Texas Conservation Corps Goes to the Davis Mountains and Encounters Nocturnal Spirit of Darkness and Hate

“Get out of here! Go away. GO. AWAY.”

Headlamps flicked on sporadically, and bobbed out of their tents.  A handful of strained voices, containing equal parts anger and exhaustion, pierced through the quiet of the cool evening.

“Oh my God. Is it a- he was in my rainfly!”

“Are you alright!?”

“(Expletive)!”

“It’s the skunk. He’s back. It’s him,” called one voice, arriving at the point. “GO AWAY,” the voice continued, sternly. This command was followed moments later by the clattering of rocks.

We had been haunted for several nights by this foul specter, grim and pale-faced and terrible. It was bold and crafty, and carried with it the menacing payload of stank.  This malevolent being would sneak into tent vestibules with the cool assurance of a seasoned scavenger. Lurking was its business. And business was good.

This well-honed dagger of the night was the product of months, perhaps years of poor Leave No Trace ethics, and it paid us nightly visits. And yet, through some bizarre twist of circumstances, it adhered to the very doctrine whose poor execution had made it so bold. Never did it take food (In truth, we left little for the taking), nor did it leave behind any hint of its presence after it was gone. It just… stared.

And now, after many sleepless nights spent in suspense, under the veil of creeping, lingering, fear, the crew had had enough. Rocks cascaded blindly towards the empty creekbed into which our intruder had slipped. Accompanied by vulgar challenges and primal cries, the stones rained for what felt like hours but could have only been seconds, each of which was pregnant with the threat of smelly counter-fire.

We never did see that skunk again, after that night. Perhaps our retaliation scared it off. Maybe the devil found a new campsite upon which to inflict his unique brand of terror.  Or, could be he found himself on the wrong side of (that’d be underneath) a passing semi on dusty TX-118.

But I don’t think any of those things. I think he just got smarter. I think he stopped getting caught. I think he’ll keep staring until he finds whatever it is he’s looking for and, sated, will slip quietly, unseen, back into the darkness.

Matt Lore, Trails Across Texas Crew Member

Texas Conservation Corps in Copper Lake State Park

Northward!

The Trails Across Texas (TAT) crew rolled northward this hitch into the prairies and lakes region of Texas to Cooper Lake State Park. The park, a relatively recent addition to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department System, was officially opened on April 27, 1996. The 19,300 acre lake which gives the park its name was engineered by the Army Corps of Engineers for municipal water purposes. The lake also provides a number of recreational benefits including bass fishing, swimming, camping, and equestrian trails.

TxCC has been maintaining equestrian trails in the park for many years and this TAT crew now left its mark. The soil type in the park is highly erodible and the impacts of horse hooves and rain storms have battered the trails. The crew found itself boot deep in a mucky mess, tasked with the never-ending goal of erosion prevention. Over the span of eleven days, the crew worked hard to mitigate the forces of Texas nature via the implementation of 15 eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana) check steps, 5 water bars, 1 cedar/post oak (Quercus stellata) turnpike, and the felling of numerous trail hazards- oaks affected by the drought-driven hypoxylon canker fungus. The check steps were placed in areas of serious erosion to build and maintain the soil level, water bars were placed on downhill runs to redirect fast-flowing water, and the turnpike was built in a washed out section of trail. The extensive amount of work was made possible by the crew’s hard work ethic, agreeable weather, and the hospitable staff.

Hitch highlights included the nightly chorus of coyotes and chorus frogs, eclectic campfire conversation, an excursion to the cowboy hat-donning Eiffel tower in Paris, TX, and our project partner’s annual pizza party. With stomachs overloaded with pizza, the TAT crew said goodbye to the beautiful, battered trails of Cooper Lake State Park and rolled back to Austin, TX.

 

Next Hitch: Cooper Lake State Park, part deaux.

David Brady, Crew Leader – Trails Across Texas