Let’s switch gears just a bit and return to mid-March and east Texas at Huntsville State Park. We took a three-day weekend and headed off an hour north of the house to this state park. It’s one of my favorites and so easily accessible off of I-45—and it’s huge, in addition to being adjacent to Sam Houston National Forest.
I’m lumping all of our hikes together into one post because I didn’t take a ton of photos. And I’m surprised I barely took any photos at our campsite. We were in the Raven Hill camping area at campsite 21 which backed up to a wooded area separating the other loop in the camping area from ours. It turned out to be a great exploration area for Forest and a nice cut-through to get to the bathroom which was up the hill by the other camping loop.
Oh boy, between Inks Lake and Huntsville SP, I did a lot of digging and looking at the Packera and Senecio genera because from a glance they look almost identical. Thankfully the most common ones of the genera (in Texas) are fairly easy to differentiate once you get passed the flowers and look at the rest of the plant, but now I feel a bit better about trying to figure out which is which.
Forest playing along the Loblolly Trail behind the Nature Center. It’s a short loop and as Chris stated when we were hiking there was actually a lot of short leaf pine on the trail and he thought it should have been named Short Leaf Trail instead!
When I came across this viburnum blooming I stopped and just oohed at it for a few minutes. It was a beautiful specimen!
Baptisia sp. I was also excited to see these baptisia that I completely missed on my first trip down this trail, at a trail junction. I happened to stop and tie my shoe as a group of hikers were passing and looked up and saw a cluster of them.
We have this growing in our yard and I’m always stumped as to what it is. I had come cross the name once before on someone’s Flickr page but the name has escaped me since then. But now I know! I see this plant from time to time when we’re hiking. It isn’t super common but enough that I’ve noticed it and always remember it’s the same thing I see in the yard. And now I’m super curious of black swallowtails will use it as a host plant since it is in the Apiaceae family.
On Saturday afternoon we made a loop of part of the Triple C Trail and the Chinquapin Trail because the day before Forest had really wanted to hike on the ‘green trail’. We’d hiked on part of the Triple C trail on the other side of the park once. It is really just a perimeter road around the a large portion of the boundary of the park. I was interested because we hadn’t hiked on that section before and I was curious what was back there—plus I was looking to get away from the crowds a bit. And I say ‘crowds’ loosely—it wasn’t packed but the trails closer in were busier than the ones further out.
We found solitude along the trail and several butterflies, including this one that I didn’t identify until later. It had been a cloudy day the previous day and that morning was a bit cloudy too so all of that sun had the butterflies out. We even saw a monarch, too.
But before we saw the duskywing we saw a zebra swallowtail! I shot a series of crappy photos with my camera because I had the wrong lens on and we meandered down the trail. Then we spotted it again when we took the service road to meet up with the Chinquapin Trail.
I actually took this photo, which you can make out the butterfly in the left third of the photo just above the middle. I zoomed and cropped it so you could even see it. We’re on the far western part of the range for them here and I can’t recall ever seeing one despite that they are prevalent in Florida. I’m sure I saw one there and just don’t recall it. I was pretty excited for this find!
Just before we left the service road for the trail and woods again I saw this butterfly land. This time I did have the long lens on but Forest was antsy to move on and so I didn’t get to move in closer for a better shot.
This was the only patch we found while on our hikes. I was kind of surprised.
May apple flower, Podophyllum peltatum
And I’m going to have to go back through my photos because I know I took photos of several patches of may apples. I guess I just didn’t edit them? Not sure what happened!
All in all it was a great camping trip. I loved our campsite location, though the site itself was a bit sloped so we we had some trouble finding a flat spot for the tent. There was a boy and a girl who happened to be staying in trailer with what I presumed to be their grandparents at the site next to us and Forest finally befriended the girl who was 3. She was enamored with the bubbles we’d brought and so they had became campsite friends. The girls’ poor brother was about 10 and I think he felt left out when he lost his sister to another playmate. They left Saturday late morning and Forest was upset he’d lost his friend. We told him he was going to have plenty of campsite friends over the coming years—especially when he learned to ride his bike!
