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  • Archive for the ‘Local Adventures’ Category

    It’s been a long time since I have categorized something as a Local Adventure, though I have had other blog entries that might have been written as such. I decided this hiking trip should be labelled as a Local Adventure and so here we go!

    After having quite a busy and hot summer (when is it never hot in Texas during the summer?) Chris and I sat down and planned out a pretty full autumn and early winter, filled with camping trips and other excursions. We have a lot on our plate at home, too, with general yard and house chores. Sometimes, a lot of the time, I tend to get overwhelmed with not having enough downtime on the weekend to catch up from the week. This is heightened now that Forest is being more difficult to get to sleep in the at night as I tend to lose a lot of time in the evenings that I would otherwise dedicate to random chores or personal time.

    I was feeling that this weekend, the over-planning stress, when Chris said he wanted to go for a hike on Sunday morning. I had agreed to it on Friday night but by Saturday the weight of reality was hitting me. We still ended up going on the hike, which I am grateful that we did, but I still feel a little frazzled about getting it all done here on the flip-side of the weekend.

    Nevertheless, it was a great hike out in Sam Houston National Forest on a portion of the Lone Star Trail we hadn’t been on. The map for the section we hiked is here. We started the trail just west of the junction of FS 271 and FS 204 and parked at a makeshift hunter’s camp on FS 271 (Kelly’s Pond Road), just across from the trail.

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    We left the house too early for Forest to have breakfast so he had a little bit to eat at our parking spot before we left.

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    Ipomoea cordatotriloba var. cordatotriloba (or just the regular without the variety. Not quite sure…didn’t get a good leaf photo.)

    After we got going on the trail it was evident that we were going to have quite a bit of a showing wildflower-wise. There were lots of wonderful plants in bloom for an almost fall morning.

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    A pretty white-pink flowering Liatris elegans

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    It’s pretty uncommon to see Asclepias tuberosa. We see A. virdis quite often around here.

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    There were several small patches of the milkweed right near the beginning of the hike.

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    Another white-pink Liatris elegans.

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    Forest did great in the backpack, though this time we had to be extra careful he didn’t grab handfuls of plants as we walked through thicker sections. Being in an area with yaupon holly (it isn’t called Ilex vomitoria for nothing!) and other potential poisonous plants, we didn’t need him to decide he wanted to taste test the forest offerings!

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    We crossed several drainages that were fairly well-maintained with either stairs or bridges. The maintenance of the trail itself in this section was pretty good though it was evident that it wasn’t always well traveled. Grass grew high in a few areas whereas other parts of the trail looked like it had traffic more often.

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    We found a few of these compact Ruellia humilis (that’s what I’m going with, I don’t think it is R. caroliniensis) on the edge of a piepline clearing. I have always loved the native versions of Ruellia. You’ve probably seen the highly invasive garden variety, Mexican petunia.

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    Trichostema dichotomum, blue curls.

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    I believe these are Lobelia spicata, a purple/blue form. The Lady Bird Wildflower Center suggested that the coloration can be highly variable and Google images is showing mostly white flowering types.

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    Trifoliate oranges tricked us into thinking there was a persimmon tree at first. We’re on the lookout for native persimmons so we can start some seeds for our yard.

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    We were nearing our time for a break and a turn-around point when we came to this dry creek bed lined with Lobelia cardinalis. It was very gorgeous sight to behold and was enough for us to decide to stop. I wished I had my good camera at this point but we only had the point and shoot. Maybe we’ll keep this in mind for this time next year!

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    Vernonia missurica

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    After a short break we turned around and headed back for the car. In all it was about 5 miles and a 2 hour hike. When we started out the morning was cool and pleasant but by the time we were back at the car it was quite warm and humid once again. We’re not quite there with cool temperatures yet, just a tease here and there.

