With Joe in town last week for a visit, I figured it would be nice to do a little hiking (something not possible in the Finger Lakes in January). There’s not a lot in the way of hiking around College Station, so we drove west toward Austin to Bastrop State Park. The section of TX-21 that runs through Bastrop county had already caught my eye on trips to Austin thanks to a beautiful section of road turned cathedral by the tall stately pines lining both sides.
In fact, these are the Lost Pines, a remnant of an Ice Age-era pine forest that once stretched across much of the South. Other portions of it remain to the east, but the loblolly pines of Bastrop county are notable for being a tiny independent population more than a 100 miles from their genetic neighbors in the East Texas Piney Forest.
Upon our arrival, we checked in to the park headquarters, where we paid our $4/person fee to use the park. (You’re welcome, State of Texas. Please keep up the good conservation work.) Our original plan had been to take the Lost Pines trail, but we made a last minute change to a shorter route to accommodate a busy schedule. We started out on the Lost Pines trail, which is the longest in the park but used Roosevelt’s Cutoff to substantially reduce our distance. The ground in the park is very sandy, which almost seemed strange given the tall pines, until Joe found a sandstone rock outcropping near the spot where Roosevelt’s Cutoff rejoined the Lost Pines trail.
We took a bit of a detour back up a section of old roadway to eat lunch at the Fehr’s Overlook kiosk. Like the Scenic Overlook kiosk where we’d park, the “overlook” is a bit of a misnomer. While both are located at local geographical maxima, the proximity of the trees means that you can’t really see out to the surrounding area. Still, they are pleasant places to stop for a bite.
Once we reached the end of the Lost Pines trail, we followed the park road 1A around to a campground where the trailhead of the Scenic Overlook trail began. Nearby we found the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) rain shelter, built during the mid-1930s when FDR put jobless young men to work building state and national park facilities. Bastrop State Park does a nice job of drawing attention to the work of these young men with plenty of signage for original CCC structures. On one historical board we learned that, in the first three months of employment in the CCC, young men gained an average of 11-1/4 pounds! What a difference hard labor and regular meals can make.
Trail signage in general in the park was quite good, though we did stop a couple times to decipher exactly which direction the arrows on the sign post were indicating. The trails were not difficult to follow and bridges abounded for crossing streams. We found at least one gentleman trail jogging and saw others out hiking and bird-watching. Signs indicated that dogs are permitted on some of the trails. Our one real complaint was that the noise of civilization was rarely out of earshot, but, given the proximity to Highway 21 and the fact that the Lost Pines themselves take up only 13 miles or so, this can’t really be helped. The highway fades into background noise, broken by the occasional train or aircraft.
On the Scenic Overlook trail, we saw and heard the majority of the birds that we noted in the trip, including a couple of cardinals as well as several birds we failed to identify. (I grew up being quizzed on the trees of Northwest Arkansas, not the birds. By the way, Mom, there are lots of post oaks in Bastrop, too.) It’s not quite the mating season for the Houston toad yet, but we passed many a still pool of water that they’ll use when it starts in February and March.
In addition to the sandstone outcropping, Joe enjoyed himself exploring the geology of Bastrop, particularly when he discovered harder, multicolored rocks that stopped us in our tracks while he analyzed them. I hesitantly identified them as a form of chert, which, upon further reflection, seems to have been the right answer.
My favorite part, though, was the trees themselves. I grew up in primarily deciduous forests and while a thick green blanket from ground to sky makes me very happy, I’ve never been able to adequately capture the glow of golden rays of sunlight falling through a verdant forest. The pines of Bastrop were, I found, far more photogenic.
Our trip through Bastrop was relatively brief, but quite enjoyable. I’m keen to go back and do the full Lost Pines trail sometime, and I think it would be a nice place to hike in the spring when animals are out but the temperatures aren’t too high yet. Bastrop is also home to a lake (with canoe rentals) and numerous campgrounds, primitive and otherwise. I also have standing plans to cycle park road 1C, which stretches between Bastrop and Buescher State Parks, at some point during my time in Texas. But that, I think, will wait for warmer, sunnier days than we’re currently experiencing!