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Archive for the ‘Nature Hikes’ Category

A unique feature of our city is the sheer number of green spaces that we get to enjoy, in fact, Austin’s Parks & Recreation Department uses the tag-line “the city within a park”. Just after graduating from college, I moved away from Austin, but returned later to raise my son here. Just prior to moving back to Austin, I remember having a number of very vivid & beautiful dreams about the trees here. I often tell people that it was the trees that brought me back to Austin. I know there are many people who share my love for all the green spaces that our city has to offer– one such person is Jay. Jay recently moved to Austin from having lived in the Northern part of the U.S. He has been enjoying hiking the Nature Trails throughout Austin and has agreed to contribute to this blog by writing about the distinguishing characteristics about some of the different trails and nature preserves in and around our city from his own perspective. Jay’s first write-up is on hiking around the Barton Creek Greenbelt:

As with most things I do, the urge to hike that day was pure spontaneity. I had been up early to go bird watching, more like bird listening because it was still dark for most of the event. But after some tennis drills and a late lunch, I found my energy level still high. With a clear blue day, temperature just right, and a desire to commune with nature, all I had to do was decide where. My first inclination was Enchanted Rock, but a quick look at the clock told me that was not a reasonable choice.  So I decided to hike one of my favorite Austin sites, Barton Creek. Most of my experience with this trail has been running it. Today I decided to slow down and walk a portion I had not previously visited.

Photo of Barton Creek flowing rapidly.

With the recent rains the creek was running full. --Photo used with permission by Jay

Getting across was not an option so starting at the Loop 360 Access point I walked the western edge.

The initial track follows the bluffs around the knee of the creek. The knee is where the creek makes a left hand turn and begins flowing easterly. This turn has created some great spots for picnicking or resting in the shade. As I was just starting I carefully picked my way over this one rough spot on the trail. I have to say thanks to the volunteers that have worked on the trail. They have carved steps in certain portions making it easier to navigate this difficult portion. The good news is once you leave this behind the trail is level, fairly smooth and shaded. This makes for a great stress reliever which is what I was looking for. My eye caught a flash of yellow in the sunlight and as I walked out into a little clearing saw across the creek a huge field of yellow flowers.

Photo of field of yellow flowers.

You can see clear blue sky, a full creek (just like a river) and the swath of yellow that caught my eye. --Photo used with permission by Jay

I passed Twin Falls which was the major attraction that day. Families of all sizes had made the trek to enjoy the sun, water and beauty offered by this amazing slice of nature. I talked with kids about 2 years old, teenagers and adults, so the trail can be navigated by all. By the way, I would recommend a good pair of running shoes if you don’t have boots. Once passed the falls my pace picked up and I enjoyed stretching my legs out.

View of Barton Creek along the trail.

This pace ate up the distance quickly but I kept my head up and enjoyed the views. --Photo used with permission by Jay

Not to be outdone by the yellow sunflowers, all sorts of smaller wildflowers were in bloom. This kept my eye and brain engaged as I continued walking north. Approximately 1.5 miles after Twin Falls the path was finally blocked by water and terrain, try as I might a clear trail was not available.  I had wanted to walk to the Scottish Woods Trail Access point, but it was not to be. The return trip proved to be fruitful as I saw both a Texas Coral Snake and a large interesting black beetle.

Photo of Coral Snake found on trail.

Texas Coral Snake --Photo used with permission by Jay

Photo of black beetle.

--Photo used with permission by Jay

Both were on the trail and keeping an eye pealed can provide for some interesting interactions with wildlife. The snake almost got himself run over by a mountain biker. I was glad to be standing over him as the rider came around a bend and I stopped him just in time. Mr Coral did not seem to mind me taking his picture, but as soon as the mountain biker showed, he high-tailed it into the bush.  The sun was starting to drop below the rim of the canyon as I finished my hike. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed myself and would recommend this trail to anyone. All that is needed is a good pair of shoes, bottle of water, and a desire to see the beauty Barton Creek has to offer.

