Even though I only live 15 or so miles away from it, I have never hiked the Barton Creek Greenbelt. So, a couple of weeks ago on a Saturday, I decided to change all of that and add this park to my growing collection.
After carefully packing and checking my cameras and making sure that I had plenty of water, I made the short drive to the Loop 360 entrance and parked along with a couple of dozen other cars from the many enthusiasts who hike or mountain bike in this park. Entering where I did, is about halfway along the main trail, the one that follows Barton Creek. I chose to go west (upstream) as I wanted to check out the two falls that are on the map.
I followed the main trail which was on the top of the ridge. There was a steep drop off on the left but the trail was in good shape so there was no real danger unless one got careless. I followed it for a bit but wanted to get closer to the creek so I took the first side path that led downwards which eventually, did bring me to Barton Creek. I was under the assumption that the trail on the top of the ridge, the first one I was on, continued and ran parallel to the lower trail. I stayed with that belief for the entire afternoon and it wasn’t until much later in the day, was I proved wrong and it almost cost me.
However, I get ahead of myself. The first thing that was very apparent is there is no water in this section of Barton Creek which really
came as no surprise considering we are in a major drought and have not had enough rain in so long. The odd shower or two that we have had has sunk into the ground which is so parched and there has not been any run off to fill the creeks. I took some good pictures of the amazing rocks that are in the creek bed. It is not really a creek for swimming as the rocks are a real hazard especially under water and unseen.
As I continued to walk, I met many people, some with their family, some with dogs, young couples getting to know each other, groups sometimes mixed, other times all girls and many that like me, walk alone. There were even some runners who use the trails for their exercise. Almost without any exceptions, they all had a cheerful greeting as we passed each other. Sometimes the trail was narrow enough that one or the other of us had to give way in order to pass and there was always a pleasant thanks exchanged.
Then there are the trail bikers. Most of the time, you can hear coming and make way for them to fly on through. Sometimes, they are on you before you realize they are there and then it takes a shout from the biker to warn they are on the left or the right, whichever the case may be. I am not sure what the rules of etiquette are in these circumstances but generally speaking, the pedestrian gives way to the bikes. It makes the most sense just from a safety point of view for all concerned. My fear is that they will come flying around one of the blind sharp turns when they have no sight of what lies ahead for both the biker and the hiker and someone may get hurt.
I hiked past Twin Falls and except for some pretty dramatic rocks, there was still no water in this part of the creek. I headed on towards Sculptured Falls stopping to take pictures as I went. There are some pretty spectacular rock faces on this part of the trail with many caves and other inviting places to explore. I came across a pair of very big and probably very old live oak trees and took pictures. I wonder what these trees have “seen” in their lifetime. The trail pretty much follows the creek and usually is no more that a hundred feet or so away from it and glimpses of the creek are always in view. Occasionally, the distance increases or the trees grow thicker and although you know that the creek is still there, it is out of sight. Then, at one of the times when the creek did come back into view, lo and behold it had water in it.
That was enough for me so I cut off the main trail and made my way to the creek itself only to discover that what I was looking at was no more than a very large puddle. Well OK, maybe a bit bigger than a puddle measuring some hundred or so yards long and about thirty yards wide but it had no end and no beginning and no water flow. Just a body of water more like a pond than a creek. Puzzled by what I was looking at, I took pictures and went back on the trail keeping the creek in view as I fully expected to see more water after the next tall outcrop of rocks. My theory was that this “puddle” was caused by seepage from the water further up the stream and I would discover water over the next rock dam.
The trail again veered away from the creek but before it came back into view, I could hear the sound of water dropping over rocks. I need to mention that the little side trails that lead off the main trail are usually overgrown as they do not get the traffic flow of the main trails, especially now that the creek is dry and to use them does require extra effort. I forced my way back to the creek and discovered the water as it tumbled over the rocks making its own joyous sound. At this point, the water below the very small falls was flowing fairly strongly and was the width of the creek and when I looked downstream, couldn’t see the end due to a slight bend so I had no idea what was happening between the “puddle” that I first located and this fairly strong flow of water. After taking more pictures, I pushed ahead promising myself that I would investigate more on my way back. I was not to know that I would have many more “adventures” and that I was not going to investigate this mystery anymore today.
I hiked all the way to Sculptured Falls following the creek which now had water and a steady flow to it. It was remarkably clear and the algae on the rocks gave the water a greenish tint as though someone had poured green dye into it. People were actually swimming below the Sculptured Falls as it cascaded over the rocks. I watched for a while but not wanting to interfere with their privacy, did not take any pictures.
There is another entrance to the Greenbelt named the Scottish Woods Trail. To get to it from where I was at Sculptured Falls, meant a pretty steep climb of about a half a mile almost straight up over very rocky terrain. This was the most difficult part of the entire trail but I pushed on as I was still convinced that there was an upper and lower trail that ran parallel and I was hoping that it would meet up with on the steep climb. I passed several people walking or on trail bikes coming down the hill and many passed me going up. I was probably the slowest walker for miles around especially on that uphill climb. It appeared that the trail was following a pretty wide dry creek bed hence all of the rocks underfoot. People on this part of the hike, not only exchanged greetings but words of encouragement to the ones going up.
