Saturday, April 16, 2016

Arbor Hills Nature Preserve

I was impressed with Plano's Arbor Hills Nature Preserve for keeping a unique natural area so close to the city. I went with little expectations. I was expecting a small urban park but it was so much more.

When you first get on the trail, it's amazing how close to concrete you still are because the trail is quite beautiful and as pristine as it could be for an urban setting.

The parking lot was filled and yet there was plenty of space. There were signs everywhere but they mingled in so well with the landscape you don't mind. The first trail I took was on a hillside that meandered through a upland hardwood forest.

As you get down the trail and closer to a ravine you can hear the sound of a stream that rushes through along the trails dotted with pedestrian bridges. There were people everywhere but we all seemed to have our own space.

Lots of Poison oak and ivy
It was nice to see people out walking, families with children, couples and people taking advantage of the hiking and bike trails. I was very surprised how well kept the landscape is and how much it felt like an escape from the busy hectic traffic nearby.

It was harder to stay immersed in nature as the concrete path connects many of the dirt paths and there were many bridges and signs of different trails. It was still everything an urban park strives to be, enough people as not feel too remote and yet quiet with enough space for a feeling of being out in nature.

There were several other parks nearby that I plan on checking out in the future but Arbor Hills was a perfect way to wrap up my day of exploring.

Rediscovering The Heard Museum

The last time I visited the Heard Museum in McKinney was when my son was very young. We visited a few of the small enclosures with birds of prey in the back and checked out the museum and the gift shop. It was an interesting place to visit.

Today I went mainly to check out the plant sale, just to see if there were any interesting or hard to find plants significant to local wildlife. The first announcement, no milkweed, pretty much the only plant I was looking for.

Milkweed plants have gotten really popular as news gets out that the population of monarch butterflies has been threatened in the last few years. It’s good to see people getting involved in nature.

I decided to check out the museum as well, it was ten dollars to get in and well worth it. My first thought was the different activities and events happening and that alone seemed to be a big improvement over what I remembered.

The learning center was a very interesting place for children who were running through the many rooms that included everything from fossils to live snakes.

When I got outside, the landscape made me think I had stepped into another place, far from an urban setting. There were big trees, shady areas and long beautiful stretches of lush green grass.

There were just enough people to make you feel like you weren’t completely by yourself but sparse enough to enjoy some solitude in nature. There are seven miles of hiking trails, very different terrains and lots of birds singing.

I got to listen to a bunch of crows screaming about an owl that hooted back in disgust. I finally saw it’s giant wings effortlessly fly through the thick branches and it was gone again as were the crows who seemed to have made their point.

There were benches all around, lots of things to learn, lots of interesting things to read about the area. There is a butterfly house, which was closed, but the native plants were marked and bits of information told you about the flora and fauna.

It was a perfect day to hike and a perfect day to disappear for a bit in the middle of a deep forest where the casual hiker can enjoy easy gravel walkways with beautiful views. I found a craw fish in a small puddle, watched blue jays and cardinals and felt like I had escaped, even just for a short time.

I got to rediscover  a place that was more beautiful than I remembered it. I was impressed with so many families sharing nature with their kids. I met several young volunteers and was inspired to one day volunteer for them. I left the Heard very impressed and even surprised what a beautiful oasis they 
created so close to Dallas just by protecting nature.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Back on the Water

The last time I kayaked was the first time in the Florida surf. I lost a rod, got dumped beneath a wave and remembered how awkward it can be when nature makes a fool out of you.

I haven’t been on a kayak since, not for any specific reason, we just didn’t get out this fall like we usually do. Fishing for pickerel at Lake Daingerfield has become a autumn tradition as they are active in cold water.

This weekend is the first time in quite a while we got back on the water. I forgot just how much I enjoyed it.

I brought the wrong gear, as the box was still filled with saltwater lures. I borrowed one of my sons rattle traps but after a snag on a cable, I was done fishing.

Instead I enjoyed just paddling, There is a wonderful feeling of just being there when you are only interested in observing.

The wind was cold for early April and the rain hung over us the whole time. I had my iphone for the first time on the kayak so I was able to just take pictures of the scenery.

No one caught anything, we just enjoyed being out there and sometimes that’s what fishing is all about. Being out there, I missed it more than I even thought I would.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bluebonnet Trails: Ennis

I went to photograph the blue bonnet trails near Ennis and Palmer today.  It was a perfect spring day with a gentle breeze and a deep blue sky.

I think I was probably a week early as the fields are not filled yet but there are some amazing patches of them.

My first stop was the  Event center in downtown Ennis. The people are all happy to help, giving maps and bragging about the treasure they have to share with everyone. It was exciting to hear about the places to go and see and I was on my way.

I followed the map down to the veterans memorial park. I enjoyed watching families and couples taking pictures of each other in the vast fields of blues and reds.

I got to walk on a trail of bluebonnets and watch as all sorts of people took selfies, full blown professional photography and multiple cell phone pictures. The atmosphere was cheerful as the blooms surrounding us.

I drove along long roads where there were few people. Open fields of flowers and beautiful estates surrounded by great fields of pristine green.

I got lost, found my way and lost again winding up at Bardwell Lake, a lake where I was almost run over by a speed boat my first time water skiing.

I went back up to Ennis and up 45 to 313 and continued following the blue bonnet trails. The first thing that caught my eye was a field of long horns, several other people were also snapping photographs as well.

I followed the road, passing several horse farms and one giant horse begged to be photographed.  It was a Belgian horse and its foul and they were close to the fence. The mom was quite friendly and approached me close enough to be able to pet her giant head.

Next stop was the Sugar Ridge Winery. The road leading to it was beautiful, huge fields of blue bonnets, a small pond that was lit up by the high sun. There were people picnicking with wine and families running down from the fields of flowers.

Every turn and hill on this long winding road was just filled with stunning views. It reminded me a bit of the wine country in Sonoma-although the hills were a bit more modest. It was just an amazing green that you don’t see around Dallas much.

I arrived at the winery to the distinct smell of boiling crawfish and to  a group of happy patrons sitting out on chairs on the lawn. I was tempted to order a sampler flight but decided to take some home instead.

The owner was quite proud of his wines and shared with me his two favorites-a white and a red and I was set. Also got a magnet too.

The drive back was a lot quicker and easier than the ride down-got stuck in traffic and detoured down Buckner boulevard-live and learn.

The ride home I realized how close this uniquely beautiful area was and the  landscape reminded me of place in New Jersey, again with a bit more modest hills.

Since I went a bit earlier than the peak bloom, I will definitely go back to the blue bonnet trails and if I love the wine as much as I think I will, I will probably need to stock up-more on that to come.

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