Upland Island Wilderness

I’ve been planning to visit the Upland Island Wilderness for awhile.  I ordered a map from MyTopo for this area last summer and I’ve been trying to get out here since.  On the 4th, with the wife out of town, I figured I’d go hike in the Upland Island Wilderness. I wanted to see the longleaf pine savannas and the spring-fed bogs at the exposures of the Catahoula Formation and photograph some of the carnivorous plants.

The trip didn’t work out how I had hoped. The trailhead area was pretty dilapidated. Something public isn’t available, but I don’t know what.

Dilapidated Trailhead

Trail Registry Box

Apparently, I’m supposed to register here. I opened the box, and what did I see?

Trail Registry Box

Definitely nowhere to register. Maybe this is what’s not available.

This trailhead is not immediately at the start of the trail, either, which was odd. I had to walk down the road a ways, past someone’s house that sits less than 100ft from the Wilderness boundary before I got to the trails.

Last minute route-checking, and setting the requisite parking waypoint.


As I set out from the parking area, I saw quite a large and striking grasshopper.

Young Nymph Lubber Grasshopper

Looking it up after I got home, I found it to be a young nymph stage of a lubber grasshopper…quite common. Still, the yellow stripes are quite striking.

The trails here are something of a disappointment. The one I used to access the area was an old closed-off county road. And it was still wide enough to drive a vehicle down because it seems the staff keeps the encroaching trees trimmed. I have no idea why they maintain a trail tread that’s at least 6ft wide here. You can see where trees have been cut from the edges as well as from the centerline between the old tire tracks. There’s no reason for such wide trail here. Singletrack tread should be sufficient for all permitted users in Wilderness, even horses. The first couple miles were a gradual climb to the top of the ridge. You could see the progression of the vegetation from the bottomland hardwoods (I parked near a creek) to the longleaf pine and occasional oaks.

My first goal of the day was to hunt for the Catahoula Boulders geocache, which hadn’t been found since 2009. When I reached the trail intersection I needed to take, I stopped for a photo break and some lunch. I have to say, I packed a tasty lunch.


Canned chicken, some lettuce I packaged into individual servings, an avocado, and some chipotle mayo on some flatbread. I also brought myself an orange (not pictured) because IME, oranges pack well for awhile and can handle being buried in a pack.

After lunch, I began my downhill approach of the geocache. I chose to depart the trail in some true savanna, which was pretty clear from underbrush so the going was pretty easy. I spotted GZ easily enough (the cache was located SOMEWHERE near the big boulders which are in a pretty isolated area) so I dropped my pack and camera and set off to find it. It took my GPS a little while to settle on the coordinates, but it led me to the cache in very good shape with a dry logsheet. I signed the log and decided to take another photo break because the rock outcropping was very photogenic (and there are supposed to be seeps with carnivorous plants nearby).

Catahoula Formation

Boulders of Catahoula Formation Sandstone

I had read up on the High Dynamic Range photo technique and decided to try to apply it on my hike. Here is the result of using the technique on the above scene.

Rocks in HDR

I’m thinking the scene where I used it wasn’t quite right for the technique. It looks to me like it mostly took away some of the depth from the shadows, which is one thing I really appreciate about the first shot. It seems like there wasn’t much (if any) overexposed area in the first photo for the HDR technique to improve upon. Maybe I needed more bare sky in the picture? If that’s the case, there wasn’t really any opportunity for that kind of shot on this trip. You just don’t get many scenic vistas in this part of Texas.

After hunting this geocache, and coming up empty for springs and carnivorous People used to live hereplants, I decided to try a north-facing slope. This area was on the south side of the ridge, so it would get more sun. I thought a shadier area might be more productive. That meant hiking back where I came from and then going off-trail. On my way back up, I found an old 8-track tape along the trail (old county road).

So it wasn’t TOO long ago that people lived here. Doing some searching, it turns out the area was designated in 1984, certainly within my lifetime.

I reached the top of the ridgeline easily enough (back to the spot where I lunched) and took the other fork in the trail. This corridor is obviously not maintained much (if at all). It appears as though this also used to be an old road, but it doesn’t get the trimming the other paths get. It was nice in a way, but my old topo doesn’t really reflect how much this section has been allowed to be grown over compared to the others. I had to leave the official corridor several times to go around thick brush (mostly yaupon) or blowdowns.

