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Explore, Enjoy and Protect

Houston Regional Group - News


by Brandt Mannchen

I was slated to lead a Sierra Club outing to Stephen F. Austin State Park. In the past year fewer people attended the outings I was leading. I thought that I was losing my touch or was it just that people don't go outdoors anymore. I was floored when a dozen people contacted me for this Nature Hike in SFA State Park. I thought to myself, "What is going on?" and began to worry (a born worrier am I) about my ability to lead that many people safely.

I met a number of old friends and some new ones at the Meyerland Plaza parking lot where we were supposed to meet and we got off to a good start. I thought it would take about an hour to get to the park but in 45 minutes we were nearly there. Mr. Worry began to fret about waiting for the others who I told to meet me there at 9 am. We parked at the entrance, paid our fee, and then waited. Before I knew it people arrived, I said a few words, and we were off to begin our hike.

When you have not been to a state park in 15-20 years you get nervous about fi nding your way around. But we made it to the parking lot at the bathrooms and got our gear ready and lined up. Carolyn, Mary Jane, David, Susan, Jacqueline, Elizabeth, Elsie, Carl, Fran, Regina, and David were all ready to go. A better group of folks would be hard to find. I was fortunate and remembered that while seeing the scenic beauty and diversity of wild places was the point of this outing the people helped make the trip.

Off we went! The day was mild in temperature with a breeze blowing most of the time. For most of the day the clouds shielded us from summer-like temperatures and gave us a shaded, protected, feel. We headed toward the Brazos River through a gallery fl oodplain forest that had tall, widely spaced, large, trees. There were relatively few small trees but there was an impressive amount of grass growing on the forest fl oor. The Eastern Cottonwoods, American Sycamores, Box Elder Maples, Hackberries, Cedar Elms, and Black Willows towered over us. Western Soapberry and Rough-leaf Dogwood held the low positions in the forest hierarchy. Many vines, including bicep-sized grape vines, wound their way around trees and up trunks to the canopy high above.

The Brazos River looked almost green and was not its usual muddy brown color. The park was full of people camping, biking, and walking, and we observed several people fishing on the banks of the river. My fellow hikers kept me honest about where we were going and which trail we were on. We moseyed on the Sycamore, Brazos, Cottonwood, Copperhead, Riverbend,

What delighted me most were the blooming Turk's Cap, Blue Mist Flower, morning glory, Frost Weed, and False-mint. Bees and skippers (an insect similar to a butterfly) bombed the False-mint while a giant Swallowtail with a six-inch wingspan fl oated from one Turk's Cap to another sucking out the sweet nectar of life. Red Admiral, Question Mark, and hairstreak butterflies and Long-tailed Skippers fl itted through the forest with their here again and then gone glorious colors. A one and one-half inch Black Passalus Beetle, usually found in decaying wood, was rescued from the trail but the red parasitic mites that hitched a ride on it hung on for their dinner and dear life.

We spooked a magnificent buck White-tailed deer who ran and bounded gracefully through the forest and then disappeared into the dark green. We passed many leaf-cutter ant colonies as we snaked through the woods. After three hours and a leisurely lunch we were done. As I waved to my fellow sojourners who sped away back to civilization I thought again to myself, "Sometimes You Just Get Lucky!"

Last updated:  11/20/2011.   Content 1999-2011 by the Sierra Club.