Texas Fall Color On Dallas Lower White Rock Creek Escarpment

The most unused park benches with the best view in all the City of Dallas on Piedmont Ridge overlooking White Rock Creek and the Trinity River Valley

If there were ever an an award for the most unused park bench in Dallas it would likely be here. The bench would also get an award, easily, for the most scenic park bench view in all the city.

Few people ever visit this place. Even fewer see it when the oaks perched high on the Austin Chalk cliffs burn a bright red in the autumn. Ten minutes from Downtown Dallas and a world away, the trails here are surely the most underutilized in town. If there were ever a time to visit this place, the middle weeks of November are the time. The pecans and walnuts in the floodplain below hit a tinge of mustard yellow and the Red Oaks are a non-uniform mix of greens, yellows and deep reds.

Master Naturalist Bill Holston at Scyene Overlook with a distant view of Cedar Hill, Oak Cliff, Hutchins in the background

The terrain here so closely resembles the Texas Hill Country that you really have to pinch yourself into believing otherwise. The smell of cedar wafting through the air and the crunch of decomposing limestone underneath instantly transports a visitor 300 miles away. A public place like this on a warm Saturday would be elbow-to-elbow in Gillespie, Kerr or Bexar counties. In Dallas, unless you bring friends along, you have it to yourself. It’s a remarkable piece of topography for Dallas with rolling hills, gullies and rock features hidden beneath a palette of ever changing tree canopy colors.

White Rock Valley as seen from Scyene Overlook, November 17, 2013. Piedmont Ridge is on the high ground to the left in the photo.

Trail Network from Scyene Overlook to the Comanche Storytelling Place at Devon Anderson

Map of the Lower White Rock Creek Trails, yellow dots highlight trailheads

The Lower White Rock Creek Trails are comprised of a roughly 3-4 mile(depending on route) soft surface trail network spanning three different City of Dallas Parks. JJ Beeman/Scyene Overlook on Scyene Road, Grover Keeton Park which includes Piedmont Ridge Trail and Devon Anderson Park south of Bruton Road.

The JJ Beeman Trail starts near the corner of Lawnview and Scyene near the DART Lawnview Station and continues east to the Scyene Overlook. From there the trail roughly follows an Austin Chalk Escarpment high above the White Rock Creek Valley.

One can see the VA Hospital in South Dallas, Cedar Hill, Hutchins as well as Downtown Dallas. The trail continues through Grover Keeton Park, up Piedmont Ridge, across Bruton and into Devon Anderson Park.

The trails here are comprised of a random mix of trails with no clearly defined start or finish. Over the last couple years, trail maintenance has fallen off and as a result some of the sections might be a puzzling adventure to find. The trails are all still there just more faint in appearance for a first-time visitor.

The map above, while accurate in GPS rendering is now somewhat dated. The Lawnview Station section from Lawnview@Scyene to the DART level crossing near Glover Pass is a rather impossible piece of heavy bushwhacking to muster through.

The other crux of the trail is picking up the path on the south side of Bruton Road. I have attempted to mark it many times in the past, those efforts to note the correct passage have always been met with flagging tape removal by an unknown person. Now too far overgrown to mountain bike and too far eroded to walk in some areas be aware that this is a demanding and rewarding hike with unmaintained sections and some deadfall limbs.

Ideally one would visit by parking at the Grover Keeton Trailhead at Gateway Park which sits in the middle of the trail area. The trailhead addresses are below

Grover Keeton Trailhead at Gateway Park
2300 Jim Miller Road Dallas texas
This affords the best access with the best safe parking. Park anywhere near the softball or soccer fields.
Scyene Overlook can be reached by heading out the right field foul line and picking up the trail beyond some wooden trail bollards. Head south and one will find the Piedmont Ridge Trailhead kiosk east of the DART tracks and south of the golf course entrance drive. An additional trailhead exists at the Grover Keeton Golf Course Parking lot on the north end of the parking area. Look for the Gateway Trail sign and follow the trail behind the driving range and then across the DART crossing to link up to Scyene Overlook’s trail. Seen at the photo(and many others in this post) Bill Holston has previously written this trail up for the print edition of D Magazine in May 2012, it can be found here 10 Top Trails For Hiking And Biking In Dallas

North Trailhead at Renda
2800 Renda Street

Only open for work crews or special events, this is the formal entrance for the trails. Always locked and no on-street parking allowed. Kiosk is visible inside gate.

