Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Riverbend Preserve -- 100th Anniversary of Trinity River Lock and Dam #4

The howling obscenities of coyotes are some of the only sounds heard at this distant place. Far removed from the modern world, exploring this part of the Trinity in Dallas County shows the river in the raw. Waterfowl and deer abound here in great numbers. The haunting hoot of Barred Owls are a constant companion. It has always been this way here, a place early pioneers feared enough that they dare not venture. The old settlers called the place Bois d' Arc Island, Parson's Slough or Old Hickory Slough. Today they call it the Trinity River Greenbelt Riverbend Preserve. An ill marked patchwork of land that's hard to navigate and even harder to judge where public land stops and private land begins.

30 second time exposure of the half moon in the star studded pre-dawn sky at Malloy Bridge and the Trinity River with a racing set of low red clouds moving across the sky. If you look off to the right of the moon you can see Orion's Belt
Stars still hang above the place as we step off the pavement and into the bottoms here. The horizon's pale blue stain of a new day on the sky begins to expand into the night sky yielding a fire of red hues and pinks to the clouds. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. The approach of a Norther signaled a dramatic change of weather in the morning hours. One that put the sky into disarray, a brief sprinkle or two and ever changing cloud cover that yielded some stunning peeks of a rising sun.

 Riverbend Preserve
Trailhead sign on Bois d' Arc Island, Bois d' Arc road
The Trinity River Greenbelt is labeled on maps is a patchwork of properties known as Riverbend Preserve in Southern Dallas County.

Bisected by Malloy Bridge Road, the property is around 520 acres in size and the largest Dallas County nature preserve in the county's preserve system. More information on the Dallas County website here

Getting there is not hard. A straight shot down I-45 or US 175 from Dallas, take the Malloy Bridge Road exit till you get to the large Malloy Bridge over the Trinity River. Simple enough. But where from there? Signs near the bridge at either end note "no parking" yet there are prominent signs noting the preserve. Better park somewhere else.

One trailhead exists south of Malloy Bridge Road on Bois d' Arc Road in about the 200 block and can be found 200-300 Bois d' Arc Road Combine Texas. No parking lot exists, wide spot or really anywhere in particular that looks good to leave a vehicle unattended.

Quite a bit of planning and homework is required to wander down here. The strange property lines and unmarked notations of where county property ends and private property begins can be problematic. Consulting the Dallas County Appraisal District website sheds light on who owns what to some degree and should serve as a primer to making contacts with property owners if needed.

The remoteness of such a place and with rarely a human visitor presents the problem of vaguely defined property lines where public lands end and private begins. Our trip covered quite a bit of private property to reach Lock and Dam #4. We were afforded permission by the landowner's manager and the walk-in would have been impossible otherwise.
Bill Holston walking a top the near 100 year old levee with borrow pit ponds turned swamp seen in the background beyond

The hike on either side of Malloy Bridge starts with a walk on the old levees built butting the river. The richest farming bottomland in the whole of Dallas County sits here. Beginning in the early 1900s levees were built and later improved upon in a series of county bonds, state projects and federal funding. 1917 saw the most work here as levee district number 2 was authorized to rework the mouth of Ten Mile Creek and incorporate levees into the land. It has always been a gambler's game growing crops down here. In wet years when crops grow in abundance elsewhere, the crops here are waterlogged and drowned. The bumper crops and years for great profit come here when the upland fields are withering in the heat and lack of rain.
On the levee looking down into the acres and acres of ponds
The old levees today most likely still perform the job they were originally designed to provide. Protection from all but the very worst flooding that the Trinity River can dish out. These levees are about half the height of the Downtown Dallas levees and hold back the seasonal and annual floods of the Trinity from ravaging the Ten Mile Creek, Wolf Springs and Combine areas of Southern Dallas County.

Mallards in the morning sky
The levees were constructed using soil piled up and "borrowed" from nearby, creating depressions in the area surrounding the levees. The "borrow pits" as they are known have slowly morphed into pocket pond habitat that supports a variety of wildlife.
Male Wood Duck
The early morning sun brought to light many Wood Ducks, as many as any of the party has ever seen in one place. These old borrow pits hold standing live and dead timber, islands of grass and weeds, tangles of brush, patches of aquatic plants, and plenty of dragonflies and damselflies. Surrounded by extensive stands of mature, acorn-bearing oaks, this wetland is ideal wood duck habitat.

