Meadow near Goliad

Meadow near Goliad

I’ve traveled back and forth from Austin to Corpus Christi probably hundreds of times, still making new discoveries every trip. On a recent weekend, though, I reached back to a distant, personal past.

My first night out away from family as a teenager was during the summer of 1965 or ‘66, early in my junior high experience. Raised Presbyterian, I got to attend a retreat center called Camp Aranama, just outside of Goliad, run at that time by the South Texas Presbytery. Aranamas were natives who lived there long ago, a band related to the Tawakonis and for whom 18th-century Spaniards built several missions.

Campers arrived on a Sunday afternoon and said farewell to their parents. The whole split into four separate groups, each consisting of five boys, five girls, and two adult counselors of corresponding gender. Every kid brought bedding and clothes. We slept in “hogans,” which were wooden-framed structures covered in canvas and netting. Each group cooked its own breakfast and supper and performed chores. Lunch happened with all four groups together in the central recreation hall.

Typical of such church-oriented operations, our schedule included religious study, learning outdoor skills, swimming in the pool, and gaming. The highlight of our week was the hike. We took off cross-country, first to the Big Tree—an enormous old live oak with branches that grew to the ground, forming an enclosed shelter and offering shady rest. From there, we continued to town to see the presidio and mission and learn the area’s rich history. A van or small bus gave us a ride back to the camp.

Come Saturday, the experience drew to a close and everyone went home, rugged and tanned and happy.

Derelict Camp Aranama Hogan

Derelict Camp
Aranama Hogan

I’d visited Goliad on many occasions in recent months, but at last determined to find the camp this trip. It’s now Aranama RV Park. I drove in and promptly met the proprietor, Bruce Jones. He’s also from Corpus and is a day younger than I. He told me that his family had acquired the property in 1990 after the place had been “abandoned” for two decades. The Joneses built sheds for vehicles and equipment and installed hookups for numerous trailers. They also enclosed what had been the rec hall. The swimming pool was fenced and unused. Bruce showed me a fading photo of one of the hogans, now likely returned to the elements.

I also looked for the Big Tree, following the circular road around towards a bend in the San Antonio River. The tree wasn’t evident from my vantage points, but the broad grassland with scattered live oaks and anaquas provided a pleasing green panorama, especially after a rain shower watered the sandy ground.

It’s pleasing to discover that those acres still cater to campers, albeit older and less rustic ones. It’s also meaningful for me to reconnect with the site where began my long experience of tents, fire circles, and fun out in the woods.

What was your first camp?

Grelle on Lake Travis

Grelle on Lake Travis

Note: Here’s an article from my friend and fellow blogger Katie Raver.

For the first hour I visited Grelle Recreation Area, I was less than enchanted.

It had been a rainy summer near Spicewood, Texas. Lake Travis was brimming with water. But the park itself was unkempt, void of all amenities save a pit toilet. An RV’s generator in the throes of death coughed and wheezed. Every three minutes, a mother at the next campsite shrieked another command of warning at her child, whose name was apparently Dustin. And an entire fraternity house had apparently decided that blasting Robert Early Keen, Jr. (The Road Goes on Forever) from one of their truck radios was great background to the serenity of fishing in the Texas Hill Country.

But I was there to hike the trails. At the time, I hadn’t met a single person who had hiked them and could report back about them. I wanted to know more.

The first quarter-mile of the trail was disturbing: worn, with beer cans—some recent, some quite vintage—glinting in the sunlight, and the carcasses of careless fire pits dotting the trail.

But I was curious if this path had anything else to it—some hidden treasure or secret I could learn. The trail got steeper and more narrow. The beer cans and fire pits disappeared. I had to cross a wet creek bed. The temperature got cooler and the tree canopy thicker.

The landscape started to change.

I hiked through a small grotto covered in a carpet of lichen the shape of tiny Christmas trees. Water dripped, drop by drop, from the granite overhang into the pool below. A green lizard sunned itself. An adolescent hawk came to drink.

Further up the trail, a ridge gave a stunning vantage point of the entire peninsula. The oaks were thick and healthy. Small pieces of geodes of all different colors and shapes twinkled on the trail, glinting in the dappled sunlight. At trail’s end, I spotted a heron nesting. It watched me. I watched it. We shared a quiet moment.

Travel and new experiences do more than simply get us out of our own environment: they help us have experiences that can teach us new lessons and let us know what’s important in life. Answering the impulse to travel, to get outside, and to experience something new tells us again that we are capable of experiencing even more than paying bills, mowing the lawn, driving in traffic.

That day at Grelle, I was reminded that just beyond the beaten path, beauty blossoms.

Katie Raver