With Christmas 2021 behind us I had a couple days off so of course I planned to hike. Well, on December 27th we welcomed our 4th grandchild into the world, ten days early. Little Elvis is now in the building. Too much going on that day to go hike with having the other three children under our roof and waiting to hear about the birth and when momma and baby might get to come home.
But Tuesday the 28th I told momma I wanted to hike and would stay close, so I went to Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge for a nice five-mile hike along the Creek Trail, the Shinoak Trail, the Rimrock Trail and my favorite the Indiangrass Trail.
This post is a little out of order, but I backed it up to match the new findings at Warbler Vista and yes, this unit of the Balcones National Wildlife Refuge has also been upgraded.
I did a short piece on this place earlier in the blog as it was the first hike I did outside of town when first arriving in Texas. I have been back a couple times, but it has been about 1.5 years since I have been here. I know the area now so can write in more detail about the place. First in the year or two since my last visit nice new signage has been installed, and the parking area upgraded and enlarged. Place looks great and inviting, compared to the dingy pull-off it used to be.
Balcones National Wildlife Refuge was developed in 1992 to protect the Texas Hill Country habitat of the Black Capped Vireo and the Golden Cheeked Warbler. These two birds are native to the area and were on the endangered species list due to the destruction of their habitat from heavy development and grazing. All the land is not publicly owned. Some is owned, some is leased, and some is included by agreement with individual ranchers which puts it off limits to the public. But the hiking is good and there is about 600 feet of elevation gain throughout the five-mile circuit. It is not just a casual walk.
I started out on the Creek Trail which runs along the banks of the Doeskin Branch of Cow Creek, and through a couple of small canyons.
The area of Doeskin Ranch was settled in the 1850’s. A school was built, and several families farmed the 27,000 acres now protected in the preserve. They grew cotton and raised cattle. Three communities existed at Travis Peak, Oatmeal and Nameless. During the depression the price of cotton fell to a nickel a bale and all the farms failed. The land was then used to graze cattle and goats. The goats ate much of the needed habitat of the Black Capped Vireo and the Golden Cheeked Warbler causing the population of these birds to fall into the mid 100’s each. The preserve is an internationally recognized refuge now housing more then 250 seasonal and permanent species of birds. And due to the work of all, the black capped vireo has rebounded to a population of around 14,000 and is now removed from the Endangered Species List.
After the Creek Trail I hiked into the uplands of the area. This is where most of the elevation gain occurs. It is about 350 feet to the top of the ridge, and it is less then 1/2 mile.
Here the RimRock Trail that brought you up here connects to the Shin Oak Trail. After a short distance on this trail, you reach the Indiangrass. I always do the Indiangrass Trail when I come here. It is the longest and most scenic of the bunch. The trail will eventually pass just below the peak in the picture and top out to the right at about the same height.
The high point of the hike is 1329 feet which is pretty high for this area.
Apparently, the peak I was heading for is in one of those “agreement” areas and I can’t go there. The next one of equal or greater height is on the preserve lands. It is tree covered so you only get a view one direction.
I completed the Indiangrass Trail and descended on the Rim Rock Trail.
Today the Cedars have saved the birds but, in the past, they saved countless human lives. During the times that Comanches roamed Texas, the Cedars played an important role. Texas, when the whites first found it was mainly prairie, with a few patches of Cedars and Cottonwoods mainly along the streams and wetter areas known as “breaks”.
I have read extensively about the Texas Rangers and their battles with the Indians. Because they carried extreme fire power compared to the Comanches the Rangers were generally outnumbered. They didn’t always win. When needed the Rangers would head for the Cedar Breaks and hide within. The Comanches, being horse people would rarely ride very far into the breaks to find the Rangers once again giving them the advantage in the battle. The Texas Mountain Cedar is known everywhere else as the Ash Juniper, a shrub used today in landscaping. The branches grow very low and often run along the ground, so they are quite dense, especially when you get a bunch of them together.
One of my favorite places in the area for a quick hike.