Expect to see not only some prehistory but a little mystery as well
For the experience hikers, the newbies getting into it, or those just looking for a longs stroll out in nature – be sure to visit this hidden gem located about 35 minutes from the heart of San Antonio, Texas out on the Northwestern outskirts of town. This 12,000-acre area offers over 40 miles of trails you can take, whether you want to bike or hike is totally up to you!
Be sure to place a reservation before driving to the park. They offer morning and afternoon options, so if you plan to hike longer trails keep this in mind. And of course, take plenty of water and food to keep yourself hydrated and well-nourished!
The Saturday afternoon, in which my friends and I went, we decided to take a 6-mile trek along one of the park’s most popular trails: the Joe Johnston Route. This trail has a good mix of smooth, even surfaces to walk on as well as rocky, sloped areas to traverse. Make sure to wear proper hiking shoes; your ankles and feet will thank you later. What makes this trail so popular is that it not only entails nature, but several points of interests along the way. There is an overlook of the canyon about midway through this trail, which happens to be close to a hot spot people love to go see: the dinosaur footprints.
Welcome to Jurassic… Canyon?
Take a hike along the Joe Johnston trail to see the only known dinosaur footprints on public land in Bexar County. All the footprints discovered are within proximity to each other. The two main footprints that we saw were the big, rounded ones and the three-toed tracks. The round ones, scientists believe, come from the long-necked plant-eaters known as Sauropods, while the others are from the meat-eating Theropods. Scientists believe that Acrocanthosaurus and Sauroposeidon dinosaurs left these tracks nearly 110 million years ago! Depending on how long you plan to hike, when you get to this area, it can be a good resting point as you can sit on the rocks and take in the scenery. You can take photos of the footprints, but they are roped off to prevent people from getting too close to touching them. They’ve lasted for millions of years, but can be easily damaged by human interactions. The first photo below is a recreated footprint, while the photos after are the real deal. Once you are done spending time with the dinos, as you continue onwards up the Joe Johnston trail, you’ll come across another landmark people tend to go see. However, it’s origins are rather a mystery except that two German bakers had something to do with it.
The House on Government’s Hill
Further up the trail, you’ll come across a house off to the right. Completely fenced off from being able to go inside, this house still stands tall but in shambles. What we do know was that this house was around during the late 1800s, by two German bakers named Christian and Emilie Zizelmann. For those new to the central Texas region, there are strong German roots as many immigrants came here during the 1800s. This can be seen a lot around San Antonio and New Braunfels; including the annual Wurstfest festival in the Fall.
What makes this house a mystery all starts with the location of the house. The Zizelmann’s bakery, and current home, laid at the heart of the city, while this land they bought to build a home was out in the northwestern outskirts of town. Nowadays, it might not seem too bad, because that could be about a quick 30 minute drive. However, keep in mind the time period back then; where there were no highways or cars to speed up travel. To cover that kind of distance would take almost a full day to do! So the first question is why would they build a potential new home so far away from their work? Most of the people lived in the city, so one has to wonder why they would choose to move so far out. Were they looking to retire out there? Move business? Another part of the mystery was that this building was never completed.
Based on the photo of the interior, it appears that the Zizelmann’s were never able to finish building their dream countryside home. Or maybe it was ransacked? According to locals, although the house was never finished like it was intended to be, they believed it was still used for other purposes. Some thing it could’ve been a stagecoach stop, while others say a hotel or even barracks for calvary soldiers. Historical records still aren’t clear if this house was ever used, so all we can do is speculate about the mystery behind the home and land these two German bakers purchased so long ago.
Keep in Mind
This was only a portion of the park that my friends and I took. We hiked about 6-7 miles, but there’s still plenty of miles and trails to explore; with different views and tales to boot. We’ll be going back there soon, and might even try the trails that take nearly half a day to traverse. But for those who are interested in not just walking in the outdoors, but living in it as well, Government Canyon also provides the space to do some camping on-site. Guests can reserve one of 23 walk-in tent campsites, or have two walk-in group tent camps for up to 16 people.
The campgrounds are open Friday and Saturday nights only, however they’re open for additional nights around holidays.
At this time, whether camping over the weekend or hiking for the day, they require reservations so be sure to book in advance if you’re interested in starting off in the morning before it gets too hot. For more information, be sure to check out their page on the Texas State Parks site here. If you’ve been to Government Canyon before, share what your experience was like! Or if you’re planning on going, comment on what you’re most eager to see!