At the beginning of the month, Ben and Rebekah were visiting from California. They spent a night with me in Stonewall and then I drove them up to Gatesville to see her parents the following day. In addition to getting loaded up with tons of plants from her mom, it also gave us an opportunity to spend the afternoon at Mother Neff State Park - the park that inspired the Texas State Parks system!
Mother Neff is named after Isabella Neff, a Virginian who relocated to Texas in 1852. Her youngest child, Pat Neff, was the governor of Texas from 1921 - 1925. When Isabella Neff died, she left six acres of land to the state. It was turned into a local park and officially opened as a state park in 1937. One of many Civilian Conservation Corps parks in Texas, this small park has a lot of history. That history doesn't start with Isabella Neff, though. For thousands of years, this area has been inhabited by Native Americans. It's no surprise that settlers displaced them - that's the foundation of our country, really...
These days, the park is 400 acres. One thing that I liked about the park was that it actually seems better to walk it than drive it. Trails connect pretty much all the open areas and, in my opinion, are superior to the road, which narrows and dead ends at a gate at the south end of the park. This gate blocks off the area of the park that is closed due to flood damage from 2015.
The size of the park makes it really easy to hit some of the most prominent features in the park in just a short 1.5 mile loop! Here's how:
TOWER TRAIL - 0.6 miles
When you enter the park, head to the camping loop and park right by the bathrooms. Pick up the Tower Trail and walk to the CCC Rock Tower, arguably the most iconic structure at the park. Go ahead, walk up it and enjoy the view!
When you're ready to move on, keep following the trail until you come to an old CCC stone picnic table. One of the things the CCC did was try to design structures in a way that allows them to blend in with the environment. This is a common theme among CCC parks - it's known as landscape architecture or organic architecture, a term coined by world-renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. This picnic table kind of looks like it's growing out of the ground.
CAVE TRAIL - 0.2 miles
Take a short detour from the picnic table to head to the Tonkawa Cave. It's not a "cave" per se, more-so a rock shelter. It's really neat to sit underneath it and think about all those that have come before and sat in it's shade, as well. This is a great place to sit and enjoy a snack, some water, and the quiet. When you're ready, head back the way you came.
WASH POND TRAIL - 0.5 miles
When you get back to the picnic table, briefly hop back onto the Tower Trail and then veer to the left to join the Wash Pond Trail. When the trail splits, take the left route to head to the Wash Pond. The pond has CCC history, as well as they expanded a natural dam to make the pond bigger. Back then, it was used for laundry and swimming, but nowadays I don't think I'd want to do either in it. It was really pretty when we were there, though, with the blue skies and trees reflecting off the surface of the pond!
Backtrack a smidge to get back on the main Wash Pond Trail and keep following that until it intersects back with the Tower Trail. From there, it's less than a tenth of mile back to the road!
If you've got limited time to visit this park, you can't go wrong with this itinerary! The hiking is easy, the trails are shady, the scenery is beautiful, and the history is abundant!