Star treks: Get out, see great state of Texas

07/10/2014 6:19 PM

07/10/2014 6:21 PM

If you’re looking for a little adventure close to home this summer, here are five ideas sure to satisfy your wanderlust.

We picked a variety of sports, some of which you wouldn’t expect to find in North Texas.

In the mood for an altitude adjustment? Try Lake Mineral Wells State Park, but be sure to take your climbing shoes.

Feel like blowing bubbles? Try scuba diving near Terrell.

Want to step back in time? As in way, way back? Scoot your (hiking) boots over the same ground dinosaurs roamed and left their paw prints near Glen Rose.

A word to the wise: This is Texas, and it is summertime, so think about heading out on your adventures early in the day when it’s cooler. Plan ahead by taking a hat, bug spray, sunscreen and plenty of water. And remember, all of these adventure hot-spots will still be here in the fall.

Scuba Diving

Clear Springs Scuba Park, Terrell: While North Texas might not seem like a scuba diving destination, it is. Clear Springs Scuba Park, about 8 miles northeast of Terrell, offers divers from near and far a chance to hone their skills in this 22-acre fresh-water spring-fed lake. The lake used to be a rock quarry and has been in the owner’s family since the 1830s. The park opened in 2001 and is specifically designed for scuba divers and snorkelers. The lake is 58-feet deep with a maximum depth of 63 feet to accommodate advanced training. Picnic tables surround the lake and most have piers leading to docks.

Looking out over the water, it’s easy to spot the tell-tale signs of bubbles surfacing above unseen divers. Below the surface, divers can explore Sisco, a 6,900-pound, 70-foot (nose-to-tail) shark. There are also three steel-hull boats, a sailboat and an old American Airlines fuselage to explore. For students and instructors, there are 12 underwater platforms used for training at approximately 20-feet deep.

Divers at Clear Springs Scuba Park typically wear full wetsuits, even in summer because the water gets cold below the 20-foot mark. Scuba diving isn’t a sport you can pick up in an afternoon. It takes training, and lots of it. Did I mention equipment? Scuba diving must be the king of sports for gear-heads. Tanks, flippers, wetsuits, diving masks, regulators, underwater computers and even GoPro cameras are all part of the package.

Owners Debbie Cameron and her husband, Robert, strive to keep the park as natural as possible. The picnic pavilions, for example, are built with cedar harvested across the road on their farm. Tent camping is permitted and there are 10 RV spots with electric and water hookups. An on-site deli offers sandwiches, chips and drinks. Bathrooms have large shower areas. Divers can refill air tanks and also rent scuba gear. It is recommended that you call first and reserve gear if you are interested in renting. For more information, visit: clearspringsscubapark.com

Rock Climbing

Lake Mineral Wells State Park, Mineral Wells: Lake Mineral Wells State Park is known to area climbers as the best place to practice their sport outdoors without trekking across Texas.

Park ranger David Owens said the climbing area, Penitentiary Hollow, offers a variety of routes on conglomerate sandstone bluffs reaching up to 40 feet or so.

Some of the climbs are on seemingly sheer vertical walls and some are on wildly overhanging outcrops. Either way, it’s an adventure you won’t want to miss, even if it’s just as an observer.

The park allows only top rope climbing and rappelling, no lead climbing or rock scrambling. Top rope means the climber’s harness is tied into a rope that runs through carabiners attached to an anchor system at the top of the climb. A belayer on the other end of the rope “catches” the climber if he falls.

Climbers must check in at the park headquarters to sign a liability release and, in addition to the entry fee, pay an activity fee of $3 per day. Climbing is prohibited when the rock is wet. You can call park headquarters at 940-328-1171 to check the status of the climbing area.

Unless you have a friend who’s an experienced technical climber willing to show you proper technique and safety, you’ll need to get some training to avoid serious injury.

Texas Mountaineers can help you get started and provides an opportunity to meet other climbers in the area. Website: texasmountaineers.org. Email for information on climbing courses: classes@texasmountaineers.org.

Mountain Biking

Northshore Trail, Flower Mound: Considered by many to be the premier mountain biking spot in DFW, the Northshore Trail hugs the north shoreline of Lake Grapevine. Peter Timmerman, a Dallas Off Road Bicycle Association (DORBA) volunteer and a Northshore Trail steward, filled me in on the history of the trail and what you might expect to find.

