Falls & fall color at Pedernales Falls State Park

After a decadent Thanksgiving Day feast of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie on Thursday, we needed a little fresh air and exercise, so on Friday we headed out to Pedernales Falls State Park, about 35 miles west of Austin in the rolling green Hill Country of central Texas. Locals Texify the pronunciation to “Purdanalez,” but however you say it, this is a beautiful place.

Geology enthusiasts might like to know that, according to the park’s website, “the cascading falls are formed by the flow of water over the tilted, stair-step effect of layered limestone. These river limestones belong to the 300-million-year-old Marble Falls formation and are part of the southwestern flank of the Llano uplift. These layers of limestone were tilted by the uplift, then eroded long before early Cretaceous seas of the 100-to-120 million years ago covered this part of Texas and deposited sands, gravels, younger limestones, and marine fossils.”

The river wasn’t running high on Friday, but that can change in a matter of minutes, signs warn. Thunderstorms upstream of the falls that you never hear can cause dangerous flash floods, and you’re advised to run for high ground immediately if you see water levels begin to rise or muddy water suddenly running into clear water.

Eons of rushing water have turned the limestone riverbed into a labyrinth of curving slots, tunnels, and caves. People were clambering all over these towering, river-smoothed rocks, peering over the edges into deep, still pools or, on the other side, a scary-looking rapids where the river tumbled through a narrow bend.

Swimming and other river activities aren’t allowed at the falls because of the dangerous rapids and currents, so climbing was what everyone was doing. These young people had managed to cross to the far side—private property according to the website—and were fearlessly exploring caves…

…and clambering up and down crumbling cliffs.

Another cave. Notice how the rocks have been worn to a silver sheen? It was beautiful.

Amid tumbled limestone boulders, cedar elms and other trees added golden fall color.

This section of the falls was flowing nicely.

A water-carved channel. The slot looked about 10 feet deep.

Hill Country beauty

Texas sotols (Dasylirion texanum) grew thickly amid the boulders alongside the river. I walked among them enviously, wishing for a handful like these in my garden. A lovely golden-leaved tree in their midst captivated me, but I’m not sure what it was.

A close-up of its golden leaves.

And a closer look at one of those stunning sotols.

OK, here are a few more, with Ashe junipers (Texans call them cedars) in the background.

Yellow leaves

This yellowing cedar elm supported two vines, one turning yellow, the other red.

Or maybe it was one vine with red and yellow leaves?

Purplish blue Ashe juniper berries looked so pretty against the fragrant green foliage.

Virginia creeper blazed against a juniper’s shaggy brown trunk.

Above the river, a woodland trail through juniper trees led past more Texas sotols, twistleaf yucca, and Texas nolina, all growing happily in the dappled shade and rocky soil.

Pedernales Falls is a lovely place to spend a morning or afternoon, or you can camp there overnight. For more, check out this short video of a park ranger talking about why he loves Pedernales; it includes video of tranquil Twin Falls, which we missed this time. We’ll be back to see it.

All material © 2006-2009 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

22 Responses

  1. Randy says:

    Thanks for the tour! I have never equated Texas with waterfalls or rock climbing, you have opened my brain just a little more.

    Hi, Randy. The Hill Country, which starts on the west side of Austin, is a rock climber’s or caver’s dream. The limestone hills were created from uplift and offer lots of cliff faces for thrill-seekers, or nice hikes for the rest of us. And here as in other parts of Texas there are plenty of rivers, so waterfalls are not uncommon, though they aren’t the sheer, vertical kind that can be found on the East and West Coasts. —Pam

  2. Beautiful sights and looked like great fun was had by all. Happy late Thanksgiving. We’re having more turkey today with my family who needs to eat GF/CF. Pam, I wonder why Texans and Oklahomans call junipers cedars? I don’t have the answer, but here they are called the same, only we have a different variety of junipers. Three are invasive in our state. :( ~~Dee

    I’ve got more turkey in the microwave right now, Dee, but I fear I may be near the end of my tolerance for leftovers. A grocery trip is needed! As for the juniper/cedars, they are not beloved in central Texas because of the winter pollen from the males, which causes nasty allergies among Austinites including myself. Still, they add a lot of greenery to the landscape in winter and provide habitat for endangered birds like the golden-cheeked warbler. —Pam

  3. Dianne says:

    Beautiful shots. Looks like you really had a nice outing. I’m an ex-Texan living in East Tennessee. Our son lives in Bastrop, works in Austin. :):)

    Hi, Dianne. Thanks for visiting, and I hope you had a nice holiday in beautiful East Tennessee. —Pam

  4. Mary Beth says:

    Looks like Friday was a beautiful day in Central Texas! Loved seeing a little bit of fall color! Happy Thanksgiving.

    And to you, Mary Beth! —Pam

  5. Cheryl says:

    How funny to pop on your site and see this. I was out there on Tuesday for the Audubon’s Bird walk, it was my first time there and I was amazed by the falls and color! Love your photos!

    Will you have pics too, Cheryl? There’s so much to see at Pedernales, from the rocks to the caves to the water to the Hill Country plants. I haven’t gone bird-watching there, but I bet a variety of species can be seen. —Pam

  6. Sarah says:

    I check your blog from time to time and love it. I live in north central Austin and wander by Cheryl’s garden (above commenter) all the time. I would probably never think to post, except that in one of your pictures, I can see my husband, daughter, and my husband’s aunt. I was stuck at home studying for finals, sadly. I thought that was a funny coincidence… great minds and all.

