Island in the Stream


Bigtooth Maples (Acer grandidentatum) and the Sabinal River serve as primary attractions at Lost Maples State Natural Area near Vanderpool, Texas. 

The ‘lost’ maples, native trees that survived in a few spots after the end of the last great ice age, provide some of the most glorious autumn color in Texas. In the protected canyons of Bandera county, they thrive in the company of Chinquapin Oak, Black Walnut, Linden, Cedar Elm, and Black Cherry. Understory plants such as Mexican Buckeye, Carolina Buckthorn, Witch Hazel, and Mountain Laurel add beauty to seasons other than fall.

The Sabinal River isn’t the only water coursing through the area. Can Creek, which flows alongside the Maple and East trails, is laced with grasses like those shown above. While not as dramatic as the trees, they have their own subtle beauty.

Comments always are welcome.

48 thoughts on “Island in the Stream

    1. Different, indeed. Down here, there’s no need to calculate the movement of cliff shadows. The first day I saw this scene, it already was half in darkness. I decided to make a second trip, earlier in the day, so I could get the grasses fully in the light.

      1. I struggled with that yesterday in Great Hills Park, which includes creeks and sloping woods that the developer of the neighborhood in the 1980s couldn’t build on. The clouds didn’t dissipate till well into the afternoon, and by then the year-end sun was low enough that many parts of the forest lay in shadows. I did what I could and sometimes had to use flash.

        1. Finding the right light — or at least acceptable light — is more complicated than I’ve realized, especially in a new season or new territory. The ability to scout things out’s not always easy far from home, but in this instance, things worked out.

    1. I agree about the pleasurable combination of sunlight and shadow. I enjoyed seeing the reflections in the clear water, too, as well as the pretty stones on the creek bottom.

    1. I’ve decided autumn’s the best season for grasses. I grew up thinking of grass as ‘green, but after I discovered the prairies and other wild places, I learned that it could be russet, gold, silver, blue, or maroon. The variety is so pleasing.

  1. What a wonderful picture, Linda!
    Unfortunately, the area is getting dryer and dryer. When we were there a month ago , there was some running water [I don’t really know if it was the Sabinal River or Can Creek], and the Frio River was also running when we visited Garner State Park, but at that time we had a cabin near Utopia and the Sabinal was supposed to run behind it, but the river bed was completely dry; Such a sad sight!
    Have a great pre-Christmas time, and stay healthy,

    1. The flow of the Guadalupe was down, too; the dry crossings really were dry. But Willow Creek was up enough to cover the road out on the Loop: not good, but at least flowing and not stagnant. The Sabinal and Frio are two of my favorites among our rivers, and I’m glad you got to spend some time there.

      I was surprised by the color I found among the oaks. The maples had faded, but some of the sycamores and cypress were quite pretty. Thanks to some complicated circumstances, I’ll actually be back in the area this weekend. If all goes well, I might get to see even more color.

  2. The Hill Country grasses add a beautiful touch to the area and they seem to thrive in hostile conditions. But it looks like the grass in your photo has found a very pleasant home.

    1. I thought this little island delightful. I was rather taken with the bushy bluestem that had set up shop on rocks in the Sabinal, too. I hope those grasses enjoy their time there; before long, I suspect winter rains will bring a different sort of hostile conditions. (At least, I hope they do; some rain clearly is needed.)

    1. I hadn’t seen the gator, but now that you mention it — there it is, lurking half in the water like its coastal cousins. I saw wild turkeys and armadillos galore, but no gators. Even here, I’ll bet they’re looking for some warm mud.

    1. The scene is tranquil; the spot wasn’t. It was pretty heavily trafficked with kids, dog walkers, and hikers. No matter; when I turned my back, they all disappeared!

  3. That island undoubtably has its own eco-system, Linda, it’s own little natural niche in the world. There are probably bugs that live out their whole lives there. Glanced at the map and noted you are over in Peggy brother’s territory. I also saw another stream in the neighborhood: the Rio Frio. What a fun name. –Curt

    1. The Rio Frio’s one of my favorites. I used to stay at a cabin up there at Concan, but it’s been sold and is off the rental market now. In autumn, the cypress trees along its banks can be as gloriously colored as any maple or elm, and it’s a favorite summer destination. It came by its name honestly; that water is cold, which makes it a perfect spot for tubing on a hot summer day.

    1. Thanks, GP. It’s a whole different world over there: cliffs, winding roads, autumn colors that equal New England in a good year. I was glad to be able to visit the area.

