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Inks Lake State Park

View wildlife, wildflowers and a majestic granite landscape by boat.

By Katie Armstrong

It’s 100 degrees outside, but with my toes in the water and the cool breeze coming off the lake, I hardly notice. Suited up in an orange life-jacket, I paddle out onto Inks Lake with another dozen folks, eager to begin the Devil’s Waterhole Canoe Tour.

Our guide, Rob Smith, leads the way in a yellow kayak. He’s led this popular tour since 2002, and is an expert in the park’s history.

“Inks Lake is typically one of the busiest state parks,” he says, “right after Garner and Enchanted Rock.”

It’s not hard to see why. Even in the wilting heat of mid-August, the campsites situated around the 483-acre lake are packed. Visitors can access the calm, clear water right from their site, making it easy for an early-morning cast or an after-lunch swim.

Smith explains that Inks Lake is part of the Highland Lakes chain, created when the LCRA dammed the Colorado River from the 1930s through the 1950s to prevent flooding. The lake is named after Roy B. Inks, one of the original directors of the LCRA board.

Inks Lake State Park was created in 1939 when a young Lyndon Baines Johnson (then a state representative) wanted to bring economic development to the Hill Country. The park, located northwest of Austin in Burnet County, officially opened to the public in 1950 after being delayed by World War II.

A bird suddenly swoops low across the water, breaking up Smith’s narration. “That,” he says, “is a great blue heron. In the spring we have a lot more present, and you can hear them crying from the banks if we paddle too close to their nests.”

A few large rocks break up the water’s smooth surface, providing respite for tired swimmers and resting wood ducks. We glide past one rock with grass growing on top of it; even in late summer Smith can point out feathers and bits of egg shell, signs of a spring duck nest.

Curious Texas slider turtles poke their heads up out of the water as we float into the Devil’s Waterhole. To the left, two enormous crags of red granite known as “Jump Rock” and “Chicken Rock” stand over the water. As daredevils take turns climbing up the rocks and splashing into the waterhole, we park our boats in a nook as Smith describes the area.

“If you come in March,” he says, “you can see some really great wildflowers. The sun reflects off the granite and warms up this area, which means we bloom earlier.” I make a mental note to come back and enjoy the colorful blooms of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes in the spring.

Our last stop on the tour is a Native American trading ground located on the far side of the lake, at which we get out of our boats and explore. Artifacts from as far away as Ohio have been found here, evidence that tribes once traded goods by boat on the lower Colorado River. Even though the site is now used as a Boy Scout camp, pieces of worked flint still litter the ground.

Smith picks up a small piece of sharpened flint from the ground. “I need a volunteer,” he says, and a man steps forward.

“Sucker,” he quips, pressing the stone lightly into the man’s thumb. “You see how if I pressed a little harder, it would cut. Most people think of arrowheads as being these big pieces of rock, but with the force of an arrow behind it, this little piece of flint would have been good enough to stop a deer.”

Although my arms ache from paddling, I’m reluctant to head back to shore after we leave the trading ground. I stop and drift for awhile, relishing the peace that comes with a day on Inks Lake.

The Devil’s Waterhole canoe tour is offered spring through fall. Contact the park for dates and reservations, or rent a canoe or a kayak and explore the lake yourself. For more information, call (512) 793-2223 or visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/inks>.

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