Temps were up, with full fists, in the upper 90s, but we were tired of the same old track around our neighborhood, speed walking on blazing sidewalks and gooey tar. I brought up Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve to my wife, noting that there was plenty of “shade” and we hadn’t been there for a while. We were off to Hwy 360 and I wasn’t feeling great myself, with the pollen dust and mold that always come for me in June to excite my histamines into grenades that inflame and constrict my airways. I’m already fat, and also had a nice, new little pain in my right foot that added a duck-walk to my gait. So basically, I felt like a fat tick with asthma, waddling into the Hill Country. But, screw it. Let’s hike.
We turned into the surprise turn-in for the preserve, the sign popping up right after a high-speed turn as commuters race by and tailgate behind you. My wife can turn that little car on a dime, though. She braked hard, plumes of dust rising from the undercarriage, and we read the signs on the banners, in RED, blowing on the chain blocking the entrance. COVID strikes again. It was a real drag since we only had about an hour and a half of daylight, and were kinda out of options besides the greenbelt. We really wanted a fresh hike.
I don’t know why but I mentioned the Pennybacker Bridge. I looked up hikes nearby, and it looked like there was a little 1.7 trail out-and-back where we could kick up some dirt. We made the short drive and were pleased to find a parking spot. I told my wife that this had to be one of the top 5 most popular scenic spots in Austin. I remembered first coming here 24 years ago visiting my college buddies. As I was from West Texas, driving over the undulating hills at night, windows down, smoking Camel Lights and watching the radio towers blink red, cruising through the dynamited cliffs really mesmerized me. We climbed to the top of rock, taking in the colossal rusted steel beams in the moonlight, that curved over Lake Austin like a tarantula. I also remember having a fireworks experiment from that overlook, but that’s another story.
The place is so popular, the caliche parking area is just pulverized dust. Feels like you’re walking in flour. We got our gear, prayed, and found the entrance by a parking sign. I’ll have to admit I didn’t think we’d have much of a satisfying hike, but I was wrong, as usual. We started up to the popular spot, up the powdered donut rocks, but noticed an offshoot trail. Couldn’t pass it up. I was surprised at the overgrowth, the hoproot plants shingling the entire cliffside like the roofs of Japanese temples. We continued and climbed up a hill and down a ravine. We encountered a tree that bisected the trail whose roots looked like eels surfacing the water. We followed the trail and it took us down to the bottom to a quiet spot, a pool of water by big rocks dripping waterdrops.
We tried some more offshoot trails trying to lengthen our hike but it was just too damn sketchy. One’s imagination becomes quite vivid when you’re on remote paths. I just knew there was a snake that wanted to gorge on my tick blood. We turned around and found a more worn path that we knew would hit the overlook. And what an overlook. Lake Austin
runs around a canyon of the plumpest trees, and flows under the Great Pennybacker Bridge. We arrived just before twilight and it was gorgeous. We passed a few whispering, teenage couples sitting close together, who never looked at each other in the eyes, and we sped off to give them some privacy. Water ski boats and Seadoos split the lake, unzipping the water with wakes. Summer had arrived.
Something happens when you reach an overlook at the golden hour. It’s just like staring into a campfire. One is simply mesmerized by calm and the soothing light. We wanted to see how far the trail on top of the canyon went so we continued, but had to stop at every overlook that presented itself. Each one had a better view of the lake and the woods. What I really loved were the Red Cedar trees that jutted out from the cliff tops like Bonzai trees. The trunks are leafless, twisted, and the bushes reach out, like green torches in the wind.
We came across a tarantula by an overlook, and watching it scramble was like watching the Thing from Addams Family crawl around. Only the second time I’ve ever seen one. Made me grit my teeth and fidget.
I was really surprised how lush it was here. The Texas Ranger bush and cedar ballooned beside the trail. We kept onward. A shirtless hiker came by and we welcomed him. He told us the trail was “endless,” and for some reason he wanted to share a “secret spot” with us. He told us not to tell any hikers, and he pulled up a picture of a waterfall, in a nearby town, and told us where it was. I told him I could feel my hippie dreadlocks growing when he shared that. We thanked him and hiked the endless path. It got a lot sketchier with not much flat ground. A slip could mean a tumble down rockslides, so we kept our wits about us.
We made it to the “POSTED” sign and the mangled fence and we knew we were done. We were losing light and needed to turn back. The spiders sewed up and down milky cobwebs, the songbirds flew in, tucked themselves into the bush, and the cicadas rattled their calls to each other down a row of trees, like lights coming on across a power grid.