Lost Maples State Natural Area - Bandera County, TX
text & photography by Ryan Stikeleather
“Spring Forward, Fall Back”
Even when I was a little kid, I hated Daylight Savings. Okay, that isn’t completely honest, I always liked to “Fall Back”. Gaining a single hour feels like a small victory. But “Spring Forward”, to lose an entire hour…especially on the weekend! That is just wrong on so many levels. Well, my opinion of Daylight Savings has not changed much, but maybe I could put the day to good use.
Just The Facts
- Location: Lost Maples State Natural Area (Near Vanderpool, TX)
- Trail: West Trail (and a little East Trail)
- Difficulty: Easy-Moderate
- Elevation Gain: 450 ft.
- Distance: 6 mi. (loop)
- Trail Use: Hiking, Camping
- Trail Condition: Well maintained and clearly marked
- Bring Your Dog: Yes! But must be on a leash at all times
- Access: Open Daily
- Fees: $6 Entrance Fee
- Lost Maples State Natural Area map
My penultimate hike, while in Texas, just so happen to fall on the “Spring Forward” of Daylight Savings. My alarm sounded at 5 am, I hopped out of bed, ate a quick breakfast, loaded up the car and headed off to Lost Maples State Natural Area. Arriving at the park, I noticed nobody was at the guard shack. I thought maybe I was at the wrong place, but I was indeed at Lost Maples. Maybe, everyone else felt the same about the time change and stayed in bed. I continued into the park and found the parking lot for the trailhead. The parking lot was full, but I didn’t see anyone around. The feeling was a little strange.
When I hike, I always hope for a little solitude, but I really wasn’t expecting complete solitude. So far, so good. I threw my pack on and hit the West Trail. West Trail follows the floor of Mystic Canyon, formed long ago by the Sabinal River. I’m sure there are certain times in the year when water flows heavy, but early March is not one of them. There is a wide shallow creek, with just enough water flowing to get your feet soaking wet. Luckily, a footbridge of large, flat stones—fit together like puzzle pieces—allows you to cross without a problem.
The early morning sky was gray and low hanging clouds shielded most of the warm sunlight. Mist swirled around in the gentle breeze turning the tip of my nose bright red. I zipped up my sweatshirt and shook off the brisk air (46° when I started). All was quiet and very peaceful.
The hike starts along the pockmarked limestone of the canyon floor. These holes, filled with little puddles of water, made the hard surface difficult to walk on, like walking on large rocks only in reverse. Your footfalls echoing off the sheer walls of Mystic Canyon, a hundred feet or more high, surround you the entire time. Eventually, the path guides you out of the canyon, heading north along the rim, providing a chance to peer down into the canyon. This is part of Texas Hill Country, so I bet there are some great views from this elevation; I just couldn't see them. It was hard to see much of anything with the blanket of low hanging clouds. You are only out of the canyon for a little while before the trail slips back into the deep, narrow walls of the gorge. At this point, I still had not seen a single soul on the trail, despite the full parking lot. I did find a couple of tents, but it seemed like everyone was still sleeping. It’s early, but I’m enjoying every step.
Javelinas in the Mist
I’m walking along, taking in all the surrounding when I hear a rustling sound coming from just ahead. It has to be an animal, maybe a deer or it could just be a bird. Either way, I want to at least catch a glimpse of it. So, I slow down, placing my steps perfectly, trying not to move the loose rocks. I lean up against a large boulder and then slowly peek around it. As I look around the boulder I see a large, black pig?! I was shocked! Wait! Is that a javelina? I'm not sure, and it is only about 15 yards away from me, grubbing in the leaves on the side of the hill.
I'm from Colorado, and the trails can have any number of wild animals: Black Bear, Mountain Lions, Elk, Bighorn Sheep, Turkey…but not PIGS! I don’t know anything about them. Are they aggressive? I don’t want to startle it and have it chase me, because I’m pretty sure it would run me down. Well, I watch it for about a minute and decide I should at least try to let it know I am there. I think I could get up to the top of the boulder if I need to, but who knows. I take a gentle step forward and I brush the side of a rock. The rock tumbles on the trail and echos in the empty silence. The javelina looks up, sees me standing there, and bolts up the side of the hill! It was lightning fast, there is no way I could have scrambled up a boulder…am I nuts? I stood there silently for a few seconds trying to see if I could find it up on the hillside, but it was gone, and I’m glad.
Continuing on my hike, I headed toward the East Trail Junction. The north side of West Trail has a lot more water. Can Creek flows along the trail collecting in deep bowls scooped out of the hard limestone. The pools that form in these bowls are deep, blue-green and stock-still reflecting the hills around them. As I’m about to arrive at the junction of West Trail and East Trail, a Park Ranger slowly creeps up along a service road. He rolls down the passenger window, and we start a conversation. We discuss the coolness of the weather and lingering smell of winter. I share with him my harrowing encounter with the javelina. He saw a bobcat near this spot just a few weeks earlier.
“By the way, which spot did you camping at last night?”
“Oh, I wasn’t camping” I replied “I'm just here for a day hike. I think I got here too early this morning…before anyone was even at the guard shack.”
A sheepish grin spread across his face and he gave a knowing chuckle.
“Yeah, I can explain that.” he said, “Somebody forgot to set their clock forward.”
He waved goodbye and continued up the trail.
Even though I may not like losing an hour when we "Spring Forward" I did have a memorable hike that day. Peace and quiet on a gem of a trail will brighten any mood.
Later on, I checked the Texas Parks & Wildlife website to see if I could find out more about Javelina. I don't think I was in any real danger, but you should never approach animals in the wild. It's always best to keep a safe distance. Even a harmless little bunny could hurt you if they wanted to, with their sharp, pointy teeth.