    That is funny, Sarah. You’re the second person to tell me that they’ve seen family members in my photos. Thanks for sharing that coincidence with me, and thanks for reading. —Pam

  7. Pam, I love that park. Thanks for the autumn photos. Nice to see it has even a bit of water in it! Those fall rains in the Hill Country have obviously helped. Last year, even before our tough summer, I went to see it and there was almost nothing flowing. A good place to view those truly native plants, isn’t it?

    I’ve gotten so used to seeing these native plants in garden settings that I often feel a little surprise at seeing them growing so readily on their own, Robin—an ironic testament to the success of the native-plant movement in Austin, don’t you agree? —Pam

  8. Robin says:

    Beautiful place! You take us to some of the neatest places!

    Thanks, Robin. I’m glad you enjoyed the virtual visit. We hit a bonanza of cool places over the Thanksgiving break, but this was far and away our favorite. —Pam

  9. Laura says:

    Pam –

    The park is beautiful and looks like a great place to hike. I have a campsite booked next spring, now I’m even more excited to go.

    With luck and spring rains, perhaps you’ll see a dramatic water flow when you’re there, Laura. —Pam

  10. Very striking falls–I’d love to see it at high water! Above Vernal Fall in Yosemite there’s a long sloping stretch of glaciated granite that’s called the Silver Apron where the Merced River slides along in a way that reminds me a lot of your falls. Of course at Yosemite there aren’t sotols or cedar elms…

    I’d like to see Pedernales with high water too, James—but without the worry of getting to high ground in a hurry! Silver Apron is a pretty name. —Pam

  11. Town Mouse says:

    Sounds like fun! I so enjoyed getting outside during the Thanksgiving break. Looks like the weather has been perfect for you as well.

    We enjoyed a week of perfect weather, perfectly timed for school vacation, TM. Today, however, it’s cold and dreary—good for snuggling under blankets and catching up on blog reading. —Pam

  12. Pam says:

    What a beautiful place – I visited there during a trip to Texas (over ten years ago now) – and thought it was a wonderful place. Thanks for the reminder! (And happy late Thanksgiving!)

    And to you, Pam. I’m glad you’ve had a chance to visit Pedernales too. —Pam

  13. Looks like you found some great fall color along the Pedernales. Nice to see the water flowing, too, even though you said it wasn’t high. I love all the holey limestone formations and caves. They’re perfect for imagining all sorts of stories. It reminds me of one of my favorite spots in the Grand Canyon near Pumpkin Springs. Coincidentally, the night I was there I was reading the book “Holes”. So the holes took on a special meaning.

    Yes, there was great color (for central Texas), and the water flow was decent, though not high. The weather was ideal too. The only thing we could have wished for was fewer people, but everyone else had the same bright idea to get outdoors. —Pam

  14. Les says:

    This place looks like the perfect counterpoint to a large Thanksgiving meal. I really appreciate the geological history you gave us and could easily see myself wanting to visit. BTW, Virginians call the Juniperus virginiana Red Cedar.

    Cedar seems to be a popular misnomer for Juniper. I wonder why that is. —Pam

  15. Frances says:

    I love it when you go a’travelin’, Pam! Your narrative and images really bring these spots to life! The limestone is beautiful, but some of your photos showing people climbing and exploring look dangerous! Is it possible to get pups from the Sotols you have to make the mass planting happen? Lots of inspiration from nature for a garden with many large rock outcroppings like yours. Although this spot looks more sunny. :-)

    There was so much inspiration here, Frances. I recently attended a Garden Conservancy seminar entitled “Limestone and Water,” and this place epitomized that theme. The sotols don’t seem to pup, and, alas, they are very slow-growing. I think I will just have to be patient and watch my own two slowly come into their own. —Pam

  16. Excellent post. Seeing all that limestone and the beautiful work of stream processes does this geologist’s heart good.

    I bet so, Susan. It would be another great spot for you to visit if you’re ever passing through this area again. —Pam

  17. Wow, what a beautiful place! I love the contrasts between rough and smooth rocks, fast moving and still water, and open and vegetated ground. A lovely autumn scene, indeed.

    Thanks, Jocelyn. I’ve enjoyed your New Mexico travel posts lately too. —Pam

  18. Jean says:

    Looks like a lovely day. And a nice bit of water to boot. I’ve always loved those Texas sotols. They might look weird here though. I keep stretching the limit of those Texas natives but don’t want my garden to look too out of place!

    I know exactly what you mean, Jean. I resist most tropicals for the same reason. Although with a pool I find they look better than they did in my old mostly-native garden. —Pam

  19. Aiyana says:

    Beautiful photos! What kind of camera do you use?

    Thanks very much, Aiyana. My camera info can be found here. —Pam

  20. Chookie says:

    What a beautiful picnic spot! The colours of the foliage remind me of Sydney, but we don’t have limestone: it’s all sandstone, which also weathers interestingly.

    I bet it does, and colorfully too maybe? Thanks for stopping by, Chookie. —Pam

  21. […] at them last week when my husband resolutely drove past the place on the way to and from Pedernales Falls. But nothing could keep us from visiting yesterday, not even cold, dreary […]

  22. oshean says:

    Wonderful photos! I’ve always wanted to go to Pedernales Falls, but now I must go after seeing your photos.

    Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed them, Oshean. —Pam