McKinney Falls State Park | December 2014

My brother graduated with his Master's degree this past weekend. I took some time off of work to make sure Lily & I would be there to cheer him on as he walked the stage. We headed to San Antonio Friday so we could leave early on Saturday to make the day trip to Austin.

Since it was a fall ceremony, it was small, quick, and very entertaining and informal. It was much more enjoyable than any other graduation I've ever been to that takes fucking forever and is so damn serious. Lily was surprisingly well behaved during the ceremony, aside from making fart noises during a speech.

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After the ceremony, Lily & I seized the opportunity to visit McKinney Falls State Park. It is conveniently located right in Austin and actually abutts TPWD headquarters. At one point, we were essentially in the backyard of headquarters during our hike. Onion Creek runs through the park and creates the falls. They are nothing spectacular or massive, but it is still beautiful.

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We hiked the Homestead Trail on this trip, which involved jumping over the falls on the rocks. It was... nerve wracking. We made it over fairly easily on the beginning of the hike, but on the way back the gap seemed to have widened magically. It took some coaxing and a helping hand, but after about 10 minutes of planning we finally made it back to the other side. Onlookers literally gave me a round of applause. It was slightly embarassing, but I was just glad to have made it without falling in!

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We didn't get many pictures and it was a short visit to the park, but we enjoyed ourselves. Lily played at the playground for a bit before we headed back to San Antonio. 

On an unrelated note, I am doing a Whole 30. I am 10 days in as of today and it's fucking awesome. I recommend it to anyone and everyone, hands down. I'll divulge more details about the results when the 30 days is up. Here is one of my new favorite things: coconut milk & cinnamon coffee. It's fucking superb.

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Government Canyon State Natural Area | November 2014

My best friend, Kim, and I both share a love of hiking, but we have never really been able to do much hiking together because we never live in the same town and we both have busy schedules that don't always mesh. But the stars aligned finally and a long overdue trip was planned and executed. We kept it close and headed over to Government Canyon State Natural Area in San Antonio. You may remember that my brother & I made a trip out there recently to see the dinosaur tracks. Kim & I decided to tackle the same hike, but this time Lily came with me.

We got a later start than we would have liked due to lack of coffee and lack of energy, but we still were hitting the trails earlier than most people. It's a 5 mile round trip hike to the tracks and back and the time flew by as we laughed and talked and made Lily say things that we wanted her to say. Dance, monkey. Dance.

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We feared rain because the skies were pretty overcast, but luckily none came. Lily enjoyed looking at the trees and playing with rocks that we'd hand her. She quickly learned not to try to eat the rocks.

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It was a glorious hike that we made quick work of and it brought us officially to being 1/10th of the way done with our 100 Park Challenge! Hurrah!


Palmetto State Park | November 2014

The Thanksgiving holidays were wonderful. I took almost a full week off of work and headed to the new house in San Antonio. It is cozy and cute and centrally located. Pretty much everywhere I went in town was 20 minutes or less. Restaurants are easily accessible, as is HEB. I really like it and I'm looking forward to Lily and I building new memories there.

My break was incredibly active. On Thanksgiving, I ran a 4 mile Turkey Trot that was put on by the San Antonio Roadrunners. I have been running regularly since late July/early August and I've put in the miles that should have made this run pretty easy. What I wasn't expecting.... were the hills. I am used to flat, sea level runs. The hill country has, well, hills. They were kind of brutal but we pushed through. Literally, I pushed that fucking stroller up those fucking hills. We hit our goal of under 44:00 minutes, though! It was our first run as a family and I hope to do more in the future. I'm getting pretty great at juggling a dog and a stroller.

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Much food and wine was consumed following the race throughout the day. The meal was delicious and Lily enjoyed her first Thanksgiving, though we were both a bit congested.

That Saturday, we decided to trek to yet another new park for us. We set our sights on Palmetto State Park, though it was a close race between that and Blanco State Park. The recommendations of other park folks swayed our decision, in the end.