Much of the northern half of this area called Bois d' Arc island was cleared for farming in the early part of the twentieth century. It sits 350 feet above sea level and the lowest part of the county. In the distance one can see broad rolling hills and the expansive bottoms of black waxy soil. Closer to the present day river channel, the land is cut through by numerous creeks and sloughs the more notable being Parson's Slough to the east and Gravel Slough to the west.
Near the mouth of Ten Mile Creek and the Trinity River approaching Lock and Dam #4

The first settlers to this area were drawn by stories of the fertile lands, open range country and plentiful wild game. They were told that the land could be farmed so easily, that in a whole days of plowing one would not strike a stump, which were the constant enemy of cultivating in the southeastern states.
Hiking through the late season dense flowering Solidago plants also known as Goldenrod

JH Woods Land Grant
The original grantees to the land when Texas was her own Republic read straight from the Muster Rolls of the Republic of Texas Army. JB Grice was in the Fourth Company, Second Regiment Texas Volunteers and veteran of the Battle of San Jacinto. All the photos above are on the original land deeded to him for his service. All the photos below were taken on land originally granted to JH Wood 1st Regiment, Southwestern Army who was a veteran of the Somervell Expedition of 1842.

The war veterans often sold their lands, swapped or traded it with others. Land rich and money poor, the lure of trading off a piece of acreage for something else was very attractive to many. The land sat idle for years until word got out about the rich soils in this part of North Texas. Early pioneers found that they could buy the land, plant cotton and often outright payoff the note for the land with the first harvest.

Under a massive canopy of mature pecan trees and in an ocean of Roughleaf Dogwoods
Endless acres of 10' high dogwood in the bottoms
All the water that fell from the heavens was absorbed on the vast lands by the grasses and natural growth. Underground water tables were high and fed many springs in the area. Back then there was no washed-away soil, depleting the richness of the land. A time before those same soils began eroding, filling the waterways with silt so that they could never be navigated.

The problem for these first farmers and the ever expanding second wave behind them were bringing the fruits of their labor to market. The cotton exchanges of Galveston and Louisiana were many hundreds of miles away before the Civil War and North Texas might just as well have been on the Moon when it came to the difficulty of cashing in on their crops.

A Brief Primer On Trinity Navigation

Stock Certificate for Trinity River Navigation Company
The Trinity River was the first artery of commerce to open on which merchandise and man was transported into Central and North Texas. The first official mention of a navigable Trinity River was made in 1853 by Colonel Whiting, an army engineer, who in a report informed  President Franklin Pierce, that the Trinity River "was the deepest and the least obstructed river in Texas". That most likely is entirely true. Knee deep in many spots, the Trinity takes first place over the shin deep Brazos and ankle deep Colorado. Famous last words. He recommended that the government take steps to develop this waterway.

In Pre-Civil War Dallas County, oxen teams formed the backbone of long haul transportation between other settlements to the south and to the east. Limited by the amount of cargo they could carry and the seemingly turtle like speed of an oxen drawn wagon, Dallas County would have to wait until after the Civil War and even after the draconian Reconstruction era to see transportation improvements. 

Dallas County never had effective river transportation, but community leaders had tried several times, beginning in the 1840s, to get Congress to provide federal funds for the improvement of the Trinity River. The northern navigable limits of barge operations on the Trinity River were in the Porter's Bluff area near present day Trinidad. On old maps labeled as Taos, Texas, this spot sits near the geographic boundaries of present day Ellis, Navarro and Henderson Counties.

First lock and dam at McCommas Bluff circa 1893

By 1890, Dallas had rail service for almost twenty years, time enough for Dallas residents to see the oft-repeated practice of railroads lowering their freight rates to drive river transportation out of business, then raising the rates again. When the price of shipping a bale of cotton from Dallas to Houston on the H&TC railroad increased from a dollar per bale in the 1870s to nearly three dollars per bale in the 1880s, Dallasites became concerned. Especially when the price of cotton began to decline in the 1890s, Dallas business leaders were sufficiently concerned to renew their efforts to open the Trinity to navigation.

In the summer of 1891, civic leaders formed the Trinity River Navigation and Improvement Company to raise money for a renewed effort to get Congress to appropriate money for the river’s improvement. In 1892 Dallas leaders purchased  the 65' Snag Boat Dallas to clear the river of rafted debris and snags. They soon added a large steamboat, the H. A. Harvey.

Lock and Dam #1 at McCommas Bluff looking downstream
In 1899 Congress authorized another survey of the river by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. In 1902 with an appropriation of $400,000, the federal government over the next twenty years spent more than $2,000,000 building locks and dams on the Trinity. The First World War halted this work and in 1920 the project was abandoned as too cost prohibitive.