What started as a motocross trail years ago is now a 22.5-mile series of primarily one-way trail loops. Large sections go through shaded woods of cedar, honey mesquite, and post and bur oak. On the west loops, two sections of the trail pass through bamboo. The east end of the trail is accessible at Rockledge Park, which is managed by the city of Grapevine Parks and Recreation. The park has a $5 per vehicle entrance fee ($10 per vehicle on holiday weekends). If you ask, you’ll be given a map of the trail and directions to the parking area closest to the trailhead.

Parking is free at the MADD shelter in Murrell Park.

For North Shore Trail directions, hours of operation, trail rules, tips and trail maps visit dorba.org/trail.php?t=19

Birdwatching

Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, Lake Texoma: In the early 1900s a small town named Hagerman, with 250 residents, a post office, a school, churches and grocery stores along with other businesses and institutions, used to exist on part of what is now Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, according to refuge manager Kathy Whaley. It became a National Wildlife Refuge in 1946 and oil and gas was discovered in 1951. Since then, Hagerman NWR has become one of the best places to spot birds in North Texas.

Most visitors bring their cameras and eagerly photograph the abundance of birds in this uniquely interesting mix of wildlife refuge and Texas oil and gas production. The wildlife refuge is situated along the Big Mineral Arm of Lake Texoma. The time of year dictates the types of birds you’ll find. Now, songbirds — painted bunting, indigo bunting, scissor-tailed flycatcher, summer tanager, prothonotary warbler and dickcissel — nest here. Also, wading birds, including herons and egrets, can be found this time of year. Ducks, such as the blue-winged teal, begin to arrive in August. Through November other waterfowl arrive — northern pintail, gadwall, northern shoveler, green-winged teal and coot. Mallards and wood ducks live here year-round. In the past couple of years, nesting pied-billed grebe and common gallinule have been seen.

Whaley notes the great blue heron is the only wading bird here year-round. Hawks and eagles locate here during all months; some breed here, others pass through. Sometimes as many as 3,000 white pelicans stop over in spring and fall during migration. In all, 338 species of birds use the refuge. Whaley said visitors might also see white-tailed deer, bobcat, river otter, snakes, turtles, squirrel, raccoon, opossum and gray fox.

North Texas has gotten some rain, but not enough to bring lake levels to normal. This could and probably will affect wildlife viewing. With luck, by fall, we will have had enough rain to attract the fabulous flocks of geese.

For more information on Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge visit: fws.gov/refuge/Hagerman/ and friendsofhagerman.com.

Hiking

Dinosaur Valley State Park, Glen Rose: For a hike through history, visit Dinosaur Valley State Park. Park superintendent Shannon Blalock said that a 9-year-old stumbled across strange three-toed tracks in a tributary of the Paluxy River in 1909. However, the dinosaur tracks didn’t become famous until Roland T. Bird saw them in 1937 while collecting fossils for the American Museum of Natural History. In 1972, the park opened.

If you haven’t visited this park before, you are in for a treat. Two types of dinosaur tracks are in the park: theropod tracks and sauropod tracks, left about 113 million years ago during the Cretaceous Age. The tracks are in the riverbed of the Paluxy River.

Near the entrance are two famous dinosaurs, a 70-foot Brontosaurus named “Bronto” and a 45-foot Tyrannosaurus Rex named “Rex,” originally constructed for the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. After taking photos in front of these huge dinos, most visitors head straight for the real dinosaur tracks. The park also features up and down rugged walks along limestone cliffs, ranging to more than 200-feet tall. There are about 20 miles of hiking and biking trails in the park.

My favorite, the Paluxy River Trail, begins at Track Site No. 2 across the river from the parking area. It immediately goes up a short, steep wooded section to an open field. Follow the trail to the right and you’ll hike to the top of the cliffs you were just viewing from the riverbed. The terrain varies and there is wonderful scenery along the way. You’ll need lots of water, sunscreen and bug spray for this adventure. After a particularly hot and exhausting hike down the Bright Angel Trail at the Grand Canyon years ago, I always remind myself don’t hike in any farther than you want to hike out. Have fun and enjoy this adventure back in time. Website: tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/dinosaur-valley

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