Charlie Llewellin’s official title around the TEXAS MONTHLY offices is “director of digital development.” But between web coding, he’s also found time to become the magazine’s resident outdoorsman, road-tripping the length and breadth of the state to scout out the best swimming holes, mountain hikes, bike trails, and, in this month’s cover story, parks. For “Into the Wild,” Llewellin traveled to ten parks in all corners of Texas, loading up his Nissan Cube’s roof rack with a kayak and a bike—a set-up that, Llewellin says, “intrigues the country folk.” Along the way, he both re-visited favorite spots and discovered a few new ones. Here’s the story behind the story.
You’ve been exploring the state’s outdoor spots for a while now. When did you start?
I started in 1994, when I drove to Big Bend for the first time. It was April and had been raining, and the desert was covered with flowers. It was an amazing first visit—I’ve never quite seen it like that since.
What was your reporting schedule—did you visit all ten of these parks on one long road trip, or were your camping excursions more spread out?
I’ve been to many of them, like Garner, or Enchanted Rock, several times, and so an article like this is the fruit of many excursions. I went out to the Chinatis last year, thinking to do a shorter web piece, but it got rolled into the parks, which is better. I drove out to a park whenever I could over the winter and early spring. One day, I left Ray Roberts and visited Purtis Creek and one other that is not mentioned on the way home!
How many of the parks you visited were you familiar with? And which one are you most excited to get back to?
I’m familiar with a lot of them. Purtis Creek and Brazos Bend were new to me, and both were wonderful in different ways. I think I was at Brazos Bend on the prettiest day so far this year. My dad called me, and I answered and said, “There are two alligators very close to me,” and he thought I was talking about office politics. The yurts at Abilene are terrific; I wish more parks had them.
How did you winnow down all of Texas’s parks to ten? Were there any parks you wanted to include but didn’t have room for? Were there any features a park had to have to make the cut?
It was hard … That is why there’s the “10 More Trips Worth Gearing Up For” section. Some we had written about before for the rivers or mountains issues, and so those did not seem to need repeating. We wanted a good geographical spread. I think that Palo Duro Canyon, though it is in the ten more, is probably the most controversial to leave out, but I wanted to include Caprock Canyons, which is somewhat similar, and so, reluctantly, Palo Duro was excluded.
The story includes “Outdoors 101,” lessons in key camping activities such as using a map and compass, cleaning a fish, hanging a bear bag, starting a campfire in wet weather, and cooking a campfire dessert. Have any of these ever given you trouble? And any other skills a wannabe camper needs to know?
I take a tin mug, a little rocket fuel, one burner, and a can opener. If it doesn’t cook in the mug, I don’t take it. As for a map, the first time I went to Big Bend Ranch, I bought these wonderful topo maps, and a friend and I followed one all day, trying to make sense of it. After we got back to camp, I realized that I had taken the wrong map—we were one quadrant over. I got lost in Bastrop State Park when I went there earlier this year for this trip—kept finding myself back at the scenic overlook. I have no idea how I managed to do that.