We arrived to Inks Lake State Park in late February on an early Friday afternoon. Being as it was Friday, the park itself was rather quiet at first, before the Austin weekend crowd arrived. There were some folks already set up in their RVs, trailers, and tents but otherwise it was a quiet situation. Our campsite was tucked away on a quiet loop towards the back of the park next to a fishing pier and cleaning station—the first was exciting for Chris and the second was a source of fascination for Forest every time we walked by. He wanted to see the cleaning area even if there were no fish in it.
Camp was set up and that fishing pier was luring Chris too much and a playground we passed on the way in was luring Forest too much so Forest and I walked over to playground to play for a good chunk of time, enough time for Chris to get his fishing needs met (at least for the time being). After both boys got their fun in, we drove over to near the park entrance and parked at the trailhead to scope out a short hike before dinner. Immediately on trail I was oohing and ahhing at the wildflowers. Even though it was very early spring, we’d seen enough on the drive there to know that there would be plenty in bloom. And I was not disappointed! Wildflowers were everywhere!
The trail was filled with gneiss rock formations which was an instant lure to Forest. There was a short trail that he kept being enticed by that lead to a slight overlook where park housing was located and no matter how many times we walked down that trail he had to take the side trail to see, even though he knew what was on the other side.
This time around we stuck to the Upper Fisherman’s trail, leaving the lower trail for a few days later. It provided scenic views of the lake and dam in the distance, and of course plenty of wildflower opportunities for me! The Selaginella at the end there was so intriguing! Growing in such harsh conditions, I was just amazed to see it over the next few days. What an interesting plant!
And I really want to get my hands on some Texas toadflax seeds—must dig around online for some as I think they would be a great addition to our ROW plantings.
This was just the tip of the botanical wonder at the state park and I can’t imagine what it looks like now or just over the last few weeks. I’m sure so much different is in bloom!
Stay tuned, lots more coming your way!
It feels as if I’d read more than I have over the last two months because I’m in the middle of so many books or started and put some on hold. Here’s what I actually finished:
Royally Screwed & Royally Matched by Emma Chase: Both of these are absolute fluff romance novels that came by way of recommendation of Abby on the Friendlier Podcast. I listened to them as audiobooks and they were very easy listens and I finished in about two days each. I’m not a huge romance novel fan but these were perfect.
Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather ‘Anish’ Anderson: One of the best hiking books I’ve read in a while. Heather broke the overall fastest known time on the PCT in 2013 with relatively little long distance FKT experience under her belt. I loved Heather’s writing and could empathize with many of her feelings on trail. I need to see what her speaking schedule is like and see if she’ll be in Texas at some point. Also, I don’t know what I was thinking a few months ago when I said I thought (or hoped) she was going to do the Florida Trail FKT this year—duh, she’s doing a book tour. I still hope she will tackle it at some point, though.
The Pursuit of Endurance: Harnessing the Record-Breaking Power of Strength and Resilience by Jennifer Pharr Davis: I think the title is a bit misleading because one could think that this would be about many aspects of endurance athletes but it is specific to FKT hikers. Jennifer is an FKT record holder as well (though her record has now been broken a few times over) and has written two other memoirs of her AT hikes, but this book is different. It chronicles FKT hikers she knows personally as well as several she knew of but held some mystique or were personally private about their FKT records. You get to know each of the people she chronicles, including Anish above, in aspects that they themselves may not have opened up about. I did get the sense she was rather incredulous and maybe a little upset with how Scott Jurek handled crossing the Kennebec River. Add this one to your hiking book list!
Natural Companions: The Garden Lover’s Guide to Plant Combinations by Ken Druse
Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold (of Free Solo fame)
Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs, #1) by Jacqueline Winspear (Really loving this!)
A Way to Garden: A Hands-On Primer for Every Season by Margaret Roach
The Whole Okra by Chris Smith (a Net Galley preview, and OMG I am loving it!)
Legends and Lore of Texas Wildflowers by Elizabeth Silverthorne: I got this from the library but took so much time reading it that I had to return it. I really loved it and will check it out again soon.
What are you reading these days?
