Unfortunately, our schedules seldom coincide these days, so were constantly planning and canceling excursions into wonderful wild places. This occasion was no different. We had scheduled a three-day camping trip, but at the last moment weather reports of heavy rains put a damper on our plans.
"Lets pack some food and water and go the day," Jimmy insisted. "The front wont move in until tomorrow. I tell you, we have to go out there."
I had a mountain of work to do, but Jimmy and I hadnt been anywhere together since I started this magazine over a year ago. He had been talking about this place for months, and every time he would insist I take a look, but keep it a secret.
"But writing about secret wild places is my job," I protested whenever the subject came up. "Besides, its a state park."
"OK. But its way out in the middle of nowhere. Theres six miles of really lousy dirt road. Be sure and put that in your story. And the area must be crawling with snakes, and thick with mosquitoes and ticks. Be sure and mention that too."
I promised; an, at six-thirty on a Friday morning the phone rang. It was my wake-up call from Jimmy. By seven I was on the road headed for Jimmys place on Granite Shoals, and by nine we were on Highway 281 driving north to Colorado Bend State Park.
Sure enough, the park is way out yonder. FM 580 in Lampasas is poorly marked, so its easy to find yourself lost and cruising around in a residential area looking for any way out. After driving for what seemed like hours we made a brief stop at a country store in the community of Bend. I dropped off a few copies of Enchanted Rock Magazine and we were on our way. We finally hit the powdery white rub board road on the last leg of our journey. I commented that the road is really annoying and wouldnt be much fun for a standard two-wheel drive in rainy conditions.
"Be sure and put that in your story," Jimmy said, resigned to the fact that, despite all his objections, I was going to write about the trip.
Near the park we took a little detour to Sulpher Springs Camp. "I just want to check it out," Jimmy said. What we found was a really vital business with a mini-store, cabins, RV facilities, campsites, and a spring fed swimming pool all located along the Colorado River. Jimmy chatted with the owner, I left a few copies of the magazine, and we were back on that really lousy road to Colorado Bend State Park. Finally, the road started winding steeply downhill, and in no time we had checked into park headquarters, dropped off a few more magazines; and, after preparing a quick sandwich lunch we headed into the wild.
Jimmy led the way up the Gorman Creek Trail. The weather had been unseasonably hot and humid, and this day was no exception. Among the thick growth of grasses, trees and vines the air was so heavy you could almost drink it. Half in jest I started making long strokes with my arms as if swimming and walking at the same time while Jimmy pealed off his already soaked t-shirt.
Our first stop was at the base of a large limestone cliff with tall, stately cedars some fifteen feet in length growing close by. I took a drink from my canteen, and the water felt as if it was being pulled directly out into the humid air through every pore in my skin. As I sat there pondering the phenomena, Jimmy was examining the limestone.
"These are the fossils I was telling you about," Jimmy said. "Take a look at this."
"Incredible!" I responded immediately. The whole face of the ten foot limestone outcrop consisted of fossilized leaves. It was as if someone had poured a mixture of leaves and cement into crevices in the limestone only a few days before. I could see the veins in many of the leaves. Others had been folded over from the pressure of the uppermost leaves during some ancient flood. In other sections it appeared as if only the fibrous membranes of the leaves had been turned into stone. We both lamented our ignorance of geology before following the creek further upstream. In the process of writing this article I talked about this place with Jim Chude, our contributing editor on geology. Jim said that what we saw was not actually fossilized leaves, but their imprint; and they were likely some three hundred million years old.
We passed a few pools of water, each with a waterfall cascading over limestone outcrops. The oppressive humidity was no match for the cool spring waters which functioned as one very efficient water cooler. The sounds of waterfalls filled the air as we ventured further uphill and upstream. On both sides the cedar choked canyon rose high and steep, leaving only a narrow strip of sky straight overhead where a few random cotton-white clouds drifted in and out of view.
As we made our way along the side of a steep limestone outcrop we paused to look down into one of the numerous pools about twenty feet below.
"This is just like The Last of the Mohicians," Jimmy commented, "sound effects and all."
He was right. Although this location lacked the awesome scale of the cliff scene in the movie, it had everything else. Before ewe left Marble Falls, I had purchased a roll of film; for some time now I was having trouble with my camera. It wasnt advancing properly and I wasnt sure I was capturing any of this on film. I didnt know beforehand what to expect in the way of photo opportunities, so I spend the balance of the trip, occasionally lamenting my lack of foresight. Following Jimmys lead I pressed on. Finally, Jimmy said, "This is it."
Beneath us was a large basin where, from our left, Gorman Creek plunged into the jade and turquoise colored pool, clear as glass, twelve feet below. Pristine was the first word that came to mind. Other than that, the scene defied adequate description. Here, far from the noise and chaos of the modern world I found a palpable sense of peace. This is where rivers begin. Along the stair stepped falls of Gorman Creek are the unspoiled springs of Eden.
After stripping down to our hiking shorts we waded into the pool. Fingerling bass gathered around in innocent curiosity, while two or three feet below their crisp shadows mirrored their movements. I reached down and brushed away some debris in the limestone bedrock. Instantly, the water cleared, as bubbles of air released themselves from the impounded caches of leaves and sprang to the surface like carbonated water.
At the upstream edge of the fern-lined pool were two grottos or shallow caves. I sat inside the larger grotto, enthralled at the notion of being inside a living spring. Water dripped from the ceiling like rain, while invisible fountains of spring water pushed from the sides and bottom. From the turquoise blue streambed, multicolored pebbles, like rare gems, glistened in the sunlight. The scene was an unforgettable masterpiece from the hand of the Creator. At one point I glanced over at Jimmy. His knowing smile seemed to say, "I told you this place was incredible." I grinned back and shook my head in disbelief.
As we prepared to leave I said, "I think I could stay here forever."
"Yea, I know what you mean," he replied. "But you know, this scene will keep coming back to you, unexpectedly, over the next few weeks. I havent been able to get it out of my mind of months."
"You didnt tell me how pristine this place is. May camera is on the blink, and anyway I dont have any more film"
"Youd need a pack mule to carry enough film to do this place justice," he concluded.
As we neared the parking area, several geese waddled over obviously begging to be fed. A doe and fawn emerged from the foliage and came within a few feet of the Rocky 4x4 as we loaded up our gear.
"Man!" Jimmy exclaimed, "They sure put on a good show here. Like its part of a program or something."
As we returned to our vehicle I rewound the film in the camera. It was then I discovered the source of my camera problems. In my early morning haste I purchased a roll of twelve-exposure film.
A little later, while sitting at a picnic table devouring sandwiches and drinks close to the banks of the Colorado, our attention was drawn to activity on the opposite bank. On a high vertical cliff, tilted back just enough to allow the growth of large cedars, we watched vultures circle in the air, then return to their nests in the treetops. Among them one predatory hawk cruised the shoreline then found a perch in the uppermost branches of a tree midway up the cliff so it could eye the shoreline for an evening meal. During the winter months we would just as likely be watching bald eagles performing the same ritual. With that thought we vowed to return in December or January; at the same time we discussed camping here in July. As for myself, I intend to carry along film, film and more film.