Lake Mineral Wells State Park
"Strike?!" Nope, that was just my lure dragging through some underwater weeds. It is a warm, humid, sunny, early fall Friday morning in north Texas, and I am fishing in a private little cove at our campsite. The bank is muddy, but there is a dry 2-foot square rock on the edge of the shoreline where I can stand and keep my shoes clean and dry. I also know that if I cast from this spot, there are no nearby limbs or branches to snag my hook. Since dawn, I have tried several top-water rigs, plugs, spinners, etc., but so far, no luck.
While doing a little fishing on the last day of our stay at Lake Mineral Wells State Park, I thought I would take some time to recap the highlights of our road trip.
Three days ago, we arrived at the ranger station, at Lake Mineral Wells State Park, on a Tuesday around noon and secured shady campsite #30 next to the lake. To get to our campsite, we drove on a road that crossed below the lake's leaky concrete dam. Water spewed like a fountain out of some of the larger cracks, but it must be solid enough, we thought. No one seemed concerned about its stability. On the road crossing the dam, we spotted several Kildeer scurrying about on the concrete spillway downstream.
After crossing the dam, we drove by many private, tree-lined campsites, some by the lake, some not. Any one of them would have been perfect for our stay. Parks that provide a little seclusion and space between campsites are the best, but unfortunately, there aren't many.
After arriving at our campsite, we unhitched our 24-foot trailer and drove into Mineral Wells to eat lunch at the Mesquite Pit restaurant. Their chicken-fried steak was as good as I have ever had. After the delicious meal, we bought gas and groceries and returned to our campsite on the lake. We connected the power and water to our trailer and extended our awning. We completed our camp set up by stretching some pumpkin-colored camp lights between two oak limbs that hung over our picnic table.
On Wednesday, we woke early and drove about a mile to the Crosstimbers Camping Area to begin hiking the Crosstimbers Backcountry Trail. The CBCT equestrian hike and bike trail connect to the Crosstimbers Green Trail (1.06 mi.). We included it in our morning nature walk so that we could hike all of the Crosstimbers trails.
By 11:30 am, when we returned to the trail-head, it was too hot to hike any further, but before returning to our campsite to rest, we explored Lake Mineral Wells State Park from the air-conditioned comfort of our tow vehicle while we planned the next day's activities.
We got back to camp and headed for the showers. We made bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches for lunch and spent the afternoon relaxing at our tree-covered lake-front campsite. That was when I broke out my fishing gear and cast my first lure into the waters of our secluded little cove at Lake Mineral Wells.
After about 30 minutes of fishing, I switched my bait from a top-water rig to a watermelon-colored plastic worm and, on the second cast, got hung up in some weeds on the far shore. While jerking on my fishing pole to free my line, it snapped in half. That wasn't too smart..., I thought. Exercising a little more patience wouldn't have been a bad idea. Top-water fishing was over, but fortunately, I brought my fly rod along, so I switched to fly fishing for the rest of the afternoon.
For dinner that evening, we made a big pot of turkey chili that we planned to have for two meals. Chili is one of our favorite meals to cook on RV trips. Turkey chili is lean and healthy and requires little effort to cook - just brown the seasoned ground turkey meat and onions in a large pot, then add the seasoning and other ingredients we prepared before we left home.
Thursday morning, the weather was cool and dry. It was the perfect start to a splendid day! After breakfast, we drove about two miles to the Penitentiary Hollow Overlook area to hike the Red Waterfront Trail. The hike began with a slow descent down steps built, by the CCC, from local area rocks, rough cedar, and galvanized steel pipe for hand railing. The hollow was surrounded by steep rock walls rigged with bolt hangers so rock climbers could use them to practice their mountaineering skills.
While exploring the hollow and admiring the cliffs, we briefly ran across the only other hikers we saw in two days of hiking Lake Mineral Wells. "Beautiful day!" one hiker hollered. "It sure is," I replied. "We saw a snake cross the trail up ahead but couldn't tell what kind it was," one of them said. "Thanks for the info. We'll keep our eyes open," I replied. With that, they were gone, and we had the place to ourselves again. When you visit parks during the week, you have the best chance of solitude on the trails.
From the hollow's floor, we carefully navigated through the rocky trail between two large rock formations and landed on the Waterfront trail without seeing any snakes. We hiked the speed of snails down the .7-mile heavily-wooded Red Waterfront trail to thoroughly observe the rich insect life. We saw several colorful garden spiders with their intricate webs stretched across the hiking trail and just as many magnificent butterflies, bumble bees, and grasshoppers that came together to complete the nature scene.
We capped off the morning's hike with a short stroll down the Trailway Spur to the Lake Mineral Wells State Park Amphitheater. The smell of fresh-cut grass filled the air. The grounds had been recently groomed for the weekend's events Name that Bird and Star Gazing.
We returned to our campsite around 11 am, showered, and drove back to Mineral Wells for another lunch at the Mesquite Pit, where we enjoyed a couple of 1/2 lb. Smokehouse Cheddar Burgers.
While in Mineral Wells, I found a tackle shop and bought a replacement rod for my spinning reel. It wasn't the same as the original, but close enough. When we arrived back at camp, I quickly tore off the price tag, attached the old reel to the new rod, and was top-water fishing once again. We have a canoe that we did not bring on this trip - we won't make that mistake again. With our canoe, we could have explored and fished many other parts of the lake that were inaccessible any other way.
That evening, we fired up our camp stove and heated the rest of our turkey chili for dinner. While the chili was warming, we built a small campfire to roast a few marshmallows before turning in. While there was still a little light in the sky, we finished what remained of the chili and washed and stowed our cooking utensils.
Before long, fireflies began to appear along the perimeter of our tree-lined campsite. We tossed a couple of fresh logs on the fire, poured ourselves some red wine, and spent the evening watching the mesmerizing flames reduce the seasoned oak to ashes.
Well, back to reality, it is late morning on our last day at Mineral Wells State Park, and I have been fishing since sunrise without getting a single bite. Perhaps there aren't any fish in our secluded little cove, or maybe the fish just aren't interested in the bait I am presenting, or they are feeding on the bottom in the middle of the lake. Anyway, it doesn't matter. It is time to put away the fishing rod and prepare the vehicles for the next leg of our road trip. There will be future trips to Lake Mineral Wells State Park, where I will continue my quest for that trophy bass!
After completing our checklist of tasks to perform and items to stow before getting out onto the road, I took one last look at the glassy waters of the tiny lagoon I had been fishing in for the past few days. Suddenly, an enormous bass broke through the water's surface as if to say, "You didn't get me this time, sucker!"
Lake Mineral Wells Trailway
One thing that we regrettably did not do at Lake Mineral Wells State Park (because we didn't have time) was hike or bike the Lake Mineral Wells Trailway. The trail stretches about 20 miles between Mineral Wells and Weatherford, with stops along the way to Lake Mineral Wells State Park and Garner, Texas. On our next trip, we will make the time to bike (or hike) this historic trail.