I remember as a kid, I wanted to do what I saw people on TV doing: kayaking, going to swimming lessons, hiking, skiing, rock wall climbing, spelunking, wakeboard surfing, longboarding … the list went on and on. But my mother was a single mother whose exposure was as limited as her income, and like other Black parents, she felt we didn’t do those kinds of activities.
Austin has so many treasures hidden off the beaten path of life that are tucked away in spots that will captivate you with their beauty and impress upon you a sense that the place was made especially for you.
Sculpture Falls is one of those places. It is located near the entrance of Mopac and 360 highways. Parking can be tricky — cars line the highway’s service road and depending on the time of day and if it’s a holiday, the makeshift lot can get crowded. Depending on your level of fitness and stamina, the 7.9-mile hike may be considered moderately challenging.
But it’s empowering to show the hordes of tourists, Austin transplants, and even native Austinites who flock to the falls as an escape from the bustling city — and ourselves! — that Black women do hike. It shouldn’t be that surprising, even though the stereotype says we don’t. As Black women, we venture into the unknown all the time, challenging all kinds of expectations and what folks say we can’t or don’t do. We’re mothers, sisters, aunts, providers, wives, daughters, child-rearing, and child-bearing survivors. doers, givers, queens, and most of all barrier breakers.
Hiking for us is significant in so many ways, rooted in the totality of our existence. Sharing this particular experience with a group of other Black women allowed us a way to recharge, to unfasten the self-image of having it all together and having a willingness to submit to nature. Some of the ladies who recently joined me on the hike to Sculpture Falls were experiencing their first hiking excursion. Nature is quite possibly the place where we’re the most vulnerable. You get the space to finally listen to your true intentions and instincts for survival, without the roars of society weighing on your shoulders, even if it’s on a known trail. You’re constantly absorbing the energy around you and calculating your next step. You can stumble, then recover.
Nature will challenge you to face your fears of the unknown that live under rocks, trees, and more. It can be dangerous if you don’t take the proper precautions and show the appropriate care, however the opportunity to appreciate its beauty as your journey unfolds is an important grounding experience. And when you experience it with women who look like you, you get the opportunity to hold and take up space that normally isn’t reserved for us. As we were greeted by fellow hikers of other ethnicities, we noted with amusement the looks of awe as they passed by us. Why? Because hiking is looked upon as something black people typically don’t do.
It was like a new beginning for some of the ladies, and I was honored to witness it. The newfound love they discovered in nature along the trails at Sculpture Falls is a memory they will cherish — and I will too, appreciating the opportunity to share my love of nature with other women who look like me. Women who, society says, don’t do nature.
Tanya Walker is an Austin native, and owner, and founder of Black Women Who Kayak+, a group of outdoor enthusiasts and newbies dedicated to spreading their love and enjoyment of nature to Black women across the country.