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    Forest fell asleep on the way back! All in all this was a great section of the trail to explore and I definitely recommend it during this time of year, especially for the flowers! On the our hike we spotted the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, I nearly stepped on a black racer snake that was sunning itself partly in the trail, and we really rattled a raccoon hiding on a log next to the trail. Not bad for wildlife sightings!

    As I said in this post we went to Natural Bridge Caverns after our weekend camping trip and I have to say, it was well worth the money. I’ve seen two other caves, Penn’s Cave and Longhorn Caverns, which were both nice, but this one topped both of them. Only discovered in the early 1960s, the cave was discovered on private land is still privately held.

    trees

    natural bridge
    The ‘natural bridge’ above one of the entrances to the cave.

    natbridge1
    There were some fantastic formations in this cave and I was absolutely in awe every time we turned around. I was also happy that we were able to take our time, somewhat, in that we could spend time as we descended stairs and going up them to look around.

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    The calcite in some of the formations is very glittery!

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    Fossils are tucked away in some of the rock.

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    If you are near San Antonio I definitely recommend detouring off I-35 for this gem.

    On Labor Day weekend Chris and I took some time to explore trails in our area. We opted for the Little Lake Creek Loop in the Sam Houston National Forest in the Little Lake Creek Wilderness. We took several different trails including the Little Lake Creek Trail, the Pole Creek Trail and the main Lone Star Trail. We estimate it was about 13 miles, but aren’t quite sure on the mileage because we were using two different books to combine the trails together. I have to say I was very pleased with the condition of the trails and the forest is beautiful. We were also pleasantly rewarded with cooler, Fall-like weather that morning, too, which made the hike even nicer.

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    We started from a parking area trailhead off of FM 149; there are at least two trailheads on this road. We followed a powerline easement for the first mile or so before finally ditching into the woods.

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    Unfamiliar with local trails were were very happy to see them well maintained and for the most part free of debris. The trails were easy to follow with metal blazes, orange for the side trail, plain metal for the main Lone Star Trail.

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    We saw a few of these plants; not sure if they are planted from old homesteads of a native plant. Anyone have an idea?

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    Almost as annoying as finding random hiking trash in the woods (I accidentally contributed to this issue, not putting an empty water bottle back securely and finding it missing from my pack later on.) is finding old balloons in the woods. I remember being on the airboat in the middle of the Everglades and finding them. Please, do not release balloons! We picked this one up and hauled it out.

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    The eastern section of the trail enters a palmetto forest and is at a lower elevation than the rest of the trail. It reminded me a bit of Florida.

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    We crossed several dry creeks and I kept thinking of potential water sources if we decided to backpack out here one weekend.

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    Then we found a few with some water in it, potential for filtering.

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    After about five or six miles we came to to the main Lone Star Trail which follows, for awhile, another wide right of way. A few nice downed trees make for a good break at this junction.

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    We went and checked this seep out but nothing was coming out at the moment; it’s just a few yards west of the trail junctions.

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    Just past this clearing to the south of the trail is a clearing where they have recently logged. Luckily the trail, for the most part, avoids logging areas.

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    At the north trail head we saw several cars parked at the lot and shortly after we encountered an older couple coming back to the trail head. We said a few cordial hellos about where we were heading and coming from and kept on our way.

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    The Pole Creek section of the loop is more overgrown the rest of the trail, perhaps it is less traveled than the other sections. This was a beautiful little creek running through the section.

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    However, it did trickle out further down.

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    Finishing up the hike at FM149.

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    Overall we loved this area and there are more loops and trails spurring off this trail that we will hit up in the future. Lots of camping opportunities and with some of the creeks having water I feel safer having water for backpacking trips. Hopefully when more rain falls the creeks will have a bit more water flow in them.

    Definitely check this area out if you live in the greater Houston area.

    We found out about this gigantic sycamore tree via Chris’ mom’s landscaper. We tried to find a back way into this park but to no avail, so we went the long way from the Highland Park trailhead at Lake Lavon. It is 4.5 miles one way to the tree, but well worth it. This is a multi-use trail so in addition to foot traffic, horses are allowed on the trail.

