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Penitentiary Hollow at Lake Mineral Wells State Park

This place has been my runaway location of choice for several years. It’s an hour and a half from our home in northeast Dallas, about the same as driving into East Texas. So why not go to the piney woods of East Texas? Because Lake Mineral Wells State Park is a truly unique environment.

I’ve always loved the rugged landscape of west Texas, and Fort Worth is “Where the West begins.” Besides the stereotypical Texas tumbleweeds and Mesquite trees there, cacti bloom in season and the native grasses are exquisite in the waning sunset light. Deer can always be seen at sundown.

But that’s still not the main draw for me.

I go for the rocks. “The rocks!?” you may ask. Yes, the rocks.

SOME NATURAL HISTORY: Just a few million years ago, most of Texas was submerged under an ancient shallow sea. As creatures died in that sea, they fell to the sediment floor and mixed with the sandy bottom, a sedimentary bottom that was quite deep in places. As the waters receded, that sediment formed sandstone, which can be seen in many places in north Texas.

That sandstone layer is forty to sixty feet deep in the area now known as Lake Mineral Wells State Park! That stoney mass is partly above ground now. With the passage of time (many thousands of years) massive blocks of sandstone have been separated by repeated freeze/thaw cycles.

That place at LMWSP has been named Penitentiary Hollow. So, I’ve been in the Pen many times. 😉

WHY I GO THERE: Visiting LMWSP for me is like looking up at the stars on a country night. You stand there in awe of the created universe. If you’re a city slicker who has never experienced the Milky Way on a clear country night you are missing a true wonder.

I get that same feeling by looking at a sixty-foot wall of sandstone or a smooth granite pebble. Both were formed by eons of natural forces – a span of time that boggles the imagination. My perception of God expands as I try to imagine millions of years and the beauty of this world created for my enjoyment (“Do not trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. 1Timothy 6:17).

Let me describe how these granite stones were formed. Granite is an aggregate formed from various types of stone and quartz crushed by earthquakes and volcanic action. As it is forced to the surface, possibly by glacier movement or erosion, it becomes subject to the elements. Winter freezes, torrential rains and spring thawing reduces huge stone masses to smaller pieces. River and lake wave action then smoothes it to form, in some cases, tiny marbles of granite.

Now, just imagine how long it takes for all of that to happen. Longer than I can imagine!

IF YOU GO: The park is west of Weatherford, four miles east of Mineral Wells on U.S. 180 and about a half hour drive from Fort Worth. The entrance fee is $5 a day per person. Park amenities include a Park Store, boat and canoe rentals, bike and hiking trails, fishing and swimming, and of course rock climbing. Overnight accommodations (for an additional fee) include primitive camping, equestrian camping, RV sites and screened shelters. Contact the park office for details.

Park phone is 940/328-1171 – their web site: http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/lake_mineral_wells/

Another link with a map of Penitentiary Hollow and a great slide show: http://www.everytrail.com/view_trip.php?trip_id=904914

This park can be as docile or as rugged as you like. But the scenery is always magnificent.

Do you have a favorite north Texas getaway? Please tell me about it in the comments section.

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