Thursday, May 4, 2017
Last Day at South Llano: And Not By Choice
One thing to remember about Texas State Parks is that all campsites are reserve-able.
If this is good or not depends on your circumstances.
For someone with a regular job leaving only weekends free and who is organized enough to plan a month or so in advance, (Much longer for holiday weekends!) this is a good thing. It keeps them from joining the Friday evening demolition derby that results from the got-to-get-there-before-the-last-site-is-gone dash.
For someone without a regular job, or no job at all, who tends to play things by ear and just wing it, not so good. It doesn't matter if you show up on a Tuesday and have your pick of a park full of empty sites, it's pretty certain you are not going to be able to keep your site come Friday. Prior possession doesn't count here.
Which is why, when I got up Friday morning I knew I had to be out of my site by 2 PM.
Still, I planned on hiking the Fawn Trail counterclockwise, detouring up onto the ridge above the trail; Oh yeah, and wandering up to the Scenic Lookout in the daylight. (What a concept!!)
All told, what with getting to and from the trail and adding in the side trips, this worked out to about 6 miles of hiking, and since it wasn't quite 7 AM yet I knew I had enough time to do the hike and still get back and move out of the camp-site before the deadline, so off I went.
As is often the case, my early start paid off in terms of wildlife-spotting.
I had to zoom in to be sure, but that's not some kind of weird coloration, she was just having a bad hair day. I guess she hadn't had time to blow-and-fluff yet.
This place has some serious cattle-guards! A bull's hoof would slip right between those dew-slicked bars, which means so will a grown man's foot.
I don't know if they are left over from the ranching days or have something to do with the Walter Buck Wildlife Management Area. A joint State and Fed project that covers much of the park.
Fortunately a narrow walkway, presumably too narrow for most bulls to negotiate, has been provided so I was able to forgo the balancing act.
The first part of the southern leg of the Fawn trail, the segment I hadn't been on yet, is a fairly steep climb,
but it was another glorious morning,
and the views were great!
Even barbed wire fences look good in this light, twinkling like strings of shiny beads.
These circular bald patches are a common sight in pretty much all of Texas.
Up close they look like miniature versions of the typical desert suburban yard, carefully covered in a groomed layer of evenly sized pebbles.
But there's no suburb here, these are the handy-work of the Red Harvester Ant. At up to a half inch long these ants are perfectly capable of hauling these pebbles, along with any other debris, up out of the nest and 'decorating the yard' with them.
Actually the circle they create is the midden, or trash heap of the nest and the older the nest the larger in diameter the midden. Since the queen lives an amazing 15 to 20 years some of these nests get pretty big!
These ants can bite and do have a stinger, which given their size could make them pretty scary, but in all my encounters with them I've never seen aggressive behavior nor been bitten or stung by one. Of course I don't make a habit of disturbing them either.
In addition to a single queen each nest has about 10,000 worker ants in it at any given time. The workers only live about a year and when the queen dies the nest soon dies out as well.
These ants are the favored food of the Texas Horned Lizard, yet despite the seemingly plentiful food source the numbers of these lizards are dropping at an alarming pace.
Before heading on back to The Van I made one last side-trip and climbed back up to the Scenic Outlook.
It seemed like the thing to do since this time I would actually be able to see something from the Scenic Outlook. . .
This time of year it's easy to spot Pecan groves like this one below the lookout, since, along with being the first to drop leaves in the fall, they are the last to leaf-out in the spring.
At my usual blistering hiking pace of one mile per hour, the clock has been ticking and by now it was getting to be time to head on down the hill and move The Van before I got a nasty phone call from the rangers.