Park elsewhere as the surrounding area is rather remote and overgrown.

Southern Trailhead at Devon Anderson
1700 Eastcliff Dallas Texas
This entrance is on the southern end of the trails. The City of Dallas actually wrongly installed the city park sign for Devon Anderson Park here, the sign reads “Devon Cr”, assuming Devon Circle as the name of the street. Park at the wrongly installed sign(hey I called them about it and they never fixed it) and head back into the woods where a playground area once stood.

The southern entrance is the best spot to start if one has never been here before. The issue parking other places to the north is that one will not be able to pick up the trail south of Bruton Road. Better to head from south to north, noting the southern Bruton entrance. The photos shown here are in a sequence to highlight the south-to-north route along the escarpment.

In the Devon Anderson meadow with Chris Jackson, Scott Hudson and Bill Holston checking out the the thrice fire arsoned meadow here and the new growth of native grasses and wildflowers

This land, for time in memoriam has been unprofitable. Thin veneered soils atop limestone yield little nutrients to support king cotton or even a grazing cow. It was not so much left alone as it was more than likely ignored until suburban sprawl caught up to the place and homes were built. You get a feel for that in the southern section of trail here where homes are built as far towards the margins of building code as allowed.

Up until recently at the first trail junction there were a couple trail signs noting the Comanche Storytelling Place to the south 1/10th of a mile and a scenic overlook some 1/4 mile to the north. They have been deliberately burned, actually someone burned nearly all the signs along the whole of the 4 miles of trail. The Devon Anderson Meadow burned at least three times in the past 18 months, while a deliberate case of arson started the fires each time, the results did some interesting things to revive the meadow here.

What some call the Comanche Storytelling Place

The Comanche Storytelling place serves as a prominent anchor to the southern end of the trails here. Beyond are steep root strewn gullies that lead nowhere to the south and west. The Comanche Story Telling Place at Devon Anderson Park has been identified by the Comanche Nation as a sacred holy ground. The Comanche nation tells us that the natural limestone shaped amphitheater was believed to have been used by Native Americans in the area prior to European settlement.

A rare sighting of an Ornate Box Turtle

The Ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata ornata) is one of only two terrestrial species of turtles native to the Great Plains of the United States. It is one of the two different subspecies of Terrapene ornata. The ornate box turtle is an omnivore, with no particular dietary preferences; as an opportunistic feeder, it eats whatever is available in any given location or season. Grasses, berries, insects and other invertebrates like grasshoppers and worms. The box turtle above is estimated to be 17-19 years old given the growth rings on the carapace of the shell. These species are now few and far between in Texas. Enough worry about them that Texas Parks and Wildlife has a special website dedicated to reporting sightings TPWD Ornate Box Turtle Sighting Form

Chris Jackson takes a knee to get a closer look at the box turtle

Handy to have along people in your party that each have a vast knowledge of native Texas. Makes for an exceptional hike where ideas beyond the standard cursory discussion can take place. Featured kneeling is Chris Jackson who in his free time pens the website DFW Urban Wildlife. He is always up to something interesting and ever expanding his ability to find interesting wildlife often in off-beat places. This summer he was involved in a Whooping Crane Tracking Project that quietly followed a group of human-hatched Whooping Cranes from White Lake, Louisiana to Dallas. The free flight Whooping Cranes left all on their own and visited both the Elm Fork and East Fork of the Trinity River in the delta areas above Lake Lewisville and Lake Ray Hubbard. Somehow, the birds found their way from New Iberia’s Tabasco sauce country to Dallas and recently safely back to Louisiana.

Devon Anderson Park to Bruton Road

This piece of unique uplifted geologic feature is not uncommon in Dallas. Following White Rock Creek up north along the thirty miles of it’s streambed, the entire east bank once had this same flora, fauna and feel. The hills of Parkdale, Tenison Golf Course, The Arboretum, Norbuck Park, Flag Pole Hill, Lake Highlands and even up beyond Bent Tree are all one in the same.

Unlike many areas defined loosely as “The Great Trinity Forest” the high ground here is not subject to prolonged flooding events. On display here is a continual fight by the trees and vegetation for eeking out a life between prolonged drought and highly erosive flash flooding.

