Archive for the ‘Hiking’ Category
Thanksgiving, and our typical camping ritual, came as a much needed respite this year in the post-election angst and haze of the last few weeks. Weather is always the factor on if a camping trip will happen this time of year; last year we were rained out and changed our plans for a weekend in Galveston. It appeared that the weather was going to mostly cooperate so we headed off for South Llano River State Park which is west of San Antonio off of I-10 near the town of Junction. The drive out on Thursday went as smoothly as it could go with a stop at Buc-ees to pick up lunch to eat somewhere down the road since most restaurants were closed for the holiday. We stopped in Fredericksburg to eat lunch and despite most of the businesses in the historic downtown being closed, there were quite a few tourists out walking the streets. After our lunch and a playground pit stop, we kept heading west and arrived at the state park mid-afternoon to set up camp.
Sometimes when you get to a state park you aren’t quite sure how their campsites will be situated. Often you will find crammed together sites that were poorly planned or have a hard time finding a good place to situate your tent. Site 33 turned out to be spacious with lots of room for a toddler to roam and plenty of space between our neighbors. Honestly, most of the campsites here were well planned and I don’t think you could really go wrong when choosing a site.
The trail system in the state park was much more robust than I had thought but we only had a little time before dinner so Chris, Forest, and I opted for a short but semi-steep hike up to a Scenic Overlook. The sun was out and the air was warm and our out-of-shape selves had to take a few stops to catch our breath on the way up. The trail to the top was an old road; the property was formerly a homestead and ranch so some trails are really just former roadways.
Our legs stretched out from the car ride, we popped over to the river crossing for Chris to fish for a few minutes and Forest to play. There was new places to explore and the sun was perfect and I took photo after photo. It was truly the golden hour with the early evening sun shining on the changing foliage. Explorations over, it was dinner time. Chris had smoked a turkey the weekend before and whipped up some gravy to go with it. We kept our Thanksgiving feast fairly simple with yeast rolls and mac and cheese as our sides. I was missing the dressing but before we left I figured I’d just save it to make for Christmas.
Dusk settled in and we ate dinner by lantern light, something we rarely do while camping. I hurried to do the dishes by headlamp and we cleaned up camp to turn in for the night. More explorations were waiting for us the following day!
On our way up to Caddo Lake we passed a sign for Martin Creek Lake State Park. It looked enticing so when we were deciding what to do on Sunday morning, stay near Caddo and find something to do or head back towards home and do something in another park, we opted to check out this park before we hit up lunch in the town of Henderson. As we turned down the park road I saw that the lake had a power plant on the opposite shore. When we checked in at the park office the trees shielded most of the view so I put the idea of camping at the state park on my list, that is, until we got out of the car. While we couldn’t directly see the power plant from where we were hiking or where we parked at the trailhead, there was a constant low humming noise that really disrupted the natural setting.
Despite that, we did get out and hike the Old Henderson Loop which turned out to be pleasant despite the noise. The Old Henderson Loop is part of the Old Henderson to Shreveport road and it turns out there was quite a bit of interesting history in the area. I did like this park which makes it too bad about the low humming. I wonder if it is constant? If you are in the area or driving through the trails are worth getting out on for exploring!
There are just handful of trails at Caddo Lake State Park and it was easy to cover them all in a short amount of time. Surprisingly there was a good amount of terrain change on the trails, at least for this part of Texas. That’s because there are quite a bit of slope forests in the region associated with creek systems. We had to split our hiking time up between my parents so that one of them stayed back to watch their Boston terrier, Daisy. Mom hiked with us Friday afternoon after we’d set up camp and we promptly got lost on the trails because they weren’t labeled appropriately. Luckily we had the trail map and could guesstimate where we were in relation to the trailhead and we easily found our way back. It was overcast on Friday which gave off a cozy fall-like vibe in the forest.
On Saturday morning Dad hiked with us and the clouds broke and we got some sunshine through the canopy. It was beautiful to look up and see the changing colors on the trees and to look across the forest at the leaves littering the slopes that lead to the creeks. It reminded me somewhat of Sabine National Forest and our time in parts of that area six years ago. I wanted to take off cross-forest, exploring what might be lurking in the leaf litter or growing along the creeks but we never did get off to explore.
About five photos up you see me holding a big seed. There was one particular spot on the trail where there were many of them littering the area and I couldn’t figure out what kind of seed it was. Upon initial inspection before I picked it up I thought it was a fungus but once I looked it over a little more closely I was baffled. Now I think it might be a black walnut seed. Anyone else have an idea for that? I believe Chris called the toad a few more photos up an East Texas toad.
Overall, a great trail system in the park but I was left wishing the park was bigger so there would be more to explore!
