Saturday, April 5, 2014

Little Lake Creek Wilderness- Sam Houston National Forest, Texas

It's been over 15 years since I've set foot in the Piney Woods of East Texas,but it was our camping and hiking getaway when we lived in Houston  throughout the 90's.This was my first visit back to the Houston area for anything more than a quick meal, since we moved to Las Cruces in 1998, but before the move, Hunstville State Park, Double Lake, Martin Dies State Park, Big Thicket National Preserve, Lake Houston State Park ( now park of City of  Houston Parks System) were all familiar destinations to us.
       I had thought about doing some fishing on Peach Creek, the small,sandy bottomed clear water stream where I first began to fly fish 17 years ago. Instead,  I was intrigued by the existence of small wilderness area in Sam Houston National Forest, not far from where my step- daughter lives in Conroe. On the third day of our visit the clouds lifted, and we drove out for a hike on perfect Spring day. At first  I was met with the disappointment. The wilderness area was closed to do a prescribed burn, so we headed down the Lone Star Trail which follows a power line cut through a well thinned  forest of mostly pines, although there were some blooming dogwoods along the stream beds we crossed. The trail was wide and open to the sun. The power poles and lines, and the obvious look (the semi- regular spacing of the trees,the similar age of all the trees) of a harvested forest were not contributing well to my desire to hike in natural setting. We turned around after  a mile after seeing we were about to have to cross a busy road. When we got back to the parking lot we arrived just in time to see some Forest Service personnel removing the sign and tape at the entrance to the Little Lake Wilderness, so off we went down the winding trail.
       It was quite a different experience. The trail, was just that, a trail, not an old logging road. It was tunneled into an understory of shrubs,vines and small trees, while towering above us were huge loblolly pines. As we approached the first stream (Pole Creek) we began to  see palmettos, which gave me warm nostalgia for my time spent in Texas. The creek itself had only a  small flow , but our dogs ( Seamus and his buddy Finn- two Scotties) enjoyed it immensely. Here, there were hardwood trees  with just a hint of green on the branches of their crowns a hundred feet above  us.

 We now  turned south to stay in the wilderness and continue on to Little Lake Creek.The trail was muddy in places here in the bottom lands. There were remnants of little wooden causeways that had once helped visitors keep their feet out of the water and the mud. We passed a shallow, palmetto lined pond and saw turkey vultures perched low to the ground, which gave a true picture of their immense size.  We also saw a cardinal couple and a downy woodpecker. We made it to Little Lake Creek which had more  flow but a much smaller channel carved than Pole Creek( or maybe it only appeared to have a greater flow because of its smaller channel). This was a perfect little hike for this time year. It  was an out and back of about  5 miles, but we were on a trail called the Little Lake Creek Loop. This is a late fall through early spring kind of place. Don't even think about doing it from May to September. It will be outrageously hot and humid with the insect population going full bore. As it was I got two ticks attached to my back which I discovered the next morning.

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