The original federal plans called for 36 locks and dams along the Trinity River from Trinity Bay to Dallas. The work was never fully completed and only locks 1, 2, 4, 6, 7, 20, and 25 were ever built. The Dallas County projects were Lock 1 at McCommas Bluff, Lock 2 near present day Beltline Road and Lock 4 two miles south of Malloy Bridge Road.
Lock and Dam #2 at Goat Island Preserve
Lock and Dam Number #1 at McCommas Bluff probably has the most hardware and gates still intact. Moving downstream Lock and Dam # 2 has been a favored fishing spot by Southern Dallas County locals for many decades, over time the wooden gates and hardware have either been burned for campfires or drifted away by flood water.

Lock and Dam #2 sits just dowstream of the old Parson's Slough, the old river channel that once carried waters of the river to a large degree and created Bois d' Arc Island. In 1911, the slough was permanently cutoff from the Trinity River near Goat Island Preserve just north of present day Beltline Road. The same construction company that built Lock and Dam Number 2, built a concrete dam at the head of Parson's Slough where it meets the Trinity. Twenty feet high and two hundred feet wide, the goal was to permanently send the river down the new channel rather than risk a flood putting the river meander back in the old.

The city's love affair with dams on the Trinity continues to this day with a whitewater kayak/canoe feature at the old ATSF Train Trestle just downstream of the Corinth Street Bridge in Downtown Dallas.

Lock and Dam #4
Lock and Dam 4 in Dallas County Texas

The least visited of all Lock and Dams on the Trinity River is number 4. Miles from the nearest road of any kind, across steep ravines, tanglefoot brush and large stands of mature hardwoods you find it.

The ever expanding roads and rails of Texas caught up to this place, mothballing a riverine method of transportation from Dallas to the Gulf. One could argue what put the mortal wound on the lock and dam here, was it the magnitude of transportation improvements by train or truck. Maybe it was the fickle nature of the river itself. A placid piece of shallow water much of the year interrupted by biblical floods that wrecked anything man ever touched on the banks.

The lock is now not much more than a favored roost for vultures. A really long forgotten spot on the Trinity, one whose time came and went in the blink of an eye. It stands as testament to a folly of ill conceived grand ideas for turning the Trinity into something it could never be.

Climbing down the steel ladder into the silt filled lock box of the lock and dam

The approach to Lock and Dam #4 is aided by the long ago silted in lock box that once allowed boats to be lifted and lowered by manipulation of the water level. Above in the photo, all but 5-6 of the original 2 dozen or so rungs of a concrete fixed steel ladder are visible. The rest of the rungs sit many feet under years of flood silt.
Looking upstream and a top the buttress separating the lock box channel from the former floodgates

Trinity River Lock and Dam #1 rendering  
The principle behind locks is straightforward: The river is an inclined plane whose water moves in and out of locks by gravity. Think of locks as a flight of "water stairs" going up and down a hill. Water is drained from the first lock (using gravity) until the water level is even with the second one. The downstream gate is opened so the vessel can move into the lower lock, and the process would need to be repeated numerous times in Dallas County.
Remains of the floodgate system and east bank in the background, note the toppled over concrete foundation in the background
During times of high water, the floodgate system could be moved from vertical to horizontal, allowing for water and debris to pass easily over the structure. The floodgates themselves were steel in construction with replaceable wooden timbers forming the spaces in between.

As one can see above, the Trinity has worked her power on the east section of the lock and dam. It has cartwheeled the east foundation of the lock. As a result through flooding, the river has started to alarmingly erode a large section of the east bank. It has created a large basin around the structure. I believe the Trinity River Authority is studying the problem and is looking into solutions to fix it..

Some of the wooden pilings and piers for the facility can still be seen today. The construction of lock and dam #4 started in 1910 and was completed in 1913. It went into operation in the summer of 1913 and as such sees the 100th anniversary of completion this year in 2013.

It is unknown how many boats ever navigated through the lock here. How many ever moored to the small docks or saw the pulley systems drag the boat into the lock channel.

Maybe it's not the 100th year of such a place like this is not that important. Might be that seeing how well it was built, how well the concrete was poured and how sturdy most of the structure stands will see it through the next 100 years looking the same as it does today.

