Making a trip to the Lost Maples Natural Area was not part of my plan this time around. Our tent had been set up at Government Canyon, about an hour away. Storms had raged during our drive to Government Canyon from Corpus Christi and one lone cell had consequently soaked the area. When we woke in the morning, we discovered that the park employees had closed the trails. I was really hoping to relive childhood wonder at finding dinosaur tracks, rather than childhood disappointment at not being able to see them. So, here we were at Plan B: Lost Maples.
The view from the western parking lot was pretty incredible. The park sits within a bowl-shaped canyon, so I felt hemmed in from all sides by a circular wall of rock and deftly perched trees. I had missed the lush foliage that once filled my adventures in Virginia. South Texas lacked the large trees and deep forests that had been my home throughout my childhood. In the coastal plain of Virginia, where I lived, the many hardwood forests dwarfed anything that could be called a tree in Corpus Christi. At least, northwest of San Antonio, I felt a little more at home surrounded by trees and hill country. I took one last, long gaze over the bowl-shaped canyon that loomed over us while breathing in the sights and sounds of the forested valley. Then I put one foot in front of the other and headed toward the trailhead to see what adventures waited in the canyon.
View from the Parking Lot
Typically on my travels I’ve been a lone vagabond, wandering solo and meeting people along the way. It’s difficult to find people who have the time or inclination to go camping and hiking. But I did find one, and if you can find one comrade who would dare to go out on these excursions, I think you’re doing well. There is nothing better than having someone to talk to when the trail becomes longer or more strenuous than you had intended. On the other hand, it is also more difficult to find someone who can be silent when the world around calls for it. Silent observation is part of the experience for me. My companion was a new acquaintance out of a handful of people that I met in Corpus. We had agreed that the parks around Corpus were just too flat for a rigorous hike, so we headed out for the hill country to find a destination more to our liking. He was a new experiment of mine as well. I had yet to find someone to call friend outside of the science lab that I worked at. I’m a natural loner and a textbook introvert, so meeting new people is an exhausting task. I usually just stumble clumsily from group to group with little in the way of connection and it gets frustrating. However, with a fellow adventurous spirit hiking with me, I was ready to tackle this canyon, and the trail we chose, according to the map, would take us around the circumference of the canyon.
Reaching the trailhead, I stopped to take in the moment. A trail entrance mystifies me. I can’t really explain why, but the trees always seem to curve over an entrance like a natural cathedral’s entrance. It can look foreboding and welcoming at the same time. The entrance to the trail at Lost Maples was no different, but the trees were shorter and packed tightly together as the trail cut through more a solid thicket.
The floor of the canyon was covered in dry and semi-dry streambeds. Apparently, the rain that had hit Government Canyon spared Lost Maples or else parts of the trail that crossed the streambeds could have been impassable. Five-lined skinks were our compatriots on the trail. The lizards would scurry off the trail into the leaves, ferns, and rocks that littered the borders of the trails. When they felt conveniently hidden they would remain still, even if we spotted them. We would still take pictures of them as their survival strategies were not prepared for two determined humans with cameras. The dry streambeds were also home to the Uvalde bigtooth maples that give the park its name. These maples are relics of a time when the climate in south Texas was cooler, during times when glaciers blanketed the northern part of the United States. The canyon has created a microclimate in the modern age that allows the maples to continue to thrive. There was also supposed to be a natural spring that also feeds the park to sustain the maples.
The trail continued to wind through the maples and the dried riverbed. Here and there we found signs of water, but it rarely flowed like I would have expected the streams to flow in this area. This is especially true given the gorgeous evidence of water that once eroded away the canyon walls in its geologic past. The incredible carvings in the rock would have taken millions of years to form, especially if the rock was uplifted around the valley over time allowing the water to smooth out its path along the rocks.
Incredible signs of ancient erosion
Monkey Rock is a scenic point on the park’s map, so you should check it out if you ever go. The rock was pockmarked and shaped through erosion to resemble a monkey, somewhat similar to Curious George. It reminded me of a marker you would see on a treasure map in some sweeping adventure movie. Also of note, though not a scenic sight on the map, was a part of the canyon wall that sat high above us. It had a roughly elliptical shape and was pockmarked with large indentions on its side. I named it the Hive, although it may more closely resemble a wasp nest.
We had a leisurely hike through the riverbed and the open meadow that soon followed. The canyon walls were very visible in this open air, looking down upon us, judging us if we weren’t worthy. I was about ready to mention that this trail wasn’t so challenging and with little warning we found ourselves scaling the canyon wall. We were out of the shade with the Texas sun beating down on us. The trail was a straight climb full of rocky steps and loose rocks that made the climb more challenging. But we wanted, needed, to continue, because once you get a look at the view at resting points along the way up, you have to keep moving to see what the final view at the top of the canyon will reveal. At one point the stone steps felt like they were made for giants because my upper thighs were aching and felt heavier each successive time I lifted them. We kept one another in good spirits with laughter and encouragement when each step felt increasingly more difficult than the last. It says a lot about a fellow wanderer’s character when you can keep each other in good spirits as a path is gets harder. It does ease the burden. I should also mention that I had a full pack on my back, because why the hell not? Who cares if it was only a day hike? I probably should have regretted that decision, but we still reached the top.
The top of the canyon had sparse vegetation and stunted trees. The canyon wall was a sheer drop down into the valley below. It was a place worthy of Whitman’s barbaric Yulp! We could see our parking lot and even the entrance to the park from our perch. I also saw a small lake within the park, perhaps this was the source of the natural spring in the area. Happily our trail would take us around the canyon wall and down toward the lake. But first we had to revel a bit in our achievement by taking some pictures of the canyon wall. It had been arduous hike on the way up.
After our victorious hike along the top of the canyon we headed down into the valley below, toward the lake we spied from atop the canyon wall. The descent was nearly as steep as the ascent earlier. The path was covered in loose rocks. By this time we were exhausted and water supplies were dwindling. Anyone who says hiking down is easier than hiking up is a liar in my opinion. Sure getting down is easier (and probably more painful), but hiking down is tricky. This is especially true if your legs are tired and the terrain is a little unforgiving. I would have enjoyed a series of switchbacks over a single steep descent. Hell, I would preferred switch back on the earlier ascent as well.
The base of the descent proved to be worth the trouble as we reached the lake at the bottom. It was gorgeous. After seeing all of the dried riverbeds and puddles that were once streams, we found the largest body of water in the area snuggly braced against a canyon wall. It was definitely a camper’s paradise. The bank of the lake was shrouded in large, hardwood trees and the ground was relatively flat and free of dense undergrowth. Perhaps camping here will be another story. After a leisurely break, we made our return to the car with about another mile or so of hiking. We did happen to pass a running stream fed by the lake as we headed back toward the parking lot. I wondered if this lake was fed by a natural spring, and the lake would occasionally overflow, especially during heavy rain, and pour water into the smaller streams. I wondered if the lake alone once fed the dried riverbeds we saw at the beginning of our trip.
So the hike was a success and we got to see a beautiful area in Texas. My exploration of Texas outside of Corpus Christi has begun. It was nice to have a friend along for the ride as well. Every trial and victory is always better shared rather than done alone. We also kept each other laughing going through the valley, so I’m certain more travels are in store for us.
© 2016 C.J. Staryk. All Rights Reserved.