Exploring Dallas Great Trinity Forest At Flood Crest

Trinity River in Dallas, Texas flooding out the Great Trinity Forest under a spectacular sunset sky May 24, 2015


It’s the Flood of 1957. Carbon copy of a large scale drought buster that quenched thirsty North Texas and ended years of sustained drought. To the month, to the week of the month, to the day of the month and even the river height are near duplicates to the inch. It is often hard to convey relevance to many when it comes to this place. Maybe there are not many around anymore who recall what the Flood of 1957 brought, the lessons learned and why you don’t mess with the river.

Wading deep into the Great Trinity Forest on May 24, 2015 off Bexar Street in an area known for Texas Buckeyes and wooded views

White-lined sphinx larva (Hyles lineata), commonly known as the hummingbird moth searches for high ground in the flood water
Snowy Egret walking double yellow line down Carbondale

In order to gain such appreciation to take a place for granted one needs to talk about what is present in the landscape, what is absent or what has been absented. No one told a man named Wallace Jenkins that. No one sat him down in the 50’s drought when he decided to plant 500 acres in the bottoms near the mouth of White Rock Creek and the Trinity.

His ranch headquarters stood where the recent Texas Horse Park was constructed in 2013. Jenkins was so furious that his crops were ruined by changes in flooding that he ran for and won a seat on the county commissioner’s court. The whole of his effort was directed at flood protection and mitigation from changes in riparian flooding in the rapidly urbanizing watershed upstream.

The old Riverlake Country Club entrance with the parking lot under 7 feet of water

It was the flood that led to the bankruptcy of Riverlake Country Club in what we contemporary Dallasites now call the Great Trinity Forest. Backed by big sports names like Mickey Mantle, funded by well connected Dallasites with braggart attitudes of controlling a piece of river bottom spilled across the pages of the Dallas Morning News of yesteryear in paid advertisements. The river smashed that idea to pieces. Over and over again.

Dallas Floodway Extension between Cell F and G near Fellows Lane at major flood stage 5/24/15

Joppa resident fishing before flooding rains in April 2015

That old golf course was bought for flood control in the last decade. Gone are the sand bunkers, manicured greens and the clubhouse. The ghostly cart paths remain intact. Portions of a levee built, rebuilt, fortified and left behind still exist.

A confusing plan to demolish 1200 feet of it in 2015 has left everyone scratching their heads. Everyone I show the spot to all cuss under their breath about it. Some cuss loudly. The people in Joppa cry about their big trees lost. The ones their great grandparents told them about as children. The trees that they as great grandparents tell their great grandkids about.

 Where the water goes once it leaves the confines of the Trinity Levees in Downtown is a complete mystery to so many. It is cringe worthy reading others thoughts on what happens to the water, impact on new construction and the often untold stories of South Dallas residents who live without flood protection. Large technological dreams of concrete are stalking the river which will ever change the hydrology of not just the Downtown area. The water flow will accelerate and scour the Great Trinity Forest in ways no one has yet to imagine.

Residents of Joppa trying to drain the flood waters from their property using gas powered pumps on May 24. 2015

Crested Caracara the Mexican Eagle lands on a pile of clearcut tree trunks in the Lower Chain of Wetlands Dallas, TX May 24, 2015
Crested Caracara moves in for the kill on a Cattle Egret May 24, 2015

A Mexican Eagle on May 24, 2015 is the only living thing seen across the horizon. Across an angry chain of river raged swale that was once golf course across from Joppa. Standing on a pile of clearcut tree trunks admiring the view of a bend in the river. A bend that the freed slaves who founded the community here referenced a similar bend in the Old Testament. A bend that Moses and his followers found when freed from bondage.

Many Dallasites have never seen an eagle outside of a zoo. Fewer have seen one in Dallas. Fewer still have seen one chasing down killing another bird in aerial combat as the photo sequence above shows at Cell G in the Lower Chain of Wetlands.

Black Bellied Whistling Ducks, a tropical duck rarely seen in North Texas

The flood waters are not high enough to build an ark but in some places the animals are lining up in twos. At Joppa Preserve pairs of Black Bellied Whistling Ducks line up and feed among the flooded shallows of the ever rising Trinity whose channel is some 3/4’s of a mile away. Black Bellied Whistling Ducks are an uncommon site in the Dallas area. Many experienced birders don’t have them checked off their bucket lists for the county. Here, in South Dallas they can be seen with some regularity in the summer and early fall.

Birds like the Black Bellied Whistling Duck which hails traditionally from the corn belt of Mexico has been drawn in Aztec and Mayan art on their temples for centuries. The Mexican Eagle also known as the Crested Caracara has been depicted as an ancient symbol in sacrifice and even adorns the current flag of Mexico.

These birds exist here as summer residents yet rarely documented. The reason is that traversing this land, this river, this river bottom turns away all but a few. The long winded stories about personal safety have a ring of truth to it. Throw in high fast moving water and the number of people visiting such a place whittles down to about zero. Visit this place and you will have it to yourself.

Photographer Sean Fitzgerald shooting wildflowers in floodwaters

Getting into these spots is less than straightforward during dry spells. The adventure of making your way into the unknown and untouched masterpiece of nature here is one that people crave yet few know it exists in their own backyard.

The few who do know these places well are folks like Sean Fitzgerald a well known and popular professional photographer based out of Deep Ellum in Dallas, Texas. His website http://www.seanfitzgerald.com/ has photos from all over the world. Quite a few are from garden spots across Texas like Big Bend, Blackland Prairies and the Great Trinity Forest.

Sean Fitzgerald wading the Great Trinity Forest in very deep water

Making headway across water neck deep with delicate camera gear is a tough chore to accomplish in dry weather and very tough in high water. One false step and the camera gear can be ruined in an instant. The risk is worth the reward when the weather, light and wind cooperate to allow for sights so stunning that a camera cannot capture the intense color and beauty.

The perfect light of a setting sun illuminates an island at Rochester Park in Dallas Great Trinity Forest

This is the Great Trinity Forest. The wild open lands inside an urban metropolis of millions. A complete fluke of a gift left behind untouched by people for decades. To be here at this spot, at this time under sunset perfected light is something I wish all decision makers could see with their own eyes.

Clasping Coneflowers submerged up to their flower heads in floodwaters
Spiders and insects of all kinds seek dry refuge

Seeing such a place would change their perspective and prejudices of such a place. It will make anyone second guess their ideas of blight and trash in South Dallas. It is a beautiful place of water, wildflowers and wildlife that cannot be equaled upstream or downstream.

As the light begins to soften and the sun begins to set the real true colors of a Texas spring take shape. It is the magic hour for photography when the sky comes to life.

 These sights are only temporary. As the river rises and crests it is soon surely to fall. A brief period of inundation that spreads nutrient rich silt, aquatic life and plant seeds into new areas. The harvest of such a flood comes months from now as the water recedes and brings forth a new beginning to the ecological cycle of the Great Trinity Forest.