One of the best things about living in Austin is its proximity to so many scenic spots in the Texas Hill Country. In a short hour’s time from downtown Austin, much of Texas’ rugged beauty can be experienced and enjoyed. The next time you find yourself hankerin’ for a switch from your regular routine, consider a day trip to Pedernales Falls State Park.
C.A. and Harriet Wheatley were a well-suited couple who enjoyed camping and fishing together for years after they were married in 1916. They were also a good business team, creating profitable oil companies that allowed them to relocate from Kentucky to San Antonio, where their dream of owning a hunting and fishing ranch became a big ol’ Texas reality.
It was this scenic part of the Texas hill country, which we know as Pedernales Falls State Park, that caught the eye and stole the hearts of these two outdoorsy lovebirds. The Wheatleys bought the place in 1936, kept a residence in San Antonio, and then spent their best days improving and enjoying the working ranch they named the Circle Bar.
In 1962, after 26 years of making it even better than they found it, C.A. and Harriet Wheatley went to the State of Texas with an idea. If the State agreed to the couple’s thoughtful stipulations, the Circle Bar Ranch would be donated for public use.
What were those stipulations? Simple. There was to be no hunting on the property, and the State was required to make the place into a “first class state park” with improvement funds totaling $250,000.
Is that what happened? Not quite. The appropriations bill got divvied up, then vetoed, causing Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley to withdraw their offer. The Circle Bar went on about its business as a working Texas ranch.
Eight years later, the widowed Mrs. Wheatley struck a deal to sell the ranch to the State of Texas for $930,465. “I think you have the best of the deal,” she told Governor Preston Smith. “It is my wish that it be conserved, and all of the wildlife be taken care of, and that it be enjoyed from generation to generation.”
Today, the desires of the Wheatley family have been fulfilled, for, truly Pedernales Falls is a first class state park, with camping, hiking biking and even horse riding on 10 miles of rugged trail.
No swimming is allowed in this part of the park, but these rocks are a great place to sit in the sun, dip your toes into the cool water and wonder what it would have been like to be a pioneer woman. Or man. On horseback. Tucking your head into your chest as you navigate through the low branches of oak trees. Stopping at an occasional overlook for a look over the terrain. I’m pretty sure that’s what these girls were thinking. Or maybe they were just pondering lunch. Yeah, that’s probably more likely.
However, don’t think someone wasn’t mulling it over.
Could you have been a pioneer husband? I asked my man. I mean, have you ever wished you could have been a roper and a rider and shoot your wife some supper?
Naw. I think I like our life just the way we’ve lived it, says he.
Me, too, my dear day-trip-car-driving fella. Me, too.
C’mon, I’ll buy you some lunch in Johnson City.
Encouraging intentional adventure at a first class state park near you,
PS – If you want to know more before you go, check out John Leffler’s well-written history of the area.