  4. So beautiful it would make a lovely wall mural. Those grasses look similar to ones in Oz, that grow in damp areas.
    I also needed to take a closer inspection to see if it was a gator, or perhaps a creature left over from the ice age also….

    1. As soon as you mentioned ‘murals,’ I thought of certain Houston restaurants: the kind with white table linens and uniformed waiters who knew your name and your preferred wine. I didn’t get into them much, but I did enjoy the experience.

      It tickles me that I didn’t see that alligator: or any sort of creature, for that matter. I think that knowing what we’ve photographed sometimes keeps us from seeing other interpretations. That’s one reason I enjoy sharing photos — to hear what other people see.

  5. This is a great photo, Linda! I like the colors and the composition. You must’ve had a pretty day for getting out and about because the reflection in the water is crystal clear!

    1. Debbie, I had four perfect days, with blue, cloudless skies, temperatures in the 70s, no humidity, and very little wind. It was like Christmas came early, and I enjoyed every minute of it. By the time the weather changed, it was time to come home, anyway. Sometimes, things work out.

  6. Since we’re quoting song titles, here’s one for you and for the nature preserves: “The Way We Were.” Important that we preserve the native plants and ecologies the way they were before we “second wave” immigrants came in and took over.

    1. I knew someone would catch that title. I’ve been humming Dolly and Kenny’s famous duet for days. As for preserving special places, Lost Maples certainly deserves the care and attention it gets. I didn’t realize until recently that the trees are relatively common in the mountain west, or that they’re also called ‘canyon maples,’ for obvious reasons.

  7. What a great poem of a picture. Lovely and it made my evening.
    I am looking at three maples I bought, all Japanese maples, and I noticed one is getting brown edges around the leaves. I took it into a shady area. I believe they don’t like too open a position. The weather has been hot already and then cold and yesterday 125 mm of rain.

    1. Japanese maples are fairly common here as landscape trees, and they are beautiful. From what I remember, most of the ones I’ve seen do receive some shade during the day from the larger live oaks that surround them. When you mentioned that you purchased three trees, I couldn’t help but think of another trio from Japan.

  8. Lovely image. I have fond memories of visiting Lost Maples Natural Area many years ago. Maples of any species are very attractive trees, and what would life be without maple syrup, after all? I have a terrific book called “An Illustrated Guide to Maples” by Antoine Le Hardy de Beaulieu (Oh to have such a name) and one of the illustrations for Acer saccharum grandidentatum shows a magnificent tree in leaf in the Guadalupe Mountains in New Mexico.

    1. It’s always so much fun when I post an image from a place that someone is familiar with. I was sorry to be a little late for the maples’ full color this year, but it’s a gorgeous place in any season. I’ve never been to the Guadalupe Mountains, and only recently learned it’s another place that the trees can be found. When it comes to chasing color, they certainly offer quite a reward!

  9. I can picture those three in autumn! Our native species of maple up here is Acer macrophyllum, the big leaf maple. They turn gold in fall. Not as colorful as I remember of native New England maples with their reds, golds and orange hues, but no less majestic and beautiful.

    1. Each of them has its individual beauty, and I love them all. There’s something about autumn color that’s special. I’m completely mystified by a brilliant yellow shrub I found growing along the ditches on my return home. I’m going to have to go back and stop for a look, since I’ve never seen such color. The conditions must have been perfect for it to emerge; that’s part of what makes leaf-peeping such a challenge. You have to pay close attention to get to places like Lost Maples at just the right time.

        1. If it’s still intact when I get back to the area, I’ll see if I can get a photo for you. I need to get back home first and get my camera. I’ll go past the area tomorrow, so I can check it out. If it’s glorious, I’ll try to go back on Sunday.

        2. Well, so much for that. The area not only got wind yesterday, there also was a deluge of rain, and most of the leaves are long gone. I’ll ask a friend who’s a master naturalist what they might be. She spends time in the area, and probably knows what they are.

    1. It’s a lovely, lovely place. Everyone goes there to see the leaves in autumn, but there are other delights. As I was hiking the trails, I discovered large stands of mountain laurel; you can bet I’ll go back in springtime to enjoy their bubble gum-like fragrance.

  10. I love these little islands like yours. Mostly what I find are grass tussocks but occasionally a sapling will add a nice touch. And this one is lit perfectly with that nice shadowy background.

    1. The first day I found this bit of land, it was late enough in the day that the cliff behind it had put the island half in shadow, and the contrast was just too hard to deal with (at least for me). I made it a point to go back earlier on another day, and had this happier result. The cliff behind it is quite high — so high that it begins putting the island in shadow by noon at this time of year.

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