Not Lost at All

Recently, the Hub and I spent time in the Hill Country area of Texas. One of the highlights of this mini road trip, and on an especially gorgeous day, we hiked at Lost Maples State Natural Area. Located about 3 hours drive from our home in Austin and located in the Edwards Plateau ecoregion, the state park showcases a “lost” isolated cluster of Uvalde Bigtooth Maples, Acer grandidentatum, recognized for their spectacular fall color. We were too early this year to enjoy the foliage fanfare, but with cooling large trees and shady under-story growth, paired with steep, rocky inclines which challenges hikers, and textured, limestone cliffs with attending pools, as well as plenty of blooming and berrying native flora, the park is stunning even without the color bonus.

The bit of red, courtesy of a young maple, is a hint of the color to come.

Golden highlights from American Sycamores provided a suggestion of autumn, but might have come from summer’s end scorching, rather than autumn’s cooling and waning light.

Mountain Laurel and Evergreen Sumac, as well as a variety of oaks, provide some, though not all, of the fresh green undergrowth.

One of the striking things to me was the beauty of the American Sycamores in the area. I saw some of the tallest, most robust that I’ve ever seen, as well as slender, graceful saplings. Topped by their yellow-to-green leaves, the white bark bisects the colorful brush; ivory lines, vertical and zig-zag, contrast in geometric form with the leafy backdrop.

It was a full day of hiking and some segments of the trails were rigorous. As always when I venture into natural areas, I enjoyed seeing many plants that I grow in my own garden thriving in their true, native habitat. Along with early (and somewhat limited) autumn red provided by Virginia Creeper and a smattering of maple leaves, and the golden-green foliage of sycamores, fall flowers were generous, providing sprinkles, and sometime splashes, of red, white, and yellow, tempered by some blues.

Fragrant MIstflower, Eupatorium havanensis
Prairie Broomweed Amphiachyris dracunculoides

Native grasses were in full sway, as well. Big Bluestem and Little Bluestem were especially lovely, having come into their burnished beauty with fluffy, toasty and creamy seed heads.

Lost Maples is notable for its good bird watching, especially during migratory periods. We heard lots of twittering, mostly of the Carolina Chickadee and Titmouse variety, as well as some invisible twittering that I couldn’t identify by sound and song. Some of the usual suspects who live in this part of the world, glorious Northern Cardinals and noisy Ravens, were common. I was thrilled to see a Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta. In birder-talk, that’s a lifer for me. Cornell lists this area as non-breeding, but my Merlin app suggested Meadowlarks are rare in the park. I imagine some part of its migration, coupled with a good source of yummy insects enticed this handsome bird to the open area.

Perched on a Mountain Laurel that clearly had upper limb damage (probably from last February’s ice/snow storm), the bird had a good view of potential snacks.

Limestone rock is a fixture (pun intended) in this area, as it is throughout Central Texas. As we hiked, we passed by a number of stunning limestone outcroppings, many of which have developed travertine stalactites over the centuries as rain water has seeped through the porous limestone.

The best known rock outcropping is named Monkey Rock. Do you see it?

I especially like that King/Queen Monkey is flanked by sentinel young American Sycamores.

Throughout the day we occasionally heard scurrying in the brush, but of course, it’s always hard to see what dashes away to safety in the undergrowth when humans bumble by. This Greater Earless Lizard, Cophosaurus texanus, while well-camouflaged, was visible to us on part of the trail that was rocky. It remained mostly in place for long enough to catch a photo, and eyed me warily. The handsome critter was patient. Even though we saw the lizard, it’s obvious how well it fits into its environment and how a predator might miss this fella.

The upper part of the Sabinal River, once named Arroyo de la Soledad, courses gently through the park and is fed by smaller creeks, lending its own defining efforts to the land and rock formations. Ferns are happily growing along many of these pools.

Until this recent trip, I’d never been to Lost Maples and I’m not sure why I waited so long to visit. I’d love to see the autumn colored leaves at some point, but this is a place that I plan to see in other times of the year. It’s an place of great beauty and rich diversity in both flora and fauna.

