Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Reopening Day at a Texas State Park

Thought I would depart for a few hours from COVID-19 posting.  The governor of Texas allowed state parks to reopen yesterday.  And I wanted to go hiking before they closed them again.  But it was a pretty weird experience.

Even before they had closed a few weeks ago, they had started requiring you to go online and get a day pass.  The offices were supposed to be closed, and so were the RV/tent camping areas.  The online site was going to reopen Sunday at noon to start taking reservations.  But for a couple of hours after noon, all it said for Guadalupe River State Park was that you should call for reservations; but the phone line was disconnected.  I tried back mid-afternoon and got a reservation/day use pass.

Apparently, they are allowing 100 passes per day for a pretty large park.  Although they have a section north of the river that gets very few visitors and it was allowed 60 passes per day.  The big draw for the main park (south section) is the river.  Almost everyone goes there or to the RV park.

But the main park also has what many would call a back country trail system. I put together a set of trails that are just shy of 5.5 miles that I can do in under 2 hours.  If you go to the northern section, you could add several miles.  But the main park is 20 minutes away, the northern section is a 30+ minute drive.  On the trail system in the main park, I usually encounter 1 to 2 people in the 0800-1000 time frame (no weekends, I don't like crowds).

For some reason, the governor mandated masks while in the park.  At the crowded river section, that would make sense.  On an empty hiking trail, it's just idiocy.  If you hike fast, you are going to need a lot of air, and those masks are made for standing around a hospital bed.  Anyway, I was hoping it would be cool enough I could use my buff and just pull it up if I came to anybody.  But it got hot in the car, so I took it off.  I used an industrial mask when showing my pass, but then took it off as I parked.  I carried the mask in my fanny pack, but figured I would just step off the trail 10-12 feet and let any other hikers or bikers pass.

Well, the hike started normal enough.  It's pretty rocky in sections, and the grass had grown up without hikers and made it a bit treacherous.  I'm glad I've got strong ankles.  I didn't see anyone for the first hour.  But at about 45 minutes into the hike, I saw a shadow cross the trail up ahead.  I just caught it in my peripheral vision.  I figured it was a deer that had noticed me and run across the trail.

Well, as I passed the tree beyond which the animal had run, I started looking around to see if it was still in the vicinity.  That's when I heard a sound halfway between a growl and a bark.  I looked to the left and there was the ugliest boar I had ever seen, about 30 feet away, staring at me.  I've been ready for bears (in other areas) and know to make a fuss with black bears and to gently walk away with grizzlies.  But no one ever said what to do with a boar.  The few I had seen before were far away and didn't come close.

On videos, I had seen them charging hunters.  So I was a bit nervous.  Actually, quite nervous.  I kept walking away, at a slightly slower pace so it wouldn't think I was running, while checking to see that he wasn't charging.  He growled/barked again, but didn't come towards me.  I checked behind me for a while after that.

Well, another 15 minutes go by, and I hear some internal combustion engines up ahead.  They are supposed to be working on the RV/camping areas, so I thought maybe it was construction.  Though I wasn't really near those areas.  I come around a bend, and there are two park maintenance guys running weed-eaters and wearing masks.  They don't seem to be social distancing.  I've never seen any park rangers or maintenance on foot, in the probably 100 visits to this trail system.  I've seen guys on tractors with mowing decks twice.

This isn't my pre-planned encounter.  They aren't moving, so I cannot get off the trail to let them pass.  And I don't have my mask on.  So I slow down, and slowly approach with the plan to get off trail and pass them.  But they turn their weed-eaters off and put them on the ground.  They seemed ready to either tackle me or run off, and I don't think they were going to run off.  My wife said it was probably just courtesy, but you can let off the trigger, and still let the weed-eaters run.

Of course, as I approach they state that the Governor has required everybody entering the park to wear masks.  The speaker sounded about 18 years old.  I pointed out that they were the only people I had seen on the trail, and that I wore my mask when I entered the park.  They didn't seem amused.  So after I passed them, I got my mask out of the pack and put it on.  After I got out of sight, I pulled it down, but left it around my neck.  I was coming up on an area where, if I saw anybody, they would be hiking.

Towards the end of my loop, I encountered a biker.  We both stopped and pulled up our masks.  When we got close I mentioned the park weed-eaters had pointed out the masks.  He said yeah he knew.  He was the only other person I saw on the 5.5 miles of trail, beyond the ridiculous weed-eaters.

Remember, this is a back country trail.  It is not marked as being accessible, and anyone with any kind of difficulty walking long distances or over rocks should not use it.  I don't even want my wife with her weak ankles walking there.  I always thought it was stupid to use the mowing deck.  But weed-eaters are just plain idiocy.  I'm a bit unhappy that my taxes and park pass fees are going to that kind of trail maintenance. 

Another thing that was peculiar.  My route first takes me to a horse trailer parking area.  There's a picnic table and a nice bench.  A second nice bench had been added.  About a third of the way around, there is a nice bench out in the middle of nowhere.  It had been replaced with a cheap $20 monstrosity built from one or two 2" x 8"s.  Why?  Another third of the way, they have a horse hitching post (metal) and two nice benches under the trees.  The benches under the trees were gone, and there were two monstrosities next to the hitching post in the open sun.  One was only a foot away from the post.  Again, why?

There was also one picnic table near the RV area, but along the trail, that was still there.  I had thought they might take away the tables (and maybe the benches) during the COVID-19 crisis.  But taking away only the benches and replacing them with crude seats was unanticipated.

And by the way, at the trail parking area (about 8 spaces), there was one other truck.  As I was driving out, two older folks walking a dog turned into the parking area from the road to go to that truck.  Neither were wearing masks.

If you want to go to a Texas state park, get online soon and get your reservation made.  And take a mask.

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