Friday, December 19, 2014

Lost Maples State Park

Texas is a big place and has it's share of lost things. Such as the Lost Pines of Bastrop County, a stand of Loblolly pines sitting out there about 100 miles west of their nearest East Texas kin. (Though the Labor Day fire of 2011, which wasn't contained until October 10 and completely extinguished until the following January, devastated this stand of pines.) and the sky-island of the Chisos Mountains out in the Chihuahua desert which host flora and fauna not otherwise found for hundreds of miles in any direction.

The same can be said of the Bigtooth Maples found near Vanderpool TX (Population 30 or so) which give this state park it's name.

Between the maples and Red Oak this 2000 + acre state park (Another 1000 or so acres was purchased last year but haven't been developed yet.) can be difficult to get into during fall color season, but the park empties dramatically once the leaves are past their prime color. I couldn't get in a couple weeks ago but there were less than half a dozen sites of the 30 site campground occupied while I was there this week.

Last time I was here was Christmas 1985 or so. With not even a ranger in sight to take our entrance fee, we had the park to ourselves back then. There had been an ice storm and we had to stay clear of the limestone canyon walls as the ice slipped off in sheets to splinter into the creek-bottoms below and the trail system wasn't near as developed as it is now.

Nothing quite so dramatic this time,

but the full moon rising over the canyon wall sheltering the campground did provide it's own entertainment my first night there.

This is a prime example of one of the shortcomings of a point-&-shoot camera that insists on selecting the focus for you. I would have liked at least a few of the dozens of shots I took to have focused on the moon rather than the trees, but the focus tracking area was just not small enough and kept grabbing branches while ignoring the moon.

 Hiking in Lost Maples is rarely, and only briefly, flat and is an exercise in contrasts between,

from creek laced canyon bottoms,


to steep, rocky canyon walls


and high, rounded ridges.


The canyons here are relatively lush and support a variety of hardwoods.

True, the bulk of the color season has passed, but slow down (My only hiking speed!) and give your eye a chance and there's still plenty to see.

Delusions of grandeur, or optimism?
This little guy was sitting on the edge of the trail, overshadowed by his bigger siblings, but going at it with enthusiasm just the same.

In addition to the leftover splashes of color

There's several lush pools trapped up there in the canyon bottoms.

Having been filtered through the area's limestone, the water is crystal clear, though with the temps hovering  in the 40's and 50's, the urge to plunge in was conspicuously absent.

On the ridge tops, far above the water but also up out of the dense hardwoods, things open up and this used to be prime goat land.

This area has been State Park for the better part of 4 decades now, but there are still remnants of the days when a few intrepid souls scratched out a living here with their goat herds.

It's difficult to imagine the effort it took to drill and cement hundreds of fence-posts into the limestone then string a single strand of barbed wire at the bottom to keep the goats from pushing themselves under the fence, a pair of wires high up to support the intermediate posts and two levels of 3 x 6 woven wire fencing in order to get it high enough to keep the goats from climbing over!

At lower elevations the corals used for working the goats, sorting, marking, inoculating, etc. have all but been reclaimed by nature's relentless forces.

Late fall/early winter isn't the best time for birding around here but there was a little bit of activity.

This Ladder-backed Woodpecker was going to town on a tree practically in the trail and wasn't particularly bothered by my camera clicking,

and I even got a distant view of a pair of Kingfishers squabbling with each other on the far side of a pool as I approached, though they didn't hang around as long as I would have liked.

I was in the park for four days. Three of them dry, if not always sunny,

and one rain day.

When we were kids rain during a camping trip was a disaster!!  For some reason we weren't allowed to spend the day at the beach when it was raining, and it was difficult to drag our more sensible parents out on the trail when there was a constant stream of water running down your neck,

but now that I'm older, and in the midst of hiking some 20 horizontal miles and accumulating a few thousand vertical feet, a rain day isn't really all that bad!

Broken up by the occasional stroll between showers, I've got plenty of reading to catch up on and a few puzzles tucked away, (300 pieces equals about 4 hours of puzzling.)

 and with my 'fireplace' lit, it's actually kind of cozy in here.

I wrapped up my trip on a foggy morning with a quick hike out to a popular landmark, only a 2 mile round trip from the day-use trailhead (almost 4 mile round trip from the campground.).

When approached from down-stream, this rock formation is interesting,

but it's only when viewed from a different angle that it's name, Monkey Rock, makes sense.

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