New Year’s hike on Barton Creek Greenbelt

Barton Creek

One of our favorite family activities in winter is a trail hike on one of Austin’s greenbelts or at St. Edward’s Park. This New Year’s Day, we decided on an early afternoon hike at the Barton Creek Greenbelt along the popular Twin Falls trail. It being a lovely day, and the last holiday before the workweek started, everyone else in Austin had the same grand idea. The trail was crowded. At times, groups that could have filled an entire Greyhound bus came charging noisily down the trail behind us.

So our idea of a peaceful walk was not well thought out, but we veered off the main trail rather quickly, which helped. We poked along the creek, which despite our recent rains was bone-dry below the “falls” (the creek was too low for a waterfall), though farther upstream water did fill the banks behind a natural dam of rocks. Here David and the kids practiced their stone-skipping techniques. We discovered deer prints in the mud. I saw many native plants that I grow in my garden: American beautyberry, inland sea oats, yaupon holly, possumhaw holly, twistleaf yucca, and agarita, along with Texas dwarf palmetto and lots of invasive, nonnative nandina, bright with red berries.

At the top of the ridge, where you enter the trail, the soil is thin and rocky and cloaked in cedars (junipers, actually, but that’s what we call ’em in Austin). I’ve always heard that the cedars choke out other vegetation by sucking up all the water. I don’t know whether that’s true or not. But I can certainly vouch for the unpleasantness of a cedar brake, as pictured above. It’s just plain creepy—all dead, gray limbs under the cedar canopy, with sharp, pointing sticks poking toward you at eye level.

A mature, solitary cedar tree, however, is something else entirely. With shaggy, cocoa-colored bark, an evergreen crown, wizened posture, and fresh scent, a single cedar tree would be an asset in many gardens. This one growing along the dried-up creekbed caught my eye.

Along the same stretch of the creek, clusters of blue berries hung from a tall bush.

Texas dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor ) growing in dappled shade along the creek

A rather unimpressive puddle is all that remains of the creek below the rocks. The dry rocks above made a good spot for a picnic for some early-birds.

Beautiful, tall grasses grow in high spots in the creekbed. During wetter weather these grasses would have wet feet. I’m not sure what this one is—maybe switchgrass?

A seedpod dangling from a bare branch. When you squeeze one of these (or squeeze past one), it bursts apart, and the feathery seeds hitchhike a ride on your jacket or shoes.

Twistleaf yuccas. This is a yucca that grows happily in the shade and stays small.

Inland sea oats line the path not taken.

4 Responses

  1. Of course I understand why, but it is still a bit shocking to my eye to see so many completely bare trees. I may endure some climate shock for a season or two when I move.

    Ha, ha! Yes, you probably will, but then you’ll come to love it, I’m sure. I suffered from climate shock when I moved from North Carolina to Austin some years back. Now that I think on it, I still suffer climate shock every summer, but I somehow live through it. :-) —Pam

  2. chuck b. says:

    Great post–thanks for showing us your park!

    You’re welcome. I enjoy your park tours too. —Pam

  3. […] I love the evergreen, ancient-looking beauty and Christmasy fragrance of our cedars, but only in solo trees. As I posted recently, if you have more than one cedar—or, God forbid, an entire cedar brake—you’re going to hate it. […]

  4. […] Inland sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium ), also called northern sea oats. I see this plant on garden blogs across the country, so clearly it has a huge range. It’s also native to central Texas, and if you’ve hiked along the Barton Creek Greenbelt you’ve probably seen it growing along the trail. It seeds out prolifically, so I keep it contained in an isolated bed edged with flagstone. […]