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As I’m writing this, I’m thinking about the phrase “art in public places.” In the High Line’s case, it would be “nature in public places.” I’ve always found the transected ecosystems that happen in areas of high human population to be very interesting– neighborhood yards separated by concrete sidewalks & tarred streets, patio gardens in an apartment hi-rise, trees that line downtown avenues. I’ve wondered about these green islands and about the creatures that populate them. I’ve marveled at the complexity of some green spaces in such small areas & can’t imagine living without getting to see a tree outside my own window change with the seasons.

The High Line is a contiguous green space built on an old elevated train platform in Manhattan’s West Side neighborhoods of the Meatpacking District, West Chelsea and Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen. The design is truly beautiful and the really great thing is that it runs contiguously for a mile & a half. I think of all the people in the offices & apartments above who now have this to look out on everyday. A tree planted is a tree shared.

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Nature Journaling

One of my most treasured books from college is a nature journal that I was required to keep for a Natural History course. My drawing skills were minimal, but I enjoyed capturing an image of what I observed in a pencil drawing. For the class, we were graded on thoroughness–documenting location of observation well enough so that someone else might be able to follow our footsteps and make the same discovery– also, keen observations, and write-ups of science/ nature research journal reading. Here is an excerpt:

At the edge of Fire Fly Meadow and a cedar forest, I found a small turtle (approx. 5 in. in length & width). He had reddish brown eyes and red markings at this temples. Along the side of his arms & legs he had yellow splotches (Box turtle?). When I noticed him, under a small brush, his head and legs were pulled into his shell–high, very round. When I picked him up, he slowly came out of his shell while making sighing sounds.

Along the same border between the cedar forest & Fire Fly Meadow, which is a managed grassland, I also found a tree frog clinging vertically to a tall plant. I picked him up and noticed his whitish toe pads, and a white/ slightly yellowish mark along his side. He was bright light green in body color. He was also cool to the touch. (Green Treefrog, Hyla cinerea)

Looking back & seeing the TA’s gentle & encouraging comments, I feel gratitude to her for not taking away from my learning experience & enthusiam by marking my precious journal up with red x’s or criticisms. I made behavioral observations, learned to identify species (sometimes incorrectly :) ), and came to look closely enough to fall in love with those creatures I shared space with–how intriguing even pigeon behavior had become whereas before I had only seen them as nuisance edge species. And occasionally I made observations that were of my human companions:

Mile 213.7 (south & east on 361 at 6:37pm)–Brown Pelican

“What is that bird over there?” –Julie

“That’s a rock.  Have you ever seen a rock fly?”–Andrew

Mile 217.5 Brown Pelicans in flight

“No, but I’ve seen a rock skip!” –Julie

Since then, I’ve shared my love of nature journaling with 3 year olds as we created very simple nature journals together–with lots of pictures, with a 4th grade science club, and with my own son. When he was little I wrote the words that he described to me & he drew or took photos with a polaroid camera. In his latest journal(used for the Science club that we created together), we glued a Keep Austin Beautiful scat & animal track id sheet to the inside of the front cover, and the entries had pictures he drew as well as short descriptions. One of his recent entries:

“Mom & I were taking samples of some pond water, and I thought the pond was dry, because these (points to taped duckweed) were covering it. So I stepped into “a deep part” of the pond, and got soaked from my feet to my thighs.”

I know that this will be a memory that he will cherish later and I’m glad that I was able to share it with him. We both had been surprised & then doubled over in laughter at what had happened. The duckweed had turned a warm reddish-brown color and densely covered the surface of the pond- it sure looked alot like a layer of mud!

As part of the “Smithsonian In your Classroom” series, nature journaling is implemented in classroom learning. The students record descriptions of the animals they observe in their journals and then go on to make notes, and then hypotheses, about the animals’ behaviors. As the Smithsonian points out, nature journaling is becoming more popular as a learning tool. And it is a powerful learning took because it allows children to ask the questions– by giving them time to observe, reflect & make hypotheses. And I would hope, like me, they will take away from it a deep love for the world that they observed so closely.

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