Looking for long stretches of tumbleweed-strewn ranges to practice your thousand-yard stare? Look elsewhere. This 15-mile point-to-point tracks through slough, slope forest, savannah, piney uplands, and some of the greatest diversity of plant life in the world (500 species per square mile, compared to fewer than 200 in most other places). This patchwork habitat houses gators, carnivorous plants, and 185 species of birds—but not a single longhorn. Park in the lot off Farm to Market Road 1943, and enter the uplands on the wide-and-flat trail (1). Reintroduced longleaf pines join shortleaf and loblolly varieties to quilt a thick canopy. At mile 2.9, turn right to stay on the Turkey Creek Trail, or continue straight onto the Pitcher Plant Trail (2), a .8-mile horseshoe winding through mixed pine forest to the edge of a wetland savannah. From April to November, the pitcher plant’s slick-walled cavity traps and drowns insects. Return to the Turkey Creek Trail, dipping into swampy sloughs, their brown waters skewered by cypress roots. Cross Hester Bridge Road (3) at mile 6.2, and begin a 2.7-mile stretch through the pines to Gore Store Road (4). Turn right for a .2-mile road-walk before regaining the trail on the south. Pull your cache jug out of the brush
(See Key Skill) and walk 1.1 miles through thick yaupon holly-hedged trail to a dispersed campsite (5). Next day, you’ll cross the first of three oil pipelines at mile 11.1. (Hey, this is Texas.) At mile 12.9, continue straight onto the Sandhill Loop Trail (6), or take the .8-mile detour between tall loblolly pines with an open understory laid thick in pine needles. Rejoin (or continue on) the Turkey Creek Trail, crossing a metal footbridge (7) over the namesake creek. Keep right
(see Topo Tip) at the four-way intersection (8) to wind west through cypress slough toward Kirby Nature Center (9)—or continue straight on the Kirby Nature Trail to see the slope forest’s beech and magnolia.
Shuttle From Beaumont, take US 287 north 30 miles, turn right on Farm to Market Rd. 420, and park at Kirby Nature trailhead in 2.6 miles.
Trailhead Go north on US 287 for 11 miles, turn right at Farm to Market Rd. 1943, park in 3.5 miles.
Gear up Whole Earth Provision Company, 2934 S. Shepherd Dr., Houston. (713) 526-5226;
KEY SKILL: Cache Water
This area’s mining and industrial past make Turkey Creek’s water suspect for contamination from heavy metals. Backcountry water filters do nothing against this type of pollutant. Fortunately, a road-crossing makes preloading the route with water a snap.
Target Gore Store Road, 8.9 miles from the northern trailhead (A), and lay away one gallon per person. Use a lightweight container like a milk jug, mark it with your name and the date, and stash it south of the road in the brush. (B) Waypoint it on your GPS, then use the Go To function to locate it again.
Once you’ve tanked up, collapse the jug and pack it out.
To reach Gore Store Road from the southern trailhead (C), drive north 3.7 miles on US 287, and turn right. Drive 3.7 miles to the turnout.
SEE THIS: Coral Snake IMAGE
With all due respect to the rattlers, copperheads, and cottonmouths (all found here), the coral snake is the serpent to fear in this country. This day-crawler grows up to 30 inches, has red-on-yellow (“kills a fellow”) stripes, and prefers heaps of rotting wood. The snake’s ¹⁄8-inch fangs mean it must latch on and chew to envenomate. Bad news: Just a drop (5 mg) of its neurotoxic venom can kill a full-grown human in hours. Good news: Fewer than 20 bites per year occur, mostly in spring and fall.
Not far from Big Thicket, feral hogs, reportedly weighing up to 900 pounds—the big ‘uns are called hogzillas—roam the coastal plains and interior forests of Texas. The pigs aren’t so monstrous in the preserve (they top out at a comparatively svelte 300 pounds), but their impact is enormous. Spot them by their leavings: landscapes that look Rototilled as the pigs nose and scrape around for roots and tubers. These go-anywhere mammals don’t discriminate at dinnertime, and they breed three litters of up to 13 piglets each year. Despite their size and gluttony, hogs are typically bashful around people: The park has never received a report of feral pigs eating camper chow or equipment, or bothering campers, so no additional food protection is called for. But beware: Boars and sows with piglets are lightning quick, and can be unpredictable. If one charges you, climb higher than five feet in a tree.
In wet weather, take the higher Kirby Nature Trail south from (8), to avoid watery sloughs.