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The park is located in Gonzales, TX and the drive took us a little over an hour. Not bad at all. It was a warm day and a great one for hiking. We arrived at the park, got our permit, and headed to the trailhead of the Ottine Swamp trail. We connected it with the Mesquite Flats trail, and ended on the San Marcos River trail for a total of a little over 3 miles. The trails were pretty empty and we only passed a small handful of people along the way. It was peaceful and perfect.

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The park flora is strange. You're in a forested area... and there are fucking palm trees everywhere. Dwarf palmettos, to be exact. It just seems so out of place and odd to see the differing plants in the same area. I suppose that is what makes the park unique, though. I was freaking out, man. But not really.

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Once we finished the hike, we checked out the old CCC refectory. I used to really not be interested in history much and then when I worked at a CCC park, all of a sudden something clicked. I love seeing the old buildings that still stand 80 years later, that are still being used by park visitors. I think it's pretty awesome.

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I love that the leaves are actually changing color in some parts of the state. You'd never know that it was fall on the Gulf Coast.

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As we left, we enjoyed the scenic park road and got our last glimpses of the beautiful scenery. We headed home to rest up for our next adventure the following day.

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Guadalupe River State Park | November 2014

This is going to be a quick post because I have at least two more to write in the next two days!

First off: I have made my 100 Park Challenge to myself (and anyone else who wants to jump on board the crazy train) official. Read about it here and send me your park suggestions, stories of your own adventures, or let's plan a trip together, suckas!

So back when I was in San Antonio for that work conference, I made my way out to Guadalupe River State Park. It was only 45 minutes away from my parent's (now old) house. I have decided that autumn is just the best damn time for adventures. The weather isn't brutally hot or unpleasantly cold (though, this particular day, it was a bit too cold for my preferences), the leaves are changing in many areas of the state, and there are no summer crowds to hassle with. Plus, it's easy for me to get time off in the fall.

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Anyways, the park is in Spring Branch, TX, just northeast-ish of Boerne. It was a really easy drive and we made it in what felt like no time. As we pulled up to headquarters, I was chatting with the fellow that was working there and PPO, Ted, poked his head out to say hi! Ted was out in west Texas, as well, and there's like two degrees of separation between he and I (compared to seven between us and Kevin Bacon). We caught up briefly, chatted about our mutual friends, and then I bid them all adieu so we could get our day started.

As I mentioned before, the wonderful weather that we had enjoyed just two days before at Enchanted Rock was long gone and a cold front blew in some cold, windy weather. We didn't let that deter us, though. We bundled up as best we could, I threw Lily on my back, and she, Dottie, and I hit the trails, as we so often have been doing.

We hit the River Overlook trail which, as you can probably guess, overlooks the Guadalupe River. We connected it with the Live Oak trail, which looped back around to the River Overlook trail and brought us back to our car. My best guess is that it was a little over 2 miles. Nothing crazy, but a perfect distance for a cold day. It warmed our bones, but we weren't out long enough to be chilled.   

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After the hike, we drove down to a different area of the park to get some better pictures of the river and the foliage. It was absolutely beautiful.

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So there you have it. Short & sweet. I highly recommend the park. But that's not saying a lot coming from me because I have really yet to find a park that I don't like.


The Alamo + Enchanted Rock State Natural Area | November 2014

Phwew, I am way overdue for a post. Life always gets in the way of my writing. At least, the writing that I don't get paid to do. Speaking of which, I am ecstatic to report that on my added income, I was able to completely pay off one of my three debts last month! Two more to go! The way things are going with my writing, it'll be sooner rather than later, it seems!