After our hike up Old Baldy, Chris wanted something more mellow and less terrain oriented. The Frio Canyon Trail takes a loop around the prairie portion of the north end of the park. We hiked it after dinner one evening and it was not busy at all, which made for a pleasant walk. There was a section on the west side of the park, near the road, that felt a little bit like being in south-central Texas, near Brenham, reminding me of the Somerville Trailway; it had a slight bottomland/scrubby marsh feel to it though it certainly was not wet at the time we hiked.
The hike was peaceful, exactly how an evening hike should be. The light just right. The air—probably a little warm but not bad. Definitely a trail that probably gets biked on more than hiked. A great place to look out for deer, turkey, and maybe even feral pigs!
Our hike up to Old Baldy last weekend did not start well. We hadn’t been hiking all summer and so it was an adjustment for Forest to get back into the backpack and for Chris to carry him. The trouble started when we left the very busy Pecan Grove camping area to head up the trail when Forest began wailing and throwing himself all over the backpack. Not only is this uncomfortable for Chris, Forest was also trying to sneak his arms out from under the straps and trying to escape. It took us a few minutes to realize he wanted to people watch at the campground instead of going down the trail. We opted to appease him for a few minutes, walking down to the camp store and around the campground before attempting our hike up the trail to Old Baldy. That still didn’t help enough because the first quarter mile of the hike all you could hear was a wailing toddler.
Eventually he did calm down, which greatly helped our sanity and hiking enjoyment. The Old Baldy trail is probably the most popular trail in the park despite it being one of the steepest. Once at the top you get a spectacular view of the surrounding Hill Country!
Having not done any hiking in awhile, there were definitely some strenuous moments along the trail. A few spots required three and four points of contact, particularly when hiking back down. All of that did not deter quite a flow of people to use the trail.
A view of the Frio River.
Along the trail were quite a bit of fall blooming wildflowers coloring the landscape.
Our descent back to the campground included hiking the Foshee Trail to connect a loop with the Bird and White Rock Cave Trails. Both of those trails were relatively quiet compared to the Old Baldy trail.
Most of the trail along the Foshee Trail included quiet ridge walking with a few undulations in terrain. The Bird Trail was steeper as it connected back down to the White Rock Cave Trail.
A look back at Old Baldy.
The hike was great but Chris was pretty beat after carrying a 26 lb toddler up that terrain. We don’t have that kind of elevation change over here in SE Texas which makes that kind of hiking a little tough.
Everyone but my dad set out for a hike Sunday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend. Dad stayed back to hang out with their dog Daisy. We weren’t sure exactly how long this trail was because unlike many other Texas state parks there wasn’t an individual trail map for the state park. The trail was on the campground map but there weren’t really any distinguishing marks to estimate the distance of the trail. And to make matters more complicated, wires were crossed between my brother and sister-in-law in regards to what the end-goal was for the hike: my brother was going for a hike and my sister-in-law thought the trail ended up a the playground. Needless to say by the time we were more than a mile in, those with the playground perspective were getting a little antsy.
Memorial Day weekend is really the last weekend you want to be camping in Texas (the entire south?) until sometime in late September, maybe October. It’s hot, humid, and unless there’s water to swim in it can be pretty miserable. It was borderline iffy to be camping that weekend as it was, and with recent rains the humidity was amplified.
Nevertheless we set off down the trail to see what we could see.
It felt good to stretch my legs after dealing with the anxieties of the flood just a few days prior. The trails were a little slick in a few spots and we all had to watch our footing.
There were lots of little scenes to take in, plants blooming, mushrooms decomposing their host materials, and sometimes a wildlife sighting if you looked hard enough.
Forest dozed in the backpack as Chris carried him, a sorely needed nap as he was coming down with an upper respiratory infection. Zoe and Grayson did very well, of course not without some complaining, but they were troopers!
In the end our hike was probably at least two miles long. I’ve found a few online write-ups about the trails at the state park with approximate lengths but I can’t say for sure. I’m just proud of Zoe and Grayson for making the best of it!
Assassin bug nymphs
For the most part, wildlife at Palmetto State Park was about looking to smaller species. On one of our hikes Chris stated beforehand that he wanted to see a snake and a caterpillar. That was surprisingly achieved! The caterpillar wouldn’t have been too hard if we’d looked but we ended up having one walk (slowly!) right across the trail. The snake, I figured, would be harder, but as we rounded a corner on the trail a rat snake was trying its best to disguise itself on the edge of the vegetation while soaking in some of the sunny warmth poking through the forest canopy. We did not see many deer, in fact I’m trying to remember if we saw any at all! The campsites were split up, with the tent section on the north side of the San Marcos river and the RV sites on the south side. The bathroom in the RV section is where the showers were located so on the first evening I drove over to shower. On my way back to our campsite, just after I’d left the boundary of the state park and was about a quarter mile from the stop sign to turn onto the main road, a huge group of feral hogs ran across the park road. Now, Texas(ans) keep talking about feral pigs here but I have just never come across as much evidence or sightings of them as we did in Florida. So, this was actually a little treat for me to see as the group of approximately 20 pigs ran across the road and into the woods. I thought about trying to take a shot of the little piglet butt that I saw as I finally caught up to where they crossed but knew the shot wouldn’t quite turn out as well. I think the last time I saw a wild hog in Texas was in the Beaumont Unit of the Big Thicket NP five years ago.
