| State Parks
Falls in Texas
for You: Central Texas Travel
Text & Photos
by Audrey A. Herbrich
Pedernales Falls Area Hotels > Johnson
sign sits atop a graveled path: WARNING - The Pedernales River
running through the park can flash flood with little or no warning.
The water in the river can rise from a placid stream to a raging torrent
in a few minutes. If you are in the river area and notice the water
beginning to rise, you should leave the river area IMMEDIATELY.
Texans know firsthand how the mood of Mother Nature can change in
an instant; this sign near Pedernales Falls is just another reminder
Pedernales (pronounced “Per-denales” by locals) Falls State Park near
it is not uncommon to instantaneously see pristine blue skies morph
gray or to see powder-puff white clouds transform into rolling herds
of smoking whisps. Climate often changes in an instant, creating changes
in the landscape. But that is part of what makes Texas
so unique. And this is precisely what brings so many visitors, year-round,
to one of the “perdiest” expanses of country in central Texas.
Pedernales Falls State Park spans over 5,200
acres of land in Blanco County, including land along the scenic back
of the Pedernales River (the same river that runs near former President
Johnson’s boyhood home). The state of Texas
opened this natural retreat to visitors in 1971, making camping, hiking,
swimming (seasonal), tubing (seasonal), biking, and fishing available
falls themselves, however, are what really draws visitors to the park.
On any given day, visitors young and old, from near and far, can be
seen exploring the expanse of the falls. When no recent rain has occurred,
the falls serve as a serene escape for weary travelers, a calming
cove offering visitors a place to relax. A fifty-foot overlook accommodates
the timid; a trail of descending rock steps entices the adventurous,
leading directly into the valley of the falls.
The falls are created by a natural, downhill layering of limestone.
These river limestones result from the 300-million-year-old Marble
Falls formation and are part of the southwestern flank of the Llano
uplift. Water flows steadily through the falls year-round, but after
heavy rains, water cascades across this 3,000 feet of natural barrier,
creating a ferocious surge of water, woods, or whatever else might
get in its way. Flashfloods are frequent and dangerous in this area,
with little natural warning. Flooding occurs almost instantaneously
through the wide-mouth falls of the Pedernales when Texas-sized drops
of rain begin to pour down. Nature now creates another scene, this
one a bit unwelcoming but no less a sight to behold than the first.
Still, visitors flock to this area, whether tame or treacherous. Both
are fine examples of biological beauty; however, the falls offer more
hands-on exploration activities when the water level is low.
After any flood, loads of soft sediment are deposited along the riverbanks,
creating a beach-like “shore,” with yards of warm, golden sand extending
beyond the width of the river. This rural beach is even complete with
the displacement of various rocks and shells perfect for collecting.
With each flood, the shore is washed away and replaced, in a perpetual
cycle of old and new.
Normally, these falls are a restful ravine, where a quiet trickling
of water snakes through the rocks, reclines in cesspool crevices,
and continues calmly down the Pedernales. The exposure of the limestone
as the water folds beneath them reveals, quite simply, large rocks,
which appear foreign and out of place among the ash, buttonbrush,
and cypress landscape that peppers the adjacent river terrace.
The rocks are
easily accessed opposite the sometimes-shore of river sand. During
periods of calm, the rocks become a giant playscape, with children
and adults alike jumping from one to the next, hoisting themselves
over and through the craters that look not unlike bestial footprints.
With jeans rolled up, toes taste the cool, blue water, wind tickles
fingers, and eyes squint to avoid the sun. Children wade while dogs
paddle. Families picnic, and friends photograph. Brothers skip rocks
along the bank. A grandmother collects shells. A Labrador chases
a walleye between the rocks. Teenagers sunbathe. Some just sit.
Breezes blow crosswise through the falls. Crappie, bass, catfish,
channel cats, and sunfish dot the water. Oak leaves fall from swaying
trees. Acorns drop--then sink--into soft soil. Insects create a
All that surrounds the river is in a constant state of flux, forever
prisoner to the cycle where one scene is replaced by another as
weather changes from rest to rage. The river, quite old, becomes
new again several times each year. Sometimes, even the visitors,
too, exchange their old views of beauty and serenity as they experience
nature anew. Maybe this is why they come: for a refreshment of sorts
courtesy of one of central Texas’ most picturesque alcoves.
Whatever the reason, the falls are a welcoming beacon among the
otherwise harsh terrain of the Texas
hill country, tempting visitors to taste of its waters, to eat
of its milieu.
falls area is at the far west end of Pedernales Falls State Park,
which is located nine miles east of Johnson
City on FM 2766. The park is open seven days a week year-round,
except when park wildlife management activities force closure of all
or part of the park.
© Audrey A. Herbrich, Guest Column December 15, 2004
English Instructor at Blinn College—Brenham, Texas
Falls State Park Information
2585 Park Road
Johnson City TX 78636
8 miles East of Johnson
City via FM 2766