Deep within the piney forests of East Texas, I watch fireflies dance like tiny warriors with flaming spears. Each little flash doesn’t signal aggression, though; these sparkling bugs use their luminescence to look for love. Earlier in the week, at the Big Thicket Visitor Center, I had learned that each species of firefly has its own unique pattern, and that the males flash in flight, while the females stay put and blink only when a compatible mate turns on his taillight. It’s a mystery I never contemplated prior to this trip. As the light show continues, mirrored by the glimmer of the occasional star through the murky night sky, I am reminded once again that nature’s wonders come in all sizes—great, small, and somewhere in between.
Take a hike. Rather than a brush-off, to me this sounds like an invitation to have a great time. Hiking offers one of the most accessible and versatile ways to enjoy the outdoors. Naturally, Texas boasts an amazing array of hikes for every taste and ability—from strolls of less than a mile to treks longer than 100 miles, through thick woods or open country, on high mountain slopes or smooth, flat shores. Here’s a selection of 10 of my favorites.
The Big Thicket is a region of southeast Texas often called "America's Ark" for its phenomenal diversity of plant species. The Big Thicket National Preserve, created by Congress in 1974 with 84,500 acres, consists of 15 units that represent major ecological systems, ranging from upland mixed hardwood-evergreen forests, familiar to Appalachia, to the Southwestern desert. Even reindeer moss, common to the arctic tundra, thrives in one part of the Big Thicket.
In the early afternoon of a hot autumn day, I launch my canoe on the Big Thicket Corridor of the Neches River just below B.A. Steinhagen Reservoir. The take-out point for this several-day trip lies 108 river-miles downstream, on the outskirts of Beaumont.
In the deep, dark woods of East Texas resides a magical, almost spiritual place. It has been known by many names: the Big Woods, the Biological Crossroads of North America, America’s Ark, the Tight-eye Thicket, and the Bear Hunter’s Happy Hunting Grounds. But nowadays, most Texans just call it the Big Thicket.