Into the canyon, the cedar thicket is dense, with the glow of a smooth, rusty-red madrone trunk here and there. A bit further into the cedar forest, a young madrone barely 3 feet tall grows right at the side of the trail. A juvenile bird—a yellow-breasted chat, perhaps—flies right at me, mewing as it comes, flapping awkwardly in a straight line through the cedar branches, low to the ground, apparently just learning to fly. It comes to a landing not four feet from where I stand and looks at me, as surprised and motionless as I am. It is about the size and shape of a small dove, with an olive brown back, a yellow underside, and bright black eyes. Then it hears the urgent chattering of its parent, turns, and flies low in the opposite direction, out of sight.
On the morning of May 7, three visitors have come to walk the trail with me. Along the Canyon wall we notice the seedpods of a Missouri primrose beginning to develop as the blooms wilt, and in the old road bed we see a variegated fritillary butterfly. We wonder if the road bed was part of Old Bee Caves Road, or was it a side road that was built when the Canyon was part of the area where there were military bases during the Cold War. There are artifacts from that period, perhaps, along the trail: a rusted-metal can that was probably used for target practice, a disk that may have been the top of an oil canister, and a bit farther along the trail, what may have been the canister. Cathy T. points out bones and a broken eggshell, wondering what animals they are from. Visible at the side of the old road bed are two culverts, and we wonder again who built the road and when.
Next to one of the culverts we see a plastic bag, and being a good steward of the Preserve, I am going to pick it up when Phillip C. points toward the bag and calmly mentions, “There’s a snake.” Right next to the bag is a western diamond-backed rattlesnake, about 3 feet long, stretched full length facing away from us and perfectly motionless, unperturbed, just waiting for us to move along. I get close enough to take a picture, and leave the bag for another day.
More information about the Madrone Canyon Preserve can be found here.