The second and final instalment of Mat Bingham’s road trip through Texas and Colorado:
We left the main road and entered Colorado Bend National Park. Hiking trails were signposted on both sides of the potholed track like tributaries of the river that was the park’s namesake. As we rounded the final bend in the road there before us was the campsite, cradled in a steep sided valley and next to it, the great Colorado River.
We arrived later than planned, just enough time to pitch our tents before the darkness closed in around us. Lightning bugs put on an aerial display as we sat drinking the last of the beer and sharing pork chops bought several hours earlier from a Texas smokehouse en route. The river was now hidden in shadow as the Milky Way rose from the south. I considered taking some photographs of the giant galaxy, but sometimes it’s better just to look. It was well into the night when we finally retired to our tents.
The following morning we rose later than intended. The warm weather and beer had taken their toll. The trail we were going to walk took us through Dogleg Canyon and along the Colorado River to a place called Gorman Falls. From the waterfall we would complete the looping trail out of the canyon back to the car.
Vultures surfed the thermals above us as we picked our way through the loose rocks and the Mesquite devil trees. We were sheltered from the sun by the sides of the valley as we descended into the cooler air that lingered above the river. Butterflies were everywhere, drawn to both the water and the lush vegetation. They rested on boulders, or perched on the dry cracked mud at the water’s edge, using their proboscis to take in minerals, salt and water. Some were feeding on the nectar-rich flowers growing in abundance on the fertile riverbank. These were not the butterflies I had seen during glorious summer days spent on the River Weaver back home, but big tropical gliders from a faraway place.
A pair of monarch butterflies, big beautiful insects, were mating in the dappled shade. There are normally four generations of monarch butterflies over the course of a year. Each generation lives for between two and six weeks, with the exception of the fourth and final generation. The fourth generation lives for up to six months, migrating through the southern states of America to winter hibernation sites in Mexico. In the spring, their internal body clock triggers a second migration, urging them to leave their winter roosts and fly north and west to begin the butterfly lifecycle again. This strategy for securing the next generation of monarch butterflies is very successful. At their winter roosts they congregate in their millions.
We reached Gorman Falls around midday and sat in the shade, listening to the water trickling over the moss-covered rocks, making the most of the cool, damp air, catching our breath, having a drink. A backpacker arrived, with what looked like a rocket launcher strapped to his rucksack. The three of us watched him as he unpacked the tube that was about three feet long. To our relief, it turned out to be a didgeridoo. In what was a slightly surreal moment, he played a couple of notes (literally) at the foot of the waterfall and then left.
We stayed longer than the backpacker, reluctant to leave the shade. Dragging ourselves away, we left the waterfall and hiked the trail back to the car. Hot and thirsty, the air conditioning gave us some relief from the soaring temperatures outside as we drank the last of the water. Leaving the Colorado River, we drove for several hours to our final destination — The Grove.
The Grove is an abandoned town that takes its name from the group of trees that originally stood where the town was first settled in the 1870s. At its peak, The Grove had three general stores, two barber shops, a church, physicians and a dentist. By 1890 the population had swelled to 105 residents, with the economy based on raising livestock. The fate of the town was sealed by the construction of Route 84 between Gatesville and Temple, which effectively bypassed The Grove. By the 1940s the town had been abandoned. The dry Texas air had slowed the decaying of the timber buildings, the sun bleaching the wood to monochrome, metal signs slowly turned to rust.
We spent some time wandering around the deserted town, wondering what it must have felt like to live there. But it was late. Time to leave. We had explored only a tiny portion of the vast state of Texas, and within it, a hill country I never knew existed.