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Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail

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Offline randell

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Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« on: February 12, 2008, 10:27:08 AM »
Not so much a trip report.  More notes and photos:

Last weekend my friend Matt and a co-worker of his joined me to hike the 17.5 mile Turkey Creek trail in the Big Thicket National Preserve.  We had planned on hiking this trail a few years ago but then hurricane Rita hit and the park service was forced to shut the trail until they could clear it.  Two years later we finally got to hike the trail.  It is a beautiful trail.  Rather than just a few types of trees, shrubs, etc, this trail is extremely diverse - the reason it is part of the Big Thicket.  The area is known as the ecological crossroads.  Here are found plants that occur nowhere else in Texas.  There are carniverous pitcher plants and sundew, several type of pine, beech (which is a Northern tree), blackberry, cherry, yucca, prickly pear, palmetto, cypress, many types of oak, tupelo, magnolia, and many others I cannot name. 

The reason for this gathering of different plants is that a millenia ago this area was an ocean.  As the ocean receded, different soil types were deposited at slightly different elevations.  The different soil types are favorable to different communities of plants.  Hence one might see prickly pear and yucca within sight of a cypress swamp. 

There are 9 or so units in the preserve, each chosen for it's excellent demonstration of a unique habitat.  The Turkey Creek unit has several habitats and is the largest of the units.  The Turkey Creek trail runs through it parallelling the Turkey Creek trail, which drains into the larger Village Creek towards the end of the trail.  Village creek itself is an interesting treat.  I have canoed it and along the brown-tannin stained water you will find large white sandbanks with sand that resembles the sand you would find in Florida.  The Neches River a few miles east has these same white sandy banks - and was named the "Snow River" by Native Americans because of the white sand. 

On a sad note, one of the units, the Beech Creek unit is noted for it's proliferation of Beech trees.  Beech trees were dominant with very little understory of smaller trees and shrubs resulting in a very open, shady forest.  Hurricane Rita made a direct hit and toppled almost every Beech tree in the unit and since most are relics from a cooler time, they are not regenerating.  A great loss for the park and East Texas.

Turkey Creek is not a trail you would do between June and September - if the heat didn't kill you, the mosquitos would.  On this hike we only encountered one mosquito and one biting fly.  We didn't even have to use our bug spray.  The weather was perfect - 40 at night and 70 during the day.

I am no naturalist, but fortunately for me my two companions are both environmental scientists.  The entire 17.5 miles they were naming plants and trees that I would have had not hope of identifying.  It made for an educational hike.

We hit the trail at 11:20am on Saturday and made camp 11.6 miles later at 5pm.  Our camp was a small clearing off of the trial.  Turkey Creek was not far away and at dusk we were serenaded by a multitude of frogs and insects that had some of the prettiest songs I have ever heard.  At dawn we were serenaded again, but this time by birds - a lot of birds that had an equally beautiful song.  I was a treat - very different from the calm silence of Big Bend. 

There were lots of fallen trees from the hurricane.  Some were just snapped in half.  Some had fallen onto other trees and snapped those trees in half.  Others had been uprooted and left gaping holes and 6-8 foot tall roots sticking out of the ground. 
This photos is from a different trip, but it shows one of the trees ripped out of the ground by the hurricane:



Sunday we hiked the remainder and got back to the car at 11:20am - 17.5 miles in 24 hours. 

And now, the photos:


Turkey Creek trail


Turkey Tail fungi on a rotting log.  These fungi help the fallen trees deteriorate.


Hiking the trail


Sundew carniverous plant - these are the size of a dime - easily missed if you don't know what you are looking for.


Pitcher Plant - another carniverous plant.


Water so tannin-stained it is black!


Turkey Creek


Inlet of non-moving water that meets Turkey Creek.  Note the line of dark-tannin stained water from the inlet.


Camp, after 11.6 miles of hiking.


Dawn hits the trees at camp


Turkey Creek in the morning


There is a bench every mile or so along the trail.  Most are normal benches.  This bench, oddly, was so high that even my feet (I'm 6'2") could not touch the ground!


