In Goodbye to a River, John Graves writes exhaustively about the history of the Brazos River, pointing out places of significance to his readers as he paddles down a section of the river with his weenie dog in 1950’s Texas. He describes episodes where he climbs the banks of the river to explore a spot he remembers from his childhood, or to look for an old cabin that someone mentioned to him some time ago. And in the midst of this, he introduces the idea of going onto nature versus into it. He would say that going onto nature is more transactional: you put this in, you get this out. This is the thirty minute jog, head down on the trail, never looking up to notice the way the clouds are curling. Or it’s making a dramatic climb for the perfect photo on top of a mountain, forgetting to sit quietly and feel a certain sense of insignificance when you recognize just how small you are.
Austin’s Barton Creek Greenbelt, because of how beautiful it is and how many activities it offers (mountain biking, hiking, climbing, swimming), is especially prone to this transactional sort of experience. Moreover, with the amount of people that visit the greenbelt on a nice day, it may be hard to find the solitude that nature requires to feel fully immersed. But the stillness is worth the search. We compiled this list of some of our favorite hammock spots so that you can “go into nature” the way John Graves wrote about it. There’s still plenty of time to swim with your friends at Twin Falls, but sometimes you need the restoration that only solitude in the trees can bring.
1. Nameless FallsJust upstream from Sculpture Falls, before you reach Hill of Life or Bench Falls, there are two places where the creek spills over huge limestone boulders, forming lesser, but still incredible falls. When the creek is full, as it is now, the roar of these falls provides the perfect white noise to dive into something by Thoreau or Cheryl Strayed. And while it can be inconvenient to access with the creek so full, the trail on the south side of the creek really lends itself to isolation. Because of the greenbelt access at Mopac and Loop 360, the trail on the north side has much heavier foot traffic with people anxious to see Twin and Sculpture Falls. If you want, you can still park along the road with everyone else, but take the pedestrian/cycling bridge to the other side, and walk down to find the trail. From there, the hike up to these two nameless falls is long, but rewarding. The sycamore trees here offer the perfect anchors for your hammock.
2. Bench Falls Overlook
If you’ve hiked all the way to these nameless falls and on the off chance find that someone has bested you for the perfect hammock spot, head to this overlook for a bird’s eye view of the creek. At the second of the two falls that you come to hiking against the flow of the creek, look for a thin, foot-beaten path opposite the opening in the trees to the falls. It takes some doing to follow this trail up, and caution is definitely advised, but if you stick to the easiest route, there should be no reason to climb any serious rock faces. Step up a few of the big rocks, and look for a trail to the left that leads out onto a limestone ledge. From here you can see the Hill of Life trail and Bench Falls, and the large cedar trees (ashe junipers) make for a perfect hammock spot.
3. Cairn Bridge
Sticking to this same stretch of trail on the south side of the creek, this next spot is much more of an adventure, but with some serious payoff. Just upstream from Sculpture Falls, look for a dry creek bed on the left. Maybe fifteen yards up the creek you’ll find a cave set high on your right, and this will tell you that you’re on the right path. The first time we discovered this place, we found the dry creek bed full of delicately balanced cairns that have since been toppled, presumably due to heavy rains. Still, you’ll likely find a few here and there, letting you know you’re on the right track to the mysterious cairn bridge. Heads up for this hike: there’s not an established trail here. Rather, you have to scramble your way through a creek bed full of rocks that are anxious to trip you up. Also, while we’ve named this odd structure a bridge, walking across it is not advised. Hang your hammock among the cedar trees and admire the quiet and beauty of this mysterious place.
4. Gus Fruh
This next spot isn’t hidden at all, and in fact, you’ve probably walked by it dozens of times. Maybe you’ve even climbed here. Still, it’s worth mentioning that Gus Fruh is an awesome spot to hang a hammock. There’s a certain slowness that climbing requires—a respect for the dangers of the wall and an intimate knowledge of routes often travelled—that seems to fit well into Graves’ definition of “going into nature.” Plus, a well placed hammock offers the perfect position to look up at the wall and watch some of Austin’s incredible climbers at work. Once you’ve seen some of the more advanced climbers on the wall, you’ll have a hard time denying how well they are attuned with this place.
5. Hidden Falls
We’re not giving this last spot away—at least not entirely. We believe the best way to find your favorite place on the Greenbelt is to stumble upon it by chance, which is exactly how we found this location and a few of the others. The pride you feel in discovering something new, even if you know someone has been there before you, is one of the most exhilarating feelings you’ll experience on the trail. There’s a fleeting notion of ownership that overwhelms you as you sit in these hidden places—not a selfish ownership, but rather a desire to steward these places well and make them last for years to come. We’re inviting you to take your Kammok to the most hidden and secluded places on your favorite trail. Find a path you’ve never taken before and see where it leads you. As for this spot, we’ll give you this much: it’s just off the trail somewhere near Bench Falls.
Guest blog by Lawton Cook. @lawton.cook