The holidays really played a toll on my keeping my posts up-to-date. We took some lovely hiking trips in November-December that I never had a chance to share photos of, so with it being New Year's Day today, I want to get caught up to start 2010 out right, even if it means backtracking. I'll start with our trip to Westcave Preserve back in mid-November. This Hill Country wonder is situated near Pedernales River, not too far from Hamilton Pool (which we visited later the same afternoon).
Westcave Preserve is lesser known than the popular Hamilton Pool, though they are only about 5 minutes apart from one another. Perhaps it is because tours are required to hike through Westcave. However, the tour guides are quite knowledgeable and dedicated.
The Environmental Learning Center is impressive, with its solar-tracking exhibit built into its ceiling and floor, its sustainable energy, its exhibits relating the Fibonnacci Series numbers to nature, and more.
Along the upper trails, visitors delight in native woods and beautiful views overlooking the river below. Though it wasn't the right season to see one, endangered golden-cheeked warblers sometimes nest in the preserve, using strips of ashe juniper trees and spider webs to build their nests.
Descending down the steep trails along the cable-only handrail, we began to see large slabs of limestone rock, evidence of the geologic changes in the area over many, many thousands of years.
Down in the ravine, a variety of ferns, wildflowers, shrubs, grasses, and trees such as oaks and bald cypress set the peaceful scene along the creek.
Before arriving at the trail's end, we could already hear the tranquil sounds of the 40-foot waterfall, but the beauty of the waterfall backed by caves and fern-covered travertine walls drew our breath away. The water wasn't a massive flow, as it was still affected by the area's drought, but happily it still dropped into the pool below.
Sunlight streamed into the cave, providing backlighting for glistening water drops and shining upon the moistened moss and ferns. The almost fantastical scene seemed perfect for little gnomes, fairies, or elves.
Just outside, a water moccasin basked in the sun at the base of a giant bald cypress. Can you spot it below?
Near the larger cave was a smaller one, and inside we could see geological formations in the making. Though human visitors had wreaked havoc on the caves stalactites and stalagmites in the past, we could see new ones that had formed slowly over more recent decades.
It amazes me that I've lived in the Austin area since 1987, and this year is the first year I'd ever even heard of Westcave Preserve. But I'll definitely be taking friends and family to visit it for years to come.