About politics of course. I think after the first six months of the Mueller investigation I knew that it was not going to be the linchpin to get us out of the course we’re heading in. From time to time I’d be swayed into positivity by someone about the report, or even when we’d see arrests and indictments, but I would keep tabs on what Sarah Kendzior and others who are scholars on authoritarian regimes said—and she’s always been pragmatic that the Mueller investigation would not be saving us. I highly recommend Gaslit Nation podcast.
On a lighter note, I am now a super fan of Mayor Pete. That link goes to the first interview I heard of him on the show 1A. He’s been several other places in the last month as well. Considering he’s of my generation I’m definitely rooting for him. Even if he doesn’t end up on the ballot I hope he finds a way to get on the cabinet.
I’m also glad Beto is now in the running but I honestly thought he wasn’t going to run. And I’m not getting the sudden backlash on him, though. I know there was that Vanity Fair article, which I didn’t read, that seemed to upset a lot of people but I think many people who are upset were really thinking this was going to be a woman’s election and were upset about that. Yes, we have many women in the running but only two that I see viable as getting far: Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. And I love Elizabeth Warren but her heritage issues are going to hound her and I just see her as being Hillary 2.0 and moderates or conservatives who aren’t on the Voldemort train are going to be voting for her with their nose held again…or voting for a third party or Bernie or something.
I guess I’m being pragmatic. We’ve got to win 2020 or it is going to get super dark really fast. Because it will be an acknowledgement that the country is ok with what has been going on. And I’m not ok with that. There’s been plenty written about a general rise in authoritarian and extreme right wing regimes world-wide. It’s going to get messy if we aren’t able to course correct ourselves.
Oh, one last thing: I’m still holding my opinions of AOC to a year or two from now to see what she actually gets done, but I’m increasingly loving how she’s pushing the buttons where they need to be pushed without giving in or even caring what people say about her.
Lots going on out there! I took macro photos around the yard a few days ago and I need to process those and get them posted soon. I’m still waiting for the leaps of growth on some plants. I feel like the flower garden is behind in some aspects and ahead in others. I’m slowly getting on top of the weeds in the edible garden. I really need to get some mulch for the beds out there and the pathways soon. I had been using some mulch (of random things they’d shredded around the city) that our community had put on an empty lot a few doors down for our paths but they started piling up non-safe debris up there, such as old painted wood signs and stuff like that and I really don’t want to use that even on our paths. I’m sure I could move around and get some of it but honestly the oldest stuff is probably more like compost now.
+We went to the first Budding Out Festival at Peckerwood Garden today (well, yesterday when you read this). It was a much better experience than when we went the first time when Forest wasn’t even 2. Though, it was a bit difficult trying to keep a 4.5 year old not to play under trees and tell him this wasn’t a park but was instead someone’s private garden! The festival was wonderful though, reminding me a bit of the ones we would go to at the Fruit and Spice Park in Florida. I hope they continue it from here on out!
+iNaturalist: it is seriously helping me improve my flora and fauna identification skills.
+Making art again!
+How interested Forest is in dinosaurs! Earlier today (aka: yesterday) he was making an Earth and asteroids with playdough and explaining how this one portion of the Earth covered in brown was where the asteroid hit and the dinosaurs died. Why yes, he watches dino documentaries on Netflix and Amazon! We also checked out some hardcore dinosaur books from the library a few weeks ago—they are more encyclopedias than anything!
A few too many things at once. A book report is due here so I’ll try to get that up this week, too.
After seeing several people doing the 100 Day Project the last few years, I decided I was going to participate this year. I’m setting the bar low so that I actually complete it: 100 days of blind contour drawing. It will be a good practice for simple drawing skills and to draw what I see. I ended up starting on Thursday instead of the official project date of April 2nd. When I finish I’ll share here.
Forest and I are also getting over to the studio a couple of times a week so I’m working on finishing a few projects there and also doing some quick pieces of art over there in a sketch book or on scrap art paper. It’s fun to spend an hour or so over there with him while he plays or draws something himself.
Watching & Listening:
+The OA is back on Netflix for Season 2! 8 episodes of OMG where is this going?! So good.
+More Downton Abbey reruns when they show up on my DVR. I miss that show but we have a movie to look forward to!
+This is Us and Grey’s Anatomy, of course. And I know there is just a couple of episodes of The Big Bang Theory left but I’m trying to figure out when they are going to air them. Seems like over a month since the last one.
