IMAGE: Texas Parks & Wildlife — The water provides both fishing and some spectacular sunset views at Pedernales State Park

You may already know this, but Texas is a big state. According to the Texas Almanac, its total area consists of 268,581 square miles. That's an awful lot of mileage for a single place.

Because of its size, Texas often fools most out of state visitors who only see one or two parts of its otherwise sprawling land mass. Every foreigner (re: non-Texan) I've ever met who has spent time in Texas tells me the same thing about its geography. “Too flat.” “Too hilly.” “Too humid.” “Too dry.” When I correct them, saying Texas is all of the above and more, I'm met with the same disbelieving face.

I understand their confusion. Depending on where the car enters, the plane lands or the boat docks, Texas can be a very different place. That's why I tell everyone to visit the Texas Hill Country, especially Pedernales State Park. Located about 30 miles west of Austin, it sits snugly in the middle of central Texas, encompassing all of its best (and sometimes not so great) qualities.

Like many of the state parks covered in this series, Pedernales is a relatively recent acquisition. After its purchase from private owners in 1970, the park's 5,212 acres opened for public use a year later. The area straddles the Pedernales River, a 106-mile tributary of the Colorado River and the park's namesake. Long before the land made its way into the hands of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department, it was the Circle Bar Ranch.

The river is the main attraction, especially the sloping, rocky falls carefully crafted over geologic time into a rocky gorge. The falls aren't necessarily dangerous, especially since a favorite activity of able-bodied visitors is to straddle its rocky outcroppings and wade in its waters. However, signs throughout the park caution everyone about the river's potential volatile nature. Flash flooding is a beautiful, natural occurrence that accomplishes both good and bad things for the river and the surrounding lands. However, people caught in its currents have perished in the past.

A senior in high school, I visited Pedernales with a group of friends during a week-long road trip in and around the state. We spent a great deal of time in central Texas and, at a friend's suggestion, decided to camp overnight at the park. I'd never heard of the place, but as soon as I found a park brochure with an image of a flash flood on it, I started second-guessing our decision to stay. I worried especially when we approached the falls and found the water levels significantly lower than normal for the season. 

IMAGE: Texas Parks & Wildlife — The falls' water level may vary by season, but it's always a good family destination.

“Great,” I thought. “I'm going to drown before graduation.”

I didn't, of course. None of us drowned. Instead, we hopped from rock to rock, inspecting the trickling falls we could find and wading in the deeper pools available. Later, we retired to camp, set a fire and cooked our dinner. A buddy whose parents were home brewers shared a bottle of beer with everyone. It was a great night with good friends, but I couldn't shake the fear of an impending flash flood.

According to the brochure, survivors and witnesses reportedly compared the flood's sound to a freight train. I'd never heard a flash flood before, but I'd heard plenty of trains in Pasadena. Every time the wind picked up, carrying the faintest sounds of traffic from 290 or an airplane far overhead, I thought of the freight train. I thought of the river.

Eventually, all this listening and worrying tired me out. Combined with the wind's continuous lullabies, I feel asleep blanketed in stars. That’s the kind of comfort Pedernales brings.

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