Texas is famous for its wildflowers in the spring. When I was working in South Texas about a decade ago, but still had a son finishing high school in Brownwood, I made a round-trip weekend drive through the Hill Country about twice a month. What might have been drudgery was brightened considerably during the spring by the beauty of wildflowers that not only lined the highways, but also covered many pastures. And the 300-mile trip meant the flowers started blooming in the south and moved north as the growing season progressed.
If there’s a flip side of the wildflowers coin, it would be the changing colors of tree leaves we are now experiencing.
Texas may not be able to match the thousands of tourists who travel on bus tours to New England and the Appalachian Mountains every autumn, but the Lone Star State is not totally without bragging rights on this matter.
True, the annual performance nature provides us as the leaves on trees change color may not be not as dramatic in Texas as it can be in other areas of the United States. Our climate, which gives us relatively mild winters, plays a role in that. And in years of severe drought, the leaves will go from green to brown before dropping to the ground. However, many parts of Texas have had some rain this year, so some nice fall colors have been showing up across the state.
Accordingly, visitor traffic has been up this month in strategically located state parks as Texans converge at those sites to enjoy nature’s beauty. According to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, those locations include Lost Maples State Natural Area in Bandera and Real counties northwest of San Antonio, Inks Lake State Park near Burnet, Eisenhower State Park north of Dallas, Martin Creek Lake State Park on the Texas-Louisiana border, and Palo Duro Canyon State Park south of Amarillo.
You don’t have to go to a state park to enjoy Texas’ natural beauty, but you will probably want to do so to see it at its best.
TPWD botanist Jackie Poole reported that fall colors in Texas are prevalent especially in areas that have not been severely affected by drought. That includes areas of West Texas which received decent amounts of rain over the summer and early fall.
One of the Texas destinations most famous for its fall foliage — Lost Maples — has been especially busy this month. The colors are certainly there this year, but they are not quite as bright as they have been in some other years. The reason, the Parks and Wildlife Department explains, is that increased rain has resulted in higher maple seed production, leaving the colors less bright. The department’s website offers frequent updates, and this week’s installment reports that after the strong cold front moved through the state last Sunday and Monday, some of the best colors of the year have been on display this week. Brownwood area residents who choose to take a trip to Lost Maples now will find it worthwhile – even if they have a lot of company. TPWD reports that 1,800 vehicles visited Lost Maples over the Veterans Day weekend. If you do go, don’t forget your camera.
Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture for the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, was quoted on the TPWD website as saying many native Hill Country plants that provide the best fall color achieve peak color shortly after the first frost. Much of Central Texas has just experienced that, so now is the time to make your plans.
Flame-leaf sumac and poison ivy started turning about a week ago, and Texas red oaks generally provide their best colors around Thanksgiving. Elbowbush and cedar elm are due to turn as well, DeLong-Amaya said.
As we pause next week to count our blessings, the beauty of nature should be included on the list of things we so often take for granted. During the upcoming holiday season, many families will be spending what they expect to be quality time together. Even though colder temperatures can restrict outdoor activities, Texas weather typically includes spells of moderate conditions, even during November and December.
You don’t have to wait until summer to visit a state park. Our state park system is still recovering from the horrible drought conditions Texans endured during 2011. If you can’t make it out this month, when tree colors are at their peak, there is still much to enjoy. Many local residents learned that last Jan. 1 at Lake Brownwood State Park when they took advantage of a statewide campaign that encouraged Texans to “start the new year right” with a hike at a state park.
That beauty is still there, waiting for us to enjoy — regardless of the season, and in every area of the state.
Gene Deason, former editor of the Brownwood Bulletin, has been writing a Friday column, with brief interruptions, since July 1977.