Looking for Bigtooth
By Melissa Gaskill
As dusk settles over the campground, a faint chorus rises from the reed-fringed pond next to my tent.
Primitive C, one of the most popular campgrounds in Lost Maples State Natural Area, lies a mile down a broad gravel trail, at a fork in the East and West hiking trails. Tents pop up along the shore of the three-quarter-acre pond, fed by Can Creek, beneath oak and sycamore trees. Lost Maples has only 30 developed campsites, but eight primitive areas can each accommodate multiple campers. The only catch: You have to carry your gear a mile or two, and, in some cases, up steep slopes.
But treats such as frog symphonies and starry skies—and the chance to soak up some of the park’s legendary fall color without much competition—make the effort more than worth it.
Lost Maples, which straddles the Edwards Plateau and Balcones Escarpment, holds the headwaters of the cool, clear Sabinal River, which flows into the Frio River—whose own headwaters are nearby. Besides rugged limestone canyons, springs, clear streams, plateau grasslands, and wooded slopes, Lost Maples also harbors several large, isolated stands of Uvalde Bigtooth Maples. Ancestors of these rare trees survived in the shelter of canyons created by erosion and weathering when the climate around them warmed after the last ice age. The trees aren’t truly lost, as the park’s name suggests, but more like left behind.
The largest stand of maples in the park, lining the banks of the Sabinal, is easily accessible by the appropriately named Maple Trail, which is just under a mile long, or along the beginning of the East Trail, which continues on for another four miles or so. Either route allows for enjoying and photographing brilliant red shades set against limestone cliffs and pale green pools of water. Naturally, this area attracts a great deal of attention during peak fall foliage season, which generally occurs around the last two weeks of October and first two weeks of November.
Those willing to expend a bit more energy can get away from the crowds, as smaller stands and scattered maples can be found along the park’s 11 miles of trails. Quite a few grow along the southmost section of the West Trail, about a mile in from the parking area on the way to Campground D. This area also has a few black walnut trees, and red and Lacey oaks are abundant all along the West Trail.
Although maples are most famous, these other trees contribute to the fall color display in the park, more or less in sequence. Walnut and golden-brown sycamore trees typically turn in early October, for example. Maples follow as nights get cooler later in the month, typically peaking in early November and lasting about two weeks; they start to drop their leaves by mid-November, ending up mostly bare by Thanksgiving. Sycamores, walnuts, and Lacey oaks turn colors in mid- to late October, and Texas
From the November 2012 issue.