Hiking for Texas Views (Bandera, Texas) 01-Mar-2023

For our third day of hiking in the Texas Hill Country, we went in search of some views. At least that was Plan A. As is sometimes the case, our Plan A didn’t survive contact with reality – that being a thick overcast generated by a front moving past us to the north. Instead of the clear, sunny, expansive views weather we’d been enjoying, we got horizon to horizon gloom.

Not that it was gloomy and cold. No, we got gloomy and humid. No views and generous sweat. What’s not to like? But, undeterred, we pressed on to Hill Country State Natural Area near Bandera, naively confident that the gloom would lift during the hour it took us to drive there. It did not. πŸ˜’

But you hike what you got. So Plan B became Plan A as modified by our grudging acceptance of gloom. This park has 4 scenic overlooks. We hiked 2 of them, including the one on West Peak, one of the highest peaks in this SNA.

Ours was the second car at the trailhead when we arrived and only two cars were there – ours being one of them – when we got back. So not a busy day at the park. We passed two other hikers near West Peak, otherwise we had the trails all to ourselves. This allowed us to lament the gloom in private. 😞

To the West Peak Overlook

From the parking lot nearest park headquarters, we took the Merrick Mile Trail to the West Peak Overlook Trail and hence up that (steeply) to the West Peak Overlook. Here we were eye to eye with the gloom. Lamentations ensued.

Starting out on the Merrick Trail
Onward into the gloom
Through a field of Texas Sotol with West Peak (arrow) on the horizon
Texas Sotol
Starting up the West Peak Overlook Trail
Stemmed Four-Nerve Daisy with solitary bee
White lichen
Beavertail cactus bud
Approaching the top of West Peak
The view from West Peak, Hill Country State Natural Area, Bandera, Texas
The brave hiker smile atop West Peak
The view from West Peak, Hill Country State Natural Area, Bandera, Texas
Embracing the gloom from atop West Peak
The view from West Peak, Hill Country State Natural Area, Bandera, Texas
Leaving West Peak
On to the Vista Ridge Overlook

With West Peak somewhat of a bust with respect to views, we decided to double down on the hope that the gloom would lift if we stalled long enough. Yes, yes, ever hopeful, etc.

So, we decided to descend from West Peak and then use the Madrone and Vista Ridge Trails to reach another scenic overlook on the west side of Vista Ridge. Certainly our luck with the weather would have changed by then. Certainly… πŸ™„

On our way to the Madrone Trail
The trail crosses the berm of a now defunct(?) water retention pond
A classic Hill Country ranch house at the south end of the Madrone Trail
The garage (but not the house) was built in the classic limestone block style
Outbuilding detail
On the Vista Ridge Trail

We weren’t sure why the Madrone Trail was called that – until we saw Madrone trees growing next to it. Pacific Madrones (A. menziesii) were (and still are) our favorite trees when we lived in Southern Oregon and were the subject of numerous photos. It seems there is a Texas Madrone (A. xalapensis) that is native to Central America, western Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. πŸ˜„

Texas Madrone

Our Madrone sighting may (or may not) have done something to appease the weather because, as we climbed toward the overlook on Vista Ridge, the clouds parted and we were blessed with sunshine! 😎 Or our stubborn persistence finally paid-off. Whatever. 🀨

The clouds depart as we reach the top of Vista Ridge
The view from Vista Ridge, Hill Country State Natural Area, Bandera, Texas
The view southwest from Vista Ridge
The view from Vista Ridge, Hill Country State Natural Area, Bandera, Texas
The view to the southeast
Blue skies usher us off the Vista Ridge Overlook

We made our way down from the overlook and then followed the Madrone Trail past the abandoned ranch house and over the berm. Rather than climb back over West Peak, we dropped down and followed the Bar-O Trail back to the parking lot. With the gloom gone, this proved to be a plenty warm hike in full sun. But at least we’d gotten a view! πŸ˜‰

Back across the berm
On the Bar-O Trail in the bottom land of West Verde Creek
On the Bar-O Trail

Our wanderings in search of a view came to 8.1 miles (13 km) with 720 feet (220 m) of elevation gain. We started out in gloom but keep going long enough for sunshine to (finally) reappear. 😎 Along the way, we were pleased to find that Texas has madrones too. In fact, this species seems more widely dispersed than the one we had in Southern Oregon. πŸ™‚

This being Texas and all, it only seemed right that we celebrate our achieving of a view with BBQ. Fortunately, B-Daddy’s BBQ in Helotes was directly between us and San Antonio. What a coincidence! πŸ˜‰ We hadn’t snacked much while on the trail, so we went for a late lunch / early dinner of BBQ + sides + necessary hydration. πŸ–πŸΊ And it was good, very good. πŸ˜‹ And we were fulfilled (stuffed actually). 😁

Our double loop to the West Peak Overlook (V1) and the Vista Ridge Overlook (V2)

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