A River BENDS Through It: Undeveloped retreat adventure above or below surface level

Published on Sunday, 27 April 2014 00:22 - Written by Brian Pearson bpearson@tylerpaper.com

BEND — Colorado Bend State Park just west of Lampasas is a relative newcomer to the Texas state park system.

The state bought the sprawling 5,328 acres, which once comprised two Hill Country ranches, in 1984 and 1987, with the park opening in 1987, according to the park’s website.

The gorgeous Colorado Bend State Park is only about 225 miles from Tyler, and it’s not too far away for a weekend getaway.

The park — with the scenic Colorado River running through it — remains largely undeveloped, with no electrical or water hookups for recreational vehicles in the campgrounds.

The 15 drive-up campsites with picnic tables, grills, a fire ring, water and restrooms “nearby” are about as fancy as it gets.

Everything else is walk-in tent camping or “primitive” requiring hikes of up to a mile to get to them.

But while the riverside camping is nice and scenic, with soaring cliffs on the other side of Colorado River, this is a get-out-there kind of place, with plenty of adventure to experience.

The central activity here is the wild caving with a guide. (Guideless cave exploring is not available for safety reasons.)

Our guide noted that park has more than 600 caves, with about a dozen of them open for tours.

These aren’t tours with concrete paths, lights, hand rails and a gift shop at the end. This is messy, crawl-on-hands-and-knees, wriggle-through-holes business.

Our tour during a recent spring break trip with my two sons, Curt and Luke, ages 12 and 10, respectively, started with a scary-looking crack in the rocks.

But the ascent was safe, and we found ourselves in an open space big enough for the whole group of a dozen or so cavers.

Then came a short crawl through a narrow tunnel, just wide enough to slither through, with a sleeping bat just inches away on a wall. The guide noted that the bat would remain that way as long as no one touched it.

We entered a sizeable room where we could stand and got a glimpse of some formations. The guide told us all about the cave and the critters in it, such as crickets.

The guide took us a different route to exit the cave, and he would have taken us to another cave had a thunderstorm not descended upon us. (No caving during storms, he said.)

Those wanting to go on tours need to make reservations weeks in advance and bring their own knee and elbow pads, gloves and headlamp to strap onto the helmet provided.

Don’t even think about not bringing any of those items, and be prepared for clothing to get ruined by the sticky mud often found on cave bottoms, although we got lucky and just slithered through dry dirt.

There is plenty of above-ground fun at Colorado Bend State Park.

It has more than 30 miles for mountain biking and hiking.

The Gorman Falls tour lasts about two hours and includes a 1.5-mile round-trip hike. The falls also is accessible without a guide in a 3-mile round trip over rugged terrain.

For those wanting some water time, go fishing, swimming or paddling on the Colorado River.

Colorado Bend State Park is frequently sold out, but there are camping alternatives in the area.

We stayed up the road at Barefoot Camp & R.V. Park, which has electric and water hookups. Here, the cliffs across the river soared even higher than they did at the state park.

The park was nice, clean and family friendly.

One of the trip’s highlights had nothing to do with adventure and the great outdoors.

The idea was to make a bunch of French fries to go with our cheeseburgers, but, much to my chagrin, there was nary a pot or pan in our pop-up camper.

Instead, I poured a bunch of cooking oil into a camping coffee pot, stuck it on the burner and threw in the fries.

And Camper Coffee Pot French Fries were born, which the boys proclaimed the best French fries ever.