Moseying: Locations of Interest
The rugged Scurry County landscape has hidden mysteries
September 26, 2007
Fall is a wonderful time to go daytripping. Scurry County is not far. A person drives to Big Spring and then turns north on Highway 350 towards Snyder. North of the Colorado River bridge is the tiny town of Ira. A passerby has to slowdown for the one blinking traffic light. Joe Carter, a retired biology professor from Western Texas College in Snyder, lives there. Teaching at a Junior College in a small town is a grand thing for a naturalist. Over the years I had many students who were the children of local landowners. We would take field trips to locations throughout Scurry County, so we have discovered some mighty interesting things over the years.
Mr. Carter continued, I checked with the landowner. She said that a story about our visit would be okay, but to please not give the location of the ranch. After I arrive, we toured his yard with a number of species of drought adapted ornamental plants. This is huge for a white bush honeysuckle. When you see it in the wild, deer always heavily browse it. I planted it years ago. The Devils River goldenball leadtree is such a wonderful small tree it is something that should be commonly used in landscapes in the region.
Later in the afternoon, Mr. Carter showed me another goldenball leadtree at Western Texas College. This is the largest of the species I have ever seen, as well. Placed against a south wall, it avoided the damaging freezes of 1983. James Eby did much of the landscaping here at the college. Mr. Eby had also created a wonderful naturalized garden next to the Golf Course Greenskeeping complex. Western Texas College has produced many professionals for the golf industry in the 35 years the school has been open. Mr. Carter and I toured the naturalized garden, discussing its potential to be further developed as an outdoor education site for Snyder schoolchildren.
When we arrived at the ranch with the buffalo tracks we hiked through juniper dotted hillsides. The rains of 2007 had created a lush landscape. Mr. Carter is an avid naturalist. In recent years he has built up an extensive collection of flora and fauna photographs. (Look for some of his work on www.sibleynaturecenter.org in the habitats section in the coming weeks!) In a number of places along the Colorado River in Scurry County bluffs of dark sandstone line the watercourse. We identified live oak, Mexican buckeye, agarita, feather dalea, little bluestem, whitlowwort, white milkwort and many other plant species of the breaks and canyons habitat.
I love the rocks here it is so easy to see shapes that resemble objects. Look at this one it is a perfect representation of the head of a duck. Mr. Carter led me along the bluffs, pointing out interesting features. Look at this miniature slot canyon. Isnt it amazing how water cuts the rock? We walked a little further until we found what the old-timers said was a buffalo path across the rock. The furrow in the rock does not follow the path of water, and when it gets near the edge, there are steps leading down, about the size of a buffalo hoof. (To see photographs of the buffalo path on our website, take a look at this photoessay.)
I pushed my way through a clump of Mexican buckeye to see where the trail might have led. Fifteen feet from the end of the rock was a clump of live oak trunks, with three rotting stumps. Fire, or someone cutting firewood, caused this live oak to resprout with several trunks. I think this live oak was here before the time the region was settled, so if this was a buffalo path, the animals may have lolled in the shade of the tree, I commented, thinking out loud.
We walked to the north a hundred feet and the rock outcropping faded away. Mr. Carter noted, The bluffs end here on this side of the river, but pick up again on the other side of the river. I nodded and wondered, But why wouldnt the buffalo just come down this gentle slope without rocks, instead of coming across the rocks. Would there be another explanation for the path? Could it be a human artifact? That doesnt make sense either. Why would people traverse this path continually for the many years it would take to create it?
Later we drove around, exploring the county roads east of Lake J.B. Thomas. I told him of the legend of the turnaround tree. Years ago a visitor to the Sibley Nature Center who had come from Oklahoma told me about a story his grandfather (a Comanche warrior) told him. At Quanahs winter camp along the Colorado, there was a huge tree. I think he said it was a cottonwood. When our people arrived at the site, they would hold a celebration under the tree. I found mention of the tree in a book that stated it was a pecan. (If it was a pecan, it might have been planted by Jumano Indians, as I believe the trees at Geddis Springs along the Pecos River were.) I described where I thought the turnaround tree might be to Mr. Carter.
There is a little dirt county road that leads to about a quarter mile from that location, he said. We bounced down the road and near the end of the road we looked west. Sure enough, a huge tree as tall as the bluff along the creek that met the river was visible. I will check with the landowner and see if I can get permission to take a look at it, he said. We looked at it through binoculars. It is definitely not a cottonwood, he said. It might be a pecan. In an open area above the river a few other trees were visible, including one not far from the end of the road. That one is an elm, and probably a Siberian elm. It is probably the site of an old ranch house. The tree we think is the turnaround tree might just be a Siberian elm, he said as he shook his head. But it would be interesting to know for sure.
Give a couple of naturalists a mystery or two and they are happy as a raccoon with an ice chest!