Hiking (and Learning About Bugs) at Buescher State Park

A couple of weeks after our trip to Bastrop State Park, on a cool spring day with lots of sunshine, Mom and I arrived at Buescher State Park. Beautiful deciduous trees, untouched by the wildfire that had decimated the pine forest at the Bastrop park a few miles away, lined the roadway into Buescher. We passed the small, still lake by the entrance and parked next to the trailhead for the Winding Woodland Trail to meet up with a group for a scheduled guided hike.

Why were we going on a guided hike? Well, during our previous state park excursions, Mom and I had seen neat stuff (birds, bugs, trees, flowers, rock formations, bridges, etc.). But we usually had questions about what we were seeing — like “oooh what’s that flower called?” or “what is that rustling in the bushes?” — and bumbling around alone wasn’t giving us answers. In the Spring of 2018, Texas Master Naturalist volunteers fanned out across the state park system and provided guided tours, lectures, and demonstrations about different nature subjects. The interpretive hike offered at Buescher on the day we went was called “Tiny Predators, Tiny Prey.” It seemed like an interesting topic, so we made it a point to time our arrival so that we could attend. It was our first hike with a guide, and we were excited about it.

We easily found the Master Naturalist (a middle-aged gentleman) at the trailhead for the Winding Woodland Trail.

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The trailhead

We were joined by a handful of others, including a small kid. It occurred to me that I had been so focused on what we might obtain from a guided hike (safety in numbers, information, experience) that I had not factored in what we might lose (the peacefulness that comes from not having to deal with other people for several hours). Mom and I realized that this was going to be a different kind of adventure than our other state park excursions.

The way that this hike worked was that the group would walk along the trail, the naturalist in the lead, chatting with the group. Periodically, the guide would stop and point out something cool near the trail (like a spider web or ant bed) and provide some fun facts. Not all of the stops involved things that were actually present, though. He had a prepared lecture with laminated photos of small bugs, and sometimes the stop was to provide information from that material. So, for example, even though we didn’t see any actual ant-lions, we learned quite a bit about them just from the lecture.

The Winding Woodland Trail is moderately long, so the guided hike’s destination was short of the whole thing, ending at a creek bed in the trail. It was a little tricky to maneuver, what with the mud and running water, but it was certainly easier than the quagmire at Fort Boggy. That creek bed turnaround provided the longest stop and lecture. Most of the lecture focused on dragonflies, the attack helicopters of the insect world. We did not see any dragonflies on that hike, but we learned a bunch! At least, we were told a lot of stuff about dragonflies. Unfortunately, all I really remember from that lesson is that they eat a whole lot of different kinds of bugs, they’ve got a crazy visual system, and they’re good flyers.

Prior to reaching the creek bed, there was a pipeline clearing. The pipeline clearing contained a field of wildflowers teaming with various bugs and pollinators.

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I wonder what they’re doing in that flower…
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This one looks lonely

After reaching the creek, hearing the lecture, and turning around, we saw some more critters.

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All told, the hike was around a mile. Afterwards, Mom and I thanked the guide and went to the lake to figure out our next moves.

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It was a pretty day.

The portion of the Winding Woodland Trail we hiked is marked in blue on the map below. Mom and I planned to do the short CCC Crossover, check out the Big Tree Retreat, and then do a little mini-loop, using the Pine Gulch Trail but taking a shortcut over the Barred Owl Path.  All of those hikes are also marked in blue below. There were some trail closures, and they’re marked black on that map.

Trails Map-1 edited
I aim to be helpful.

After making plans, we walked around the small lake. While doing so, we saw many a dragonfly! We had just learned stuff about them!

dragonfly collage

After walking around the lake, we drove to the parking area for a walk on the CCC Crossover, a short trail (less than a quarter of a mile, round trip) situated in the middle of two large camping areas. The main attractions of this trail were historical bridges and Civilian Conservation Corps constructed staircases and rock walls. The path had strange footing, and there were some moderate elevation changes. Fortunately, it was well-shaded.

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After that short hike, we went to the Big Tree Retreat, where a large cedar elm tree was located. It used to be the state champion cedar elm, but it lost the belt to some tree around Dallas. It’s Point of Interest #2 on the trail map.

It was a big tree.

You can’t really get close to the big tree. The trail ends at an observation platform containing signage with some fun facts about cedar elms and Spanish moss.

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A cedar elm is actually not a cedar at all. Spanish moss is growing on this one. Spanish moss is not really a moss. Who is coming up with these names??

There were smaller trees nearby the observation platform, with flowers. Bees were crawling all over those flowers. I’m scared of bees. I’m not allergic, but I am slightly phobic. It was an uncomfortable time for me on that platform.

After viewing the tree, we drove to Point of Interest 5, a scenic point.

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Pictured: wildflowers Not Pictured: a fence that I stuck my camera through to take this picture

We then drove to the parking lot by Point of Interest 6, another scenic point.

We began the hike. Aaaand, a family was in front of us. A loud family. Because of the noise, Mom and I doubted we would see any wildlife. And that family ahead of us moved sloooow. I was sub-stoked. Fortunately, they did eventually let us pass by them, but we always seemed to be able to hear them just a little behind us, even when we couldn’t see them. As scared as Mom and I got on the trails at other parks, we realized that other members of the public around can provide a different kind of Miserable.

We did have a dicey moment involving movement in a bush. It shook as we got close to it. Bushes shouldn’t shake, as a general rule. We watched it intently, and we scurried past it very quickly. We did not want to get sprayed by a skunk! With that other family hot on our heels – and a little worried about what we might discover – Mom and I did not linger to determine the source of that bush-shaking.

The trail was more “open” than the others we had seen that day. As in, we didn’t have very much shade.

The main takeaway from this hiking trip is that…I didn’t get us lost! For the first time, Mom and I went down every trail as planned.

To celebrate, I bought an ice cream bar from the park store. Eating our snacks, we saw a little caterpillar thingy eating the bench we were sitting on.

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Nom nom nom

Ultimately, the views of Buescher State Park were pretty, but not as novel-y apocalyptic as Bastrop State Park, just a few miles away. We were struck by the stark difference between those two parks, so close together, yet so different. We looked forward to seeing the differences in other Texas State Parks!

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