Fernando Garcia rappels to the mouth of Gorman Creek Crevice Cave at Colorado Bend State Park. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/Oct 16 2016

We’re at the front end of 366 days of possibilities—a brand new (leap) year ripe with the potential for adventure. Getting outdoors and trying new things can help keep you energized, maintain your physical fitness, and instill you with confidence. Texas has got you covered, whether you like your adventures to unfold next to the ocean, in a desert, below ground, or in a crisp, blue-green lake. To inspire you, we’ve plotted a challenge for every season of 2020. Grab your gear bag, check your map, hit the road, and don’t look back.

WINTER

Spelunk at Colorado Bend

A spiderweb of caves, including the Gorman Creek Crevice Cave, crisscrosses the ground beneath Colorado Bend State Park near Lampasas. Access to the caves requires a reservation through a tour provider. You’ll have to leave the claustrophobia at home for this adventure, which involves scuttling around on forearms and knees through tight passages.

The reward comes when you emerge into a chamber the size of a booth at the neighborhood Dairy Queen, only to then have to squirm through a 2-foot horizontal crack in a slab of rock to reach daylight again. The REI Outdoor School in Austin occasionally offers cave tours at the park, and it provides helmets, headlamps, and pads for the excursion. Fair warning: Climbers who descend into the gorge require a harness for the initial 40-foot drop into the gorge. “It’s a completely natural cave experience,” says Cody Ackermann of REI. “It’s not commercialized; it’s a caving adventure.”

Explore a spiderweb of caves beneath Colorado Bend.

This underground world is damp, dark, and requires a lot of elbow grease to get to, but it comes with otherworldly rewards, including a welcome chorus of white translucent crickets and fascinating rock sculptures born from eons of dripping water. When not crawling under the park, pitch a tent, hike, or check out the moss-covered Gorman Falls, a 70-foot cascade of spring water that will make you think you’ve detoured to a South American jungle.

doug baum, walking on the left, leads camels and their riders through private land in the Davis Mountains. Photo: Chris LeBlanc

SPRING

Saddle Up at Cibolo Creek Ranch

Imagine yourself lurching through the desert, perched high on the back of a caramel-colored camel that swings its head back now and then to give you a wide-toothed grin. The tall, spindly-legged beasts seem perfectly at home in a West Texas desert landscape bristling with cacti. With eyes as big as apples, feet the size of pies, and a pouf of fuzzy hair atop their heads, they make comical, friendly companions. Their swaying gait feels like rolling through gentle waves in a boat.

Since 1999, Doug Baum, a former Nashville drummer turned cowboy-hat-wearing camel wrangler, has led treks in West Texas, mostly at Cibolo Creek Ranch near Marfa, each spring and fall. He takes a course that meanders through terrain covered by camels hauling supplies for the U.S. Army in the 1850s and ’60s. At Cibolo Creek, riders climb aboard animals that kneel genteelly for mounts and dismounts. The excursions cover about 15 miles in two days, and Baum cooks Southwestern or Middle Eastern food each evening.

“The thing that makes Cibolo such a kick in the pants is that it’s got water, almost always running; big trees where we camp; and Native American rock art,” Baum says. “It’s the best way to see the desert. If you’re driving through at 75 miles per hour, you miss everything.”

A spiderweb of caves, including the Gorman Creek Crevice Cave, crisscrosses the ground beneath Colorado Bend State Park near Lampasas. Access to the caves requires a reservation through a tour provider. You’ll have to leave the claustrophobia at home for this adventure, which involves scuttling around on forearms and knees through tight passages.

Venture through the desert on camelback in Marfa. texascamelcorps.com

The reward comes when you emerge into a chamber the size of a booth at the neighborhood Dairy Queen, only to then have to squirm through a 2-foot horizontal crack in a slab of rock to reach daylight again. The REI Outdoor School in Austin occasionally offers cave tours at the park, and it provides helmets, headlamps, and pads for the excursion. Fair warning: Climbers who descend into the gorge require a harness for the initial 40-foot drop into the gorge. “It’s a completely natural cave experience,” says Cody Ackermann of REI. “It’s not commercialized; it’s a caving adventure.”

