Category Archives: Photography Excursions

Lost Maples State Park

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Lost Maples State Park is the best known place in central Texas for pretty fall foliage, although it doesn’t happen every year. At about 180 miles from Georgetown, it’s a bit far to try to drive to, hike through, and then drive back in one day. We drive to Kerrville, spend the night, make the hour’s drive to the park early the next morning, see what we want to see there, then drive back home that second afternoon. We generally make the drive from Kerrville to the park via the southern route, then return through Kerrville by the route that takes us along the Guadalupe River. In a good fall foliage year, it’s possible to see a lot of red and yellow in the park, then see a lot of golden-brown cypress along the river on the return.

We did not make the trip in 2014 because the foliage reports weren’t that good. But we hit it very lucky in 2013, arriving on a cool, misty day that really brought out the fall colors.

Falls colors in Lost Maples State Park, 2013 (click on photo to zoom)

Falls colors in Lost Maples State Park, 2013
(click on photo to zoom)

 

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Enchanted Rock State Park

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Enchanted Rock is one of several local geological wonders. Located about half-way between Llano and Fredericksburg, it’s a little over a two hour drive from Georgetown. One way to do it is to set out around 9 AM, drive to Llano for an early barbecue lunch at either Cooper’s or Inman’s, then head for Enchanted rock, about another 40 minutes away. Note that this schedule will get you to Llano around 11 AM, and there is a reason for that: Cooper’s and Inman’s tend to get really crowded a little before noon. But do not stuff yourself, tempting though it is, because…

The attraction at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a huge granite dome, 425 feet high, and the main thing to do there is to walk up that dome. That’s about 42 stories. I’ve done it twice, now, taking about an hour and a half, including some photo taking at the summit, and also including many stops to catch my breath. My wife said she did not lose anything up there her first time, so she sees no need to repeat the climb.

As one expects, there is quite a view from the top of the dome. There are shallow depressions in the dome that often have water in them, and that water often has plant life in it. But I am not going to try to tell you that Enchanted Rock is beautiful, except in the sense that geological wonders are perforce beautiful, perhaps. There are often wildflowers here and there, the seeds having found a grip in a crevice which perhaps has trapped blowing sand.

If you got to Enchanted Rock by taking TX 16 south out of Llano, then consider a return to TX 16 and drive four miles further south to Willow City Loop. There is an official highway sign pointing it out. (Note that RR 1323 further along TX 16 is a more direct route to reach Willow City. We want to see the terrain along the Willow City Loop, not see the fine township of Willow City.)

The Willow City Loop is a famous drive in wildflower season, and justly so. Unfortunately the rains have not cooperated in the last several years (although I have high hopes for 2015), but it has been spectacular many times in past years. (And therefore also crowded during wildflower season, even on weekdays. If you can make the drive on a weekday, don’t even consider coming on a weekend.) So why am I recommending it out of wildflower season? Well, it has some fine Hill Country terrain, showing off several different examples of such along a fifteen mile drive. Besides, you have to come back home from seeing Enchanted Rock, and I have another attraction in mind for the route home.

When you reach Willow City, continue straight on what will now be RR 1323, and follow that road all the way to US 281, just north of Johnson City. Turn left towards Marble Falls and Burnet. Stop at the Bluebonnet Cafe in Marble Falls for pie! (Closed on Sundays after about 2 PM, and they do not take credit cards. Also try to get there in mid-afternoon, or there will probably be a line out the door.) Then head for Burnet, hang a right on TX 29, and come home (to Georgetown – too bad if you live in some lesser place).

At the foot of the trail up to the summit. Those little specks on the rock are people almost to the top. (Click to zoom)

At the foot of the trail up to the summit. Those little specks on the rock are people almost to the top. (Click to zoom)

 

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Pedernales Falls State Park

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Pedernales Falls State Park is another of my favorite local spots. It’s roughly 70 miles from the Georgetown square, and the drive takes about an hour and a half – assuming Austin traffic isn’t too tied up, of course. Most map services such as MapQuest, Google Maps, and Yahoo Maps, as well as most GPS devices, know the location of this Park, generally southwest out of Austin, between TX 71 and US 290. This is a state park. Seniors can get a free “pass” good for half off on State Park entrance fees. It is necessary at state parks to stop at the visitor center to get the necessary car permit

There are miles of hiking trails in Pedernales Falls State Park, several of them along the Pedernales River. (And before I forget, locals are likely to pronounce the name as Pur de nal ez [or even Purdnalez], although the Park Rangers agree that the real name is Peh der nal ez.) The main attraction are the series of falls as the river enters the park from the west.

