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,
Houstons 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 1950s 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 Kings 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
Kings Hill. Very impressive!
When we got to Kings 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 Kings Hill also provided a place for Prickly Pear
and a leaf-cutter ant colony.
At Kings 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 dont 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.