By Paige Lambert.
Slowly climbing the irregular steps, we breathed a slight sigh of relief, then a gasp of awe, as we reached the top. The town was directly below, and behind was a green expanse of rolling hills. Only the wind and our own voices could be heard, and clouds blanketed sections of the valley. It was a peaceful getaway only five minutes from civilization.
The 1,182-foot hill, known as Old Baldy, in Wimberley, Texas, offers incomparable views of Wimberley Valley and a peace that is often hard to reach in this fast-paced world.
Old Baldy was once the home of prospectors, settlers and desperados. The hill was part of Twin Sisters Ranch, named for the identical hills that rose from the valley. Around the 1900s the hill was named Mt. Edith for one of the rancher’s daughters.
Old Baldy is a favorite hiking location for local Laurie McDonald. (Photos by David White)
At that time there were no cars to watch while traveling to the hill, no fences to bar intruders. People would come and go from the lookout point, either looking to hide from the law or looking for some peace.
Wimberley resident, Liala McCall, said she and a few children who lived there in the 30s would go to Old Baldy to pass the time.
“We went up there all the time, we ran out of things to do. So we rode horses a lot, tied our horses at the base of the hill, climbed the mountain and climbed back down,” McCall said. “It was no big deal for us.”
In the 1950s, long-time residents Odessa Farris and John Harris, according to a 1995 Texas Times article, constructed a dance floor, jukebox and 218 steps on the hill. The brush and boulders were cleared from the top, giving reason to the affectionate name Old Baldy.
Little is known past the 1950s construction, and the few tales circle around more as rumors than facts. The jukebox is nowhere to be seen and only half of the dance floor is still intact, full of rivets and cracks from the weather.
Patsy Chancellor, Farris’ niece, said she found a few pictures of her uncle at Old Baldy, but little else. Chancellor suggested that not a lot is known about the hill because the first visitors saw it as a pastime, not an attraction.
“The people who knew about it, they’re elderly and it’s not something that they think about, they don’t have any need to talk about or promote it,” Chancellor said. “It is interesting though that we don’t know a whole lot about it, that we let those people slip through our hands before we put the history down.”
While some of the history may be lost, Wimberley residents are adding new memories to the sparse hilltop. Brenda Gillarey, a Wimberley resident since 1984, said teenagers sometimes saw the hill as a lift off point.
“Around 1990 my daughter and eight to 10 kids built this paragliding thing out of PVC pipe and duct taped sheets to it,” Gillarey said. “It started coming apart and it eventually crashed. It’s still a big thing between the kids, they always talk about it.”
While the hill isn’t as frequented now as in years past, many still climb the steps when visiting family and friends in the area.
Bob Flocke, the mayor of Wimberley, said he would take his family to Old Baldy before settling in Wimberley, and he still goes to the hill for peace and quiet.
“It is certainly worth the trip to the top,” Flocke said. “I’ve been there all different times during the day. I’ve seen the sunrise, and it’s just beautiful. You can see the whole hill country up there.”
The scenic spot has also been used for religious purposes. In 1995, the land was donated to Trinity Chapel Church. While keeping it open to the public, the Wimberley congregation dubbed it “Prayer Mountain.”
Chad Hayes, the pastor of Trinity Chapel Church, said he wants to continue the previous pastor’s plans of using the hill to resemble Prayer Mountain in Seoul, South Korea.
“In the 80s, leaders would go and pray for all the people and land that they could see in Seoul, and we want to do the same,” Hayes said.
Residents of Wimberley also use the walk up Old Baldy as a form of exercise. During the cool parts of the day many people in workout attire walk up the steep, concrete steps.
“We went up one evening and there were actually two guys who came up four or five times,” Hayes said. “Families, nature lovers, all make it a stop on their hiking trip.”
While it’s not on the Top 10 list of Wimberley tourist attractions, old Baldy has kept hold of the community. Everyone who visits sees the natural beauty of the valley, just like the ranchers and bandits from the tall tales and history books.
“To walk up to a spot that’s higher than you’re used to being, and seeing the town where you live, is a totally different perspective of a little spot on the planet,” Chancellor said.