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We camped and hiked the Pedernales Falls State Park primitive camping area this weekend as a celebratory trip for paying off half of our student loans and also to test out some of our new gear before we go to CO.

It turned out to be a lovely trip, due in part to the scenery and also the fact that it wasn’t planned out to the tee so there was room for spontaneous adventures!

First, we had been aching to go to Franklin’s BBQ for about a year now after we tried it one time. We knew they always sell out early, but we thought we would give it a try after arriving in town around 3:00. I personally haven’t eaten beef in months but was willing to make an exception for Franklin’s – it’s THAT good! They had that dreadful “SOLD OUT” sign posted when we drove by as the last few lucky patrons were finishing up their meal on the porch. We thought this would be a great opportunity to try out another Austin food joint I had been interested in after reading great online reviews: Fricano’s Deli.

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The food was great – well worth about $9 a sandwich. We tried some cajun chips and a wheat beer (ick!). It was an odd feeling being surrounded by college students again. We have only been in the working world for two years, but it felt like ages as we ate at Fricano’s.

We then made our way to Pedernales Falls State Park around 5PM. We hiked 2 miles to the Primitive Camping area. I was able to get my pack down to 23 pounds with a week’s worth of food and a full 2 liters of water! Adrian’s pack was 32 pounds, but we already have some ideas of how to knock that down at least 5 pounds.

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The hike there was paved and very easy. Going was a lot of down’hill’, so we figured coming back might give us a little bit of a challenge (it didn’t really, unless you count a foot cramp as a physical challenge). Being in Houston all the time, aka Concrete Jungle, the scenery was a nice treat nonetheless.

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We initially had a difficult time finding a good camping spot as we got there so late. Upon hiking another half mile or so, passing boy-scout camps and large groups of friends, we finally found a nice clearing near a cute rock overpass. There was a tent about 50 yards away, but as this was the only good spot we could find, we thought it would be OK.

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We set up camp and then realized it was an hour or so from dusk and we were running low on water. The map was deceiving as it showed  the campsites right along the edge of a roaring river. I misunderstood what the grey area labeled “Rock Bluffs” really meant. This was the start of our first grand adventure as we scouted out this essential life-source by kind of bopping through a  dry creek-bed and climbing down some really fun rocks.

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We could see the river, but a 20+ foot drop-off separated us from filling up our water packs. We knew we better get going before it got dark, so we used our very sophisticated navigation skills and kind of just started walking toward where we knew there was a creek-bed to see if there were either water in it (doubtful due to the years long drought) or if we could climb down the dry creek-bed to the river. It turns out we could climb down it, and it ended up being a very fun trek indeed! We felt like we were in another world as the scenery down there was very different from the wooded area up above.

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I must admit, I had my doubts we would actually reach the water. It seemed like after every bend and turn the river seemed to disappear or be further away. Adrian went ahead to see if he could find it, and he did! It was much more shallow than we had hoped, and there wasn’t much movement in the river. We decided it would be best to combine what water we both had left into one container for drinking and fill up from the river to boil and use for cooking and coffee/tea in the morning.

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Upon returning to camp, we discovered the tent near us packed up and left. We started cooking dinner on the little rock ledge we found. I saw one of the dehydrated meals at REI that sounded delicious: Salmon Pesto Pasta. I then noticed it was $14! I decided to try and re-create this myself with some dried pesto powder, olive oil, salmon in a pouch, and pasta noodles. It was…edible at least. This will not be one for the recipe book.

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We brought along some treats to enjoy and sipped on j-black while nibbling on dark chocolate. It reminded me of our honeymoon in Cinque Terre as we climbed out onto the rocks in the ocean and ate cheese/grapes/chocolate while sipping wine!

