Hiking and Plein Air at Colorado Bend State Park

For the trip story, read on.  For the “Painting Stuff”, skip down to the end. (I got kinda wordy on this one)

Day 1: I’m headed to Colorado Bend State Park to a weekend of hiking, painting, mountain biking and possibly spelunking! Can’t wait!  I throw gear and the mountain bike in the truck and head 60 miles west of Harker Heights, west of Lampases.  Smooth sailing down the highway until the Google Maps failed with bad reception.  Hmm.  I check the sun feeling outdoorsy… west? It’s 1pm, no clue… I remember reading “take left”, told myself that “left is right”, and took a right. About 20 miles later I curse the countryside, pull a U-turn and finally arrive at the park around 2pm.  I look at the park lady and she says “Usually we have tons of sites, but we’ll almost full from six scout troops!”. I asked where the troops are located and then what’s at the other end of the map. She understood perfectly and gave me “the best spot” (next to the compost toilet in drive in camping)… hmm.  I hope for quiet neighbors.

I park, grab the paints, camera and ride on River Trail towards the famous Gorman Falls. The falls is “living”, meaning it is depositing minerals making cave-like formations .  As I get down the trail and it starts getting weedy with grass up to my waist. This can’t be right. I think this is an unmarked path (deer path?).  I find scout troop #1 base camp and ask where the trail is.  They look at me kind of funny and point to the trail up on the hill 20 feet.  Yep, it’s large, double-wide path. Thanks troops!  Ah, so much better.  I look over the river at beautiful cabins on other side tucked along huge bluff.

Cabins lined the other side of the river, even at the base of huge bluffs.
Cabins lined the other side of the river, even at the base of huge bluffs.

One house on top had a 100ft vertical zigzag staircase. I imagine setting up a repel station! Drooling, I ride on. Then 40-50ft limestone cliffs appear on my side. the potential rock climbing routes are everywhere!! Weaving all over the trail. It’s worse than text driving.  I hear whining and pull over for scout troop #2. Poor kid up front, maybe 6-8yr, hair matted with sweat and drooping with a 40lb pack. “I think my I over-packed.”. I wish I could stop and go through his pack with him, telling him to ditch most stuff.  I just smiled and thought “Been there kid”.  The scout master at tail end said, “You think you’re good enough you don’t need a helmet??”. “Sure!” I replied (Bad answer). He looked at me, not saying anything and passed on.  I’m really impressing the troops today. So, finally made it to Gorman Trail, but misread “Gorman Spring Trail” (not “Gorman Falls Trail”). After getting lost in the woods twice for an hour, I finally realize the mistake, curse at the countryside and head to the falls. It beautiful. Sort of surreal. It’s a 50ft cliff with slopes on either side, but the water still goes off the tall edge.

Gorman Falls around 4pm
Gorman Falls around 4pm

I head back to where I parked my bike, but somehow get really lost this time. There are so many deer trails, its easy to veer off. There’s rocks and prickly pears as far as I can see. I find a random dirt road and decide it the map’s maintenance road, then head 1.75 mi running into the entrance. Wrong direction. I curse the countryside again, and jog back 1.75 miles to the falls, passing all the people I had seen before, but going the other way.  Along the way I met a cool scout master from Austin who pointed me in the “right direction” this time. It was another path that lead to the “entrance”. Great. The sun is now on the hill top now with a yellow glow. I jog back to the Falls (again ~1.8 mi) and cross another person who’d previously also given me directions. I explained I don’t want to go to the “entrance”, but the “bike rack at the front of Gorman Spring Trail”. “Oh, that right around the corner the other way.” I instantly see the Dumb & Dumber bus scene. Less then 0.5mi later I’m back at my bike. Exhausted. “Well, at least I have my hiking legs back”.  I shoot down the trail 3 mi to camp site, set up my tent just before dark and make P&J Sandwiches at picnic table at site. I’m starving. About to take huge bite, I see standing six feet to my right, a big deer! It’s just staring at my food like a dog. “It’s not right to feed the deer.” I tell myself and chomp through two sandwiches and a can of peach slices in no time. Open up peanut butter crackers and deer comes up around other side. My neighbor’s nuclear powered lantern hit a glint in the Bambi eyes and I fold. I throw him a cracker. Silence, sniffing… Crunch, crunch with a cow chew motion. Peanut butter must be sticky to him. Amused, I toss a couple more. By now I’m talking to the deer and say,”Do you agree with Obama giving out so much free stuff to those who don’t want to work?”. I picked up a clump of grass and tossed it to him. He walked away! I named him “Freebie”.