Giant leafcutter ant colony we found next to the trail in a sandy area.


A leafcutter ant.


A baby long-leaf pine.  These trees are becoming rare as they require fire to make the seedling emerge from the seed.  Since most fire is surpressed, new seedlings are not growing.  This seedling was next to a charred older tree, the result of a controlled burn by the NPS to assist in the sprouting of long-leaf pine.


One of several bridges the cross Village Creek.  Turkey Creek drains into Village Creek.


Symmetrical Cypress trees.  Notice how both trees are almost mirror images of each other.


Lots of Cypress knees - scientists have still not determined the exact purpose of Cypress tree knees.


Musclewood tree - named for obvious reasons


Woodpeckers really like this tree.


I believe this is a Lovell Violet - it was the only blooming flower we encountered.


Louisianna Yucca

We had purposely taken a side-loop called the Sandhill loop to see prickly pear and yucca.  They are supposed to be common in this area.  However, we did not see them.  Back at the ranger station I inquired.  The ranger said they were all over and we must not have been looking.   I told her we saw the leafcutter ant colony and she remarked: "you saw the colony but missed the cactus?"  It told her we had all been very observant and looking specifically for prickly pear and yucca.  "Have you never seen a prickly pear?", she asked.  "Um, yes, plenty, but I want to see a prickly pear in East Texas."  It's silly, I guess, but it would just be cool...and it would make me feel like I was home in Big Bend just a little bit.

She seemed incredulous that we had missed them but told me to drive down a dirt road alongside the park a few miles away and I could find some.  I did so and found some yucca - but no prickly pear.  Maybe I'll come back in May when they are blooming to see if I can find them again.
« Last Edit: February 12, 2008, 10:30:13 AM by randell »
There's nothing like a good quest to get you intimate with a place. - Tom Clynes

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Offline EdB

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2008, 12:17:51 PM »
Thanks Randell. I'm pretty sure I'll never make it there, but it's cool to see photos and get a bit of history on the place. You think maybe the rangers are just making it up about the prickly pears to mess with visitors?  :eusa_naughty:

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Offline Boojum1

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2008, 12:56:30 PM »
Thanks Randell. I'm pretty sure I'll never make it there, but it's cool to see photos and get a bit of history on the place. You think maybe the rangers are just making it up about the prickly pears to mess with visitors?  :eusa_naughty:

I haven't seen enough of the Big Thicket to say yea or nea on prickly pear, but I'd venture a guess that you're looking for a small species...pads about a 1/4" thick and about 2-3" long and oval.  I've seen some like that in sandy areas of Arkansas.  Its not the large version of central and west Texas. 

Nice plant and tree photos...too bad you couldn't find some orchids blooming though.  The BT has some nifty bogs (pitcher plant habitat).  Beech grows in association with Magnolia trees in selective and uncommon areas of ETX.
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Offline homerboy2u

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2008, 02:48:44 PM »
I simply would have never think , there was all this variety of plants up in East Texas...just not conceibable, until now of course.
Stay thirsty, my friends.

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Offline randell

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2008, 05:09:50 PM »
You think maybe the rangers are just making it up about the prickly pears to mess with visitors?  :eusa_naughty:

No, I have read in several books of their existence.  I just have to find one.

I'd venture a guess that you're looking for a small species...pads about a 1/4" thick and about 2-3" long and oval.  I've seen some like that in sandy areas of Arkansas.  Its not the large version of central and west Texas. 

Yes, the ranger mentioned that the local prickly pear were a much smaller version than the west Texas version.  There is a nature conservancy unit in the area that I plan to check out in the coming months.
There's nothing like a good quest to get you intimate with a place. - Tom Clynes

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Offline randell

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2008, 05:15:21 PM »
I simply would have never think , there was all this variety of plants up in East Texas...just not conceibable, until now of course.

I have only scratched the surface.  There used to be red wolf, cougar, and black bear all over the area until they were all exterminated.  Black Bear hunting was a huge sport.  I read one book about a bear hunter in the early 1900s saying he estimated there to be only a dozen black bear left in the area...so he went out to find and kill them because it was a fun sport. 