Lock and Dam #4 looking downstream, mouth of Ten Mile Creek in far distance

Downstream of Lock and Dam #4 one can really get a clear view of the water forces at work that have eroded the banks to some extent.
Mouth of Ten Mile Creek just beyond the dead tree with vultures in the limbs
The current mouth of Ten Mile Creek is an artificially constructed sluice of sorts that features a re-routed section of Ten Mile from the town of Ferris at I-45 to the Trinity. Known as South Creek, it runs through one of the finest cattle ranches in Texas, known as the South Creek Ranch. Famed for their easy to spot longhorn orange buildings and fenceposts, the acreage of the ranch commands some 6,000+ acres in Dallas County.
Old route of Ten Mile Creek in Dallas County

Old Ten Mile Creek meander
The old route of Ten Mile Creek is easy to spot in aerial photos and is widely noted on many maps. The historic channel of the creek headed due south and into Ellis County before adjoining the Trinity River. Certain times of year after the cotton fields are plowed one can still see the old creek meanders.

The creek was rerouted in the 1910s as part of the levee reclamation project that turned much of the floodplain into usable farmland.

The concrete building at Lock and Dam #4
In the vicinity of Lock and Dam #4 is a slab poured concrete building that served as a storeroom, warehouse and makeshift lockkeepers office for the dam.

The same age as the dam itself, the building has seen the same ravages of flood and time as the lock and dam just a couple hundred feet away.

It sits up from the river some distance, in a first generation set of woods populated by ash, hackberry and a sprinkle of hickory and pecan here and there.

The building now lacks a roof, most likely it was tin metal of some kind and long lost to scavengers.

The construction suggests that it was poured in forms here and from the looks of things uses the same twisted rebar as used in the lock and dam nearby. Evidence is seen in the lone window frame that looks west from the building.

The door frames here have sliding brackets to them which suggest that the doors were large single storeroom doors that could move large material in and out of the building with ease.

No electrical lines, telephone lines or infrastucture in the building or nearby suggests it held supplies for supporting the lock and dam.

A hackberry grows through the floor on the north end which leads out through a second door of similar construction to that of the southern entrance.

For a 100 year old building it's rock solid and ready for 100 more.

Feral Pigs at Riverbend Preserve
Feral Pig Sounder near Lock and Dam #4

Feral pigs are a constant companion for hikers and bikers on the Trinity River. Riverbend Preserve is no exception. In the photos is a feral pig sounder or family group of pigs that are rooting along the old levee. Not much of a care in the world when they are with the family group.

These pigs ranged in size well about 75-100 pounds and are immune to depredation by natural predator species like coyotes, bobcats or loose dogs. Other than a bullet or the front bumper of a car they have very little to fear and they know it. We observed the pigs here for a few minutes until they noticed us, then they slowly walked away and melted into the brush.

Give them space, make a little noise and they will always drift away. We did see a larger solitary boar, at least twice the size of the others, rooting in a field of ragweed. It was faster to leave the area the second it caught wind of us.

A view of Bois d' Arc Island from across the river

Beyond the levee and closer to the Trinity River, loose game trails and faint paths are all that exists to guide one through the woods here. The snaking river, really gives the place it's namesake, Riverbend.

The grand U shaped curves are something not seen in the city limits of Dallas. The towering trees on either side, large sand bars and banks command the views at every turn.
Shell lens and fire cracked rock scattered in the eroding bank

One such bend sits above a spot where Hickory Creek once entered the Trinity. Hickory Creek's watershed drains through Sunnyvale, Seagoville and heads southwest towards the Trinity River. Much like Ten Mile Creek it was moved to some extent and channelized leaving the historic mouth of the creek in mothballs.

Here on the opposing bank of the old mouth, is evidence of pre-historic man. Not sure if the vernacular is right on calling those Ancient Texans pre-historic maybe pre-Columbian is the term to use. Here eroding out of the bank are old charcoal deposits, fire cracked rock pieces, old mussel shells and animal bone left behind by some epic Indian cookout on the bank.
Animal bone and charcoal scattered in the eroding Trinity River bank

It's not hard to imagine that the Trinity here ever looked any different then as it looks today. Wild as it ever was and most likely forever will be.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Texas Fall Color On Dallas Lower White Rock Creek Escarpment

The most unused park benches with the best view in all the City of Dallas on Piedmont Ridge overlooking White Rock Creek and the Trinity River Valley
If there were ever an an award for the most unused park bench in Dallas it would likely be here. The bench would also get an award, easily, for the most scenic park bench view in all the city.

