Monday, March 10, 2014 was special to John and me not only because it marked the two-year anniversary of our wedding, but it also was the official start of our spring break. (Having the exact same holiday schedule is one major benefit of us both being teachers in the same school district!) We chose to celebrate both of those occasions by engaging in a hobby that we enjoy but often do not have time for during the school year: hiking. We spent hours and hours on trails last spring and summer, but until March 10 we sadly had only hiked once since going back to work in August.
With a full free day ahead of us, we selected Lake Mineral Wells State Park as our hiking destination. Neither of us had ever been to the park, but we had heard positive comments about the public recreation site from friends and coworkers and had read about its trails in our copy of 60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Dallas-Fort Worth.
We arrived at the entrance gate to Lake Mineral Wells around 10:30 in the morning, and we immediately drove across the spillway to the Cross Timbers Back Country trailhead. Above us a cloudless blue sky extended in all directions, and before us the wide, slighty sandy trail beckoned.
At the start of the hike, we could see the blue of the lake through the treeline, although we soon trekked away in the opposite direction of the water.
Despite the spring temperatures, much of the landscape was decidedly mired in winter. Brown, not green, was the color of the day.
The Cross Timbers Back Country Trail is made up of 4 loops for a total of 11 miles. Being rather out of shape, we limited ourselves to the first 2 loops of the trail. At one point in the second loop, the Cross Timbers Trail and the Primitive Campground Access Trail merge and follow the same path for a stretch. Instead of continuing on the Cross Timbers loops back to the trailhead, we veered off onto the Primitive Campground Access Trail when it split apart from Cross Timbers. The Primitive trail featured a narrower walkway with closer encounters with the surrounding landscape.
At one point in the Primitive trail, we were rewarded with this nice vista of the lake. We would end up traversing up and down the hills that border the lake on our way back to the trailhead.
It took us over an hour to complete our hike, and we were ready for lunch. We drove back across the spillway to the other side of Lake Mineral Wells. The park road dead-ends at Penitentiary Hollow, a spot popular with rock climbers due to the cliffs of its miniature canyon. Not being the daring, rock-climbing sort, John and I instead rejuvenated ourselves with a picnic lunch and then explored Penitentiary Hollow on foot.
Penitentiary Hollow was the busiest place in the park. We encountered only one other set of hikers on our morning trek, but in the hour we spent at Penitentiary Hollow, we were never alone.
The cliffs were indeed a unique feature for North Texas terrain, and they also provided an excellent vantage point for the lake below.
A short-but-steep trail led down to the bottom of the canyon, where we were dwarfed by the massive rock cliffs. I could not help but think of my geologist dad when viewing the layers in the rocks!
We did not linger too long at Penitentiary Hollow, as we still wanted to check out the nearby Trailway that runs from Mineral Wells to Weatherford. While we did not plan to hike the Trailway that day, we were curious about it for potential future hikes.
It took a little while before the state park trail hooked up with the main trailway path. When we reached the Trailway, it appeared to be similar in makeup to the other trails we hiked at Lake Mineral Wells and would therefore make for decent hiking. But with the sun high overhead and our legs talking to us, we did not venture down the Trailway at all but rather turned around and hiked back up to our car at the trailhead. It had been a thoroughly pleasant time at Lake Mineral Wells (and we plan to return sooner rather than later), but we were ready for the next phase of our celebration: pizza at Joe’s and an anniversary getaway at Granbury Gardens B&B.