Every June I make a stop at Palmetto State Park during the Texas Water Safari, an annual canoe & kayak race.  I stay for the evening, watching teams come in and out of the race check point via the San Marcos River, but I’ve never really gotten to see what the park has to offer.

It turns out there’s quite a bit more to this place than paddling.  (*gasp!*  Safari folk, I’m not betraying you, I promise.)

Let’s start with a few clips from my video diary.  (Keep reading for more photos.)  Unfortunately, the trip started with rain.

The weather wasn’t the greatest when I arrived.  I came directly from Goliad and I could see the clouds roll in during the drive.  I took my time setting up my tent (the camp sites a great here, large enough for multiple tents), and the rain finally let up enough for me to explore a little.

I started with the Palmetto Interpretive Trail.  It’s a short, 1/3 mile nature trail that features lots of palmetto plants and a water tower built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.

I didn’t make it far down the trail before I saw a huge bird swoop down over my head.  I watched as it flew back up in the trees and it joined a whole flock of buzzards.  I couldn’t believe it, there were so many!  Really, there must have been hundreds of them.



As I walked the trail, the sky began to clear and the sun peaked through.  I headed back to the camping area to find a good spot to watch the sun set.

Oxbow Lake is on the north side of the park, close to the camping area.  Paddle boats and canoes are available for rent for use on the lake.  That evening the lake was as calm and smooth as glass.


I returned to my camp site to start a fire and wait for the sunset.  Across the road there was a couple also starting a fire and settling in for the night.

George came over to say hello, followed by Pia.  They travel the world on a sailboat and they are currently touring the U.S. in a camper on the back of a pick-up truck, visiting friends around the country.  I talked to them about their lifestyle, which was fascinating.

George said schools invite him to speak about how they live and he gives presentations all over the world.  I asked him if anyone ever follows in their footsteps.  He frowned and said, “very very few.”

I asked Pia if she enjoyed that lifestyle and she said, “yes…well, mostly.  There are some bad things about it, but that’s what makes life worth living.”

I chatted with them for so long that I missed the peak sunset hour.  I took a couple photos from my camp site and then walked over to a pond created by a series of Artesian wells.  There were still a few people fishing as the sun sank lower in the sky.



I made my Mountain House freeze dried mac & cheese dinner in the dark with my new MSR DragonFly backpacking stove, which wasn’t bad, and then went back to the Palmetto Interpretive Trail.

It was very dark by then.  The clouds had returned, covering the stars and the moon, and the only light on the trail was my flashlight and the magenta light pollution haze from far off highways and shopping centers.

I was there to do some light painting on the palmetto plants, so I took a camera, a tripod and my LED Maglite flashlight.  I found a good spot to shoot and set up my tripod and camera.  Then I clicked the 30-second shutter and moved the beam of my flashlight over the pointed leaves of the palmetto plants.

With every move of my flashlight, I could hear the flock of buzzards rustle in the darkness of the trees above.  It was the creepiest place I’ve visited so far.  And the “watch for rattlesnakes” signs didn’t help.

After a few images, I got the heck out of there.


I slept great that night and woke up for the sunrise.  The sky was clear, so I went back to the bridge that overlooked the lake, hoping for a nice sunrise reflection off of the water.  The wind had picked up by then, though, so the water didn’t offer much of a reflection.


I wandered around in the early morning, taking a look at the river and the trees surrounding my camp site.



Then I walked down to the low-water crossing, the site of a key check point in the Texas Water Safari.


Like I said, I’ve spent a few evenings on this bridge.  It marks the end of day 1 for many paddlers who participate in the Texas Water Safari, a 260-mile canoe and kayak race from San Marcos, TX to the coast (Seadrift, TX), that takes place every June.

As the race photographer, I’ve had the privilege of watching these men and women as they make their way quickly over and under this bridge and prepare for a long night ahead.  All evening, night and morning boats come through, water bottles are handed off, repairs are made, the check-in board is signed and paddlers disappear in to the darkness.

It’s one of my favorite check points because of the access I can get without having to risk swimming with my gear.




It’s also a great place to get night pictures.


Anyway, back to this trip.

After breakfast I set out for a hike.  There are three, one-mile trails that link together on the southeast side of the park.  Each trail is surprisingly different.  So much so that you wouldn’t even need a sign to tell you that you were leaving one and starting another.

I started with the San Marcos River Trail, which follows the river.  The river is down in a valley for most of the hike, so this trail looks like a typical, wooded trail for the most part.


Next up was the Mesquite Flats Trail.  It’s exactly what you’d think it would be.  Flat with mesquite trees.


Third was the Ottine Swamp Trail.  This one wound through wetlands with palmetto plants.


All three were great.  Very well marked, easy trail hiking.  It didn’t take me long at all to hike all three, so I decided to hike a fourth trail.

The Oxbow Lake Trail, which is on the opposite side of the park, follows the perimeter of the lake for about 3/4 of a mile.  It is also distinctly different from the other three.


It was a windy morning and my allergies had gotten the best of me.  I had to carry tissues with me while hiking and my eyes were watery and swollen.  I was a sneezey mess when I returned to my camp site for lunch.  Instead of taking my time for lunch, I made myself a quick sandwich and packed up my tent.  The weather was beautiful, but I was ready to go home.

Here are a few links to help you plan your trip:
Palmetto State Park  (TPWD web site)
Palmetto State Park map  (map of park, trails)
Texas Water Safari  (official race web site)
Mountain House  (for backpacking food)
MSR DragonFly Backpacking Stove  (to cook your Mountain House food)

  1. jp thomas says:

    Ashley , what a great treat for us with this incredible photography and moive footage , I like the reflection of the dock and the morning sunrire though the trees ,plus the light painting too .the trails look like a lot of fun to check out , happy the buzzards or rattle snakes did not get you !the allergies are flooring me too .
    Thank you again Ashley for a other wonderful view of what makes texas a great place ..

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