Few people ever visit this place. Even fewer see it when the oaks perched high on the Austin Chalk cliffs burn a bright red in the autumn. Ten minutes from Downtown Dallas and a world away, the trails here are surely the most underutilized in town. If there were ever a time to visit this place, the middle weeks of November are the time. The pecans and walnuts in the floodplain below hit a tinge of mustard yellow and the Red Oaks are a non-uniform mix of greens, yellows and deep reds.
Master Naturalist Bill Holston at Scyene Overlook with a distant view of Cedar Hill, Oak Cliff, Hutchins in the background
The terrain here so closely resembles the Texas Hill Country that you really have to pinch yourself into believing otherwise. The smell of cedar wafting through the air and the crunch of decomposing limestone underneath instantly transports a visitor 300 miles away. A public place like this on a warm Saturday would be elbow-to-elbow in Gillespie, Kerr or Bexar counties. In Dallas, unless you bring friends along, you have it to yourself. It's a remarkable piece of topography for Dallas with rolling hills, gullies and rock features hidden beneath a palette of ever changing tree canopy colors.
White Rock Valley as seen from Scyene Overlook, November 17, 2013. Piedmont Ridge is on the high ground to the left in the photo.
Trail Network from Scyene Overlook to the Comanche Storytelling Place at Devon Anderson
Map of the Lower White Rock Creek Trails, yellow dots highlight trailheads

The Lower White Rock Creek Trails are comprised of a roughly 3-4 mile(depending on route) soft surface trail network spanning three different City of Dallas Parks. JJ Beeman/Scyene Overlook on Scyene Road, Grover Keeton Park which includes Piedmont Ridge Trail and Devon Anderson Park south of Bruton Road.

The JJ Beeman Trail starts near the corner of Lawnview and Scyene near the DART Lawnview Station and continues east to the Scyene Overlook. From there the trail roughly follows an Austin Chalk Escarpment high above the White Rock Creek Valley.

One can see the VA Hospital in South Dallas, Cedar Hill, Hutchins as well as Downtown Dallas. The trail continues through Grover Keeton Park, up Piedmont Ridge, across Bruton and into Devon Anderson Park.

The trails here are comprised of a random mix of trails with no clearly defined start or finish. Over the last couple years, trail maintenance has fallen off and as a result some of the sections might be a puzzling adventure to find. The trails are all still there just more faint in appearance for a first-time visitor.

The map above, while accurate in GPS rendering is now somewhat dated. The Lawnview Station section from Lawnview@Scyene to the DART level crossing near Glover Pass is a rather impossible piece of heavy bushwhacking to muster through.

The other crux of the trail is picking up the path on the south side of Bruton Road. I have attempted to mark it many times in the past, those efforts to note the correct passage have always been met with flagging tape removal by an unknown person. Now too far overgrown to mountain bike and too far eroded to walk in some areas be aware that this is a demanding and rewarding hike with unmaintained sections and some deadfall limbs.

Ideally one would visit by parking at the Grover Keeton Trailhead at Gateway Park which sits in the middle of the trail area. The trailhead addresses are below

Grover Keeton Trailhead at Gateway Park
2300 Jim Miller Road Dallas texas
This affords the best access with the best safe parking. Park anywhere near the softball or soccer fields.
Scyene Overlook can be reached by heading out the right field foul line and picking up the trail beyond some wooden trail bollards. Head south and one will find the Piedmont Ridge Trailhead kiosk east of the DART tracks and south of the golf course entrance drive. An additional trailhead exists at the Grover Keeton Golf Course Parking lot on the north end of the parking area. Look for the Gateway Trail sign and follow the trail behind the driving range and then across the DART crossing to link up to Scyene Overlook's trail. Seen at the photo(and many others in this post) Bill Holston has previously written this trail up for the print edition of D Magazine in May 2012, it can be found here 10 Top Trails For Hiking And Biking In Dallas

North Trailhead at Renda
2800 Renda Street
Only open for work crews or special events, this is the formal entrance for the trails. Always locked and no on-street parking allowed. Kiosk is visible inside gate.

Park elsewhere as the surrounding area is rather remote and overgrown.

Southern Trailhead at Devon Anderson
1700 Eastcliff Dallas Texas
This entrance is on the southern end of the trails. The City of Dallas actually wrongly installed the city park sign for Devon Anderson Park here, the sign reads "Devon Cr", assuming Devon Circle as the name of the street. Park at the wrongly installed sign(hey I called them about it and they never fixed it) and head back into the woods where a playground area once stood.