To visit the falls, drive to the end of the road (the Rangers will give you a map when you pay), and park. The restroom at the visitor center has running water. I’m not so sure about the restroom at the parking lot near the falls. Bring drinking water.

The trail to the falls is about one quarter mile, with about a 100 foot descent when you reach the river. The trail here is mostly a series of actual stairs. Down at the river, you will be largely on your own to find your way where you want to go, and while there are generally good ways to get there, there are also many bad ways which might easily produce a broken leg.

There is a cypress tree, prominent on the far bank of the falls, prominent although not especially large, because it is all by itself, growing out of a cleft in the limestone. In the spring this tree is a beautiful bright green, and in the fall, like all cypress in these parts, it turns a reddish brown.

Swimming is not allowed at the falls, nor is it okay to wade across to the other side, which is privately owned. But there is another parking area downstream where visitors may walk down to the river and where swimming is allowed. There, wading in water just about up to an ankle bone, one may read signs warning against diving. I can’t take that very seriously, but I do take seriously the warnings about flash floods. If the river begins to rise a little, get to high ground pronto! The trees lining the river at this swimming area are all bent downstream, and also all carry considerable debris from previous flash floods, and that debris is about twelve feet up.

There is a special bird watching area about half way between the visitor center and the parking lot for the falls. One sits inside a building to look out windows to bird feeders. Bird watching like this is probably best early in the day, which might mean leaving Georgetown pretty early, and I haven’t done it.

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Pedernales Falls State Park (click on photo to zoom)

 

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Hamilton Pool Preserve

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Hamilton Pool Preserve is one of my favorite hiking/photography spots in central Texas. Southwest of Austin, between TX 71 and US 290, it’s about 50 miles from Georgetown. (So around 20 miles from Austin.) This is a Travis County Park, with Park Rangers and even a (primitive) restroom. As I recall, the restroom near the parking lot has hand disinfectant, but it would be better not to count on it. There is no running water, and no drinking water. There is a Porta-Potty along the trail.

The primary attraction at Hamilton Pool Preserve is a half-collapsed limestone dome, about 100 yards across, with Hamilton Creek dripping down across the opening into the pool to run on to the Pedernales River about another half-mile downstream. The creek is lined with cypress trees and flanked by limestone bluffs. The trail from the parking lot descends about 100 feet (that’s on the way down; on the way back up it’s at least a mile, but there are benches to rest on), with the pool only about a quarter mile hike from the car. At the foot of that descent the trail forks, with the left fork going to the confluence of Hamilton Creek and the Pedernales River, scenic all the way. But the right fork goes only another 300 yards to the pool, and wait until you see it!

The pool is open for swimming (at one’s own risk; there are no lifeguards) in warm weather, except following heavy rains that have brought in dirt and debris, so is very popular with the younger crowd. My wife and I prefer to visit on weekdays, when there are fewer folks at the pool.

Even with a considerable amount of bench-sitting and breath-catching, hiking down to the pool, taking some photographs, and returning to the car will take about three hours. Add at least two hours for taking the trail to the Pedernales River.

Photography at Hamilton Pool Preserve

The scenery at the pool is beautiful, close to spectacular, but it does present some special problems for photographers. The contrast of the dark area under the remaining half-dome and the outside area is extreme during Park hours, so photos tend to have areas that are either too dark, or too light. And if you split the difference, you will have both too dark and too light.

The high-tech solution to excessive contrast is High Dynamic Resolution photography, HDR for short, and if you browse through photos of Hamilton Pool posted on the Internet (especially on Flickr) you’ll see many HDR images. Many of today’s cameras will take HDR photos directly, but if your camera does not, you still have some options. (iPhones and Samsung Galaxy phones can take HDR photos directly, as can many of the newer dslrs.)

Hamilton Pool, under the half-dome (click on photo to zoom)

Hamilton Pool, under the half-dome
(click on photo to zoom)

On the left is a shot with some dynamic range optimization (DRO on Sony cameras), but this situation really calls for HDR, on the right. Note that not only is more detail visible in the dark areas under the overhang, but there is also more detail outside where it is bright. (It’s just too bad that there was a lot of crud on the water surface that day, following a good rain that washed the crud in.) (And further, more “extreme” settings for HDR might have improved the right photo even more.)

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