"Starting at the trailhead, Jean discussed the geology of the Balcones Canyonlands, how a shallow sea 100 million years ago led to the limestone and rock deposits that make up the canyon. Over the millennia the area uplifted to a plateau that was then eroded by area streams into the canyonlands we enjoy exploring today. The name "Balcones" derives from the early Spanish explorers to whom the limestone cliffs seemed to resemble balconies.
"As we walked into the canyon we were interested to see what the winter season would show. Immediately we encountered male Ashe Juniper ready to release pollen in the coming days.
|Ashe Juniper (Juniperus ashei) male cones about to release pollen|
"We admired Devil's shoestring (Nolina lindheimeriana), Seep muhly (Muhlenbergia reverchonii), and Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) along the trail. We stopped to inspect a seep that provides a steady water source impacting the area plants.
|Evidence of a seep: Seep muhly (Muhlenbergia reverchonii), Nostoc commune and moss|
"The moisture in the canyon is conducive to the development of Nostoc, a type of cyanobacteria, that appears green and rubbery along the ground like seaweed in moist conditions, and that goes dormant in dry weather. Cyanobacteria are some of the most ancient lifeforms with their fossil record going back more than 2 billion years. We were able to get a close look of some Nostoc in the prairie area of the trail.
|Jean holds a dried example of Nostoc commune, a cyanobacteria|
"We discussed the benefits of Juniper duff as building soil and supporting vegetation in the Canyonlands. As we paused to take a look at the first Madrone we encountered on the trail, Jean explained that the trees are rare and considered endangered in Texas. They do not have root hairs so they need ideal soil conditions. This could be why they are often found growing in the midst of Ashe Juniper to share in the soil benefits around these trees. The tree bark sheds each year, starting off lightish red in the spring and darkening throughout the summer and fall.
|Small Texas Madrone (Arbutus xalapensis) growing from the duff beneath an Ashe Juniper|
"We emerged back at the trailhead with a better appreciation of the canyon in winter and a desire to come back and see how it changes throughout the coming year."
Thank you, Lauren, for writing such an interesting write-up of the hike and for all the photographs match your write-up beautifully!
The next hike is Saturday, February 3 @10 a.m. Hope to see you then!