A Camp Fire USA Balcones Council youth backpacking trip to Lost Maples State Natural Area
April 13-15, 2007
5 youth (all girls this time) and 3 adults
Trip Leader: Mina Loomis
Lost Maples State Natural Area, near Vanderpool, Texas, is located in the Texas Hill Country on the higher, steeper, southwestern side of the region. It is primarily a mixed oak/juniper forest, with Uvalde Bigtooth Maple in the deep canyons. The park, as are many Texas parks, was previously a working ranch, so some of the trails are truck tracks dating from ranching days. In the canyons, narrower foot trails follow the creek beds. The ridges are steep and the creek canyons between them have high forested bluffs and overhangs vertical gardens of maidenhair ferns and wildflowers. There is a lot of Texas mountain laurel (sophora secundiflora) blooming in the park in the spring, which makes it smell nice. The clear, shallow creeks in the canyon bottoms flow over limestone. There are a couple of flowing springs in the park, one right next to the West Trail. Our hike took us around the East Trail, which follows the Sabinal River (creek-sized at this point) and tributary Hale Hollow Creek upstream, then climbs over the steep ridge and down the other side to the ponds formed by Can Creek. We take the West Trail from there, around the rest of the park, through Mystic Canyon, over the next ridge to Dry Creek (which is no drier than the others), and back to the East Trail to complete the loop. This is exquisite country, in a more subtle way than the grand mountains of the western US. The route we covered is about 7 miles, with another couple of miles for side trips to the various backcountry campsites for our service project.
For two of the girls, both age 15, this was their first backpacking trip. For the other three, ages 12, 13, and 14, it was their second trip, their first being our overnight to Bastrop State Park last fall. This was also the first backpacking experience for two of the adults.
We encountered heavy rain and thunderstorms on the 4 hour drive from Austin to Lost Maples, but by the time we arrived at the park, it was raining only lightly. The youth, many of whom had been napping, were offered the option of camping by the cars or hiking in the rain. All wanted to hike. We put on our rain gear, shouldered our packs, and headed out. The East Trail crosses the shallow creek several times, on stones set out for hikers. Our first night’s camp (Camp A) is about a mile from the trailhead.
Everyone was up by about 8:30 a.m. Saturday, fixing hot drinks and breakfast. At about 9:30 a.m., Ranger Bailey arrived in a park truck, with clippers and gloves, and our assignment—cutting out invasive juniper seedlings from the area by the creek at Camp A. While Mina walked back to the Ranger Station to pay fees (we arrived after the Station closed the night before), the rest of the group clipped junipers. We were packed up and on the trail by around 11:00 a.m. Soon one of the kids spotted a really long (about 4 ft.) snake crossing a log over the creek. We all marveled at it until it disappeared in the brush on the other side. All the kids turned out to be strong hikers on the steep climb to the top of the ridge. The weather was sunny, chilly, and quite windy. At the ridge top, we dropped our packs and took the spur over to the Overlooks. Our other service project assignment was to check each Primitive Camp, bring out any trash, and dismantle and obliterate any fire rings. After a snack back at the junction, we hiked to Camp B, where we found some trash and a large, broken-down cabin tent. The ruined tent was too bulky for us to carry along with our packs, so we left it for the Park Rangers to bring out. We had a leisurely lunch at the Fishing Ponds at Camp C. Proceeding on the West Trail, our next stop was at the Spring, where we filtered some water and had a pleasant rest. At the junction with West Trail Loop, four youth and Mina hiked without packs up to Camps G and H. No trash or fire rings were found up there, but we did have nice visits with some Boy Scouts and other campers. We all continued on the West Trail up Mystic Canyon, an especially beautiful area that everyone enjoyed. We heard many frog and bird calls, and found fossil imprints in the bedrock in the (mostly dry) creek. There is one more stiff climb out of Mystic Canyon just before Camp E. Everyone was pretty tired by the time we got to camp at around 5:30 p.m. We set up tents and tarp. Some people did a little bit of exploring. Camp E is at the edge of the woods on one of the ridge tops, and from nearby one can see far across the canyons and hills of the park and beyond. One of the girls found a big fire ring, and she and a companion thoroughly dismantled it while Mina took pictures. We all fixed our suppers. One of the youth had brought all granola, trail mix, and energy bars, which turned out not to be all that appetizing by the second day, so others kindly fixed an extra freeze-dried dinner to share with her. Mina’s old Whisperlite stove, recently repaired, failed again (for the last time!) so she shared the Council Simmerlite. As it was starting to get dark, it was pretty windy, so people wanted to sit inside tents instead of hanging out together outside. No one had brought cards or games—next time remind the kids to bring—so we all turned in early. Mina found, during the night, that the catenary tarp (Integral Designs Silwing), even when strung low and staked all the way to the ground, admits a stiff wind around the edges. She slept much better after wrapping the mylar space blanket ground cloth around the top of her sleeping bag.