Rabdotus dealbatus, Whitewashed Rabdotus snail
Our snake friend. Chris said it was a Texas rat snake. I’m just going to trust him on that one because I don’t really feel like trying to verify it!
Apatelodes torrefacta, Spotted Apatelodes caterpillar
I think this is Belocaulus angustipes black-velvet leatherleaf slug….which is unfortunate because it is an exotic.
Halysidota larrisii, sycamore tussock moth on…*drumroll*, a sycamore tree!
It was definitely a park for finding the smaller wildlife sightings. Of course we had plenty of mosquito friends and saw birds, squirrels, and heard the chorus of frogs, too.
Over Mother’s Day weekend we loaded up and went camping at Palmetto State Park. We’d had reservations here before, over the winter, but cancelled them due to weather. What’s interesting about this park, kind of in a similar botanic way to Bastrop State Park just to the north with their patch of pine trees, is that this park is the western most population of Sabal minor, or dwarf palmetto.
The park is located adjacent to the San Marcos river and definitely has a unique ecosystem for this particular region of Texas. While walking along many of the trails it was easy to picture that we were over in our neck of the woods in southeast Texas instead of south-central Texas!
Here’s a botanical tour of what we saw on our hikes throughout the park!
Aesculus glabra var. arguta, Texas buckeye
Vitis mustangensis, mustang grape
Ratibida columnifera, yellow Mexican hats
Cooperia pedunculata, Hill Country rain lily
Erythrina herbacea, coralbean
Chris had a minor freak out when he spotted this along one of the trails. A variegated Turks cap hibiscus! Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii. We have a specimen in our garden that he bought online but we’d never seen a variegated one in the wild.
The more typical Mexican hat.
Another yellow one!
And a lovely scene on the edge of a mesquite prairie before we wound back into the palmetto area.
There was quite a bit of wildflowers blooming and we enjoyed the diversity in habitats that the park displayed!
Up the Wolf Mountain Trail at the state park, not but a mile or so in, you cross Regal and Bee Creeks which feed down to the Twin Falls Creek. We only stopped shortly at Regal Creek, shown here with Chris flipping rocks over to find salamanders and other creek life, but spent more time scoping out Bee Creek which was wider and flowing more than Regal Creek.
Bee Creek begged to be explored more. Chris poked around the creek for bit while I entertained Forest with a late morning snack in his backpack. On his explorations he found chatterbox orchids just out of reach of good photography range.
Doesn’t that pool look enticing to swim in???
Several singletrack paths lead off the main trail to the sides of the creek canyons. Had we not had a toddler in tow we would have definitely delved off more to see what we could find down below.
We barely scraped the barrel in hiking the trails that the Wolf Mountain Trail connects to. There’s so much more to see in the backcountry areas of this park that we will definitely have to make a return trip in the coming years!
Wildlife at Pedernales Falls State Park was fairly abundant. There were a ton of doves, more than I’ve heard at a campground in awhile. It was a constant cacophony of doves cooing in the junipers. Some of the doves started sounding like barred owls, at least to me. Chris gave me the side-eye on that observation, but really, sometimes they had a little ‘who cooks for you’ going on!
Western scrub jays were a fun addition to our birding list for the day. We hoped to see golden-cheeked warblers but alas, none were found. The scrub jays were just like their Floridian counterparts, rather tame and willing to pose for pictures. I’m sure they were really hoping to pick up a crumb or two from the campsite!
On one of the trails by the river I found a caterpillar walking smack-dab in the middle of the trail. I know other unsuspecting hikers would have likely smooshed the poor thing but I rescued it and moved it off the trail. We knew when we found it that it was some kind of swallowtail, likely pipevine, and sure enough that’s what I later identified it to be, Battus philenor.
I’m not sure what kind of grasshopper (cricket?) that this is. I tried Googling but I’m not sure where to even start with insects like this. Anyone?
We found a Texas earless lizard, Cophosaurus texanus texanus, scurrying around on some of the rocks down by the river, too. I remember seeing a few others in the park throughout the weekend as well.
Not photographed were plenty of vultures, deer, squirrels, hawks, and some turkey. I really love seeing turkey and miss seeing them as frequently as we did in Florida. They are just not as prevalent here in our region of Texas.
All in all it was a decent wildlife weekend!