On April 9th I departed on my spring photo tour which I discussed in a number of my earlier posts. During the following 9 days, I visited a half-dozen different State Parks and numerous other photographic locations through the state. To make the ensure that the review of the trip is as helpful to those who may read it, I’ll be covering them by location instead of by the timeline of the trip. I will however start with the first park I visited – Cleburne State Park.
My first stop on the trip, Cleburne State Park is one of the smaller parks in the state, encompassing Cedar Lake just west of the city of Cleburne. Only an hour and a half drive or so from Dallas, passing through Fort Worth on the way offering plenty of options for side stops along the way. I’ll be honest and say that Cleburne State Park wasn’t my first choice for a first camping location on the trip. My intent was to start at Dinosaur Valley State Park in Glen Rose, another 30 minutes down the road. However the camping sites were all booked there through the weekend, so Cleburne offered a close alternative home base for visits to Dinosaur Valley and Glen Rose.
The park has five groups of camping sites, some designated for trailers, others camping, so there is a fairly low chance you’ll be pitching a tent next to a 45′ motor coach or 5th wheel. I stayed in the Cedar Grove camping area, which is composed of maybe 18 camp sites. Site 10, where I set up camp, is a solid choice. Bordered on one side by the path to the restrooms and shower and has a decent amount of separation between you and site 11 on the other side providing plenty of space and some privacy. The one negative is that I was hearing something, not sure exactly what, all night long. And it wasn’t the crickets. It was something man-made, a generator, motor of some sort. I thought it might be the Texas Lime Company plant, but from what I recall the sound seemed to be coming from the other direction. In any case, kind of diminished the feeling of camping in the outdoors.
Most of the hiking trails at this park are marked for dual Hiking and Mountain Bike use. I hiked the Spillway Hiking Trail and found it to be a single track trail with a good amount of cover, decent views and worth the time to check out. At this time I can’t vouch for the quality of any of the other trails.
Photo Opportunities and Locations
The Park road between the headquarters and Cedar Grove camping area is ripe with great shots. Open fields dotted with a few trees make for great foregrounds for sunrise or sunset when the wind is too high for glossy lake reflections, there are also a number of pull offs for trail heads and a lake overlook along the way that are worth a stop. The Park road borders the lake on the west, so shots across the lake are best for sunrise or evenings when there is big puffy clouds to reflect some of the sunset light. My favorite fields were those directly across and just down the road from the trailhead for the Spillway Hiking Trail.
Field along the Park Road, perfect for dramatic skies – Cleburne State Park
Closer to the headquarters, there is a bike path with a great wood bridge that parallels the main Park road. While I never got the composition I was envisioning when I first saw this bridge, its still well worth some time seeing what interesting perspectives you can come up with, especially if there are Bluebonnets or other wild flowers growing in the median between the road and bike path.
Wood Bike Path Bridge
I only did one short hike out to the Spillway (aka: Spillway Hiking Trail). It was obvious that not much water had flowed down the spillway in some time as it was quite dry with only a few spots of wild flowers growing. Worth a quick exploration if it’s been wet lately, or try for a composition including parts of the trail and cedar trees. There are a number of other hiking trails at this park which I did not choose (or have time) to explore.
On the Spillway Hiking Trail
Cedar Lodge (see park map) is the restroom facility and meeting area (?) closest to the Cedar Grove camping area. It has some exposed beams in the middle that can be interesting at night, and the swim beach out in front made for some good sunrise and after-dark shots. There is a good amount of light pollution in the immediate area, so be ready to deal with that (or make use of it) in your photographic plans if you choose to shoot after dark.
Cedar Lake Shoreline from Cedar Lodge after dark
The Park map lists a bird blind near the end of the park road at Poplar Point camping area. I was never able to find this structure, if it’s there, it’s not well marked from the road as I’ve seen at other state parks. That’s not to say that there was not opportunities for wildlife photography. In fact a rather territorial Cardinal was extremely interested in his reflection in my truck and was quite constantly hopping around from one side mirror to the other and along the rear glass trying to scare the intruder off. A number of other bird species were heard or sighted in the park as well.
Cardinal on the truck side mirror
If photography isn’t your main goal for the trip, and/or Dinosaur Valley is booked up, Cleburne State Park is a very nice little park worth a day’s visit or a weekend trip. I wouldn’t hesitate to bring a small group of friends out for a general purpose camping trip that included an early morning rise to get some sunrise shots at Cedar Lodge or maybe hunt down that elusive bird blind. While the park website states that the boat ramp is closed (as of 2013!), I have no doubt you’d have much trouble getting a canoe or kayak launched from the ramp area or even the swim beach near Cedar Lodge, and there were plenty of spots to cast a line and try your luck at catching dinner. Being fairly close to home, I have no doubt I’ll one day return.