, when someone got injured on the mountain. After that the parks department laid down an ambulance-wide gravel roadbed.

I love to hike the trail in the spring, not so much in the summer.  There is a fairly level stretch of maybe a mile, just past Regal Creek, that is swarming with horseflies in the summer.  They are mean, and they are tough.  Walk along that trail with sweat running down inside your shirt, and they will attack you.  The times I’ve hiked along there in the summer, I would hold a red bandanna by the corner, shake it out, and switch it across my back constantly, the way a horse switches his tail across his back.

If you slap one of those horseflies and he falls to the ground, step on him.  Otherwise he will shake himself off, buzz away, and then head right back at you.

Just after you cross Mescal Creek, on the shoulder of the mountain, the primitive campgrounds are laid along the bluff overlooking the creek and the river.  It’s beautiful in there.

My Daddy and I had a favorite campsite in there under a sort of vaulted ceiling formed by the tree canopy.  Just a few steps away a rock ledge overlooked the creek and gave a western exposure.  After supper we would sit out on that rock ledge, which we called the veranda, and watch the sun go down over the far ridge.

A steep scramble below the veranda, Mescal Creek forms a beautiful little blue pool.  In wet times, it’s deep enough to come up to your chin, and broad enough for a stroke or two.  It will keep a can of beer fairly cold.

I remember one winter night I was camping there by myself.  It was pretty cold after dark, but I didn’t want to crawl into the tent at 7 pm, so I bundled up and sat on the dirt against a big tree.  I hung my lantern on a twig above my head.  The lantern made a circle of light around me that stretched out about ten feet across the dirt.

Just outside the lantern light various critters, bugs mostly, came to take a look.  I noticed a good-sized scorpion, stinger curled up over his back, come right up to the edge of the light and just stay.  I don’t know if he was looking at me, but he was aimed right at me. He stayed still for a couple of hours. I was writing in my journal, but I don’t mind saying that scorpion affected my concentration.  I lost track of my thoughts a time or two, but I never lost track of where that scorpion was.  Eventually, he left.  I didn’t ask him where he was going.

Not far past the primitive campground, the trail forks, the left fork going around by the river bluff and Jones Springs, and the right fork going directly up the mountain.  The trail doesn’t go to the peak, but forms a circle around it, with the direct fork coming in on one side and the Jones Springs fork coming in on the opposite side.  The first time we hiked that loop, Daddy and I must have circled at least twice before we realized what we were doing and burst out laughing.  Now there’s a sign pointing to the parking lot, so that foolishness has been solved.

The loop there around the peak is where I went to cry after my father died.  Last Sunday I sat in the spot and ate a sandwich and wrote a few rough lines of poetry.  I still have more work to do on that.

The sky had been overcast when I started up the mountain, but when I arrived there on the upper loop, the blue was breaking through.  There’s a ridge to the west, but to the north, where the trail meanders down, the rough beauty of the Hill Country landscape rolls out toward the horizon.

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