In the morning we were up by around 8:30 a.m. It was sunny, kind of cold, and not as windy. We quickly warmed up by running around. Part of the group visited Camp F, and determined it was clean, with no fire rings. From this point the West Trail heads back down into the canyon of Dry Creek, past Camp D (were there were college student campers from San Marcos, but no fire rings or trash), to the East Trail. There were may frogs chirping in the creek, and the forest was lush with the recent rains. On the last stretch of the East Trail, there is a sighting stand for a redtail hawk nest on the bluff across the creek. We were able to see the nest but not the hawks. We chatted for a few minutes with some birdwatchers, and arrived back at the cars at about 11:30 a.m.
We stopped at the Ranger Station on our way out, to look at the little nature museum there, and make our service project report. The Rangers thanked us, and said they would send someone up with a truck for the big tent at Camp B. We sat on grass for a bit, watched the hummingbirds at the feeder, and talked about our trip. Everyone had a good time, and seemed proud of their accomplishments. Some folks, including adults, wished for a place where we could have a social fire in the evening, although we all acknowledged that, with the windy conditions, even if fires had been permitted, we wouldn’t have had one on this trip. Everyone expressed interest in future trips.
Mina’s gear for this trip:
Pack: ULA Catalyst
Bag: REI Kilo Flash, in silnylon dry sack
Pad: Ridgerest ¾
Ground cloth: mylar space blanket
Tarp: Silwing, 5 Lazr titanium stakes, 1 Easton tubular stake, thin nylon cord.
Stove: Whisperlite (for group use), 8 oz fuel bottle.
Utensils: Firelite Titanium 500, Mountain Hardwear Foon, titanium mug, MSR coffee filter
Group First Aid kit
Water treatment: Katadyn Hiker Pro (group use)
Water containers: REI Watersack (alas, discontinued) and a 1 liter empty soda bottle.
Ditty bags: 2 BMW Spinsack Lites size M
Clothing: REI Sahara convertible pants, Smartwool LW longsleeve shirt, REI Sierra shirt, REI Outrigger bucket hat, Smartwool socks, Vasque Blur XCR shoes, nylon rope sandals for camp, ExOfficio underwear, REI Thermo fleece vest, Marmot Ion ’07 windshirt, Marmot Precip rain jacket, microfleece beanie, one extra pair of Smartwool socks.
Digital camera and batteries.
Misc small items: compass, whistle, small pocket knife, toothbrush, bandanna, small microfleece pack towel, minidrop bottles of sunscreen, deet, hand sanitizer, and dish soap, 2 photon X-micro LED lights with 2 extra batteries, small hairbrush, a few baby wipes in a ziplock, Spark-Lite fire starting kit, 1 small box of matches, Whisperlite repair kit (ha!), McNett fabric repair kit, ball point pen, National Geographic Adventure magazine, park map.
Food: granola, falafel sandwich, Annie’s mac & cheese with some browned hamburger, 3 apples, coffee, cream, brown sugar. Packed in small ziplocks where needed.
Weights: About 16 lbs base weight, maybe 28 lbs with food & water.