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After dinner, we boiled the remaining water to clean water for in the morning. I also washed the dishes with a drop of Campsuds and a splash of water in my 2 oz cheap-o lunch box I got for free in the mail (I think it was for an online class I took). I would personally like to eat only food that requires no dishes to be washed, but if you have to do it (we ate with olive oil, so we definitely needed to wash with soap/water), this seemed to be a very efficient method. I just kept the soapy water in the bottom of the lunch-box, wiped off each item with my 1/4 of a sponge I cut at home, and set it aside. Then, I emptied the dirty-soapy water, wiped the lunch-box down with some paper towels, and put in a bit of clean water to rinse the soap off each of my dishes. This took about 20 minutes, and nothing smelled like soap afterward.

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We watched the sunset and got ready for bed. It was quite warm in the evening, so we didn’t really bundle up for sleeping. What a mistake that was! We both woke up several times between 2-6am freezing looking for more clothes and adjusting our sleeping bags. The temperature forecast mentioned lows in the high 50s, but we both agreed it was definitely in the low-40s.

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The next morning we put on all of the clothes we brought, drank some warm liquid, and hustled to pack up camp so we could get warm by hiking. It took about 30 minutes to pack up camp, which isn’t too bad, but we should definitely get faster. We decided to hike the loop near the primitive area back to the car. We went around Tobacco Mountain and passed Jones Spring. This was a very enjoyable hike that had many changes in scenery.

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Jones Spring wasn’t really up to its full potential. It was basically a murky puddle, but we took it as a good spot to take off our jackets and grab a snack.

Soon we passed a strange “historic structure” that we couldn’t quite figure out its history or purpose. We saw several rock ‘walls’ along the hike, and Adrian concluded it must have been where the Native Americans would hide and shoot their enemies with bows. I love the way men think 🙂 He was mostly like spot-on too.

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The trail seemed to be ideal for mountain bikers. The scenery changed quite frequently, and there were a few challenges that looked fun. This would be classified, in my opinion, as a beginner course, and I would suggest riding it the opposite way than we hiked (from the parking lot go right, counter-clockwise).

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We then came to a great over-look scenic area where we could see for miles and miles the beautiful Texas Hill Country. This made the entire hike worth it, and we enjoyed our views there very much.

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After returning to the parking lot, we decided to drive to the Pedernales Falls on our way out. There wasn’t much water running through them this weekend, but I bet after a nice rain these Falls would be quite spectacular. The Water Resources engineer in me enjoyed the informational signs about the force of water.

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We thought we would try to swing back by Franklin’s on our way through Austin, but I was in the mood to continue the Hill Country scenery as long as possible. After speaking with the gas station attendant, we found out there was a new winery called Bell Springs in near-by Dripping Springs, which we had to drive through anyway. We enjoyed a wine tasting with 7 wines for only $7. The view was spectacular as we sat out on the porch rocking in their big wooden chairs. I absolutely fell in love with Dripping Springs, and after finding out about their exemplary school district, reasonable prices on realty, and the fact that it’s only 20 miles outside of Austin, I decided this was where I would build my dream-home – overlooking the ‘Entrance to the Hill Country’. A girl can dream, right? Adrian actually entertained the idea and agreed the view was spectacular, so that’s always a good sign 🙂

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As we finally got back to Austin, we drove past yet another “SOLD OUT” sign at Franklin’s. Despondently, we began driving back to Houston as I Yelped near-by BBQ joints. We found a place called Live Oak with pretty good ratings that was on the way out and decided some BBQ was better than no BBQ. The brisket actually competed with Franklin’s, and the sauce was much better. It was vinegar-based with some other tasty ingredients – we couldn’t get enough! The turkey was very dry and too peppery, but we will definitely go back to this place next time we see a sold-out sign at Franklin’s.

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What Hill-Country vacation would be complete without a roadside picture in the Bluebonnets? My hubby sweetly suggested we do this as there aren’t any Bluebonnets near Houston, and it was really fun! All in all, we had a wonderful trip and recommend any of the above locations to others. We love the Texas Hill Country!

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