Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine   


The Apple of Your Eye


Nature’s Cure

Lampasas boasts healing waters and a picturesque state park.

Before us, a cedar elm rises from a jagged crevice in the limestone bedrock. I peer past the elm’s roots into the darkness. We’re going to squeeze through that narrow opening?

Park ranger Debbie Hicks smiles, then hands helmets to me and my husband, James. It’s time to get going on our Discovery Tour of a wild cave at Colorado Bend State Park.

Discovery sums up this getaway. Our mission: Explore what we can of this remote Hill Country park that’s 5,325 acres big. We’ll also visit Lampasas, a town once proclaimed as the “Saratoga of the South.” More on that later.

Behind the helmeted heads of Debbie and James, I ease myself down into the crevice and duckwalk beneath a low bedrock ceiling. Soon we straighten up and stand on the cave’s dirt floor, dimly lit by Debbie’s flashlight. Some 26 feet below the surface, we’re surrounded by rough formations called drapery and popcorn. Stalactites and stalagmites, too.

Dynamite Cave, as it’s called, is one of 480 documented caves and karst features that lie beneath the park.

“Because of our dry year, this cave is dormant right now,” Debbie says. “Once moisture returns again through the topsoil and limestone, the formations will start to grow again.”  


 Chase Fountain | TPWD


 Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD

“Because of our dry year, this cave is dormant right now,” Debbie says. “Once moisture returns again through the topsoil and limestone, the formations will start to grow again.”

Our easy tour lasted about 45 minutes, which included a hike to and from the site. A more challenging Adventure Tour escorts visitors deeper underground within a different cave. Both can be booked online through Nichols Outdoor Adventures (https://www.cbcaves.com).

At noon, we picnic in a day-use area that overlooks the usually more robust Colorado River. Across the river, a great blue heron launches from a sunbaked shore and disappears upstream. After lunch, we hike down to Gorman Falls. The spring-fed falls, though also diminished by drought, still impress as they splash down a travertine cliff covered with delicate maidenhair ferns.

The Gorman Falls Trail, which turns steep close to the falls, is among the park’s 35 miles of hike and bike trails. Visitors can also swim, fish, bird-watch, paddle and camp.

Finally, we trek down a dirt path that parallels the river. Wild turkeys gobble in the distance as we pass black willows, sycamores and live oaks. We follow the Spicewood Springs Trail to a small pool surrounded by blue mistflowers, boneset, false nettles and sycamores. We plop on a rock bank and watch the creek water cascade down a limestone terrace into the pool.  



Before heading to Lampasas, we stop by the General Store in Bend, named for the nearby “bend” in the Colorado River. The 1910s store, with rusty tin roof and concrete floor, stocks the basics along with T-shirts and libations.

In a covered biergarten, owner Bret Cali and Ernest Hemingway, his dog, host live music most weekends. From the grill, James and I split a hefty burger, topped with grilled onions, jalapenos, bacon and Swiss cheese.

East of Lampasas, we’re staying at the Goodwin Cottage. Host Ben Goodwin, who lives in the main house, lovingly restored his grandmother’s 1919 farmhouse. Hardwood floors, beadboard ceilings and original kitchen cabinetry harken to simpler times. Plush blankets drape across beds in both bedrooms and leather loungers in the living room. At dusk, we sway in a metal glider on the front porch and watch phoebes dive-bomb for insects from the high-wire fence.

The next morning, our day begins at Hancock Park, where Lampasas got its start in the 1850s. Here, Hancock Springs — one of the town’s many mineral springs — attracted Native Americans and then early settlers who sought the curative waters for their ailments. Word got around.  


 Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD

In the 1880s, stage and railroad lines came to town, and hotels sprang up to accommodate guests. Similar to New York’s Saratoga Springs, Lampasas became widely known as a health resort.

From a park sidewalk, we gaze at the spring-fed Sulphur Creek, which meanders under the adjacent U.S. Highway 281 bridge and through town on its way east to the Lampasas River. Then we peer past iron bars into a basin of clear, turquoise water, encircled by the stabilized remains of an 1880s limestone bathhouse. Built over a spring, the attraction long ago welcomed customers in separate his-and-her pools.

Nearby, the spring-fed, free-flow Hancock Pool, excavated in 1911, is open for swimming during the summer. Overlooking the pool, the limestone Hostess House, built in 1929 as changing rooms with an upstairs dance floor, is available to rent for special occasions.   


 Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD


On the other side of Highway 281, the W.M. Brook Park — split horizontally by Sulphur Creek — appeals to all ages with a playground, amphitheater, picnic tables, two pedestrian bridges and winding sidewalks. Anglers frequent the park, too. This morning, Bill Bechtold of Copperas Cove, who’s fished in the area for 35 years, is trying his luck.