This past week I was essentially on a work-cation. Y'know, like a 'stay-cation', but I was actually there for work & was getting paid. Pretty rad, in my opinion. The Adopt A Beach coordinator conference was held in San Antonio Thursday - Saturday of last week. It was amazing. We were stationed out of the Emily Morgan Hotel, which is centrally located downtown, right next to the Alamo. Downtown San Antonio truly is beautiful. I need to make it a point to go explore there more often when I am in town.

Thursday evening after registration, we were lucky enough to be treated to a private tour of the Alamo. It was Lily's first time to the historic site. I've been to the Alamo many times, but never on a tour, and it made a world of difference. The anecdotes, the stories, the minute details that those walls hold that, to the untrained eye, would be completely missed... I was extremely grateful for the tour and felt a deep connection to the building, one that I had never felt in previous trips. Texas history is quite amazing.

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Fun fact: the iconic shape of the top of the building was added after the infamous battle. It was built in the 1840s by the military to accomodate a new, pitched roof on the building.

After our tour, we had a small reception in Alamo Hall. We snacked on some light food, chatted with fellow coordinators, and then Lily was ready for bed so we headed out early. I fully made up for this the following evening....

Friday we had a full day of training. I love meeting people from all over the state, both out in the field and headquarters at the GLO offices in Austin. Everyone was fantastic and I made fast friends with two women from the Galveston area. At the end of the day, we had a dinner reception, and I made the decision to leave Lily at home for this one. Mommy wanted to socialize and stay out talking and, let's be real, mommy wanted to drink wine. And I did. And it was glorious.

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It was the second time I've had a 'night out' since Lily has been born. I am still debating if it even counts because it was for work, but I'm going to say it does because ample amounts of red wine were consumed and lots of fun was had. After dinner, Chet Garner, the Daytripper, gave a wonderful presentation. He is an ex-lawyer who decided that his urge to travel was too strong to ignore. Now he has a show on PBS where he travels all around Texas, exploring the amazing scenery, history, culture, and food that we have to offer. His presentation made me want to get up and go all over the state. I'll attribute the subsequent trips that I took while I was in the area to him. Thanks, Chet.

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 I cut my shenanigans short around 9PM, though the desire to stay was strong. I knew we'd be back at it early in the morning and I needed my beauty rest. I still felt a bit rough in the morning, which was awful for the mock interviews we did. I managed to pull myself together and kick ass on mine, though. What can I say? Public speaking is my bag, baby. Meow.

Once the conference was over, I was free for a few days until I had to attend an ATV training at Government Canyon State Natural Area. I took full advantage of Sunday's beautiful weather and my time off and headed an hour and a half north to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. I hadn't been in ages, and I jumped on the chance to add another state park to Lily & I's list.

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We woke up early and headed towards Fredericksburg. We arrive around 9:30am and the weather couldn't have been more perfect. The first thing we set off to do was hike the summit trail.

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There's really not much of a 'trail' going up the dome. You just kind of... climb. First things first - what is the dome, you ask? Well, it is a giant fucking rock that looks like a basketball was cut in half and plopped down onto the earth. The scientific term is exfoliation dome. I prefer my phrasing. A wise man told me that the rock was important to the Comanche because during the cool summer nights, the rock would lose heat and actually 'moan' like a ghost. I cannot verify the accuracy of that statement, but I thought it was interesting. Anyways, essentially it's this huge dome of granite that was underground at one point (and in fact, most of the rest of the granite in the area still is) but now has been uncovered. It's really beautiful and odd and curious to see. And, naturally, we had to climb it. Climbing the dome of Enchanted Rock is the equivalent of climbing the stairs of a 30-40 story building. It's no joke and it's quite the work out, but it was completely worth hiking my ass up there, even with a baby on my back.

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The view was spectacular. You can see for miles & miles on top of that rock. It feels magical, somehow. Or rather... it feels... enchanted? I don't know, but I do know that the area is truly beautiful and we had a great time clambering around on the rocks and taking in the fresh air and cool breeze.

