VANDERPOOL — Texas generally does not enjoy the stunning widespread fall foliage transformation seen in other parts of the country, with one big exception — Lost Maples State Natural Area in Vanderpool, located about an hour-and-a-half northwest of San Antonio.
Orange, red and yellow maple leaves scattered across boulders and blanketing the valley floor near the banks of the Sabinal River create impressive views and photo opportunities for visitors during October and November.
Described as the “marquee” species of timber inhabiting Lost Maples is the Uvalde bigtooth maple — the state’s largest species of bigtooth maple, standing 40 feet tall with a crown spanning 45 feet across — whose color display is among the most spectacular of all trees.
These and other Lost Maples trees do not dominate the landscape as impressively as some other parts of the country like New England, but instead tend to cluster among the lower areas of the valleys with vibrant but smaller displays of color.
Along the Maple Trail, expect to find a variety of other trees, including chinquapin, lacey oaks, basswood, pecan and American sycamore, along with an assortment of animal life: the green kingfisher; black-capped vireo; golden-necked warbler; deer; gray fox; armadillo; raccoon; bobcat; and javelina.
Lost Maples State Natural Area covers 2,174 acres in Bandera and Real counties. Around 200,000 people visit the park each year and right now, delays, traffic congestion and closures can be expected on weekends and the week of Thanksgiving. When the facility’s parking lots are full, no more visitors are admitted.
The park was purchased from private owners in 1973 and 1974, and opened Sept. 1, 1979. Evidence shows that prehistoric peoples used this area at one time, and the Spanish explored and colonized the area in the late 17th century. Beginning in the mid-1800s, the land was used for ranching. Apache, Lipan Apache and Comanche Native American tribes ranged over the land, posing a threat to settlement well into the 19th century.
Because of the fall popularity, officials recommend reserving passes online or calling the customer service center. Check the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/LostMaples for immediate updates on closures.
Go to tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/lost-maples for more information, including a fall foliage report.
After taking lots of photos and maybe exploring some of Lost Maples’ 10 miles of hiking trails, how about a bite to eat at Lost Maples Cafe?
Breakfast is served 7 to 11 a.m. with such things as omelets, breakfast tacos, hot cakes, biscuits and gravy and oatmeal. The lunch menu features chicken fried steak, hamburger steak, cheese pepper steak, fish platter, chicken breast platter, ribeye platter, Mexican food, burgers and sandwiches. Also on the menu is a chicken strip basket, steak finger basket, fried fish basket, apple pie, cherry pie, chocolate meringue, coconut meringue, buttermilk, pecan and fudge pecan.
Meanwhile, another excellent spot for a weekend nature getaway is Caprock Canyons State Park, located about an hour-and-a-half southeast of Amarillo. Known for its rugged beauty, this park features gorgeous yellow cottonwood trees and sits along the Caprock Escarpment, a long, narrow rocky formation that rises as high as a thousand feet, marking a natural transition from the high, flat plains of the Llano Estacado to the west and lower Rolling Plains to the east.
Streams flowing east from the Llano Estacado drop to the lower plains through the Caprock Escarpment, where they join the Red, Brazos and Colorado rivers.
More than 12,000 years ago, a damper, cooler climate in the area supported the now-extinct mammoth and giant bison, along with camels and horses. Now, Caprock Canyons includes such wildlife as white-tailed deer, coyotes and bobcats, along with antelope, grey fox, raccoon, jackrabbits, 14 species of lizards and 30 species of snakes, including prairie rattlers.
The area is home to 175 bird species, including roadrunners, red-tailed hawks and rarely-seen golden eagles. Last but not least, Caprock Canyons is home to the Texas State Bison Herd, which roam over 10,000 acres.
For more information on visiting Caprock Canyons, go to tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/caprock-canyons.