    Where: Trinity Trail at Lake Lavon, Highland Park Trailhead
    Trip Distance: ~9 miles round trip.
    Coordinates: Entrance is located at 33° 6.191’N 96° 32.583’W
    Additional Information: Trinity Trail Riders, Trail Map, Scroll to C2: Highland Park, TWPD site
    Bring water and snacks! Some of this trail is in the shade but some sections are in the open, so a hat is recommended

    Instead of lugging around my dDSLR I opted for a point and shoot this time around. It was heavenly!

    highlandpark
    The gate down to this road at this sign (where I put the coordinates for the entrance above) was closed when we arrived. There is a trail head parking lot just to the south of this entrance and you can walk via the trail this way as well, which adds on an additional 0.5 miles. We started from the sign and walked down the road, probably a similar 0.5 miles since we didn’t see the trail head at the time. If the gate is open you can drive down the road, which leads to a boat ramp, and park there, eliminating the extra 0.5 miles. The trail head is easily visible as it is a hole cut in white pipes with a low pipe for horses to jump over.

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    We left early and was at the trail head by 6:45 to beat the Texas heat. The morning was overcast but sunrise was still beautiful.

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    The trail is marked well and the path is well worn. You shouldn’t get lost!

    clematis
    I didn’t get a good look at the leaves on this clematis, but I’d guess pitcherii or crispa.

    euphorbia

    elmrye

    thistle
    I know most people don’t like thistle but it really is a beautiful weed.

    sunflowers

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    cows
    A few times the trail parallels cattle pastures, therefore the only large mammals we saw were these kind folks. We did see an armadillo and heard some other rustlings in the brush, but the wildlife was quiet. In the car before we got to the entrance we did see a skunk in someones pasture!

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    A lot of Monarda seed heads…not much blooming this time of year.

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    At around 3.5 miles you come to the bottom of the Sycamore loop trail. Either way, the tree is pretty much at the top of the loop.

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    trees
    We knew we were getting close when we spotted other large sycamores lining the creek the trail began following.

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    And then we found it!

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    There’s a picnic table and places to tie up horses and would make a great spot to backpack in. The creek does run right by the site but I don’t recommend drinking from it unless you are desperate. There is quite a lot of trash in the creek and I’d also take into account the runoff from local farm fields.

    horses

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    While the tree is a DFW metroplex champion and all the articles I kept finding said it was 3 points bigger than the one in Houston, the champion tree list for Texas still has the one in Houston on record. I’m guessing this is because the split of the trunks of the tree are below dbh (diameter at breast height, how trees are measured). I haven’t found anything else on it. Nonetheless, it’s still a cool tree!

    You know how we like our big trees.

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    On the way back we met two of these fellas. We’d seen one before in the Big Thicket and were amazed at their ability to climb up their silk to the limb of the trees.

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    On the way out we saw lots of these trees, what I think are honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos.

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    We walked fairly fast to get out off the trail before the summer heat came along, a little over 3 hours round trip. In the fall or a cooler time of year I’d take it slower and enjoy the trail more, particularly if it was spring and more blooms were out. Take a picnic lunch for the tables near the tree and enjoy the area when you are out there. About half way into the 4.5 mile stretch you will walk close to what we thought was a water treatment plant, therefore there could be a smell or two as well as some noise from the area, but once you get closer to the tree that goes away.

    Don’t forget to hug the tree!

    Let me tell you something. This post was a booger to put together. Why? Because I did a lot of research. Why? Because I don’t know everything—duh!

    First, a brief explanation of the Local Adventures title. While some aspects of it might be similar to Nature in the City posts they will differ in that they aren’t going to be strictly nature or in the city. NITC posts focus a bit more on parks/areas that are within an urban environment and they may or may not have a playground. (Now I am reminded I need to do some NITC posts again soon.) Local Adventures will focus on anything from a hike within a natural area nearby or a few hours from wherever I live (still transient at the moment) to canoeing and kayaking or maybe rock climbing…basically anything adventurous. So, really it is a bit of a work in progress as I develop the series and roll with it.