The southern entrance is the best spot to start if one has never been here before. The issue parking other places to the north is that one will not be able to pick up the trail south of Bruton Road. Better to head from south to north, noting the southern Bruton entrance. The photos shown here are in a sequence to highlight the south-to-north route along the escarpment.
In the Devon Anderson meadow with Chris Jackson, Scott Hudson and Bill Holston checking out the the thrice fire arsoned meadow here and the new growth of native grasses and wildflowers
This land, for time in memoriam has been unprofitable. Thin veneered soils atop limestone yield little nutrients to support king cotton or even a grazing cow. It was not so much left alone as it was more than likely ignored until suburban sprawl caught up to the place and homes were built. You get a feel for that in the southern section of trail here where homes are built as far towards the margins of building code as allowed.

Up until recently at the first trail junction there were a couple trail signs noting the Comanche Storytelling Place to the south 1/10th of a mile and a scenic overlook some 1/4 mile to the north. They have been deliberately burned, actually someone burned nearly all the signs along the whole of the 4 miles of trail. The Devon Anderson Meadow burned at least three times in the past 18 months, while a deliberate case of arson started the fires each time, the results did some interesting things to revive the meadow here.
What some call the Comanche Storytelling Place

The Comanche Storytelling place serves as a prominent anchor to the southern end of the trails here. Beyond are steep root strewn gullies that lead nowhere to the south and west. The Comanche Story Telling Place at Devon Anderson Park has been identified by the Comanche Nation as a sacred holy ground. The Comanche nation tells us that the natural limestone shaped amphitheater was believed to have been used by Native Americans in the area prior to European settlement.

A rare sighting of an Ornate Box Turtle
The Ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata) is one of only two terrestrial species of turtles native to the Great Plains of the United States. It is one of the two different subspecies of Terrapene ornata. The ornate box turtle is an omnivore, with no particular dietary preferences; as an opportunistic feeder, it eats whatever is available in any given location or season. Grasses, berries, insects and other invertebrates like grasshoppers and worms. The box turtle above is estimated to be 17-19 years old given the growth rings on the carapace of the shell. These species are now few and far between in Texas. Enough worry about them that Texas Parks and Wildlife has a special website dedicated to reporting sightings TPWD Ornate Box Turtle Sighting Form

Chris Jackson takes a knee to get a closer look at the box turtle
Handy to have along people in your party that each have a vast knowledge of native Texas. Makes for an exceptional hike where ideas beyond the standard cursory discussion can take place. Featured kneeling is Chris Jackson who in his free time pens the website DFW Urban Wildlife. He is always up to something interesting and ever expanding his ability to find interesting wildlife often in off-beat places. This summer he was involved in a Whooping Crane Tracking Project that quietly followed a group of human-hatched Whooping Cranes from White Lake, Louisiana to Dallas. The free flight Whooping Cranes left all on their own and visited both the Elm Fork and East Fork of the Trinity River in the delta areas above Lake Lewisville and Lake Ray Hubbard. Somehow, the birds found their way from New Iberia's Tabasco sauce country to Dallas and recently safely back to Louisiana.

Devon Anderson Park to Bruton Road

This piece of unique uplifted geologic feature is not uncommon in Dallas. Following White Rock Creek up north along the thirty miles of it's streambed, the entire east bank once had this same flora, fauna and feel. The hills of Parkdale, Tenison Golf Course, The Arboretum, Norbuck Park, Flag Pole Hill, Lake Highlands and even up beyond Bent Tree are all one in the same.

Unlike many areas defined loosely as "The Great Trinity Forest" the high ground here is not subject to prolonged flooding events. On display here is a continual fight by the trees and vegetation for eeking out a life between prolonged drought and highly erosive flash flooding.

The trail built here some years ago has become a problematic source of accelerated erosion. Built to substandard in areas the hiking path vectors water in ways that are detrimental to the slopes and benchcuts upon which it was built. The result is a rugged piece of trail not by design but by lack of design.

The erstwhile bridge seen at left is one such example of a trail component that has done more harm than good. Slated for removal and replacement in the near future, the wooden bridge spans an ever deepening ravine that is narrow and very deep.

Much of the water in this area drains a somewhat recent housing development west of Jim Miller. The storm drains send water that once naturally soaked into the soil directly into the ravines here. Results are hard to measure but suggest advanced erosion issues will become a larger problem.

Downtown Dallas as viewed from the overlook in Devon Anderson Park
The lure of such an overlook is magnified in the city by common points of interest on the horizon. Glimpses of Downtown Dallas abound from the southern section of the trail here. The view from East Dallas is a rare one with a view few have ever seen.
Sam Beeman, Mrs John Neely Bryan Sr, John N Bryan Jr

The lands here, like much of lower White Rock Creek were owned by the Beeman Family.

