Go East, Young Woman

Dawn in the Big Thicket

After years of living among Texas’s gulf prairies and marshes, and traveling primarily to the south Texas plains or the Edwards Plateau for a little variety, I finally was tempted into a third Texas ecoregion: the piney woods of east Texas.

Although I’d visited the area to search for Winkler’s Gaillardia, a rare white firewheel that grows at the Nature Conservancy’s Sandyland Sanctuary, it wasn’t until a recent guided field trip to the Sanctuary and the Watson Rare Plant Preserve that I knew a more extended trip into the area was called for.

A ranger at the Big Thicket visitor center tipped me off to an undeveloped but accessible area where I could find hundreds of sundews, another plant I was eager to locate. On Sunday morning, I returned to the spot to watch the sun rise among young long leaf pines, listening to birds whose calls I’d never heard greet the coming day.




51 thoughts on “Go East, Young Woman

    1. Maybe my posts about it will tempt you in that direction some day. I did think about you and Mary as I was driving one section of the Big Thicket parkway. There were bicyclists riding a nice path that parallels the road. It looked to me as though they were clearing brush to extend the bike path northward. Some of the back roads certainly would give you a workout; there’s a lot of not very well packed sand out there!

    2. I just found this on the Big Thicket website: “The Big Sandy Trail has more topography than other trails in the preserve, and goes through many different ecosystems along its 9-mile length. It is the only trail in the preserve that is open to horseback riding and bicycling as well as hiking.

      The trailhead is on the Sunflower Road, 3 miles west of FM 1276 near Dallardsville.”

      There you are! Do one of those nine miles twice, and you have your ten miles.

  1. I’ve been itching to get back out that way. We intended to do that for Mother’s Day but it didn’t work out. Such a great region!

    1. I had a wonderful weekend. I’m sure you’ve hiked the trails I chose this trip: Sundew, Pitcher Plant, and Kirby. I didn’t do full loops on all of them, since I’m constantly stopping, but I’ve figured out how to deal with that: go back again, and work the trails backwards.

      Have you been to the Watson Native Plant Preserve? It’s another worthwhile spot.

    1. Of course there will be more — it’s just a matter of finding the decent photos among the rejects, and then figuring out how to organize the posts. There’s such variety in the area, it’s breathtaking — and so much of the plant life is new to me, there has to be some serious identification work done, too. I’m not so good with trees, although I can spot a longleaf pine, now!

    1. I’ve never met a less-than-helpful ranger in any of my travels. Perhaps because it was Fathers’ Day, there weren’t many visitors, and the one at the Big Thicket had time to talk. It was clear how much she enjoys her work, and the preserve as a whole.

    1. I was surprised and delighted to find that it’s only two hours from my place to Kountze, and less than a half hour more to the heart of the Big Thicket or the native plant preserve. For some reason, it’s always felt a world away — which it is, but not in terms of time or physical distance. I felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole with so many new delights.

    1. It certainly was peaceful: no traffic, no people, and not even an up-and-at-’em bird until the sun became visible. Unfortunately, the humidity was so high I ended up with a foggy lens despite precautions, and I was afraid I’d miss the best light. Then, inspiration struck. I hustled back to the car, turned it on, and dried off the lens with warm air from the heater. I felt like a genius.

    1. It was a lovely morning, and this seemed an especially good spot for a photo. It’s a part of the preserve where they’re planting new trees, and there are a lot of smaller trees that are nicely spaced. I thought it worked well, especially when the cloud moved in to obscure the too-bright sun that just had edged up over the horizon.

      I’ve heard people talk about the diversity that exists in the Big Thicket, and I certainly got a taste of it. Watching a fly’s approach/avoidance conflict at the edge of a pitcher plant was pretty darned entertaining.

    1. I just looked at these sundew images from Australia,, and I’m filled with envy. The ones I found weren’t just small, they tended to be covered with sand. Never having encountered one, I thought I might brush away some of the sand. That wasn’t going to happen!

      Still, I did manage to finally get some buds and stems in sort-of-focus. I never found any with flowers. I couldn’t believe how tiny they are — some stems were roughly the diameter of sewing thread. How they managed to stand upright, I don’t know. You’ll see!

  2. Very celebratory-looking trees, looks kind of like the plumes on marching bands, it’s a wonderful shot. They’re not kidding when they call them “long leaf,” they’re very attractive pines. There’s a pine barren in New York State, near Albany, but that’s all pitch pine, and they don’t have these feathery needles.

    1. I’ve heard some longleaf pine enthusiasts refer to this stage in their growth as candelabra-like. The description certainly does fit; just as you say, they seem celebratory.

