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Texas | Columns | "Letters from Central Texas"

Colorado Bend:
It Is What It Is

Colorado Bend State Park

by Clay Coppedge

BEND - Long time Central Texas fishermen might remember Colorado Bend State Park as the site of Lemon's Fishing Camp, famous for its full-throttle white bass run every spring.

Back in the day, it was not unusual for anglers to catch 100 or more "whites" in one afternoon during the run, which generally begins in late February and goes until early April.

The area that was Lemon's has, since 1987, been open to the public as Colorado Bend State Park, revealing treasures beyond the yearly bonanza of spawning white bass: majestic waterfalls, limestone caves, cooling, soothing travertine pools and a bounty of wildlife, including bald eagles in the winter.

Here, the Colorado River flows wild and unimpeded by dams, framed by the canyons it has created.

The most dramatic site in the park and the most popular with visitors is Gorman Falls, a 60-foot waterfall tumbling over a cliff and misting a stand of maiden hair ferns and other lush, tropical vegetation.

Gorman is one of the few waterfalls that actually gets bigger over time instead of diminishing. The same quality that makes that possible also makes the area extremely sensitive.

These falls are comprised solely of travertine, otherwise known as calcium deposits. The top layers of the deposit are extremely fragile and are easily damaged. One misguided hiking boot could do it.

Colorado Bend is so fragile and unique that scientists studying Gorman Falls for possible inclusion in the state parks system recom-mended against it be-cause, well, they kept finding stuff.

Biologists found a pure strain of Guadalpe bass surviving, even thriving in Gorman Creek. Archaeologists laid hands on Indian artifacts in redeposited limestone above the falls. Golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos were nesting all over the place, and there was the eagles' winter home to consider.

All in all, the falls and the land surrounding it was way too fragile for public use, the group reported. Park ranger Dave Paddie believed strongly the area was too beautiful not to share with the public. He is credited with changing the department's collective mind, leading to its opening as a state park 15 years ago.

Though park rangers worry about the delicate layers of travertine, the bounty of wildlife and archaeological treasures, the park has suffered little, if any, from the 70,000 people a year who visit. Part of that is because visitors are not allowed to hike to the falls or explore any of the park's caves except on tours guided by park rangers. The tours are given every weekend year-round.

Beyond that, visitors are on their own here, free to discover and enjoy the park but - other than the falls and the caves - on its own primitive terms.

"It is what it is," Byrd says of the park. "It's a primitive area. There's not a lot of amenities like water and electric. We've got chemical toilets and potable water in the area. If you don't like it at least a little bit wild, this probably isn't the place for you."

Even veteran hikers tend to get gushy about the 12 miles of hiking and biking trails Colorado Bend offers. Former park superintendent Robert Basse once said hiking the trails in Colorado Bend is like "driving out of West Texas and, in the blink of an eye, discovering you're in Jamaica." The scenery has also been likened to "a scenic postcard from the lush jungles of Costa Rica."

For all that, Colorado Bend is pure Hill Country: stands of live oak and juniper, thick with wildflowers in the spring, whitetail deer all year long and, every spring, the white bass moving up the Colorado River to spawn.

Though Colorado Bend is as wild as it has ever been, white bass numbers are down, according to Byrd. He says the numbers have fallen off dramatically since striped bass were introduced into: Lake Buchanan.

"It takes three or four days now to catch the same number of fish we used to catch in a day," he says.

The park is about 30 miles west of Lampasas where the Colorado River bends on the border between Lampasas and San Saba counties. Its relative isolation combined with a bit of an identity crisis has kept visitation numbers below what might be expected from a park with so much natural beauty.

"We get people here who say they thought it was in the Big Bend area," says Peggy Breshears, the park's office manager. "We're nowhere near Colorado or Big Bend, but that's sometimes what people think of when they hear the name."

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas" November 21, 2006 Column

See Colorado Bend State Park

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