We entered the South entrance of San Angelo State Park like the intro to an episode of The Benny Hill show, little Mini Cooper aimlessly hurrying and braking, trying to decide whether to sightsee by car or spread out the map of this unknown territory and any-minnie-miny-moe a dang hike before nightfall. After bickering and a little finger-pointing, missing our exit, we decided to stop, and go use the restrooms at Burkett Trailhead. From the overlook, we could see Longhorn cattle roam and frolic below, across the dry valley. You knew they were free range by the way they sauntered and pranced. Funny how that is. Funny how freedom does that.
Back to the restroom. Oooowee, that toilet seat was ice-cold, the walls cinder-block-white like the stall-less swimming pool restrooms of my my youth. Hello everyone! No matter; I, too, was starting’ to feel free myself. The stupor of the American “living room” during holiday time isn’t easy to shake, unless you make a run for the country and feel it start to shed off, until the cool air fills your chest and liberty sets in...
We took to the North entrance to seek out more varied land to hike, and settled on Dinosaur to Slick Rock, up to North Scenic and back to Shady, finishing up at the Bell Trailhead and our little Benny Hill sedan back to civilization.
We entered via the Bald Eagle Camping Area road and parked, only to find out that we would have to cross a deep ditch on foot to get to the trailhead. Looked easy enough. But when we walked down we encountered water. What we had walked across, in fact, was an old boat ramp overgrown with high, yellow grass. I couldn't see a dry way across. I don’t know if I was just out of practice or what, but I just didn't have my sailor’s eyes on this trip. But my 11 year-old son did. He found a path right under our nose, and we were able to cross and finally start the dadgum thing. My boy stood pointing to the trailhead like those statues in city squares of frontier founders pointing to future settlements. Got a good chuckle out of that.
We started from the Bell Trailhead into flat, rough country: cacti and leafless, dead trees, and grass so dry it was grey and yellow like dead straw. This land was like a scarecrow cemetery, nothing in the earth below to nourish, and nothing from the sky to drink itself alive. Just wind, caked earth, and the belly of the Sun: West Texas.
Dinosaur Trail reminded me of Caprock country and the desolate fields we would traverse and play in as kids. Like an Andrew Wyeth painting, the color in the plants and flora were long gone. We marched on and stepped down into the Little Foot Draw and discussed the dinosaur lizard tracks and which trail to take since none were marked, studying my scroll of a map, confusing myself more but determined to stay on course.
We came upon a skunk who stared us down and pogo-hopped across the terrain like a hairy, black centipede and disappeared. We crested a hill and could see the Longhorns prancing below, stopping to graze. They were all colors, black, white, and muddy brown. Carefree & wild.
We made it down to Slick Rocks but soon realized we were smack dab inside the Longhorn’s grazing den.
One longhorn, with a coat like an Oreo Blizzard, kicked up dirt and charged at us with a shove, and there I was, like Lot’s wife, turnt to a pillar of salt, standing still. My fiancée told me not to worry and she and my son casually sidestepped the bulls like kids walking by the swimming pool’s edge after being yelled at by the lifeguard for running.
We made it to the North Scenic Trail which overlooked the valley by the Concho River; bushy-tailed deer effortlessly leapt out of the fields like startled angels caught sleeping. Leaps in silence. Leaps that break out like rainbows in my mind to this very day. I couldn't believe my eyes.
We went a little further and found the marker for the Shady trail by the Concho, and I saw my first buck, antlers wide and regal; he stared us down.
We finished Shady Trail, a winding path of maroon vines that entered a grove of brittle trees up to the Bell Trailhead. My son took us to the path across the drybed to the car, and it was there that we noticed the sign for the trailhead covered in overgrowth. We strapped in and made our way to FM 2288 from San Angelo, and headed back home to the City of Austin, three hours away.