Monday, 23 August 2010

A Gneiss Weekend

I'm trying to catch up on a slight backlog of blog posts here - this weekend away actually took place back in June, but I never got around to writing about it. To be honest our weekends away tend to follow a predictable pattern which you are probably getting used to: realise on Friday that we have a free weekend, book a last-minute motel, drive several hours to some unexplored piece of Texas, visit a state park or two, spot some wildlife, and back to the city again. But this one was somewhat different in that the piece of Texas we went to was underground.


To be precise, Longhorn Caverns State Park, a stunning subterranean selection of stalactite clusters, smooth sculpted rocks and glittering calcite crystals. Our guide was a 21-year veteran of the caves and took us on a slightly longer route so that we got to appreciate even more of the wonders. Not least of these is that the caverns are 68F year-round, providing a welcome relief from the 95F heat outside. Before air-conditioning the relief must have been even more profound, and the locals have used the caves for various purposes over the years, including a church, a Prohibition-era speakeasy and dancehall, and a gunpowder manufacturing plant during the Civil War. You can still have a wedding or party there today, which is certainly unique, if perhaps a little gloomy.





Next day we were up on top again, sailing along the Colorado River with the Vanishing Texas River Cruise. The Colorado, which is not to be confused with the more famous river of the same name running through the Grand Canyon, is the longest river entirely within the borders of Texas, running for about 600 miles down to the Gulf. In the Hill Country, where we were, it has been dammed into a series of reservoirs. Our cruise boat was chugging its way across the highest and largest of these, Lake Buchanan.
At first the guide seemed concerned only to point out the various housing developments and holiday sites around the lake shore, but as the trip went on we spotted herons, egrets, pelicans and cormorants. As the boat slipped into the narrower confines of the river proper, we rounded a corner and were suddenly confronted by a pretty waterfall, all the better for being completely unexpected. Here we paused to let off a handful of kayakers. They splashed onto the marshy shore with their boats and belongings, and the cruiser was just pulling away again when they realised they'd left their paddles on board! Whoops...








The nice pun in the title refers to the fact that around this area there are various lumps of pinkish rock sticking up out of the landscape. These are known as gneiss islands, and support unique microhabitats for rare plants and animals. In Inks Lake State Park we followed a trail across some of these "islands" and admired some of the flora and fauna, though we aren't good enough naturalists to know if we were looking at anything particularly unusual. We're naturalists enough to appreciate the contrast between hot rock and cool lake, however, and plopped thankfully into the latter after trekking across the former. Aaaaahhhh....




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