Lake Mineral Wells State Park
    Location: Four miles east from Mineral Wells town center off of Hwy 180
    Access: From the intersection of Hwys 281 and 180 in Mineral Wells, drive east on Hwy 180 4 miles, then turn north into the signed park road. 
    Maps: USGS 7.5í quad Mineral Wells East; Park map at entrance station shows trails
    Trailhead: UTM NAD83 UTM 14s 590204e 3633329n 912í
    Trails: The romantically-named Primitive Campground Access Trail is 2.5 miles one-way, and is an unimproved trail, often not marked very well, but usually easily-followed. Only foot traffic is allowed on this trail, and is the one we hiked. It leads to a series of primitive campsites, and continues on for an unknown distance from there. Low to high point change is 130í. The nearby Cross Timbers Trail is basically a gravel road that allows foot, bicycle and horse traffic. It shares the route with the Primitive Campground Access Trail for about ½ mile. It is comprised of 4 or 5 loops with an advertised length of 11 miles, which is presumably the cumulative total of all loops. 
    Fees: $5/person/day or $60 annual pass gets a carload in to all Texas State Parks
    Webcam: Lake Granbury, 30 miles south
    Weather :National Weather Service Forecast
November 16, 2009

The weather was better than expected, with a temperature of around 55 that felt more like 65 in the bright sunlight of a Texas afternoon. Andra and I rode out to Mineral Wells with Mike after we met Mandy for lunch at 11:30 in Fort Worth. It had been a long time since I rode through Weatherford, and only the old farmers market and the Parker County Courthouse looked familiar. I had a book of nursery rhymes when I was little, and the color drawing of the house in the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe always made me think of the Parker County Courthouse, not so much because the courthouse looks like a shoe (it doesnít) but because of the red roof with flat peaks that looks just like the drawing. We circled around the courthouse on the road, and continued west. 

At the entrance station for the park, a burly, bored man met us at the crosswalk with an official-looking uniform on. As we were not camping or boating, we were allowed to simply pay our fee from the car window, whereas apparently boating or camping requires discussion within the more intimate setting of the adjacent brick guardhouse. The park road took us just below the spillway on the dam, where spouts of water geysering up from cracks in the concrete left a warm feeling of comfort about the 80 million gallons of water held back beyond that wall. Mike didnít dally on the way, and soon we were safely above water level and heading north along the park road. We followed signs for the Cross Timbers Camp, and found the parking lot to the Primitive Campground Access Trail without any trouble. Two cars were parked there, but no humans were about. 

Now, I am certainly no fan of gilding the lily when it comes to trail names. National Parks in particular are guilty of assigning luxurious names to every common tarn and pothole in the region (Emerald Pools in Zion is a good example) but I have to chuckle at the opposite extreme adopted by Texas State Parks in naming their one and only foot-traffic trail in the park, the Primitive Campground Access Trail. Boy, it just inspires wanderlust, doesnít it? Why waste your time with the Milford Track in New Zealand, or the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon, when you could conquer the illustrious Primitive Campground Access Trail in Lake Mineral Wells State Park? Well, thereís no answer to that, is there? Luckily, we were here to do just that. 

Andra, being 7-months pregnant, opted to skip the hike and nap in the car. I hear pregnancy makes you tired, and thatís good to know, else I might start to wonder what tropical sleeping fever Andra has picked up recently. So, she grabbed her book and stretched out in the backseat while Mike and I began walking down the trail. 

The route went downhill on a rocky slope with views of Lake Mineral Wells through the scrubby Post Oaks that covered the entire area. Most of the trees had brown leaves that had largely departed, but many still clung to the limbs. Lichen grew in patches on the rough oak bark, and tall, tawny grass grew in the understory. The trail was enjoyably rugged, with an eroded center and large, rough boulders flung here and there to stem the erosive force. At the bottom of the slope, the trail bent and went right back uphill in a seemingly pointless exercise in vertical gain. From there it wound through the pleasantly-thick woods towards the north, occasionally crossing rock outcroppings that provided open views to the east. At one point we hit the wide, graveled Cross Timbers Trail and had to backtrack a bit to find the right fork, signage along the trail being non-existent. 

The air was very calm, and even though it was only 55, my cotton t-shirt began to get soaked with sweat. Further on, we did cross the Cross Timbers Trail twice, in the right spots, and even further on, the routes of the two trails converged for half a mile so that we could experience the comfy conditions of the bike trail. 

We eventually crossed a paved road, then a bridge, and shortly beyond we arrived at the primitive camp sites. Some of the flat areas were marked with brown posts and some were not. I donít know what the brown posts signified. It was a fairly nice camping area, quiet and off the big trail. The trail map showed the trails ending in terminal loops at this point, but the trail on the ground continued on, and we followed. It lead up a hill to an open meadow on the long hill top, and it apparently kept going for some distance, though we decided to turn around in the meadow. I stepped off into the trees to get rid of some water weight, and when I returned to the trail, Mike was nowhere around. I figured I had only to catch up to him on the return trail, but after hiking quickly all the way back to the bridge, I reconsidered and decided I mustíve passed him somehow. So, I returned up to the meadow where I found Mike standing and admiring the view. He had gone on up the trail a little ways when I had gone in to the trees, and so I had missed him coming back out. Thus reconvened, we began the walk back to the car. 

The sun edged lower on the horizon, sending an orange, slanting November light through the trees. All colors were reddish and very autumnal, with green being in relative scarcity. The woods were well-served by the light and looked antique and serene in the warm light. We discussed jobs, vacations, books and such and before I had time to consider it, we were back at the car, where Andra was awake from her nap. We piled into the car and headed back towards Fort Worth, stopping briefly at the Weatherford Malt Shop for a milkshake. 

Thanks to Michael Mendez for taking pictures on the hike.

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