Thanksgiving Weekend, Sonora, Texas

The week before Thanksgiving, Leigh looked at me and said, “So, where are we going?” We hadn’t been anywhere for a while, between work and family and my shows (that many of you were kind enough to visit), and it was time for at least a quick getaway. So while everybody else was watching football on Thanksgiving, Leigh and I took a road trip! Around halftime in the Cowboys game we headed for Sonora, Texas to do a little hiking and a little caving. We had a great time!

Of course, first we had to get there, a quick 5-1/2 hour drive from Garland. I do like to stay away from the interstate if I can, so out past Fort Worth we took a left and hit the smaller roads. It was cloudy and dark so we didn’t really stop to see the sights as we passed through the small towns, we were in our room in Sonora by 11.

When we left on our journey, the forecast for Sonora and points south was for the clouds to break up late Friday morning. A slight drizzle as we headed out for the Devil’s River State Natural Area was not a concern. The drizzle went away but the grey did not, and it was cloudy all day.

After about 45 minutes we got to the Dolan Creek Road turnoff from Highway 277 and headed for the Devil’s River HQ. From 277 it’s about 22 miles of dirt road to the Headquarters. An adventurous drive, I was glad we were in the Acadia though my sedan has done a lot of dirt roads in its time! This is all through ranch country, but we only had to stop once for the cattle. We also saw a number of deer running across the road. And several of the classic windmills, pumping water, not those newfangled electricity-generating types!

After signing in at the HQ and getting a briefing from the Park Ranger there, we headed down to the river, another 3-1/2 miles of dirt road followed by an easy one-mile hike from the parking down to the riverbank.

The Devil’s River runs wide and slow through this area, though there are rapids and falls both above and below. It is popular with canoes and kayaks, or so they tell me. We didn’t see any on this day, perhaps a little cool. We hiked and waded about a mile upstream to a spot where 12 or 13 springs feed into the river. That’s about as close as I could get – the area is habitat, protected by Law and Poison Ivy!

Windmill with barbed-wire fence

After drying our feet we hiked back up past the parking lot to the 12-mile loop. The Ranger had said that the loop took about 6 hours, but I’m sure he was reckoning with lesser hikers than us! 🙂 However, as it was already almost 1:00 in the afternoon (with sunset around 5:30) we decided to just do part. If you look at the trail map on the Texas Parks website linked above, you see “point of interest” number 8, a windmill. That’s it in the shot at the very top of this post and this one here with the barbed-wire fence. We hiked out that far, past the (very!) primitive campsites ( flat spots just off the trail), up, over and along a couple of ridges. If you like the grey, dry, windswept look (okay, I do…), this is the place and time for you!

Heart-shaped prickly-pear cactus

I spent some time shooting around the windmill, then we retraced our steps. On the way back we noticed some “Heart of Texas” cactus by the trail, though the actual Heart of Texas comes later in the trip… Back to the truck, twenty-odd miles of rough dirt roads, then back up 277 to Sonora. We ate at a local Mexican restaurant and went back to our room.

The next morning as we left the hotel the clouds started breaking up, but it wasn’t going to help down in the caverns. It appears that there was a museum of some sort next to the hotel. It was locked up when we were there.

So we left and went to the caverns. Caverns of Sonora is just a few miles up the interstate from Sonora, and then a few miles down the road. Peacocks and guineas wander the grounds, though nobody was showing off. This trip is really a scouting trip – you can’t take a tripod with you on the regular tour so I improvised, bouncing a flash to try to keep the pictures from being too dark or noisy.

I’ve been to a fair number of caverns, large and small, and I have to say I have not seen anything that compares with this one for sheer concentrated beauty! Much of what you see is amazingly close and intimate. The tour is about 2 miles and involves 360 steps down 155 feet, but it’s not strenuous. It is, however, warm – the cave is a steady 72 degrees (that’s 22C) and 98% humidity so it feels like 85 (29)!

Our guide, Levi Garrett, was excellent, pleasant and informative. And patient with the photographer and his wife ( a.k.a. my voice-activated light stand) who kept falling behind… 🙂 I believe he said that the opening was originally discovered in 1905 but it was not really explored past the Devil’s Pit until the 1950s. And that’s where the amazing stuff is! I won’t waste much more space talking about it, except to say that I hope to do better on my next tour, which will be the photo tour and I’ll have a tripod and some better ideas…but I hope the pictures speak for themselves!(The pictures with more color were probably taken by my wife!) (Did I mention I was experimenting with lighting?) (Excuses, excuses… 🙂 )

I had to duck on several occasions because I didn’t want to break any of the formations with my skull.

After the tour, and a little time in the gift shop, we hit the road. We went back home mostly by the same route, but this time we could actually see what was around us!

I thought this shot was classic West Texas – windmill and water tank in the middle of a cotton field. Texas produces more cotton than any other state.

We passed through smaller towns and countryside and stopped a few times. I like to check out old county courthouses (in spite of missing the one in Sonora!). In Eldorado we saw the Schleicher County courthouse, built in 1924 (on the right). In Brady was the McCulloch County courthouse, from 1899. You may notice the “Heart of Texas” sign – Brady is the town closest to the geographical center of Texas.

It was a pleasant drive home and a nice couple of days. When we come back, we’re going to actually see some of Sonora. The courthouse and old depot, for example. But the most important thing will be a long photo tour in the caverns!

And I did run into an old girlfriend…

Fortunately, my wife trusts me. 🙂

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