+Good Girls: I can’t remember if I wrote about this in last month’s write-up but I found season 1 on Netflix and thought it was Netflix based. It’s not, it is NBC based. So I’m watching those as well as season 2 just started. It’s Breaking Bad adjacent.
Where did March go?
I was overly ambitious when I laid out my 39 Goals for 2019. Most of them are doable but I’ve not been very diligent about planning for them, which is what a lot of them need—a plan for execution. I’d printed the list out but threw it into my to-do list notebook and well, that hasn’t been unfolded. I guess I need to hang it out on my desk at home so I see it.
But we finally made one of them happen, visiting the Sam Houston Statue and Visitor Center in Huntsville. It helped that we went after we were done camping at Huntsville State Park and it is only a few minutes drive from the state park.
I was expecting a nominal fee to enter the statue area but it was all completely free. All you had to do was sign the guest book, which you were promptly directed to by someone outside. I think it was their way of keeping tabs on just how many people were passing through to see the statue.
The buildings themselves were modeled after the style of the early Texas settlers, so with the split breeze way between where the main living quarters and a ‘kitchen’ would be. The kitchen was a gift shop in this instance and there was an additional building out back which looked to serve as offices or maybe a meeting area. And of course azaleas lined the sidewalk in a true east Texas (and the south generally) fashion.
The statue was dedicated in 1994 which surprised me because I had thought it was older than that. If you ever find yourself coming through Huntsville, take the 15 minute detour and drop by and see the statue! It’s worth getting out of the road construction to do so!
We drove into Huntsville after to get lunch at the Farmhouse Cafe just a few blocks from Sam’s namesake university.
Right on cue, the cilantro began bolting in January/February and now blankets the back section of the garden in dainty white flowers. It is a pollinator attraction with bees, butterflies, and small flies congregating for their share of nectar. I always let the cilantro self seed so it pops up in the garden randomly as well as in the middle of the paths. Some years I move it out of the way, others, like this year, I leave it.
I sowed several calendula seeds but only one plant has really thrived, putting off several branches of flowers and creating this bright yellow spot in the garden near the blackberries. I have a couple of other plants that I hope produce flowers later this spring. I will definitely be adding more calendula again in the fall—summer usually does these in.
Most of the tomatoes are growing very well. I’ve lost two plants, though I’m not sure as to what I lost them to. One just completely disappeared and another had its leaves stripped and was not going to be re-growing new leaves. I didn’t see a hornworm anywhere but maybe it was a cutworm? And I randomly had a tomatillo snapped in half but I managed to throw the broken piece back into the soil and it seems like it is rooting—it hasn’t wilted yet.
Forest is very into imaginative play right now. I mean he has been for a while, but he’ll be talking and I’ll think he’s talking to me and then he gets mad at me for interrupting him! Last year he didn’t really play much in his spot in the garden but he is very interested once again. Chris fixed the water hose where it was leaking from the hard freeze in winter of 2018 so now I can leave the hose on without it spewing from the pipe and now Forest can put water into his side to make his mud puddles.
We’re getting a handful of strawberries every few days. The extremely wet years the last couple of years have led to a decline in the number of plants we have over there. I’m hoping we can get some new runners established this year and get that bed filled up again. The handfuls are being washed and then handed to Forest who devours them.
Another plant I let come up in some areas of the garden is the fleabane, Erigeron sp.. It is wild in the yard near the garden and has spread into a few areas of the garden. It’s a favorite of mine now.
I was also beginning to worry about the asparagus with all of the standing water we’ve had around the garden this winter. I’d begun to think the crowns had rotted. But they finally peaked through the soil in the last couple of weeks. I’ve even seen some seedling plants from the seeds that the parent plants produced last year.
My Morris heading collards are starting to bolt now, too. I’m a bit bummed about that as I was hoping to get the plants through until May. Maybe a few will pull through. They have been incredibly tasty in salads this winter.
Later this week I should do a round in the flower garden. It is looking decent, though many things aren’t really taking off quite yet—hopefully late April and May will be an abundance of blooms!