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Okay, I've written more than I intended to tonight & I am tired and ready to crawl in next to Lily. Stay tuned for part 2: Guadalupe River State Park adventures + details on my new 100 park adventure goal.

PS - I have to share this funny picture of Lily when she passed the fuck out on the hike we took after climbing the dome. Floppy headed baby.

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Garner State Park + Lost Maples State Natural Area | September 2014

I took a few days off of work to get away for a bit. It was refreshing, rejuvenating, and relaxing. Glorious, indeed. I spent a lot of time hanging out with the family, saw some pals, and enjoyed the overcast, cooler weather that blew in.

Saturday morning, Lily, Dottie, & I headed out to go visit Tara at Garner State Park. The park is only about an hour and fifteen minutes away from my parent’s house, so it’s an easy (and beautiful) drive. I take the back roads the whole way, winding through Bandera, Utopia, and Tarpley – three quaint Texas Hill Country towns. Lily napped as we cruised along.

We arrived at the park before noon and unloaded all of my shit. It’s crazy how much crap I have to travel with now that I have a kid in tow. Traveling light will never again be an option. After sitting around and chatting for a bit, we ventured into Leakey to grab some lunch. Tara treated us to the local Italian place, Vinny's. We shared a Greek salad and ordered some delicious calzones while awkwardly overhearing the conversations of the religious cult/large adoptive family/weird Girl Scout troop (we still haven't determined what they were) at the table next to us. There’s something unsettling about hearing brainwashed 11 year olds talk about how they can’t wait to go to heaven or have babies.

We headed back to the house and proceeded to take a calzone-induced nap. Once we woke up, it was go time! We donned our hiking gear (which for me including donning Lily) and walked to the Crystal Cave trail, which is conveniently located right across the road from the residence.

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Not long after we started hiking, I was cursing Tara for knowingly getting us into this. The first half of the hike was pretty fucking steep. Like… Davis Mountains steep but it lasted longer than any steep trail in that park. It was hard.  And I don’t get the opportunity to hike as much as I used to so I am out of practice. Plus, with a 20 pound baby strapped to your back, it’s a damn good workout. Luckily, we eventually made it to the cave and stopped to enjoy some views and investigate a bit. After a short rest, we continued up to the top and admired the views of Baldy Peak and the Frio River (which is low as shit right now). Then we cautiously headed back down towards the bottom via the Bridge trail.

Once the hike was over, I was feeling overly ambitious and decided I needed to get a run in. After a quick transfer of Lily over to Tara’s back (I doubt she would enjoy being strapped on me while I ran), Dottie and I headed to the Pecan Grove campgrounds and the Day Use area beside the river. Parks are such beautiful places to run – the scenery is such a nice distraction. Tara walked around with Lucy and Lily while we did a little less than 2.5 miles. I tracked her down in the maze of campsites and we walked back to the house.

For dinner, we cooked up some grass-fed burgers with pineapple and homemade guacamole, and then passed many hours sitting outside by a fire drinking wine, catching each other up on our lives while Lily dozed in Tara’s arms. It was the type of night that a person needs more of.

In the morning, after a breakfast of chorizo tacos, we made the executive decision to venture outside of the park and head to Lost Maples State Natural Area. I had never been and I’ve heard so many good things about it that I jumped on the opportunity to check it out.

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It was definitely as beautiful as everyone says, and we weren’t even there when the leaves were changing color. I can only imagine how breathtaking it must be during the fall.

There weren’t many short or easy trails to hike here, so we just decided on the East trail, which was 4.6 miles round trip and labeled “challenging”. The label didn’t scare me, as some folks would consider some of the Davis Mountains trails “challenging”. And truly, the trail wasn’t bad. Except for one stretch. Just like the Crystal Cave trail, it was fucking STEEP. But it was worse than the Crystal Cave trail because this steepness seemed never ending. We stopped and took many a break on the rocks that were pretending to be stairs. I was having flashbacks to climbing the 414 steps in the Campanile in Florence, Italy. I was just pretending to be happy for the pictures, I was dying a little bit on the inside with every step, I promise.

