January 9, 2011

Madera Canyon, Davis Mountain Preserve, Nature Conservancy, Texas

The Davis Mountain Preserve is a 32,000 acre protected area owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy. It is located 23 miles past Fort Davis on TX-17.  This preserve protects the highest peaks of the Davis Mountains, including the 8,300-foot Mount Livermore. It is the 5th highest peak in Texas and the highest one outside the Guadalupe Mountains.

The summit and cliffs of Mount Livermore can be seen in the distance

Mount Livermore and the nearby peaks are home to some rare (for Texas) high elevation coniferous forests, including ponderosa pines and the southernmost stand of aspens in North America. Since these sky islands are located hundreds of miles away from their nearest neighbors (Guadalupe Mountains National Park to the northwest and the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park to the south), it has been deemed an important ecological unit to protect. Thus, the Nature Conservancy purchased 32,000 of private ranchland to set up this preserve and arranged for another 70,000+ acres of conservation easements on adjacent property.

We passed a fire burning just outside the preserve.
The local fire department was seen monitoring the blaze.

Since most of west Texas is private land, finding hiking trails or access to these interesting landscapes is actually quite difficult. In fact, the Nature Conservancy does not even normally provide access to the Davis Mountain Preserve outside of a couple of special access days per year.

A section of trail amongst pinyon pines and juniper

But, I was excited when I found out that the Nature Conservancy has recently opened a new public trail on their property. Located right on the edge of their preserve at just over 5,800 feet elevation, it is not exactly the high forests of Mount Livermore. But, it does offer some nice views as you hike through a pinyon-juniper forest reminiscent of much of the landscape of Central Arizona.

Madera Creek below the trail

The Madera Canyon Loop is 2.5 miles around and starts at the Lawrence E. Wood Picnic Area off of TX-17. The trail starts off by crossing Madera Creek, which is a intermittent stream. The trail then climbs to the top of a mesa through the pinyon-juniper stand with a grassy understory. The trail essentially circles the mesa and at one point early on (if you start to the right) offering a dramatic view of the steep slopes of Mount Livermore.

The tank on Madera Creek which hosts javalinas and various other wildlife

The trail loops around and then descends to an old cattle tank on Madera Creek. The signs of herds of javalina are ubiquitous in the wallows, matted-down grass, and footprints. I did not see them, but a hiker I past said he just had seen 20 of them. The trail then parallels the creek as it ascend up the mesa again and then you return down slope back to your car.

I was disappointed that there are no current options available to go up onto the pine-covered slopes of the higher mountains. But, it is a beautiful drive up up from Fort Davis, past the McDonald Observatory, along spectacular grass-covered hills and vistas. This short hike then makes for a nice place to stretch your legs before turning around and heading back to Fort Davis.

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