I am taking a few field guides the next time during wildflower season so I can identify more flowers and trees.  It's a very intersting place that is increasingly intersting the more you know about what you are looking at.
There's nothing like a good quest to get you intimate with a place. - Tom Clynes

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Ray52

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #6 on: February 12, 2008, 05:34:33 PM »
I used to stop on my way home from work and walk parts of the Turkey Creek trail.  Rita sure changed it, and the rest of the Big Thicket too.  My Dad grew up in Honey Island and I remember many, many mornings following him through the Thicket in pursuit of squirrels.  I never felt like it really mattered to him if we got any though, he just loved being there.  I just finished reading "Paddling the Wild Neches" and highly recommend it for a look at life in, and a nice history of the Big Thicket.  The author's name escapes me now and the book is loaned to my Dad, but it is well worth finding a copy.

And btw Randell.....your pictures are outstanding.

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Offline Roy

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #7 on: February 12, 2008, 05:41:37 PM »
Man that brings back memories.  Used to go to Camp Strake near Conroe when I was in BSA.  Hiking and camping near Lake Stein???? (can't remember the name).  This was mid 60s, wasn't part of the park system then, just the Piney Woods. 

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Offline bdann

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #8 on: February 12, 2008, 06:04:05 PM »
Hiking and camping near Lake Stein???? (can't remember the name). 

Steinhagen... 


Great set of photos Randell, very nice. 
WATER, It does a body good.

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oldfatman

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2008, 06:53:55 PM »
That Big Thicket area was my stomping grounds most of my early life.  It is a guarantee that there are many places with prickly pear cactus in the woods.  Seemed like there were several different shaped ones also. However it will usually be in a limited area then another limited area elsewhere scattered through out the woods, not all over everywhere for acres and acres like in the west.  You could get in a load of bank sand to level your yard in Houston and spend the next three years killing out the cactus that springs up.  They are there!

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2008, 08:11:18 PM »
Very nice Randell. Bet you would've seen those prickly pears if they'd had rattlesnakes in 'em.

One question though. Do those pitcher plants come with cold beer and frosted glasses?
Jeff Blaylock
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"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline randell

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #11 on: February 12, 2008, 09:05:21 PM »
I used to stop on my way home from work and walk parts of the Turkey Creek trail.  Rita sure changed it, and the rest of the Big Thicket too.  My Dad grew up in Honey Island and I remember many, many mornings following him through the Thicket in pursuit of squirrels.  I never felt like it really mattered to him if we got any though, he just loved being there.  I just finished reading "Paddling the Wild Neches" and highly recommend it for a look at life in, and a nice history of the Big Thicket.  The author's name escapes me now and the book is loaned to my Dad, but it is well worth finding a copy.

And btw Randell.....your pictures are outstanding.

Thanks!  I've read Big Thicket Legacy and Tales of the Big Thicket and I own or have borrowed a few picture/naturalist books covering the Big Thicket.  Paddling the Wild Neches is on my list.  I prefer the desert but the Big Thicket is so close I am trying to learn to love it.  I can take a day off of work, drive to the thicket and do some hiking and be home in time to pick up my boys from school!  It's a good place to tide me over between trips to Big Bend.
There's nothing like a good quest to get you intimate with a place. - Tom Clynes

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oldfatman

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #12 on: February 12, 2008, 09:12:56 PM »
Randell that is the same reason I have too much experience in the Big Thicket. Do a little canoe/kayak travel in the Thicket for some variety.  Kids love the paddle boats.

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Offline jr ranger

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Re: Big Thicket National Preserve - Turkey Creek Trail
« Reply #13 on: February 13, 2008, 10:42:28 AM »
Hey this sure looks like a trip report to me! Pretty darn good one too (as usual, Sir). Isn't it great to hike with other people that can teach you new stuff? I really like Big Bend Chat because of posts like this one. It's educational, great photo's & writing, a real class act!   :ranger:
"Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished."

 


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