The bright side to all the craziness in the world is that we have more free time than normal. For years, my son and I have gone camping every fall, and usually also every spring, but we have been so busy that it has been over a year since we’ve gone. Until this past weekend.
I’d never heard of South Llano River State Park in Junction until last week, but I love the south western part of the Texas hill country, so I thought it would be the place to go. Saturday morning Ben and I packed the pickup and started south along with Ben’s trusty lab, Dixie.
It is a three-hour drive from Eastland to Junction, all on rural state highways. The half-way point is the heart of Texas road-side park about twenty miles north of Brady. We stopped there to take a photo of Ben next to the “Center of Texas” marker and let Dixie stretch her legs. The park is beautiful with a viewing area from which you can see for miles. A college road trip twenty-five years earlier was the last I’d been to the place; it brought back good memories.
The sides of highway 377 are covered in bluebonnets and paintbrushes from Brownwood to Junction right now. Every mile I saw something I wanted to stop and photograph, but we resisted.
As soon as we arrived at the state park, we realized we’d made the right choice. It’s situated in the Edward’s Plateau with beautiful, limestone and flint rock hills and the Llano river running through. Until recently, it was a large cattle ranch. The old ranch house is now the state park headquarters. The windmills, working pens, and even the old split-log barn are still present.
South Llano River State Park is known for birding. There are many bird blinds, but they are all temporarily closed for health reasons. You can still stand beside them, though, and see all the birds drawn to the feeders. There were always dove, hummingbirds, cardinals, and of course sparrows. The park is the home to Golden Cheeked Warblers, but we didn’t see any. It also has managed wild turkey roosting areas that are closed to the public after 3:00 P.M. so the turkeys can roost in peace. We did see a Tom and a few hens, but we heard many more.
The south section of the park is twenty-one hundred acres of undeveloped land with hiking trails, which we spent a total of five or so hours exploring on Sunday. I could easily spend a good two days hiking in this part of the park and never get bored. We never passed a single person on the back trails, though we did see an armadillo, two jackrabbits, and a few cottontails.
The park is a “dark sky park,” which means lights must be kept to a minimum after dark for star viewing. Ben and Dixie and I were content to sit by the fire both nights, as we were tired from our days of exploring. When we did turn on our flashlights we were surrounded by deer, which worried Dixie a bit.
I’m not sure what the park is like during normal times, but it was the most peaceful and quiet state park experience I’ve ever had. Social distancing at its finest. We can’t wait to go back.
If you are anywhere in central Texas, take a trip to this park. But remember to reserve your camping spot and pay your entrance fee online ahead of time, as none of the Texas parks are accepting cash right now, and most are filling up quickly.