Gay Ruby Dahlstrom Ranch & Nature Preserve

If you want a good sermon, walk out into this country, that is where things come together.
— Gay Dahlstrom

Cecil and Louise Ruby began purchasing property along Onion Creek in 1932, and by 1936, the Ruby family, including their two children, were living on that property. The younger of the two children was Gay Ruby – she was 6 years old at the time. Her older brother Jim also lived there. By 1953, they had amassed a property of 4,900 acres known as the Cecil Ruby Ranch. The ranch was used for a livestock operation involving horses, cattle, sheep and goats. In 1959, Cecil began the process of installing a 9-foot game fence around 3,700 acres of the property.  He then brought in herds of blackbuck antelope and axis deer to the fenced portion of the property. Exotic game hunting was a common operation for years. From 1972 to 1993, grazing rights were leased to the Y.O. Ranch who maintained a herd of about 100 longhorn cattle on the property. Cecil Ruby passed away in 1993, and the 4,900-acre ranch was split between Cecil’s two children, James Cecil Ruby, Jr. and Gay Ruby Dahlstrom. James Ruby’s section was eventually developed into the Ruby Ranch Subdivision.

In 2001, Gay had a vision of the future for her family’s land. She wanted to prevent the land from ever being divided or developed to preserve its beauty. Gay began to create a plan to preserve the ranch, while allowing her family to continue to own and manage the land. In 2007, talks began to negotiate a conservation easement / preservation agreement. In 2008, a conservation easement for the 2,254-acre Dahlstrom Ranch was executed between the Dahlstrom Family, Hays County, the City of Austin, and the Hill Country Conservancy.

As part of this agreement, a unique decision was made to create a nature preserve on a portion of the property that allowed for public access on private land. This 384-acre piece of land was once called the John Howe tract or Howe Pasture. This section was the last portion of land Cecil Ruby added to his ranch and is slightly larger than Zilker Park (350-acre). The Nature Preserve is now accepting reservations for hiking and guided tours. 

The history summary is an excerpt from the Hays Country Parks Department interpretative guidebook.

Undeveloped land in the Hill Country is vital for the protection of wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation, and spiritual renewal, but also critical to sustainable supplies of water. The abundance of karst terrain creates vast areas of porous limestone, which is the origin of the huge Edwards and Trinity (Cow Creek) aquifers. These two aquifers are a primary source of water for millions of people. These same remarkable resources are also responsible for hundreds of iconic Hill Country springs and rivers, including the Blanco River, the Guadalupe River, the San Marcos River, the Comal River and many others. They would not exist without the continued recharge of rainfall flowing into the aquifers from open lands within the Hill Country.

“The Dahlstrom Ranch is such a place. Scattered across its rolling hills and swales are sinkholes that allow rainwater to flow directly into the aquifer. On the Dahlstrom, rainfall pours into numerous openings in the limestone, with names like Hobbit Hole and Possumhaw Sink, and disappears so rapidly that it is reminiscent of water flowing out of a bathtub. These natural drains are uninterrupted conduits to the groundwater resources below and account for 8 million cubic feet of replenishment to the aquifer out of an astonishing total of 72 million cubic feet of water recharged from the Dahlstrom Ranch alone each year. ” (Ref: Texas Parks & Wildlife Magazine July 10, 2010)

Water From Onion Creek Entered Cripple Crawfish Cave, Traveled 17.5 miles and Reached Barton Springs in Less Than 3.5 Days

Karst aquifers such as the Edwards can transport groundwater to other locations very quickly. The benefit is seen at the many Hill Country springs. But it also creates environmental risk for Karst recharge areas such as the Dahlstrom Conservation Easement. Like rainfall, surface contamination or pollution can easily enter the Edwards aquifer and rapidly move to other environmentally sensitive areas. The testing summarized below was performed to determine how fast water moves from Onion Creek through the aquifer to its discharge point at Barton Springs.

Non-toxic organic dyes were injected into two caves located within Onion Creek. The goal was to trace groundwater flow paths and determine groundwater-flow velocities. Antioch and Cripple Crawfish Caves are located about 14.0 and 17.5 miles south, respectively, of Barton Springs, the primary discharge point from the Edwards aquifer. Twenty-five pounds of sodium fluorescein were injected into Antioch Cave on August 2, 2002 and arrived at Barton Springs between 7 to 8 days after the injection. Thirty-five pounds of eosine were injected into Cripple Crawfish Cave on August 6, 2002, and arrived at Barton Springs in less than 3.5 days after the injection. Under high spring flow conditions, groundwater-flow velocities from Antioch Cave and Cripple Crawfish Cave to Barton Springs are estimated to be 2.0 and 5.0 miles per day respectively.

Reference: Austin Geological Society Bulletin—2005


Gay Ruby Dahlstrom Nature Preserve - Tours of Gay Ruby Dahlstrom Nature Preserve are by request only on the 1st and 3rd weekend of the month. Tours are not guaranteed and are based on staff availability. If you are interested in a guided tour, email in advance. All reservations must be paid for at time of booking. For additional information click the link to the reservation site. 

Each reservation allows a 1 day pass for hiking throughout the Preserve (paved and primitive trails) between the hours of 8 am and 4 pm. There is no admittance to the Preserve after 2 pm for any reason. 


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