We saw dung beetles, admired Hill Country vistas, checked out the primitive backpacking sites and ticked off about 5 miles of easy hiking during yesterday’s trip to Pedernales Falls State Park, the latest episode in the REI Best Hill Country Hikes with Fit City series.
Cody Ackerman, head of REI’s Outdoor School in Austin, led the excursion to the park, where we struck out on the Wolf Mountain Trail. (No wolves here, at least not in 2016.)
The trail runs smooth and wide from the parking lot, drifting ever so slightly downhill and crossing several small creeks. We stopped at one to inspect three different types of footprints – dog, raccoon and something else, maybe a fox.
That’s when Ackerman, a master naturalist, gave us a few tips on how to tell the difference between dog tracks and mountain lion tracks. A dog’s print features four close-together toe pads that are all pointed forward. The heel pad is not much larger than one of the toe pads. A mountain lion’s track features four toe pads that are more separated than a dog’s pads, and arrayed in more of an arch pattern. The heel pad is much larger than one of the cat’s individual toe pads.
We didn’t find any mountain lion tracks, in case you’re wondering.
We learned, too, that ashe juniper (or cedar) trees that are sloughing strips of bark from their trunks are at least 40 years old. The endangered golden-cheeked warbler uses that bark to make its nest.
We got a close look at a collection of water striders gliding across a small pool in a creek, and watched a dung beetle push its marble-sized load along the trail.
We never made it to the main waterfall at the park, because we ran out of time. That’s OK. The best hiking trails at Pedernales aren’t around the falls, although they’re definitely worth the quick walk down to see them if you haven’t done that. (They’re flowing nicely now, too, with all the rain we’ve had in Central Texas.)
If you head to the park this month, expect traffic delays. Crews are doing work on the main road leading to the entrance. (We took Fitzhugh Road instead, to avoid the work.)
The restrooms at headquarters are currently out of commission, too. You’ll have to use the port-o-lets if you need to go.
Stay tuned for details about our the next REI Best of Hill Country Hikes with Fit City. We always do them on Monday mornings, because I’d rather be out hiking than sitting at a desk working.
If you go: Pedernales Falls State Park is located at 2585 Park Road 6026 near Johnson City. Admission is $6 for adults; ages 12 and under free. For more information call (830) 868-7304 or go herehttp://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/pedernales-falls.