Just a tad past their peak, the piney woods of Lake Bob Sandlin State Park were still colorful in mid-November. A quick weekend trip showed me varieties of oak, elm, cedar, pine, hickory, redbud, dogwood, and maple (just to name a few), all fanning autumn colors like a showy peacock. There were yellows, golds, oranges, and rust-colored leaves, with red sprinkled in for good measure to make this little northeast Texas park postcard pretty.
The densely wooded shoreline of Lake Bob Sandlin, and the 639-acre park is a wonderful recreational area for a nature lover. Visitors can fish, swim, hike, bike, and paddle in warmer temperatures. This visit, however, had cool autumn temperatures, meaning brisk mornings and chilly evenings. I had the perfect weather for birds, trees, and a little downtime.
I spent Saturday morning hiking the trails near Trout Pond. The trails are exceptionally nice and perfect for leisurely walks as they wind through the forest. Tree canopies provide colorful and dappled sunlight while the forest floor is sprinkled with fungi, lichen, moss, berries, wildflowers, and thousands of pinecones.
Trout Pond is stocked with a variety of fish (largemouth bass, catfish, and crappie) and is undeniably, the most photographic spot in the park.
The small pond, encircled by a variety of hard wood trees pop with color but your eyes cannot help but be drawn to the cedar trees, with their roots anchored into the water, they take center stage as their colors fade into beautiful shades from orange to rust.
A constant chorus of birdsongs fill the forest. I sat on a bench for a long time hoping to spot a pair of bald eagles that frequent the area. Unfortunately, I never saw them, but I was thrilled to observe a fluffy Red-shouldered Hawk as he stayed huddled on a branch nearby. A lot of little birds flitted by and were difficult to identify because they were small and fast, but with some luck and a fast shutter speed, I was able to capture a few of them.
I've traveled the world to see iconic landmarks such as The Matterhorn, The Eiffel Tower, and "The Last Supper" mural. Because the power of an image raises my curiosity, I've also gone out of my way to visit places off the beaten path. All of these trips were based on photographs that I've seen. Every place I choose to visit is because I'm drawn to it for a particular reason. I think that's true for every traveler -- we want to see "it" for ourselves. Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it's on a whim. Lake Bob Sandlin SP is no exception.
Nearly two years ago, I saw a photo of a tree in my Instagram feed. It was mystical, enchanting, shrouded in mist, and simply grand. A real life fairytale tree. It was such a beautiful image that it alone put Lake Bob Sandlin State Park on my radar. The image was taken by Jon Fischer, a photographer from the Dallas-Ft. Worth area. I didn't know Jon at the time, but he's become a friend that I often shoot with when I'm in the DFW area. I knew that I would not be able to find the same tree, mostly because Jon is known for his off trail adventures. (www.jonpfischer.com) But it served as inspiration for this road trip to east Texas.
I spent the morning and most of the afternoon near Trout Pond. I had not even seen the lake yet and I wanted to get to the fishing pier for sunset so I packed up my gear and headed back to my car. On the trail, just up from the pond, I spotted an old oak tree that had beautiful long-reaching branches. It had lost a lot of its leaves but what drew me to it was all the gnarled and knotted warts on its trunk. I knew that this would be my "fairytale" tree so I spent a long time trying to find the perfect angle to capture the essence of this tree.
After a quick lunch, I headed to the fishing pier. The midday light was harsh, so I followed the short hiking trail to Brim Pond. It's shady, quiet, and full of botanic treasures and the water is clear creating beautifully mirrored reflections.
Tiny mushrooms and hundreds of acorns and pine cones lay scattered on the forest floor, promising future growth. I spent a long time looking for tiny landscapes with my macro lens. Surprisingly, very few people were on the trail, so I had the area to myself. The quiet and the bounty of treasures I found kept me entertained for hours.
Fishing is a great past time here. A few locals told me that they have been coming to Lake Bob Sandlin for decades to cast their lines from the fishing pier. While I was on the pier, a young boy took his place at the end of it, his mother confessed to me that neither she or her husband knew anything about fishing but their son loves to fish, so they bring him out to the pier because it's an easy day trip for them.
The pier is lit at night and I am certain that there's no shortage of anglers on it during the summer months. With grey skies all day, the chance of getting a decent sunset were fairly low. Another photographer and I waited patiently on the pier and at the very last minute, we got a pinch of color and a "Buttermilk sky."
Early Sunday morning, I packed up and headed to the pier once again hoping that sunrise would be worth the 5 AM alarm. Unfortunately, I got another morning of white sky, but cloudy skies are great for photographing tiny landscapes in the forest. As I was exploring the forest floor, I received a text from Jon. He knew that I was at Lake Bob Sandlin and he said that if I wanted to stick around that he'd swing by to shoot with me for a bit and then we’d grab lunch at Vaughn's (a local restaurant known for its fried catfish). We only had about an hour to shoot, so we headed to Trout Pond to look for birds. On our way, Jon said that he “hopes he can find the tree" -- as we approached my "fairytale" tree he points at it and says "that's it!" -- nearly two years since he first photographed it, Jon and I are standing before the same tree.
Autumn in Texas is notably short. Parts of Texas received more rain than it usually does this time of year, so the race to find color in Texas began and ended here at Lake Bob Sandlin SP. The forest trails of these piney woods did not disappoint. If you need to hit your own “reset” button, get on a trail at Lake Bob Sandlin State Park.