On a wet and windy December day in 1828, French naturalist Jean Louis Berlandier, mounted on horseback and in the company of a Mexican expedition exploring the “mountainous” environs of southwest Texas, breached a rise and stared into the fog-laden depths of Cañón de Don Juan Ugalde.
“The Cañón de Ugalde adds a mountainous aspect to a fertile terrain and is one of the prettiest sites in Texas,” Berlandier wrote in his journal, where he also recounted an unsuccessful attempt to capture a male buffalo and the prevalence of large oak forests roamed by bear.
A botanist by training, Berlandier sketched the likeness and recorded the properties of flora he encountered in the canyons and valleys formed by the Sabinal, Frio, Dry Frio, Leona, and Nueces rivers, located within today’s Uvalde County. Among the “diverse species of flowers and fruits in full growth,” Berlandier made particular note of Texas walnut (Juglans microcarpa), Texas mountain laurel (Sophora secundiflora), a variety of Texas redbud (Cercis sp.), and numerous cacti, including Texas prickly pear (Opuntia lindheimeri).
On a brisk and hopefully sun-bathed morning this month, Texas naturalist Sage Kawecki, on horseback and in the company of a small group of other mounted nature enthusiasts, will breach a hilltop and gaze upon a canyon very much like the Cañón de Ugalde. Beyond the canyon’s juniper- and oak-laden hillsides, she will see the crystalline Frio River, and a profusion of wildflowers casting broad swaths of color across the valley and pastures below. And she may think to herself, as did Berlandier, “This is one of the prettiest sites in Texas.”
From the April 2003 issue.