Cranking a bike up the grippy, sandpapery rock at Reveille Peak Ranch feels a little like pedaling across a lunar landscape.
I chug along the challenging Upper Loop trail, winding between massive granite slabs to one side and grooved, open expanses of rock to the other. I'm panting for air, and my quads are screaming.
Clearly, my mountain biking skills need honing. I've spent as much time getting off and walking down narrow, rock-strewn passages and between Volkswagen-sized boulders as actually planted on my bike seat.
But even I can appreciate the terrain of this 1,300-acre ranch near Burnet, which has some mountain bikers calling it the "Slick Rock of Texas." It's different, in a Moab-meets-the-Texas-Hill-Country kind of way.
In Austin, mountain bikers can weave through the ledgey, limestone trails of the Barton Creek Greenbelt or tackle the smoother, shady, root-studded loops of Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park. Reveille Peak Ranch offers up a whole new palette of terrain.
When we weren't picking our way across the granite domes, searching for the next set of flag markers to guide us, we were zipping across wooden bridges, splashing through creek crossings or swooshing among oak trees and prickly pears on the twisty, easier trails down below. We finished our day with a couple of miles along a wider ranch road, a welcome respite.
Vol Montgomery purchased the property in 1999. He contracted with the Austin Ridge Riders to design 16 miles of single-track and super downhill trails.
Besides those hand-cut trails, which slice across the exposed rock of the Llano Uplift, the ranch features dozens of miles of already existing gravel and dirt roads.
It's not quite Enchanted Rock, but parts of the ranch come close. The granite provides better traction than the limestone most Austin riders are used to. It also makes for some really technical riding.
Cyclists and runners pay a $10 gate fee to roam 62 miles of trails in all. They're all color-coded according to skill level, but it's tricky to figure out exactly where you are on the maps available when you check in. Still, getting lost in a tangle of bike trails isn't such a bad thing.
Definitely take the trek up to Decision Point, where you can see Lake Buchanan and beyond. Below, paths flow through oaks and grassy savanna.
I walked down the steepest trails, marveling at the fact that top racers pedal up them during the ranch's annual Reveille Peak 100 mountain bike race in September.
The park, which has a two-story outdoor pavilion, restrooms and showers, regularly hosts mountain bike races, triathlons, adventure races and trail runs. There's also a pump track and skills park, a sand volleyball court, horseshoe and washer pitching and two small lakes, where triathlons are staged.
On the upcoming calendar of events: The Reveille Roubaix Bike Race and Festival on March 10; the Texas High School Mountain Bike League Season opener on March 11; the UltiFit Challenge Series on March 17; Tour de Ranch on March 24; the Bluebonnet Adventure Fest on April 21-22; the Spartan Sprint Texas May 19-20; the Ranch, part of the Rogue Trail Series, on June 10; and the King of the Hill Adventure Race on July 14.