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Texas travel: Afternoon adventures in Crawford

Nov. 16, 2010

Cortney Shedd | Courtesy Photo
Tonkowa Falls overlooks a scenic kayaking and rafting spot on the river. The 15-foot waterfall is a popular spot for celebrations and campsites.

By Kristine Davis

When some students think of Crawford, the George W. Bush ranch immediately comes to mind as its most popular destination point. But stalking the ex-president at his country home is not the only way to take an afternoon adventure in this small town.

Cortney Shedd | Courtesy Photo
Tonkowa Falls offers whitewater rafting, hiking, rock climbing and kayaking as well as a picnic area and RV park. Swimming is open in the spring.

Crawford, though small in size and large in reputation, offers several options for a few hours of outdoor adventure, especially if you are on a tight budget. Only 24 miles from Waco on Highway 84 to 317, Crawford does not immediately catch the eye. There are a couple diners and gas stations, but the hidden adventures begin off the main strip in town.

Turning right onto Chisholm Trail will take you to a branch in the country road with a sign that says: "Caution: High Waters." You wonder where the high waters are that could wash over you on a small, rural road.

As you venture farther, you see the location -- a small, inconsequential bridge with a stream running under it. If you really use your imagination, you might see the stream's potential for becoming a torrent, washing over the bridge and proving the caution sign's point. But you would either need to have the imagination of Steven Spielberg or to time your visit just after a week of incessant rain to in order to consider the stream as a threat.

Most of the time, the unassuming stream has potential for fun, especially if you have a few hours after class to get away outside. If you want to find a "wade-able" stream for a stroll through shin-deep, clear waters, then Hog Creek is the place and it beats the murky depths of the Brazos any day.

The unnamed stream offers lots of rocks and hard places to walk on (and not get stuck between), and many of the rocks are perfect for skipping. Tree-lined shores, fascinating root structures and fallen foliage make it the spot is perfect for quiet reflection or capturing on camera that particular moment when the setting sun glances off the surface and turns the water into gold.

Further down the creek, or a short drive down East Fourth Street from the main road, another small, afternoon escapade presents itself. This time, you can bring a swimsuit. Next door to a motor-home camping ground is Tonkowa Falls. Yes, it is a waterfall, but not an awe-inspiring one. Rather, it is more a source for hours of frivolity, with handholds to climb up the falls' gentle slope and plenty of water below for cannon-ball jumping.

Though fairly busy during the weekends, if you go at just the right time on a weekday afternoon, you will have the place all to yourself. The area around the falls provides plenty of room for laying out on grassy shores and carved-out stone walls with fossils for exploring. The waters at this point in the stream offers enough depth for a short canoe ride or letting the current lazily guide an inflatable chaise downstream, provided you wear sensible shoes for the trek back.

If water is not your thing, then stick some bikes on your vehicle's bike rack and turn left onto Farm to Market Road 185 from Highway 317, past the high school to a stretch of country road with few cars and miles of meandering pavement, ideal for a change of scenery from Cameron Park. The road's flat surface provides great biking terrain for long-distance cyclers and novices who simply want to enjoy the country. A menagerie of goats, pigs and cows also break up the endless fields and grassy plains, making the experience much less lonely and far more entertaining.

After hours of exploration, stop by the Pizza House on your way out of town. Just west of the junction of Highway 84 and 317 in McGregor, the House boasts friendly and accommodating service, freshly-made pizza dough, and topped with excellent, real mozzarella cheese that puts pizza chains to shame.

Getting a to-go pizza is acceptable, but enjoying a slice before you leave, sitting in their tiny dining area, listening to the dough mixer hum behind a partition makes the event even more authentic. Truly, it is the perfect completion of a great afternoon adventure without spending a bundle or going very far from town.