The trail built here some years ago has become a problematic source of accelerated erosion. Built to substandard in areas the hiking path vectors water in ways that are detrimental to the slopes and benchcuts upon which it was built. The result is a rugged piece of trail not by design but by lack of design.

The erstwhile bridge seen at left is one such example of a trail component that has done more harm than good. Slated for removal and replacement in the near future, the wooden bridge spans an ever deepening ravine that is narrow and very deep.

Much of the water in this area drains a somewhat recent housing development west of Jim Miller. The storm drains send water that once naturally soaked into the soil directly into the ravines here. Results are hard to measure but suggest advanced erosion issues will become a larger problem.

Downtown Dallas as viewed from the overlook in Devon Anderson Park

The lure of such an overlook is magnified in the city by common points of interest on the horizon. Glimpses of Downtown Dallas abound from the southern section of the trail here. The view from East Dallas is a rare one with a view few have ever seen.

Sam Beeman, Mrs John Neely Bryan Sr, John N Bryan Jr

The lands here, like much of lower White Rock Creek were owned by the Beeman Family.

As an example JJ Beeman was granted 4th class headright by the Republic of Texas in November of 1842. James Jackson Beeman’s 640 acres were roughly between what is now Scyene and Bruton near present day Jim Miller Road. A trail west of the Scyene Overlook bears his name that if were more frequently maintained would reach the Lawnview DART Station.

The Beemans lived down here for a handful of generations, passing the original patented lands down through the family.

Hiking through some of invasive privet on the trail just south of Bruton

You can’t see it but the meandering course of White Rock Creek slowly fights it’s way through the last miles of White Rock Bottom, hesitant to give up it’s own water to the larger river beyond.

The trail itself wanders off the escarpment in a number of places where the oaks quickly yield towards large thickets of fast growing Chinese Privet.

Used as an ornamental hedge in residential landscaping across North Texas, the Chinese Privet is quickly choking out vast areas of bottomland.

The privet here shields the trail entrance on the south side of Bruton. I have suggested in the past that those mystified by the entrance walk all the way along the treeline to the DART rail chain link fence then walk back east 30-50 paces. If you go further than that, you’ll miss the trail entrance.

Piedmont Ridge –North of Bruton Road

Piedmont Ridge Overlook

Switchbacks near Grover Keeton

Piedmont Ridge is slightly higher and drier than areas south of Bruton Road. The long ago built trail along the topographical high is reached by navigating more recent sets of switchbacks from either the Bruton Road southern approach or from Grover Keeton east of the DART light rail tracks.

This is the easiest section of trail to hike since much of the distance is atop the ridge.

Bill Holston walking through a meadow on the Piedmont Ridge

The donkeys and cows and things long left this place, the old slayed country talk of pioneer life too. The land looks the same though. Left behind by that old ranching life are some old cattle trails up here likely pre-dating the Jim Miller road cut. As a result, a footpath spur(old cattle pasture trail) exists near the photo above, one that links the sidewalk at Jim Miller with an area near the benches and overlook. No parking nearby but if one felt like skipping the heavily eroded switchback sections to the north, a hiker could hump the concrete sidewalk to the start of the spur.

Round about a 1/4 mile from Bruton or Grover Keeton is a benched overlook that gives views to the White Rock and Oak Creek drainage below. On any day, one can see the Oak Cliff Bank Tower on Zang in the near distance.

Scyene Overlook and Laceywood Overlook

Through the red cedar at the base of Scyene Overlook

The climb to the high points of the hike start in the Oak Creek drainage near Grover Keeton. One can start hiking this section of trail either from the right field foul line of the softball field at Gateway Park or on the west side of the DART Tracks at the Grover Keeton Golf Course where a Gateway Trailhead marker exists on the far north end of the parking lot.

DART Crossing at the JJ Beeman Trail

Both sections of trail end up in the same spot eventually, a couple acres of uniform sized red cedar in a low area known as Oak Creek. Interesting little creek. It bisects through the escarpment at Gateway Park. Either through an act of very long term erosion or a natural gap in the Austin Chalk. The little box canyon there or in Texas what we call a draw extends far back up to the northeast along heavily timbered creeks and cuts almost to Military Parkway.