I eventually reached the saddle in the ridgeline I was looking for to make my descent down the northern aspect of the ridge. Down I hiked and I found the streambeds soon enough and the apparent sources of the streams…which were all dried up. No carnivorous plants were visible here, either. I continued to follow the streambeds downhill to see if I could find any exposures of the Catahoula Formation.

Pine cone reflection


Nothing. Hmmm…interesting. According to geological maps of the area, the Catahoula Formation makes up the entire top of the ridge.


Why are the boulders exposed in the vicinity of the geocache, but not in a similar topographical position at the other side? This is giving me some good questions to ask for an Earthcache I hope to develop out here. I didn’t find what I was looking for on this trip, but it does raise some interesting questions about what I did find. I have my ideas, but I’m not sharing them here because I don’t want to give away the answers to possible logging tasks. I think this one will take at least one more visit to check out some other locations that look interesting on my maps before I can set up this Earthcache. But if I have any hopes of getting photos of springs and carnivorous plants, I think I’ll have to come back when it’s cooler and wetter.


In the midst of my search for springs and outcroppings and carnivorous plants, I stumbled across yet more evidence of human habitation here…an old stock pond. It was a welcome sight. It was a hot day and I was thinking about making camp somewhere nearby. I took the opportunity to filter some water for dinner. The filtering didn’t go so well. My MSR Miniworks kept clogging on the superfine silt suspended in this water. The water was pretty still and yet there was still sediment suspended in it. No amount of settling was going to fix that. Still, I scooped some out with my Kitchen Sink and let it settle for awhile as I took pictures.



The dragonflies were especially photogenic.




After my photo session, I tried to filter the water, but didn’t get very far before my filter clogged and I couldn’t get any water through it. Disassemble and clean. Filter a little more water then clog again. Disassemble and clean. Filter a little more water then clog again. Disassemble and clean. You get the point. After about an hour of this, I think I only got a liter filtered and then I started hearing thunder. I looked up and saw a storm cell looming through the trees. I couldn’t tell exactly where it was going or how fast it was moving, but I knew I didn’t want to be near the top of a ridge at a clearing next to a pond, so I packed up and began moving downhill, looking for places I could safely hang my tarp to ride out the storm and maybe hang my hammock for the night.

As I checked my progress on the GPS, I saw that as I moved on (unable to find good sites for hammock hanging free of both brush and snags and widowmakers) that I was not terribly far from the car. Considering my water situation, I decided it was probably a good idea to call it a training dayhike and head back to the car. The last bit was tough going. My map said there was another trail/old road in the area, so I headed for it. I found nothing. This area was in the bottoms and the forest had completely retaken this roadbed. I couldn’t find it anywhere…not even at the stream crossings. The last mile-half mile was pretty rough. I was getting dangerously close to bonking. I stopped to eat a granola bar and finish my Hydralite electrolyte drink I mixed for the day. That gave me enough punch to make it back to the trail, and at that point the going got MUCH easier.

Lessons learned:

  1. DSLR photo gear is heavy…even with a carbon fiber tripod and especially when carrying a 300mm lens.
  2. Avocados are yummy on hikes.
  3. The heat is pretty manageable here if you have enough water and you keep your pace down.  If either of those variables changes, it gets nasty quick.
  4. I wish I hadn’t forgotten my trekking poles at home.
  5. “Trails” as shown on topo maps in the Wilderness areas here can mean anything.  They can be roads wide enough to drive on…or they can be nothing.  The forest doesn’t put out maps any better than the MyTopo map I ordered for the area, either.
  6. When ordering MyTopo maps for hiking purposes, don’t get them rolled/laminated.  Yes, they’re durable that way.  But they’re also ungainly.  Rolled/laminated maps are better for hanging on the wall.  Next time, buy the folded ones.
  7. Do this trip in cooler months when the springs are more likely to be flowing and you can find water that won’t clog your filter or find a burlier prefilter that can actually handle the superfine silt that won’t settle out of the water.  Maybe filter papers from scientific supply places?

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