We woke up late this Saturday with zero plans, regretting not making any but also happy for a morning off. After lazing about for a while we decided that it was the perfect weekend to go tent camping for the first time this year. There aren’t many options in the San Antonio area for camping, and of the two that seemed most appealing, Hill County Natural Area seemed like it might be less busy on a warm spring weekend.
We finally got on the road around 1pm, and still needed to stop and buy some decent sleeping mats and a cooler at REI. REI was impressively busy and between shopping and the long drive to the park, we ended up at our campsite around 4:30pm – not too bad really when it gets dark at 8. It gave us plenty of time to go on a nice long hike up into the hills of the park. The trail that started almost from our campsite allowed us the option of connecting to just about any other trail in the park.
Most of the park seemed to be designed for, and used by, horse campers. Several of the campsites were horse camping sites and the trails all had hoof prints. Luckily we never ran into any riders on our section of trail and we were free to poke at cactus, do insect photoshoots and let Sherlock get ticks (she somehow got only one).
The campsite was amazingly generous with a fire pit, hanging pole (for garbage) and picnic table directly in the middle of a huge round space hidden away in the forest, and a short walk from the next empty campsite. The site was surrounded with huge trees covered in air plants, probably my favorite southern plant. The area for the tent was completely flat and padded by a thick layer of yellow leaves, which Sherlock loved to run and spin through.
It was Sherlock’s first camping trip and she was getting along pretty well, lying on her blanket on the ground most of the time – until it started to get dark. We let her off leash for a bit, just to see how she’d do around camp; She started to play in the leaves, getting herself super excited, then running as fast as she could towards the truck 100 yards away. She did that twice before we realized she was trying to get us to follow her to the truck so we could leave. After being confused for a while, as it got darker and strange sounds filled the air, and still we didn’t leave. She eventually just resigned to the idea and laid down on her blanket to sleep. When the bugs showed up we put her in the tent and made dinner, after that the tent became her new favorite safe place and she was excited when it was time to go to bed.
All night long we listened to a deafening array of frog sounds from all sides, and the occasional rustling in the leaves or bushes nearby. Our tent is mostly mesh without the rain-fly so we watched the stars for a while before falling asleep. The temperature got no lower than 65 degrees all night and we all rotated between being too hot and too cold for much of it. However the new mats we bought turned out pretty great . We had previously been sharing a twin Ikea pad as a camping mat, which was much too heavy and large, even rolled up, for any future back-country hiking.
The mats are REI brand, Trekker 1.75, a unisex and a women’s size. The women’s mat turned out a little short for me but with my knees bent it’s about right. Each mat weight less than 2lbs and rolls up fairly small to be easily attached to the bottom of a backpack. We both get sore sides from laying on the ground typically, but although only 1.75 inches the Trekker mats did an awesome job of staying firm and not letting our bodies touch the ground, even when I let additional air out for comfort. They’re semi self inflating so they have a foam interior that sucks in air as it unrolls when the nozzle is opened, then you finish it off with a few blows if needed. Getting the air out is another thing, we’re still perfecting getting them as small as they were when we bought them but otherwise we love them!
Some Long-Horned Friends:
On the way out of the park on Sunday we passed by a bed and breakfast with their own small heard of longhorn cattle. My favorite was the calico looking one but they were all gorgeous!