Palmetto State Park
“This birding adventure just sucks!”
That was the thought that ran through my mind during a recent birding adventure along the hiking trails at Palmetto State Park in Gonzales, Texas. Granted, I had gotten a very late start, not hitting the trails until almost noon, and it was right before a cold front moved through so the birdies weren’t terrible active, but still, after 3 hours of wandering the trails I had only been able to photograph a handful of different birds, most of which I had already photographed around my neighborhood. “Really,” I thought, “I drove almost an hour for this?” That’s when I stopped, looked around, realized the absurdity of my thoughts, and forced myself to do a mental readjustment.
Step 1: Look around at my surroundings
Step 2: Take in the beauty and uniqueness
Step 3: Be thankful and be still
Step 4: Live the moment and enjoy the experience
Sadly, I find that I have to readjust somewhat frequently when I go birding. I tend to focus (ha!) on capturing that perfect shot and forget that the photo ops are a just a lovely keepsake byproduct of the experience, and Palmetto State Park is a glorious experience!
Located just a few miles outside of Gonzales, Palmetto State Park is one of eight Texas State Parks within easy driving distance of Victoria and is the starting point (or ending point depending on what direction you’re going) of the Guadalupe Loop of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. It struck me as being a little small for a state park at 270 acres, but what it may lack in size, it more than makes up for in beauty!
The park features approximately 4 miles of hiking trails that weave through the trees and vegetation and along the banks of the San Marcos River. According to the park trail guide, “Several plant communities occur within the park, including bottomland hardwoods of hackberry, ash, elm and oak along the river, wet grasslands and a spartina marsh with occasional palmetto-ﬁlled swales, an oxbow lake, and several lagoons fed by an artesian well.”
As I took a moment to gaze at the beauty surrounding me rather than focusing on small movements in the foliage that could indicate a good photo op, I was struck by just how different my surroundings looked compared to, let’s say, wandering around Riverside Park or our farm near Goliad. The first thing I noticed was how incredibly different the trees looked. Rather than the oaks and pines that populate my neighborhood, Palmetto is full of tall, stalky trees that made me feel like I was in a different part of country. And as I hiked along the trails, I felt like civilization was a million miles away!
The park’s trail system is broken into four different trails that highlight specific, unique features of the park. The Ottine Swamp Trail takes hikers through the park’s ephemeral swamps; the Mesquite Flats Trail weaves through the park’s population of Mesquites; the San Marcos Trail boarders much of the river and is rich in wildlife and (except when I visit) birds; and the Oxbow Lake Trail circles the park’s 4-acre lake. Within the main trails are three small spurs including the Palmetto Interpretive Trail that gives hikers an interactive adventure experience focused on the plants, animals and cultural heritage of the area.
In addition to the hiking trails, the park features a small oxbow lake perfect for fishing or a lazy float in a paddle boat (conveniently available for rent) and camping spots for RVs and tents. There’s even a cabin that can be rented if you don’t own camping equipment. Other activities include kayaking, canoeing, and tubing down the San Marcos River.
As I hiked the trails and wandered around the camp ground my senses were filled with the smells of camp fires, the sounds of people laughing and talking, and the peace that comes with time spent communing with nature. As far as birdography adventures go, the day was pretty much a bust (although I was able to check a new sighting off my list: The Hermit Thrush), nonetheless, the day still scored a 10 on my “Best Way to Spend An Afternoon-O-Meter”.
If you have a day, or a weekend, I can’t think of a better place to escape the hustle and bustle of life and rediscover the beauty that is all around us!