In early February we made a our first camping trip since Thanksgiving. Bad weather had thwarted a couple of reservations before then and it appeared that bad weather was going to thwart this one. I know I’ve mentioned here before that it is one thing to be on a backpacking trip and having to hike all day and make progress and it is another to be camping with a kid and have to be able to entertain him while camping even if the weather is bad–I’d rather stay home and entertain a kid with all of his toys available at home if the weather is bad. Without a kid I’m pretty sure Chris would just take a long nap and I would curl up with a book while it rained but with an energetic 4 year old that wasn’t an option.
Despite the not-great forecast we still wanted to go camping. Luckily it appeared that there were some shelters available so Chris called the state park and found out it was likely to work out that we could upgrade to a shelter. We’d still have our tent but the shelter provided a larger protected area for us to cook and hang out should the weather turn bad. And on Saturday afternoon it did end up turning to rain but somehow we managed to convince Forest to actually take a nap. He’s been off naps for a long time at home, usually taking one only if he’s sick or overly tired—or better yet, on a long car ride!—but naps are a rarity. So, it was pretty glorious we got to spend most of the afternoon napping in the tent.
The campground was quiet that weekend due to the forecast. There were a few other campers but it was not a packed state park. We did manage to get some hiking in and plenty of exploration. Looking back at the photos from our first time here made me a bit nostalgic—Forest was only bout 16 months old at the time! The state park has also changed along the bottomland areas near the Brazos River thanks to Hurricane Harvey. Most of the trails in that area are closed because the trails no longer exist. I’m putting a screenshot from Google Earth showing what they have from August 2017 of the state park—the coverage doesn’t go over the entire park but from the aerial they have on the east portion, you can imagine what the rest looked like.
I would post a more original entry here for the spring equinox but my computer is currently on the fritz. It seemed to be working fine last Thursday and then we went camping over the weekend and when I came back and tried to log in—I was excited to try to share a not-so-great photo of my first zebra swallowtail butterfly—I found that my keyboard wanted to type double characters or the wrong characters. Some reboots, installation of updates, and finally hooking up a USB keyboard later, my keyboard is definitely fried. That and it also randomly turns on and off airplane mode. So, I’m using my computer sparingly and backing up everything on it so I can put it onto a new laptop. Good times.
In the meantime, I thought I’d dip into spring equinoxes of years past and see what we were up to around this time. Most are from March 20th every year with a few from the 19th or 21st. Happy Spring!
Our major hike at SLRSP was the Fawn Trail. We’d hiked a bit of this trail before the last time we were here when we’d connected it to the West Canyon Loop Trail.
The vegetation along the creek opened up and it wasn’t too steep so Chris jumped down to see what he could find. He came out with a piece of rock that had been worked in an attempt to make a tool by the first inhabitants of this land. And yes, of course we left the rock!
Once back down the hill we started seeing evidence of flood damage along the trail and on the adjacent creeks. I was very surprised to see how much vegetation was ripped up, including that cactus sitting 3′ off the ground in that shrub! You can see the green vegetation still pushed over where the water flowed over it and it had been about six weeks since the flood. Water is so powerful.
All in all, a great hike! I bet this place is rockin’ during wildflower season! Speaking of wildflowers, I’ll be trying to get posts up soon of what we saw at Inks Lake State Park about two weeks ago. I’ve got one other post from Stephen F. Austin State Park in early February and maybe some ringtail photos that Chris managed to get on his wildlife cam and then hopefully I can get into Inks Lake! It’s a busy season!
After work on Friday evening we were all relishing the later evening light before we went in to make dinner. Chris was fishing on the dock and Forest and I had just released the last pipevine swallowtail that eclosed in the tent. Forest and I walked down to the dock where Forest threw some sticks into the water and then proceeded to walk back up on shore to find more sticks, and as I was watching him I happened to notice a giant light green object on the side of a pine tree. My eyes focused and there it was, a luna moth! So exciting! Everyone was waking up after that last freeze! I took a few photos and Forest and I ogled at it for a few minutes. I’m sure we’ve had many in the past, though I’ve only noted one other in 2013. I admit, after seeing the moth I was hoping to see more like we did last spring on the Four Notch Loop in Sam Houston. Ironically, those were taken pretty much a year apart, so good timing for luna moths!