Thursday, July 21, 2016


[This was a post I did right after some research on a key crime scene in the manuscript I just completed. There is now a lot of water in all these dry spots in the photos below, but our years-long drought played perfectly into the plot of the story I was telling.]

The other day I took a trip out to one of the "crime scenes" from the manuscript on which I'm currently working. There was a surprise in the trip for me in that I did not expect to see so much lonely landscape still in existence so close to where I live.

First I think I should clarify to all the non-Texans reading this:  Texas is not all flat terrain with tumbleweeds rolling across the road. In fact, I was an adult before I ever saw such a landscape in this State and I was born here.

Texas is a big place with a "transitional" geography:  plains, desert, mountains, piney woods, hill country and coastal plains all exist within this State, and all of those areas abut our Central Texas hill country. Texas is roughly 830 miles west to east and roughly 850 miles north to south. Big place. Lots of different terrain here.

To the west are very flat lands with the tumbleweed you would expect. That moves on further west into the southernmost part of the Rocky Mountains.

To our east are piney woods - thick (think Louisiana). To our south are the coastal plains and sub-tropical areas along the Gulf of Mexico. To our north are the tail end of the Great Plains, but these are not completely flat and they are cut by rivers and covered with grasses and trees - no desert or tumbleweeds in any of these places.

Austin and the surrounding Central Texas area is a beautiful landscape of rolling tree-covered hills, rivers, lakes and generally breathtaking views. There are limestone washes along some of the rivers and steep limestone cliffs that speak of a time when this area was a shallow sea bed (Cretaceous period). It's reminiscent of certain landscapes along the Med in Italy and Greece. My paternal grandfather (a Greek from the old country) said that was why he settled here. It reminded him of home.

I had lamented for some time (including on this blog) that there was so much development here in Central Texas "they" were destroying all of our natural spaces. I'm happy to report I was wrong.

My journey was to the north shore of Lake Travis.

I had resisted going back out there and exploring because I knew there had been a development that sprang up in this one location and I was afraid I was going to see high-end houses all along the lake front and none of the beautiful natural space I so loved.

That's not what I found. Thank God.

There were miles of lonely space - natural landscape. The housing development I knew of hadn't progressed beyond what I had seen several years ago - and not just because of the economy. Along the north shore of Lake Travis, there is also a limit to the types of utilities we have in town and near town. Most people who live out there depend on propane for gas, electricity is sparse in some locations, and water is frequently provided by drilling wells, waste water is disposed of in septic tanks. With a drought on, the water table is down and many wells have run dry. This probably curtailed some of the development out there. Also, the sheer near empty appearance of our lake is probably also part of the deterrent to development.

Through a navigation mistake of mine - well, not really a "mistake" - I admit I like to "wander" with the car while driving through the hill country - anyway, I found this certain lakeside park, a certain Travis County park. I didn't know it was there.

Along the road on my way down to this park and in the park itself, it was utterly deserted. There was no park ranger there because the boat ramp had been closed - again, a result of our drought. It's not possible to launch a boat onto a limestone wash. You really need water for that. :)

There is a beauty to this kind of lonely space to me. I've included some photos below to give you an idea of the desolation of the place.

It's cold here right now, and this weekend with the front that came through it was also quite breezy. The wintry cold added to the feeling of isolation.

I walked along deeply rutted and graveled roads in the park and along the cove that cut from the lake alongside the park itself. Limestone washes ran up to the water's edge - washes that had been covered by water in a better time a few years ago. Wheat-colored grasses covered the damp earth from the rain we just had last week. Cedars and live oaks made a dense cover between the gravel roads.  It was silent as the grave out there. The only sound was the bitter breeze that blew off the water that day.

All of sudden, the roaring of a large pickup echoed up the now-closed boat ramp. It blasted, with heavy-duty shocks and mud tires, up over the lip of the ramp and into the parking lot of the park. A man inside "whooped" through his open window. He was followed by another truck, just as large and outfitted the same way - this one driven by a girl with a large black Lab hanging out of the window of her double cab. She laughed and waved as she passed and they sped across the parking lot and then off deeper into the park. I saw them later, parked way down on the wash nearest the lake itself.

Other than that one sign of human life, the place was utterly deserted. I thought if those had been "bad" people I would have been in some deep trouble. There was no "civilization" for miles. No park ranger on duty. I had my cell phone, but who would reach me in time if I needed help from someone dangerous?

Then I knew - what a great location for a crime scene!!! Woo-hoo! :) It was perfect - complete with dumpster for a convenient body dump. Yes, people, I write crime novels and this was a crime novelist's dream.

In my book I will locate the park in a slightly different spot on the river/lake, and I'll give it another name; but, it will essentially "be" that place I visited this past weekend. I will go back again soon for more notes and photos.

There is a paradox between beautiful desolation and dangerous isolation, and I love to study that and write in that place. I hope to transport you there so you can enjoy it and be thrilled by it as much as I am.

Writing is, for me, all about sharing the experience - whatever that experience may be.

Polla filia,

The Parking Lot

The now closed boat ramp-treeline is where the water used to be

One of the roads in the park

Another park road

The "woods" around and in the park

A deserted picnic area

The "dump site"

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