So now I’m in my tent warming up the sleeping bag. A group of frat guys farting and talking about women and “Space Balls?” is  to my left. Hmm, they might be hillbillies. I don’t think Lampasas has a college. I’ll check for mullets tomorrow. To the right (w the nuclear lamp) is “Nathaniel” a boy who cusses loudly at his parents w no punishment.  Ahh, the sounds of “nature” … And a deer right outside, circling my tent staring at me! Unbelievable!  “Go away! Eat some grass”. Note to self … Reservations for “primitive, no-neighbor, camping” next time.

It was really cold last night. I must of slept, but only nose was sticking out of bag. With the sun coming up, I touch sides of tent – ice! There’s a solid blanket of condensation frozen and my down sleeping bag is soaked (so that’s why I was cold).

Frozen dew at the campsite. That's my neighbors and "Nathaniel".
Frozen dew at the campsite. That’s my neighbors and “Nathaniel”.

I woke up pumped to hike out and paint places I saw, but the warmth of the sleeping bag feels so good. “I will not get lost”, I say out loud and jump out of the tent wearing shorts and jacket. I shivering like crazy, but get my campsite packed up.  It feels good to face the challenge.  It’s like having a renewed sense of faith and confidence in myself. I head up to the truck and there he was “Freebie!”, standing there waiting for a breakfast cracker.

"Freebie" waiting for breakfast
“Freebie” waiting for breakfast

Sun light rose over river bluff and the temps rise from freezing to 50’s instantly!  In the shade it’s freezing, sunlight it’s hot so much so that one side of my truck tire was frozen, the other side already warm!  I head down towards Gorman Falls to paint and as usual, get lost. Luckily, it was a great thing! I saw my first painting spot!

Great painting spot on "Dog-leg Side Trail"
Great painting spot on “Dog-leg Side Trail”

Spent an hour getting colors just right so I can have them at home for bigger oil painting. Then, on way to the falls, find a huge entrance to a cave down by the river!

Cave I need to spelunk next time!
Cave I need to spelunk next time!

Trying to get down to the entrance, I slip down the muddy path directly on bum. I wouldn’t care, except it looks like a big terd stain and hikers behind me will wonder.  Oh well, maybe they’ll give me some space. I didn’t have light, but I went about 40 feet in and it looks like cave goes back pretty far!  Never made it to falls, but am exhausted and it feels awesome. I feel like myself again.

There’s no question this was a trip that required a bit of patience, but I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. So much fun!!

Painting Stuff:

"Cliffside Views at Colorado Bend State Park" 11 x 14" Oil
“Cliffside Views at Colorado Bend State Park” 11 x 14″ Oil

This is a spot on “Dog-leg Side Trail” about 1/4 mi from where it meets River Trail.  I wanted the viewer to feel like they are sitting right there (and hopefully will want to go see it for real!).  I took the plein air painting I’d done (photo above) and did a larger oil painting of it as soon as I got home while it was fresh on my mind. The changing light was hard, so I took a reference photo beforehand for later.  I took a bit of artistic license and added more green than there really was to liven it up a bit.

Here’s a quick painting slideshow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TmjijsTVHE

UPDATE (4/21/2013) I revised the scene in a few places to make a better overall composition and add interest.

The revision done on 4/21/2013
The revision done on 4/21/2013

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