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We finally made it to the top, though, and the views were so worth the climb. We were able to see for miles around and look down on some of the ponds that are located on the property. We didn’t spend much time up at the overlook due to the lack of shade and the presence of a young infant, and we made our way down to the ponds. It was slow going, steep, and a bit hazardous, and we stopped halfway through so I could nurse Lily under a tree, but eventually we made it! We let the dogs have a drink and cool off a bit before enjoying the remainder of the flat terrain back to the trailhead.

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Needless to say, after a wonderful visit full of fresh air and exercise, I was exhausted when I got home and Lily, Dottie, and I fell asleep around 8PM and slept the sleep of three happy, tired gals.


Government Canyon State Natural Area | August 2014

I made a quick weekend trip home Labor Day weekend to visit with the family. Ben & Nicole were in town for the weekend so I figured it was a good opportunity to get together with everyone in one space. That doesn't happen as often as I would like.

Sunday morning, we set out on a trip to Government Canyon State Natural Area. It's so close to my parent's house that I am embarrassed to admit I had never been before. They recently discovered dinosaur tracks on the property, which is a big deal because they are the only known dinosaur tracks in all of Bexar county. So, naturally, we had to go see them.

I decided to leave Lily with Grandma and Grandpa for this one because the hike to the tracks is a five mile round trip. 5 miles + August in Texas + baby... yeah. So I kissed her goodbye and off we went.

The Natural Area was only about a 20 minute drive - so convenient! We chatted with a friendly Park Host at the gate and she gave us a map, directions, and an info sheet on the tracks. Clearly we were not the only ones with the desire to check them out, because it seemed that a large majority of the visitors (which there were quite a few) were there for the exact same reason. We stopped at the Visitors Center on the way to the tracks to poke around a bit, then headed to the Back Country trailhead.

I cannot say enough good things about this site. I didn't see a SINGLE piece of trash on our hike. Not one. They seem to have an extensive volunteer team that ensure the safety of all the hikers. They have 'Trail Patrol' people who make sure everyone has water and is doing okay out in the trail systems and they had someone posted at the entrance to the Back Country to check that all visitors entering the area had plenty of water, as well. It was nice to know that they'd be out there looking out for us on the off chance that something crazy happened.

Gc6 It turns out we actually picked the perfect day to hike. It was overcast almost all morning so that really kept the heat at bay. Plus, there's like... trees and shade and shit here. I'd forgotten what that was like.

It was about an hour or so before we finally arrived at the dinosaur tracks. The tracks are from two different species. The bracchiosaurus-type track just looked like a hole, I seriously don't know how soGc7meone could have looked at that and thought "Hey! There's a dinosaur track!" but that's why I am not a dino-track finder. The other tracks were much more distinct.

We poked around there for a little bit and then decided to tack on a short, one mile overlook trail onto our hike. It took us up to the top of a cliff that overlooked the area where the tracks were. I could not will myself to get very close to the edge to look down at the tracks. No, thank you. So I mostly admired the view of the Texas hill country as we snapped a few photos and started our journey back.

Overall, we did about six miles of hiking and it was wonderful. I miss hiking. Walking on the beach is great and all, but it's not hiking. I hope to plan more hiking trips in the near future. Up next: Lily, Dottie, & I are going to tackle Baldy Peak next weekend when we visit Auntie Tara & Lucy.

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The hikes are a nice switch up to my running routine (which I planned and have been sticking with for the past month and a half). I've got a 2.5 mile run on the schedule tomorrow. We are aiming for a casual winter 10k - one that will allow both a stroller and a scraggly, muppet-like dog to participate.

And I'll end this post with one of my favorite pictures of Lily, to date. Taken by the babysitter, I have titled it: "Lounging". Because, f'real, she's basically doing what I spend most of my weekends doing...

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