On Earth as It Is in Purgatory

July 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Today was my quarterly doctor’s visit in San Marcos, and as is my custom, I did some sightseeing along the way, precisely, an hour’s exploration of the 463-acre Purgatory Creek Natural Area. There are three access points; I chose the southwest or “Wonder World Extension” Entrance, which is probably the easiest to get to and certainly for the readers of Central Texas, since is it located on Hunter Rd., just a few feet south of the intersection with RR 12/Wonder World Drive.

The access point here includes parking, a kiosk and the trailhead to a 1 mile-long, crushed stone and dirt hike and bike trail. Where the trail’s bike ramps merge onto the roadway, the trail splits south (connecting to the lower Purgatory/Prospect Park trails) and north (connecting to the more challenging upper Purgatory trail). There are several miles in all of hiking and mountain biking trails. The kiosk has a map of the rather complicated trail system. Just a few yards north of the kiosk is a fenced in Native American campsite where the only known metal arrowhead was found several years ago, by accident. The metal was probably obtained from early Spanish settlers or explorers, whether through peaceful trade or more hostile encounters is not known.

The Area is within the Edwards Aquifer recharge zone, is home to Purgatory Creek, and includes upland meadows, canyon bluffs of 40 feet or more, dense juniper thickets, an champion oaks. Several areas within this natural area are habitat for golden-cheeked warblers and black-capped vireos, meaning that parts of the area are closed during the spring mating season.

Portions of Purgatory Creek Natural Area are generally referred to as lower and upper Purgatory. Lower Purgatory, also known as Prospect Park, is about 9 acres of passive-recreation parkland with about 3 miles of trails, including a 1-mile accessible, crushed limestone trail. Lower Purgatory sits on a rather porous section of the Edwards Aquifer with juniper groves, meadows, ephemeral wetlands, and oak mottes. This in-town location makes a perfect destination when you need a quick nature fix. Benches are located at various points along the accessible portion of the trail.

In upper Purgatory, visitors can travel along the mostly natural “Dante’s Trail.” Work is underway to improve and add trails throughout the Purgatory natural area, with the goal of eventually leading all the way to the San Marcos River.

I’ll be bringing the mountain bike with me in October; you can bet on that. Given the congestion of Austin’ few remaining bike-friendly/legal trails, I am counting on this being a singular pleasure. (Don’t get me started on how many trails we have lost since I started mountain biking in 1981, and trail riding on an old 3-speed in 1973.)

Download Wonder World Extension trail map

Warning: There are no restrooms or drinking water in Purgatory Creek Natural Area.

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