Rapelling Into Gorman Falls

What makes one hike good and another bad? Weather? A good night’s sleep? Geography and geology? Or is it just that everybody prefers one trail’s scenery over another? I’ve been thinking about that a lot when I consider my family’s trek to Gorman Falls.

First, a brief overview of the trail. Gorman Falls Trail is a 2.6-mile out-and-back at Colorado Bend State Park west of Lampasas, Texas. It’s in the northern end of the Texas hill country. Flatter lands are filtering out of the park, but in the park there are still plenty of rolling climbs. The trail typifies this, with small elevation gains for most of the trail, but steep descent in the last half mile or so. It ends at the 70-foot falls, which are interesting for the surrounding travertine formations.

For us, this trail was r-o-u-g-h. It’s almost all rock, but unlike Enchanted Rock’s steady dome ascent, Gorman’s is all varieties of small and large sandstone, but often pointed. This rock is unrelenting with small gaps of sand and dirt for the foot to escape. But man, it was all rock. If you’re not used to it, you might be in for a surprise.

Now, I need to add that if you’re my mountain goat teenager, you’ll have no problem. In fact, most – not all, but most – of the hikers were young adults and new families. I think having that youthful mountaingoatism makes the rocks tame. Most older hikers know better than to avoid this one, but I’m not one of them, so to the bottom we went!

Some of the rocks are really interesting, btw. I had to stop and take photos. I have no idea how the domes formed, whether that is natural or man-made. If you know or have a theory, I’d love to hear it! Leave a comment.

The weird bubble rocks
Spoon man, come together with your hands…

So, as slow walkers, we took our time and enjoyed the scenery and the sunny, cool day. I can only imagine (and will continue to only imagine) the amount of sweat and water involved in a summer hike of Gorman Falls. Mesquite, grasses, and prickly pear roll out to either side of this trail.

Taking our sweet time meant we needed close to an hour to get to the bottom of the falls (and you have to go to the bottom to see it). This also meant that we got to hear over and over again warnings about that final descent. “It’s really steep!” one little girl shouted out as we passed her along the trail. “And it’s REALLY slippery!!” She was not the only child to warn us about the rock’s slipperiness, which makes me wonder how many kids were slipping on the rocks. At times, I felt we should turn back. I must admit, I was a little nervous with all the warnings. But onward and forward! (We were over halfway there!)

Okay, so after all that, all I gotta say is…That final fifty yards, y’all, it’s steep! Not as steep as the Lighthouse Trail up in Palo Duro Canyon, but whereas the rough rock of the Lighthouse Trail grips to your boots (and/or skin for the unfortunate), Gorman Falls rock is slick. I was glad I had my hiking boots on, and I can definitely see where kids in tennis shoes would lose their footing. (Fortunately, no blood stains on the rock.)

For the final descent, the trail transforms into an I-45 traffic jam of families jockeying for position, coming and going. The trail is narrow, and you really have to use the cord rails they give you, which means there isn’t much room for people to maneuver around each other. The technique is to climb to a stopping point, let people pass, then climb some more.

My recommendation is to cover those last drops rappelling-style! Go backwards! It’s much easier. I’m no mountain climber, but I’ve rappelled a couple times. This won’t be true rappelling where you’re perpendicular with the rock, but the steep incline reminded me of ascent climbing. Twenty to sixty percent grades over the final 200 feet, dropping 156 feet. For comparison, Lighthouse Trail covers approximately the same elevations over one-tenth of a mile.

So that makes Gorman Falls the first trail I’ve quasi-rappelled down. Every trails brings something new. (My wife went with the sliding down on your ass method. She did this purposefully, btw. )

The falls at the bottom are nice. I don’t think anywhere else in Texas a hiker will be able to view calcite leaching into the vegetation and transforming it into rock.

Falls to the left of me, calcite formations to the right…

I also enjoyed the view of the Colorado River. I can honestly say I’ve never been to this part of the Colorado. A mile up the road and it widens into the broad expanse that I’m more familiar with. But here, it drains into a thin vein of clear and inviting water. I bet kayaking it would be fun!

Putting the “bend” in Colorado Bend State Park…

Normally, it would be the sort of thing where I’d ooh and aah, then jump back into my car. But my car was still an hour away. This leads me back to where I started: pondering the value of a trail. Was this trail worth it? The weather was comfortable. We hiked Enchanted Rock the day before, so we were all a little tired (except my son, who returned to the car about twenty minutes before us). On a side note, his mother would ask him to stop and wait for her at certain parts of the trail, in case she needed assistance, and once we got there, we’d find him sitting on a rock like some monk in meditation, waiting patiently for his mother to catch up. He is growing up to become quite the polite adult, and it makes me smile to think of who he is becoming.

All this is to say, there was nothing off about the experience. We ate well, we were well-rested, if sore. We were in good spirits, and the weather gods were cooperating.

Here is where I have to say that Texas is not the best place for viewing falls. No disrespect to the Lone Star State, but there’s no comparison to places like Hidden Falls in the Grand Tetons or some of the falls in the Appalachian Mountains, or even some of the falls in California that I’ve seen photographed. That’s not to say the falls in Texas are bad. They’re just the kind of pretty you appreciate with a smile rather than a slack jaw.

Within Texas, Gorman Falls is one of the most significant. My family debates over whether the best falls are Pedernales or McKinney, and after rainstorms, the water falling at Hamilton Pool is pretty memorable. I think the best comparison of Gorman Falls is the grotto at Lost Maples Natural Area. The grotto is beautiful and unique and lies along a well-worn trail in a very scenic part of the hilly country. Gorman Falls is also a unique beauty, but I’m not sure I’d repeat a 2-hour trek across rough terrain to see it.

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