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Houston Regional Group - News
Hot Weather, Great Hike, at Little Thicket Nature Sanctuary
Brandt Mannchen

Well we knew it would be hot. But we were surprised that the forest in the Little Thicket Nature Sanctuary (LTNS) cooled us off and kept us hiking for more great forest scenes. David, David, Nicida, Sergio, and I had a ball. The LTNS is owned by the Outdoor Nature Club, Houston’s oldest nature and conservation organization (the Roaring Twenties saw the beginning of the Club) and covers about 750 acres. Most of the land was acquired in the early 1950’s and has been growing back naturally as a forest, recovering from being farmed, since that time. No logging or other human disruptions have been allowed except for modest trails. What a unique, secret, and wonderful forest gem!!!

First, we walked up to King’s Hill to see what wildflowers were blooming. On the way we saw or heard Northern Cardinals, Carolina Chickadees, and American Crows calling to each other or scolding us. We never could figure that one out! We also saw several huge Southern Magnolias and a magnificent Laurel Oak in the sandy dirt just south of King’s Hill. Very impressive!

When we got to King’s Hill we marveled that some wildflowers were blooming in such a severe drought. We primarily saw the red phase of Fire-Wheel (also known as Indian Blanket), Horsemint (those square stems are a dead give-away), and Black-eyed Susan blooming. A few grasshoppers, bees, skippers, and other insects were mining the nectar. A brilliant orange and black Velvet Ant (actually a wingless wasp) wandered under the cover of wildflowers. The deep sands on King’s Hill also provided a place for Prickly Pear and a leaf-cutter ant colony.

At King’s Hill we also found the ruins of a chimney from the old farm home that used to stand here. Fragrant Red Bay, Gum Bumelia, and Black Walnut stood sentinel to the ghosts of past lives that worked in this part of the forest.

Next we visited the Big Tree Trail. There is no doubt this trail lives up to its name! The most stunning tree we saw was a five foot diameter Swamp Chestnut Oak. But we also saw many very large Southern Magnolias, Winged Elms, Laurel Oaks, and White Ash. But my favorite was a 30-inch diameter Black Hickory. You just don’t see hickory trees that big anymore. Since hickories are slow growers, who knows how old this massive guardian of the forest is. Whatever the age “Old Uncle Hickory” sure lit my fires of imagination about the pioneer landscape!

We next wandered over toward the Cascades where Beech Brook flows. As the name implies there are many beautiful American Beech trees that grow along this small creek. Also ferns love this moist area (the drought has not dried up this area) and we found Royal Fern, Netted Chain Fern, and several other ferns whose names we did not know. As we walked Middle and then Chasm Roads we heard and saw the skittering of Ground Skinks as they swam through the leaf litter and disappeared in an instant.

At the Chasm we marveled at the 15 foot drop-off miniature canyon that revealed bedrock. We also walked from the Chasm to Enchanted Isle via the Wilderness Trail. The Enchanted Isle was just that – enchanted! Beautiful Mill Brook flowed by with tall Sweetbay Magnolia, American Holly, Black Gum, and Southern Magnolia shading its sinuous curves. Lizards Tail, crawfish chimneys, and fern beds lay scattered along the banks of Mill Brook and its tiny tributaries.

By almost 1 pm we were ready to leave the heat and head to Cleveland, Texas where we ate a great Chinese buffet. But memories of the LTNS swirled in our heads and we dreamed of returning in cooler weather. That is the best thought I had all day.

June 2011

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Last updated:  07/24/2011.   Content 1999-2011 by the Sierra Club.