Near the top of the climb, a couple of bikers came out of a side trail and we had a short conversation about where it led. One biker was full of wonder and probably very grateful at the same time, that he had safely managed to ride the trail as he gave harrowing descriptions of the drop off on the side of the very narrow trail and how concerned he had been. They walked their bikes the rest of the way up the very steep trail and I continued at my more leisurely pace. As I walked, the belief that there was an upper trail grew stronger and in my mind, the bikers had described it perfectly. I should have asked them where they actually got on to this trail but it never occurred to me as in my mind, I was so hoping that it led to the “upper” trail.
So, I made up my mind that the trail they had just come from was also the one I needed to traverse on my way back. I headed back down the hill to where that trail was located and proceeded to follow it and even though there were a couple of downward turn offs, preferred to stay high following my very misguided beliefs. I turned a corner and hit a fence that surrounded some sort of structure with no way through or around. No big deal as I turned around and headed back to the first downward trail I could find. I came into a clear part of the trail with a very extensive view of the valley below and the other side heading up to the sky. Down in the valley, in the distance, I could see Barton Creek and could see that indeed, it
contained water. I took some pictures of the view and at that point, decided that it was more important on concentrating on getting out safely and put the cameras away and continued on the walk back which in turn, followed the rim of the valley around for a couple of miles or so. I could understand why the biker was so relieved that he had made it safely as indeed, the trail was not very wide, no more than a couple of feet and it did drop off on the one side very dramatically.I passed a couple of people who gave me hope that I was going in the right direction and plodded on. Then, as I got to the end,instead of the trail leading to the Loop 360 entrance, I came out into some real fancy housing estate with big expensive homes and down the hill, a closed iron gate at the entrance.
Obviously, I was not where I wanted to be and my only choice was to turn around and follow the trail back to the Scottish Woods Entrance, a mere couple of miles hike on a very difficult trail. The sun was sinking ever lower as time was doing its usual thing of marching on and I was miles from the Loop 360 entrance and getting more than a little concerned. I walked on and quickened my pace whenever I could which for me was no mean feat as the old legs are used to a leisurely and much slower walk. Luckily, I am pretty fit so was not in any sort of physical trouble.
I reached the point where the trail intersected with one leading downwards, and recognizing it as one I had traversed earlier, and headed back towards the creek trail which I knew would bring me back to where I needed to be. I again quickened the pace on the flat parts of the trail and was making pretty good time. I came across a wide trail leading upwards and figured, still with the mistaken beliefs of the “upper” trail, that I was on the right track. I walked for ten minutes and slowly realized that this trail was petering out. Again, I had made a mistake and had no choice but to turn back to the main creek trail and follow it. I resolved to not take anymore side trails but to stay with the main trail. By now it was about 7:20 pm or so and the light under the trees was fading fast. I made a mental note to myself that I needed to include a flashlight in my hiking kit for occasions such as this.
I reached the main trail but was still a couple of miles from the Loop 360 entrance and it was getting darker by the minute. I don’t know how it happened but one minute, I was striding along and the next I was flat-out on the ground. I figured that one boot caught a rock and the other boot caught my heel and I was down on the ground. I am no stranger to falling having spent many years playing in-goal for the various soccer teams in the not so distant past so I didn’t stick out a hand but braced and rolled as I hit the dirt. Actually, I should say, hit the rock as that is exactly what I landed on. Luckily for me, apart from a few scrapes and cuts on my forearm and a bruise to my thigh, I was unhurt. I took the opportunity to take a quick drink and at that moment, even though I was kneeling on the ground, another late comer passed me by. I called after him and asked him how much further to the Loop 360 entrance and he replied that is was about a half a mile. He never slowed down and was quickly out of sight. By now it was almost dark and it was a real problem to see the trail forcing me to slow down even more. As I continued on, I thought about the fall and the young hiker and I was surprised that this young gentleman had not been more concerned about the welfare of a fellow hiker especially one who was getting on in years. He had not slowed down or inquired if everything was OK or even offered to accompany me out to safety. I know that if it had been me and the roles were reversed, I would have at least offered.
I plodded on thinking deeply about the frailties of human nature. The trail at this point was a steady uphill climb and although littered with hazardous rocks and spurred on by the sound of traffic speeding over the Mopac bridge, made it safely out of the park. Mine was the only car still parked on the side of the road. I put my pack in the back along with my walking staff, changed out of my boots and into more comfortable shoes and sat in the car for a few moments trying to unwind from my excursions. I sat for a while thinking about the things I had seen on this hike and the mystery of the disappearing water from one part of the creek to the other and resolved to come back to solve this conundrum. I thought about the fall and the fact that the forced and continued walk had not allowed my old muscles to stiffen up and that apart from losing a bit of blood, I was unhurt and very grateful.
Altogether I walked 26000 steps according to my pedometer that I always carry with me and with my small step of 29 inches, it works out to almost 12 miles. I took over a hundred pictures. Luckily for me, I was not hurt from the fall other than scrapes and bruises and my pride but I did learn a couple of invaluable lessons that day. One was that I should plan better and never push time as I did. The other, there is no upper trail…
- Barton Creek Greenbelt-part 1 (pondblog2011.mlblogs.com)
- Strange Growth of Nature (pondblog2011.mlblogs.com)