      At one time there were about 92 million acres of longleaf pine forest in the southeastern U.S. Today, there are fewer than 3 million acres left — hence the concern for preservation and restoration. We just can’t seem to get that everything truly is connected, and that as go the trees, so go a whole variety of other plants, birds, insects, and mammals. There are eight species of woodpecker that call the pineywoods home, including the threatened red-cockaded woodpecker. It builds its home in living pine trees, and the sap that runs down from its nesting and roosting holes helps to keep snakes away. That’s a specialist!

    1. You presume correctly, Tom! Orchids, and bogs, and fungus — oh, my! There’s even one unidentified plant that is a real beauty. If I don’t have it identified before I post it, maybe you or someone else will know what it is.

    1. They really are beautiful trees. I’m just beginning to distinguish among the southern pines: longleaf, shortleaf, loblolly, slash. In addition to the pines, there are so many other trees that are new to me that I’m about to buy a field guide. I saw an arboretum last weekend, and I’m thinking that they might have some labeled trees on the grounds. That would help.

  3. I’ve never been to that part of Texas, it seems (is) so far away. I look forward to your stories and photos about this area.

    1. Even though it’s only two hours away, I’ve always had the same sense: that it’s very, very far away, and hard to navigate once you get there. Maybe I’ve been influenced by the name: Big Thicket. Who’d want to spend a weekend hacking through an equivalent to a dewberry patch?

      Well, I saw some dewberries still on the vine, and I saw some territory I wouldn’t want to go into without a machete, but all in all it was beautiful, varied, filled with interesting plants, and completely accessible. There will be photos!

  4. The image is so sublime. I love pines, and Florida is home to several native ones. I believe the slash pine (Pinus elliottii) was the first one I photographed. Pine cones are so geometric, perfect and precise in form.

    1. I’ve always associated citrus groves with Florida, rather than pine trees, but I was fascinated to learn that longleaf pines were part of the forest that covered Florida at one time. I got a very short course in the differences among the cones last weekend; I’m not sure I could identify them with any certainty away from the trees, but there’s no question that in the Big Thicket, the longleaf cones are the biggest. I was fascinated to see them snuggled in with ferns: it felt like an odd juxtaposition, but it’s the nature of the place, where several regions bump up against one another.

        1. The Sandyland Sanctuary preserve manager, whom I met on my first trip there, came to our native plant society meeting recently and gave a wonderful overview of the work they’re doing to preserve and protect the longleaf pines. All of the videos you linked are great — thank you! I’ll have a bit more about the pines themselves in my next post. They’re certainly different from the northern pines I grew up with.

    1. You have a multitude of reasons for being behind — if not in everything, at least in a good bit. I’m glad the photo offered a little respite.

    1. At least the pine pollen season’s over now: down here, anyway. It’s the cedar that I notice, but this year the pines went into overdrive after our nice, wet winter and spring, and complaints were as thick as the green coating on everything. You have my sympathy.

    1. I was pleased with this one, and I’m glad you like it, Terry. It was interesting to watch the light change from one moment to the next: a phenomenon you’re familiar with. Sunrises and sunsets are so dynamic and unpredictable; that’s part of what makes them enjoyable.

  5. (Can’t press your LIKE button)

    Sounds like a wonderful trip to make and what a lovely image in this post. I certainly love the sound of the birds in the mornings (in the times that pesky construction crew across my road are absent on the weekends).

    The only thing I can think of to equal it are being down on a deserted beach or coastal path listening to the waves crashing and the seabirds and gulls screeching.

    1. With any luck at all, you’ll get those computer problems straightened out in short order, and be able to live a ‘normal’ online life again. It’s going to be interesting to find out what the problem is (or problems are, I suppose).

      It was a wonderful trip. To find such a different world so close to home amazed me. In fact, during these long summer days, it’s easily doable as a day trip — as long as sunrise or sunset aren’t on the agenda.

      Apart from the birds, the other sound I noticed was occasional wind through the trees. Wind in the pines is a quite different sound from wind in the palms, and it’s entirely enjoyable. Palms clack. I haven’t yet decided what word(s) describe the pine’s sound.

    1. It was fabulous, and requires a return visit (or visits). The variety of plant life was astonishing: pitcher plant bogs, terrestrial orchids, ferns galore, and a whole variety of wildflowers I’d only read about. There will be photos.

    1. Most commonly, the state’s divided into ten regions: Piney Woods, Gulf Prairies and marshes, Post Oak Savanah, Blackland Prairies, Cross Timbers, South Texas Plains, Edwards Plateau, Rolling Plains, High Plains, and Trans-Pecos.

      I’ve not yet spent time in the blackland prairie, the cross timbers, the post oak savannah, or the trans-Pecos. I have work to do!

  6. Such an evocative photo, there is nothing I enjoy more than hearing birdsong I’ve never heard before.Here’s to venturing into unknown territory. xxx

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