Surrounded by Solitude: Guadalupe River State Park


Photo by John Hamilton

John Hamilton , Staff Writer

As drivers make their way down I-10’s winding side roads en route to Spring Branch, they find themselves submerged in the spirit of the Hill Country. The route is densely populated by mesquites, cedars and cast iron fences. Horses and cattle graze in green pastures, undisturbed by the sounds of passing cars. Tucked away in these gentle rolling hills is a piece of nature reminiscent of another era, one that existed in a different millennium.

Venturing into the park, I passed trailheads in all directions extending invitations to explore the desert terrain. However, my proclivity to water always seems to steer me in its direction.

After parking, I saw, in the valley below, a gentle river nestled between a pebble beach and a towering limestone cliff. Making my way down stone steps, I was immediately drawn to the water’s edge. Looking up at the cliff was intimidating as I envisioned all the bygone eras the face of this rock had witnessed. Each line in the stone represented something beyond my knowledge, but my imagination ran wild with possibilities.

The passage of time could be seen in the overhanging trees that had died years ago, seemingly bending themselves over the edge to reach the moisture below. Along the pebble beach were circles made from beach rocks, reminders of ancient fish traps. As a primal chord inside me was resonating, a local told me someone had made the ring of rocks a pool for their children.

I moved on quickly after this, a choice needing to be made since there were trails in both directions. One offered an outlet toward the rapids, and the other was teeming with small eddies in the deeper waters.

The trail along the slow-moving water offered a retreat from the sun, shattering its light into thousands of pieces that streamed through the thick canopy above. The path was lined with dense vegetation, small red flowers peppering the sea of differing shades of green. To the left was another cliff face, this one blanketed with ivy that sat over invisible springs, leading trails of water to the ground. Several openings housed fallen boulders, remnants of the cliff face that had been chipped away and overgrown by algae. The acoustics of the stone played tricks, allowing the sound of water to come from all directions.

After a half mile of skirting rocks and bending to the will of the trail, a boulder jutted out from the water. Negotiating up the side of the boulder led to a view of the bending river, beset on all sides by trees. Birds in the area danced over the water, chasing their next meal as bugs got caught between aerial and underwater attackers. A brazen fish breached the surface, taking a meal back to its dwelling under the rocks. The bend in the river where my vision ended urged me to explore further, but the brush had become too thick to press on. Luckily, the opposite direction had just as much to offer.

The path along the rapids posed a uniquely natural picture with plant life grabbing at the precious resource that fuels everything around it. Roots from the right side of the path were exposed along much of the trail, revealing an intricate braiding of different trees’ attempts at survival. Those that did not reach the water fell away. One of the fallen looked to be from the Mesozoic era, a stubborn and giant oak whose final act in the world was to block the trail in every direction.

After clearing the behemoth, I came to an opening that offered a view down the river. The trickle of water had morphed into a rush. As the white water raged through the shallow areas, I imagined the river’s stones slowly being smoothed as they tumbled with the current, carried to a destination unknown. I imagined the beginnings of civilization unfolding before me, but had to remind myself where I was as my mind pulled me back to the rush of modern society.

Guadalupe River State Park is about 40 minutes from UTSA’s Main Campus, and a day pass costs $6. The gate is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and fills quickly on weekends, so online reservations are highly suggested.

The park contains far more than mentioned here, including 13 miles of hiking and biking trails away from the river, a discovery center and camping sites available to rent. Alcohol is prohibited in the park, as are glass containers. There are permanent barbecue pits along the banks for small gatherings, and all social distancing guidelines are enforced by park rangers.

If you are looking for an alternative to the bright glow of your computer and phone screens, give the pebble beach of Guadalupe River State Park a try. You might just enjoy a trip back in time.