As an example JJ Beeman was granted 4th class headright by the Republic of Texas in November of 1842. James Jackson Beeman's 640 acres were roughly between what is now Scyene and Bruton near present day Jim Miller Road. A trail west of the Scyene Overlook bears his name that if were more frequently maintained would reach the Lawnview DART Station.

The Beemans lived down here for a handful of generations, passing the original patented lands down through the family.

Hiking through some of invasive privet on the trail just south of Bruton

You can't see it but the meandering course of White Rock Creek slowly fights it's way through the last miles of White Rock Bottom, hesitant to give up it's own water to the larger river beyond.

The trail itself wanders off the escarpment in a number of places where the oaks quickly yield towards large thickets of fast growing Chinese Privet.

Used as an ornamental hedge in residential landscaping across North Texas, the Chinese Privet is quickly choking out vast areas of bottomland.

The privet here shields the trail entrance on the south side of Bruton. I have suggested in the past that those mystified by the entrance walk all the way along the treeline to the DART rail chain link fence then walk back east 30-50 paces. If you go further than that, you'll miss the trail entrance.

Piedmont Ridge --North of Bruton Road
Piedmont Ridge Overlook

Switchbacks near Grover Keeton
Piedmont Ridge is slightly higher and drier than areas south of Bruton Road. The long ago built trail along the topographical high is reached by navigating more recent sets of switchbacks from either the Bruton Road southern approach or from Grover Keeton east of the DART light rail tracks.

This is the easiest section of trail to hike since much of the distance is atop the ridge.

Bill Holston walking through a meadow on the Piedmont Ridge

The donkeys and cows and things long left this place, the old slayed country talk of pioneer life too. The land looks the same though. Left behind by that old ranching life are some old cattle trails up here likely pre-dating the Jim Miller road cut. As a result, a footpath spur(old cattle pasture trail) exists near the photo above, one that links the sidewalk at Jim Miller with an area near the benches and overlook. No parking nearby but if one felt like skipping the heavily eroded switchback sections to the north, a hiker could hump the concrete sidewalk to the start of the spur.

Round about a 1/4 mile from Bruton or Grover Keeton is a benched overlook that gives views to the White Rock and Oak Creek drainage below. On any day, one can see the Oak Cliff Bank Tower on Zang in the near distance.

Scyene Overlook and Laceywood Overlook

Through the red cedar at the base of Scyene Overlook

The climb to the high points of the hike start in the Oak Creek drainage near Grover Keeton. One can start hiking this section of trail either from the right field foul line of the softball field at Gateway Park or on the west side of the DART Tracks at the Grover Keeton Golf Course where a Gateway Trailhead marker exists on the far north end of the parking lot.

DART Crossing at the JJ Beeman Trail
Both sections of trail end up in the same spot eventually, a couple acres of uniform sized red cedar in a low area known as Oak Creek. Interesting little creek. It bisects through the escarpment at Gateway Park. Either through an act of very long term erosion or a natural gap in the Austin Chalk. The little box canyon there or in Texas what we call a draw extends far back up to the northeast along heavily timbered creeks and cuts almost to Military Parkway.

Oak Creek has a great influence beyond the escarpment here. It becomes a fundamental component to the lifeblood of the Great Trinity Forest by providing slow moving water that funnels into an area around Roosevelt Heights. The area is core habitat for beavers and otters who have large populations down there. Oak Creek also picks up the outflow of the natural spring Big Spring before joining White Rock Creek in Rochester Park.
Panoramic view of Scyene Overlook. Looking south.
The trail up to Scyene Overlook is a confused jumble of poorly built old trails and equally poorly built newer ones that were designed to mitigate past problems. Having been here a couple dozen times, even I still get turned around trying to take the right path up.

Scyene Overlook is named for an old frontier settlement two miles east of the overlook named Scyene. The town center was at the present day intersection of Scyene and St Augustine roads . The name "Scyene" is a play on the ancient Egyptian town named Syene an old frontier outpost on the east bank of the Nile. Around 500 BC, the same time the Book of Ezekiel references the ancient Egyptian town of Syene (Aswan), some ancient Native American left behind a Gary dart point(arrowhead) here on the bluff. 

Stories as old as the Old Testament were probably told here along what was an old Bison Trace which later became Scyene Road.  The millennium old natural bison path and hard bottomed ford of White Rock Creek made this a preferred ox pulled wagon route into Dallas prior to the railroads arrival in the 1870s.

