Dateline – November 16, 2013
There are views that will take your breath away in the the heart of Dallas just a couple of miles and minutes from downtown. The intersection of the White Rock Escarpment and the Great Trinity Forest set the stage for these vistas with elevations that offer excellent vantages of the vast tract of bottomland woods to the west.
The boundaries of most of our explorations this time out are indicated by the red outline in the map below. Inside its perimeter are a number of scenic overlooks. A system of loosely defined trails connects them all. Collectively they are known as the Gateway Trails or the Overlook Trails.
This little sliver of the Texas Hill Country sits in the northeast corner of the Great Trinity Forest between Scyene Rd and Lake June Rd. Located within its boundaries are Gateway Park, Grover Keaton Park, and Devon Anderson Park. Inside these parks you will find the Scyene Overlook, the Laceywood Overlook, the Piedmont Overlook, the Piedmont Ridge Overlook, the Devon Anderson Overlook, and the Commanche Storytelling Place. All offer great vistas of the surrounding countryside, including some magnificent views of the Dallas skyline.
We started this hike early on a warm and overcast Saturday morning. Almost immediately we were greeted by the murky silhouette of a high flying Turkey Vulture. With encounters like this, when the light is low and the viewing conditions are not optimal, I am always inclined to take a second look at every big bird I see flying by. In this part of the Great Trinity Forest there is always hope that what you are observing might be a more exotic bird of prey (think Bald Eagle). I use my camera like a spotting scope in these cases, and zoom in on the resulting image to verify the identification.
The elevation and brightly colored autumn foliage are what make these trails special. And that means the middle of November is the right time to visit. Cool weather and an explosion of fall color make this the perfect time. It was overcast on the day we visited which muted the colors a bit in the photographs, but in person the views were still spectacular. If you want optimal picture taking, visiting early on a clear sunny day will be your best bet.
Our first stop was the Piedmont Ridge Overlook. From here you are presented a wonderful look at Great Trinity Forest to Oak Cliff to the horizon. Really remarkable.
The system of trails continues along the limestone escarpment up and down the hilly terrain and guiding you to Bruton Road in the south. Cross the road and you are on your way to Devon Anderson Park. More great views await you along the way.
The Devon Anderson Overlook presents the first really nice look at downtown Dallas. The proximity is what is striking here. Just moments earlier it would have been easy to believe you were nowhere near civilization, and suddenly the skyline of the ninth largest city in the nation is revealed. Near yet so far away.
Continuing on we crossed a small ravine on a narrow footbridge, and passed through a meadow of native blackland prairie.
Along the way we encountered this rare turtle. This grand old lady of the woods, a female Three-toed Box Turtle, has seen her fair share of wear and tear. Her shell has been worn down to the bone along the front and rear edges—surely the result of and encounter with a tenacious Coyote who worked hard at—but never succeeded at—getting to the tasty turtle in side. The bottom of the shell also shows a tremendous gash which is harder to explain, but looks to have been just as potentially life threatening.
The next stop on our hike was the Commanche Storytelling Place. A beautiful palette of reds, yellows, oranges, and greens greeted us as we approached the ancient amphitheater.
At least one head-scratchingly unusual discovery seems to await me on every hike I take. This time it was this set of bizarre looking foam rubber cats watching the trail from their perch in a knothole on a nearby tree. I appreciate the odd sense of humor expressed by the person who set this up. I enjoy these kind of finds as much as any other when on a nature walk near populated areas.
Next we left the Overlook Trails as we worked our way into some of the more forbidden areas of the Great Trinity Forest. These are places that normally would be under a foot or so of water if not for our extended drought. We went in search of the near-mythical wild Dwarf Palmettos that are said to grow there.
A detour around a small homeless camp was required as we made our way further and further off the beaten path. We discovered the remains of a Coyote skull along the way. This skull has been heavily worked over by mineral seeking rodents. The snout, cheek bones, and sagittal crest had all been gnawed away.
Our search for Dwarf Palmettos led us deeper into the swamp lands in the White Rock Creek Valley. When we finally found the small palms, they were everywhere and clearly thriving.
Leaving the swampy bottomlands we made our way back to the Overlook Trails and then headed north toward the place we began our hike.
Cutting through Grover Keeton Golf Course we ventured past our original starting point and on toward the Scyene and Laceywood Overlooks. We saved the best views for last.
This was my story of passing through this remarkable area for the first time. My good friend Ben Sandifer—who introduced me to this place and led us on this hike—is much better equipped to tell the tale of this excellent set of trails and overlooks, and he does so on his blog, Dallas Trinity Trails. If you really want to know what this part of the Great Trinity Forest is like check out these articles:
- Lower White Rock Creek Valley Trails
- Fall Red Woods of the Great Trinity Forest
- Texas Fall Color On Dallas Lower White Rock Creek Escarpment
- The Wild Palm Trees Of Dallas County — Relics From The Last Ice Age?
This was a beautiful place with sometimes challenging terrain. The ups and downs and twists and turns of this hike were hard on my joints, and my knees and ankles were paying the price for several days afterwards. Definitely worth it.