Shortly after our return from the UK, whilst Mike was finalising our year-end taxes, I drove to Garner State Park, north-west of San Antonio. Mike, Mattie and I discovered the park in January – we had arrived late that day, having first visited the home of John Garner, Franklin Roosevelt’s vice-president, for whom the park is named, and we only had time for a short walk along the Frio river just before sundown. The Frio is blue-green and gorgeously lined with huge cypresses, their roots almost as majestic as the trees themselves, and in the late afternoon they were filled with black vultures.
On my more recent trip, I arrived early to do some hiking. From the top of the high bluff, on which most of the park is built, the views of the surrounding Hill Country are breathtaking. I sat on a rock now and then and enjoyed the silence whilst watching vultures glide in the sky. The hillside was studded with bright green cedars, stubby Texas grasses and the purple blossom of mountain laurel. After three hours or so of hiking I descended to the river and ate a picnic I had brought with me. Around me, black Hill Country squirrels scampered up and down the trees, and black-crested titmice (so named for the black tuft on their heads) flew in and about the lower branches. Before returning to San Antonio, I checked out the parks’ buildings. During the great depression of the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps – a body made up of young unemployed men – built the nation’s state parks under the supervision of architects and supervisors. The rustic-style buildings at Garner include an outside dance floor, pavilion, refectory and keeper’s lodge, all handsomely hand cut from limestone taken from the park itself. My journey home took me through three small towns originally settled in the mid-1800s by immigrants from Alsace; one of them, Castroville, sports a French restaurant and bakery. A railroad runs alongside these towns and now and then freight trains trundle through. In the 1800s, stagecoaches would have stopped at the towns and reportedly once carried supplies for confederate soldiers fighting in the civil war. I drove on and a nearby historical marker recorded a small battle between Texas rangers and Comanches in which all the Comanches were killed but only one ranger wounded. Roadside verges contained whole swaths of wildflowers – bluebonnets, golden coreopsis and pink evening primrose.
Last weekend, Mattie and I returned to Garner Park for an overnight stay. On our way, we saw cows grazing in fields spiked with white prickly poppies, and red and yellow Indian Blanket and dark lemon Coreopsis now dotted the roadside verges. We spent the night in one of the park’s screened shelters, close to the Frio now lined with blue blossoming sages. These small shelters have a table and enough room to lay sleeping mats. We barbecued sausages that evening and slept well in our shelter. The next morning Mattie was thrilled to see a humming bird and a titmouse flying outside the wooden door. Rust-coloured wrens flew in and out of the trees around us. During the day, Mattie made friends on the campsite and swam in the river whilst I did some hiking. On one of the hillsides a prickly pear cactus was already in blossom – lemon tinged with pink. The sky was a deep cloudless blue and the surrounding stony countryside reminded me a little of Provence.