    Now I bring you the first in the series. I will eventually cover more of the trails at the FWNC so stay tuned!

    Location: Fort Worth Nature Center
    Trail: Cross Timbers Trail, 3.37 miles round trip
    Activities: Hiking, trail running, photography, nature/wildlife viewing
    Bring Water and a snack!

    The trail begins from a parking area near the West Fork of the Trinity River and crosses a levee that is adjacent to a channel to the east as you walk over the river. The river is dammed up and channelized through several lakes in this area.

    marsh
    This is the area to the west of the levee that is marked on the map as the lotus marsh. Didn’t see any lotus, though.

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    Once down the levee the main trail begins and you can choose which way to go as the path is a circle and will bring you back to this point.

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    chris
    On the Florida Trail it became a running joke that when we saw a bench Chris would have to sit on it. Since the FT is not as developed as the AT, where shelters and benches are common, we usually made do with stumps or the ground. So, Chris got his bench on this little trail.

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    It was a cloudy morning the day we went out so the woods appeared dark and mysterious. Some of the growth on the trees reminded me of the epiphytes covering the trees in Florida.

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    On the surface it might not appear that a lot is going on but one has to look close to see the smaller bits of excitement and beauty.

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    Watch out, the nettles will bite!

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    grape
    Chris tried one of the grapes back at the parking lot and informed me that it was pretty sour! Sounds like it would be good for jams or wine!

    unknowns
    What took me the most time for this post was researching the plants and identifying them. Don Young with Tandy Hills sent me a plant list for TH and the FWNC so I utilized that heavily. If I can narrow something down to a genus or family and go from there I will, and then it is all about my friend Google. But if I don’t know where to start then I throw them out there for the world to try to identify—-so if you can help me out, lemme know! Edited 7/24/11: Someone at FW Nature Center has told me the shrub is a privet while the yellow is of the primrose family, possibly Oenothera rhombipetala. Thanks Suzanne!

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    skull
    Sometimes fauna is harder to come by than flora but we managed to find this skull. I poked around on the internet looking at a few skulls I thought it might be and I have a friend in Florida taking a look at it, too, but my first guess is that this is a coyote skull. I’m basing the guess on the shape of the nose. I initially was going with opossum or bobcat but I don’t think those are right. If someone else is good with skulls by all means help me out! Several people have said this is a raccoon, I’m still on the fence on this—stubborn—will have to look at the whole skull again soon.

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    Perhaps almost half way through the trail opens into this beautiful field allowing for more diversity in blooms.

    gaillardia
    I was very familiar with Gaillardia pulchella aka: Indian blanket so I knew this was probably in the same genus—and whaddya know…I was right!

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    wildlife
    Looking for wildlife is not necessarily about seeing a large mammal, though that is certainly nice, but looking for the smaller signs.

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    Since the photos are a bit cropped here I’m not certain on the oak species but if I were to guess I’d say the left photo is a blackjack oak (Quercus marilandica) and the right photo is a post oak (Quercus stellata). And the insect gall—oh I did some Googling but I wasn’t positive on anything so I decided not to guess. And if you are curious about galls…all types of galls! and the site I was using for identification.

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    Lichen! Again, not the best with identification of that sort of thing, but wanting to learn!

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    I think these two photos are my favorite from the entire walk. This is from the northern part of the loop and the lighting at this time was beautiful. It was so picturesque and made me think of the photos you see that you always wish you could be in—well, I was in one of those!

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    Back on the levee to the car…this is the channel we followed.

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    A beautiful sycamore, Platanus occidentalis, definitely not as large as the one from Sabine NF.

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    And finally, back near the car, sunflowers dotting the sides of the levee.

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