The trails, either the right ones or wrong ones all approach Scyene Overlook from the southwest. Encountering t-posts, pickets and erosion control in a few spots the trail winds around to the northwest and eventually the north side of Scyene Overlook.

Scyene Overlook
It's important to underscore the importance of sticking to the well worn paths here and not venturing off the trail. The woods here harbor unique plant life and fungus that cannot be seen most of the year with a human eye. Known as Hexalectris orchids, they show themselves in the summer. A thin veneer of soil noted as the Eddy Brackett sits atop the high ground in this area. This soil was once common in a belt that stretched through Pleasant Grove, East Dallas and Lake Highlands. Paved and developed long ago very few places still exist to find these plants.

The soil here harbors a special host for the orchids to survive, a special fungus known as mycorrhizal fungi. It's believed that the decaying leaf matter from the surrounding oak trees above provides the nutrients needed for the fungi to thrive. The undisturbed plant matter is a vital part of the success for the fungi and the orchids. The rhizome of the orchids tap into the fungi which provides all the nutrients that the orchid needs to thrive. As a result, the orchid requires no sunlight for growth and relies completely on the nutrients of the host fungi for food. The orchids die if transplanted or cultivated so there is no point in trying to take them home. The important thing to do is just stay on the well worn paths here.

The focal point this time of year is of course the Red Oaks along the escarpment. Along the White Rock Escarpment through Dallas to San Antonio there are hybrids of Texas Red Oak Quercus buckleyi (Q. texana) and Shumard Red Oak, Q. shumardii. Smaller in size than most Red Oaks we Texans know so well, these trees thrive in alkaline soils and are very drought tolerant.
Opposing view of Scyene Overlook, looking back to the north. Note the steep dropoff. Taken with a camera mounted to a tall pole and remotely triggered.
There is a close relationship between Texas Red Oak and Shumard Oak. This has caused many botanical classification problems. The two trees may be listed as two separate species in some manuals, while some list Texas Red Oak as a variety of Shumard Oak. The colors that the trees exhibit in the Texas fall are a sight to behold. Using a polarizing filter in some of these photos takes the white shine of the leaves off and brings to true color of the leaves out. The intermittent sun and cloud cover changed the coloration of the trees from one minute to the next.

At 3/4 of an acre, Scyene Overlook offers panoramic 270 degree views of the near entirety of the Great Trinity Forest. This spot is really just a short bike ride from the Santa Fe Trail. A quick ride down from Tenison Golf Course via Lawnview will put you here in short order. I have often wondered why so few have not snapped the tie that bounds on to the comfort spots of the great-out-of-doors like the Katy Trail or White Rock Lake.

If there were one rub with the view at Scyene, it would be that the exposure does not afford a glance of Downtown Dallas. Maybe that's a good thing. To see Downtown one needs to cross the large meadow east of Scyene and climb another height known as Laceywood Overlook.

Hiking from Scyene Overlook to Laceywood Overlook in the background

A five acre, tall grass meadow stands between Scyene and Laceywood with a small intermittent dry wash creek peppered with cottonwoods and willows. The trail across the meadow is easy to access from Scyene Overlook or the JJ Beeman trail.

Laceywood Bluff sits fifteen feet higher than Scyene Overlook and the extra elevation barely clears the tops of the highest trees in the creek bottom below. That affords a great set of pocket views featuring Downtown Dallas as a reward from the top. Two or three very informal foot trails lead to the top. One starting at the Renda Meadow which is rather steep and the other a longer and more pedestrian route from the softball fields in Gateway Park

Much more heavily wooded and steep than Scyene Overlook, the Laceywood Overlook does not see many visitors. Ignored by the ATVs  and dirt bikes that plundered the Scyene Overlook in decades past, this overlook remains densely vegetated.
Downtown Dallas viewed from Laceywood Overlook
The reward for the brief but hard climb is an interesting view of Dallas framed from the east. In the distance to the right, one can see the Texas Star in front of the Chase Bank Building.

Few will ever visit this place. It's a shame that more Dallasites don't ever get off the beaten path a little and discover these places on their own. They don't know what they are missing. In recent weeks, news of a $20 million dollar private trail initiative between the Dallas Arboretum and Audubon Center has been making the rounds. Tinged with "someday you will be able to _____" fill in the blank hike, walk, run bike down here. You can do it now, enjoy the million dollar views for free and not see anything with two legs the whole day.