Exploring the Bottomlands at the Brierwood Dayuse Area | Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge
Last weekend we trekked to the Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge to try to do some hiking. We ended up at three different refuge unit day use areas, the first one being the Brierwood Day Use Area east of the town of Cleveland. I wanted to escape a bit further from our usual haunt of Sam Houston National Forest, or at least the west side of the forest, and also get into some different habitats. The Brierwood unit looked like it would be perfect for social distancing, and it was!
Trail map here —- I had to dig to find this, by the way. It isn’t easily found on the refuge’s website. The right combo of keywords in Google finally got it to show up.
Sharpsepal Beardtongue/Gulf Coast Penstemon, Penstemon tenuis
We traveled deep down some rural county roads, past homes on stilts adjacent to bayous. At the parking lot we were the only ones there and a glimpse down the area near the map kiosk gave us an idea of what we would be hiking through—an area that was moderately overgrown and saw very little traffic other than likely local hunters and intrepid nature enthusiasts.
After lathering up in a heavy dose of Off, we headed for the unknown. I had thought we could be able to hike the entire six miles, just take it slow for Forest and have lunch somewhere along the way, but as you see in this photo, the trail was quite overgrown. I had worn pants, which Chris had questioned when we left the house, but I had suspected we might run into this issue. Plus, I knew bottomlands meant mosquitoes and I wanted that extra layer of protection. Definitely a win for this trail—long pants!
A katydid hiding in a solanum.
There were loads of Gulf Coast penstemon along this trail and let me tell you, I was loving it!
Also present were lots of physostegia, I believe this is False Dragonhead, Physostegia intermedia. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong! Later when editing this photo I noticed that mosquito just above the flower! An adequate symbol of this tract!
The trail narrowed from the large grassy area to an actual wide trail and we could easily get glimpses of the bayou. Down the slope we went to check it out. It was much easier to walk along the bayou when we could, so we would try to do that until the bayou narrowed and we were forced back up to the overgrown trail.
We couldn’t decide if some local had left their boat down here like this or if it had washed up like this. It wasn’t the only boat we saw.
Remnants of an alligator snapping turtle. Again, not sure if it died naturally or if a local ate it. I feel confident it could go both ways out here.
Despite the overgrown trail, I was having a lot of fun and enjoying the botanical sights! Many of these species I haven’t seen in several years because we just haven’t made it to this kind of habitat with a kid. Next time I will put pants on Forest and maybe it would be a better situation. Honestly, he put up with it for far longer than I expected!
Eventually we found a larger area along the bayou to explore, a smidge muddy in spots but otherwise full of tiny things for Forest to inspect.
Some very hardy cypress, holding fast in the middle of the bayou. I bet they’ve seen some harsh flooding!
A spiderwort, Tradescantia sp.
Carolina Horsenettle, Solanum carolinense
And a plant I was hoping to see, Aquatic Milkweed, Asclepias perennis!
Chris eyed this boat heavily, wanting to haul it out if he lived closer and had a companion to help him out with it.
Forest had finally had enough of the dewberries scratching his ankles so Chris picked him up and carried him in the worst places on the way back to the car.
Isn’t this just a lovely little flower? I’m hoping the one in my garden will proliferate!
Southern Pearly-Eye, Lethe portlandia
If you are looking for something to explore away from everyone, this is a place to check out! Bring your bug spray, layer up in light weight pants and shirts, and you should be good to go. I would be on the lookout for snakes because this is definitely snake country, though we did not see any while out there. I would love to go back and hike the entire trail at some point in time but that might be a few years from now when Forest is a bit taller and more inclined to put up with an overgrown trail!
At least it was a scenic adventure!
I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life last week. Well, maybe not THE biggest, but darned annoying after the fact. I headed into the San Bernard forest without the precautions I usually take, thinking, “Oh, well. The mosquitoes haven’t been that bad.” And the mosquitos weren’t that bad — but the chiggers? Oh, Lordie. I am a mess. That won’t happen again any time soon! I’ve already sprayed my let’s-go-hiking clothes with permethrin, and I intend to pick up some Deep Woods Off before my next venture. How easily we forget!
I love that you found aquatic milkweed — I did, too! And I think I might have found False Dragonhead, Physostegia intermedia. I wasn’t sure what it was, but now I have a place to begin looking. I was sure it wasn’t some of those other “spring pinks,” but I get as confused with them as I do with all the yellow Asteraceae.
It’s good that you know so much about your native plants.