This underground world is damp, dark, and requires a lot of elbow grease to get to, but it comes with otherworldly rewards, including a welcome chorus of white translucent crickets and fascinating rock sculptures born from eons of dripping water. When not crawling under the park, pitch a tent, hike, or check out the moss-covered Gorman Falls, a 70-foot cascade of spring water that will make you think you’ve detoured to a South American jungle.

Polli Rayburn and Jason Jones camping along the sand dunes of the Texas Gulf coast in the Padre Island National Seashore. Photo: Erich Schlegel

SUMMER

Camp at Mansfield Cut

A camping trip at Mansfield Cut, the channel dividing South and North Padre Islands, yields amazing views of the natural world. Sea turtles bob in the water, while stick-legged birds hunt for dinner. Careful observers can find sand dollars tucked in a beach the color of Rice Krispies. “It’s not only a great beach with good sand and surfing, but Kemp’s ridley sea turtles hatch their eggs there,” says Jason Jones of Terlingua, who camps at the Cut annually.

Beach camping requires a tolerance for grit and sweat because sand gets everywhere and, well, Texas is hot. But with the right preparation and attitude, you’ll reap the rewards of gorgeous sunrises and sunsets, fresh fish for dinner, and the rhythmic crashing of waves to lull you to sleep.

To get there, either make the three-hour drive up the beach from South Padre Island (to avoid getting stuck in the sand, take a four-wheel-drive vehicle) or a four-hour drive down from Corpus Christi (pay the $10-per-car daily fee to enter Padre Island National Seashore). Another option: pay a fishing guide in Port Mansfield to shuttle you out. An ideal place to pitch a tent is on the small, crescent-shaped beach along the north side of the channel. It offers a nice stroll onto the jetty, comprised of armchair-size stone blocks.

Pitch a tent on the beach  in the Padre Islands.

Bring plenty of water and a first-aid kit because there are no amenities, plus large stakes for pinning your tent to the sand to withstand brisk winds. If you own a surfboard, consider this: When Mother Nature feels generous, she doles out some of the best waves on the Texas coast right here.

Tex Roberson Highland Lakes Challenge open-water swim stage race. This 3-mile stage on the Colorado River through Marble Falls from River City Cafe near Hwy 281 to Max Starcke Dam and back. Photo: Erich Schlegel

FALL

Swim the Tex Robertson Highland Lakes Challenge

This multiday, open-water swimming race spans five different Central Texas lakes. At the finish each day, you’ll be rewarded with something even sweeter: a slice of pie at the Blue Bonnet Cafe in Marble Falls.

“Some people swim it just to swim it, some race like crazy—and it’s good both ways,” says Keith Bell, who created the race in partnership with his wife, Sandy Neilson-Bell, an Olympic Triple Gold Medalist in swimming.

The race is named for Tex Robertson, the Texas swimming legend and former University of Texas swim coach, who reportedly learned to swim in a horse trough and later invented the flip turn. He also founded the popular Camp Longhorn on Inks Lake.

The swims vary from 2 to 4 miles. Participants face choppy water in Lake Buchanan, gaze up at the shadow of the dam at Inks Lake, swim under a bridge on Lake LBJ, glide through a cliff-edged canyon at Lake Marble Falls, and power to a finish on an upstream section of Lake Travis.

Race in the open waters of five Central Texas lakes. highlandlakeschallenge.com

“Every day is different,” Neilson-Bell says. “We’ve had swims where going across it’s smooth as glass, and then the wind might pick up and it’s like an ocean. You can hit all kinds of conditions. At the end, the pie brings us all together.”

The race takes place in October. Participants can sign up for the five-day Monster Challenge, the three-day Weekend Warrior, or a single day’s race. 

From the January 2020 issue


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January 2019 cover of Texas Highways Magazine


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January 2020 cover of Texas Highways Magazine


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