“I usually catch largemouth and spotted bass here,” he says. “No bites so far today, but last week I caught two bass on two casts.”

Next we’re off to tour the Hanna Springs Sculpture Garden at Campbell Park, a city complex that includes a public pool and covered pavilion. Opened in 2005, the sculpture garden features more than 20 permanent and rotating works of art. One by one, we admire the sculptures as we stroll along a concrete walkway.

I’m partial to Carolann Haggard’s Pegasus, a marble mosaic of the mythical winged horse. James poses next to Joe Barrington’s Been Fish’en, a rusted old pickup loaded with a humongous yellow catfish.

Butterflies galore catch our attention at the Monarch Butterfly Garden, an Eagle Scout project that’s planted with Gregg’s mistflowers, wedelia and other native plants. We watch while clouds of queens, skippers and other pollinators flutter over the blooms.

Iron fencing guards Hanna Springs, a large pool contained within an old limestone wall. During Lampasas’ heyday, visitors flocked to a health resort here and camped on the grounds. From an opening in the pool’s base, clear water that smells like rotten eggs streams into a spillway. We wrinkle our noses — sulphur!

Yet another spring anchors the nearby Cooper Spring Nature Park, a 23-acre preserve nurtured by local volunteers who removed invasive plants and re-established native species. They also restored Cooper Spring, which feeds a pond we’ll see later. Around the covered pavilion entrance, queens and other pollinators nectar on cowpen daisies, Gregg’s mistflowers and zinnias.

Along the park’s crushed gravel paths, we meander past mesquites, cedar elms, black willows and bur oaks, understoried with boneset, globemallows, lantanas and a variety of native grasses. High in the trees, I glimpse a red-bellied woodpecker.

When we come upon the pond, I gasp. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of bluets swarm over the water. Some perch on tall grasses that rim the pond. Were the damselflies hunting? Looking for mates? The latter seems unlikely for late October. No matter the reason, we’re enthralled by the unexpected wonder.


 Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD


Another “wow” factor stands inside the red-roofed Lampasas County Courthouse on the square. The Second Empire-style limestone building was completed in 1884 and restored in 2003. Beautiful oak floors, staircases and courtroom furnishings complement sage green walls.

On the third floor, we’re mesmerized by the 1884 Seth Thomas clockworks, housed within a glass case. The large iron mechanism uses gears, cables and weights to keep time on the tower’s four clock faces; a heavy metal bell dongs on the hour.

Time stands still at the Lampasas County Museum, located a block away from the courthouse. Exhibits recall the town’s health retreat hotspot “Saratoga of the South” days, as well as 1870s gunfights on the square. A wicker body basket once carried the deceased to a Lampasas funeral home, while a wooden cash register rang up purchases at a long-gone grocery store.

Volunteer Carol Wright remembers one of the worst days in Lampasas’ history.

“This is an aerial photo of town taken six months after the May 1957 flood,” she says, standing next to the framed picture. On Mother’s Day, heavy rains fell, causing Sulphur Creek and other tributaries to swell. “A dirt levee broke, and a 10-foot wall of water came through town. It devastated Lampasas. Afterward, numerous conservation dams were built.”  


 Top: Sonja Sommerfeld | TPWD; Bottom: Chase Fountain | TPWD

For eats, we land at Eve’s Cafe, a local favorite for schnitzel and other German cuisine on the square. Overhead, five-pointed stars, puppets on strings and a winged pig dangle from the ceiling. Someone’s also pinned postcards up there. James and I share The Works, a breaded pork loin topped with ham, provolone and mushroom gravy.

A block away, tasty meals and another metal bell played a prominent role in the Keystone Star Hotel’s storied past. In 1856, John and Harriet Gracy built the original 10-room Star Hotel as a stagecoach stop. Whenever the hotel’s bell rang, people showed up for Harriet’s cooking. In 1870, the family added a wing. After the Gracys passed, the hotel changed hands a few times. In 1926, new owner J.R. Key renamed it the Keystone Hotel and five years later added a west wing.

Abandoned for 30 years, the limestone building escaped demolition when Austinite Andy Fish — a history buff since childhood — purchased the property in December 2017. He, his family and hired craftsmen transformed the Keystone Star Hotel into a stunning home that permeates with history. For instance, an 1856 hand-dug well discovered under the west wing during restoration is now illuminated beneath thick plexiglass in the ballroom’s floor.

Daughter Libby Fish excavated the well until she hit water at 19 feet. Lucky for her dad, she doesn’t mind narrow openings.  


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