26 thoughts on “Not Lost at All

  1. So gorgeous. I understand we don’t get the same extent of foliage color change in Texas as they do in other parts of the country, but we certainly do get some! Thanks for sharing images from your trip. Here’s to the cooler weather no matter the color of the leaves.

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    • Yes, it’s certainly gorgeous. We do have color, it just spreads itself out over a long period, so doesn’t quiet have the impact that other places have. Yes, I’m enjoying the cooler weather, too!

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  2. A beautiful park, with water so clear (probably as it is filtered through limestone) and it looks like it is rich with flora and fauna. I bet the spring ephemerals would be worth a another trip!

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  3. It comes as a surprise that you hadn’t visited Lost Maples before. Even without much fall foliage, you clearly enjoyed your day walking around in nature. We went on Wednesday and were disappointed to find there still wasn’t much fall foliage. The ranger at the entrance told us that 2020 had been very good, but many people didn’t dare venture so far from home last fall.

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    • You can stay in Vanderpool or Utopia, both are nearby. Or camp in the park. I haven’t camped in a few years, but may do so next time. We stayed in Kerrville and visited other places besides Lost Maples, but that was my favorite!

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  4. Tina is a wonderful, magnificent place, nature in its purest form: I love it. The river and its banks are fabulous, I really like them. The photos are magnificent and reflect the beauty, the lushness, the variety of trees, plants and flowers, fauna and Monkey Rock – I love it all. Tina with so many bird songs you would be in glory. Tina thank you so much for the Lost Maples video – I love it. Tina, if you can, you have to come back, maybe for spring? This Natural Park deserves it. Tina I’m sorry I haven’t written for so long because she has given me a strong “attack” of pain in the hip, lumbar area, back, shoulder, leg, all of the right area of ​​the body that has kept me in bed without moving because of the pain and with pain pills. Now I am better at rest and still in pain, but I hope that in a week I will be well. Tina I hope that you and your Hub are in good health and that you both take good care of yourselves. I send you hugs and all the best. Have a very good and happy weekend. Very affectionate greetings from Margarita.

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  5. I’m really surprised that you haven’t visited before. It’s one of my favorite places, in every season. I swear I took a photo of the same limestone cliff. I suppose there are plenty of cliffs with ferns hanging below, but that one does look familiar.

    I presume the Natives of Texas nursery on the Medina highway outside Kerrville is where you visited. It’s such a great place, and not far from my friend’s home. Almost every time I visit we make a trip to see what they have, and then go over to the Apple Store in Medina for fresh apple struedel. If you haven’t done that, put it on your itinerary. It’s one of the best bakeries in the world, and their lunches are good, too.

    Like you, I love the sycamores. One of the most impressive is on the grounds of the Lost Maples Winery. Their wines are a little expensive for my taste, but they’re happy to have people visit; I’m sure they offer tastings, too.

    I’m just dying to get up that direction again. I love all of Texas, but that area is close to my favorite. I had hoped to visit Lost Maples last spring, when the mountain laurel was blooming, but I just didn’t make it.

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    • It’s now one of my favorite places, too, Linda! Typically, when we’ve traveled, we go out-of-state or country. I’ve been to Big Bend, Davis Mountains a number of times, plus places south of Austin (coastal), but just hadn’t been in the true, deep Hill Country in a while. I plan to go back.

      I also plan to go back to the nursery. The owner and his assistant were great–no nonsense, not trying to be cool, just super knowledgeable. I like that. It was also in such a lovely spot. Sigh, the grasses were gorgeous. I bought an Evergreen Sumac in a 5 gallon pot, which I’m eager to get into the ground; I’m terrible with potted plants. My tree is gone on Thursday (sniff) and the sumac will go into the ground that afternoon, or Friday. I also bought some other things from them and they’re all going into the “new” garden space. I have to keep reminding myself that, while I have more sun, I don’t have more space. 🙂

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