Oak Creek has a great influence beyond the escarpment here. It becomes a fundamental component to the lifeblood of the Great Trinity Forest by providing slow moving water that funnels into an area around Roosevelt Heights. The area is core habitat for beavers and otters who have large populations down there. Oak Creek also picks up the outflow of the natural spring Big Spring before joining White Rock Creek in Rochester Park.

Panoramic view of Scyene Overlook. Looking south.

The trail up to Scyene Overlook is a confused jumble of poorly built old trails and equally poorly built newer ones that were designed to mitigate past problems. Having been here a couple dozen times, even I still get turned around trying to take the right path up.

Scyene Overlook is named for an old frontier settlement two miles east of the overlook named Scyene. The town center was at the present day intersection of Scyene and St Augustine roads . The name “Scyene” is a play on the ancient Egyptian town named Syene an old frontier outpost on the east bank of the Nile. Around 500 BC, the same time the Book of Ezekiel references the ancient Egyptian town of Syene (Aswan), some ancient Native American left behind a Gary dart point(arrowhead) here on the bluff. 

Stories as old as the Old Testament were probably told here along what was an old Bison Trace which later became Scyene Road.  The millennium old natural bison path and hard bottomed ford of White Rock Creek made this a preferred ox pulled wagon route into Dallas prior to the railroads arrival in the 1870s.

The trails, either the right ones or wrong ones all approach Scyene Overlook from the southwest. Encountering t-posts, pickets and erosion control in a few spots the trail winds around to the northwest and eventually the north side of Scyene Overlook.

Scyene Overlook

It’s important to underscore the importance of sticking to the well worn paths here and not venturing off the trail. The woods here harbor unique plant life and fungus that cannot be seen most of the year with a human eye. Known as Hexalectris orchids, they show themselves in the summer. A thin veneer of soil noted as the Eddy Brackett sits atop the high ground in this area. This soil was once common in a belt that stretched through Pleasant Grove, East Dallas and Lake Highlands. Paved and developed long ago very few places still exist to find these plants.

The soil here harbors a special host for the orchids to survive, a special fungus known as mycorrhizal fungi. It’s believed that the decaying leaf matter from the surrounding oak trees above provides the nutrients needed for the fungi to thrive. The undisturbed plant matter is a vital part of the success for the fungi and the orchids. The rhizome of the orchids tap into the fungi which provides all the nutrients that the orchid needs to thrive. As a result, the orchid requires no sunlight for growth and relies completely on the nutrients of the host fungi for food. The orchids die if transplanted or cultivated so there is no point in trying to take them home. The important thing to do is just stay on the well worn paths here.

The focal point this time of year is of course the Red Oaks along the escarpment. Along the White Rock Escarpment through Dallas to San Antonio there are hybrids of Texas Red Oak Quercus buckleyi (Q. texana) and Shumard Red Oak, Q. shumardii. Smaller in size than most Red Oaks we Texans know so well, these trees thrive in alkaline soils and are very drought tolerant.

Opposing view of Scyene Overlook, looking back to the north. Note the steep dropoff. Taken with a camera mounted to a tall pole and remotely triggered.

There is a close relationship between Texas Red Oak and Shumard Oak. This has caused many botanical classification problems. The two trees may be listed as two separate species in some manuals, while some list Texas Red Oak as a variety of Shumard Oak. The colors that the trees exhibit in the Texas fall are a sight to behold. Using a polarizing filter in some of these photos takes the white shine of the leaves off and brings to true color of the leaves out. The intermittent sun and cloud cover changed the coloration of the trees from one minute to the next.

At 3/4 of an acre, Scyene Overlook offers panoramic 270 degree views of the near entirety of the Great Trinity Forest. This spot is really just a short bike ride from the Santa Fe Trail. A quick ride down from Tenison Golf Course via Lawnview will put you here in short order. I have often wondered why so few have not snapped the tie that bounds on to the comfort spots of the great-out-of-doors like the Katy Trail or White Rock Lake.

If there were one rub with the view at Scyene, it would be that the exposure does not afford a glance of Downtown Dallas. Maybe that’s a good thing. To see Downtown one needs to cross the large meadow east of Scyene and climb another height known as Laceywood Overlook.

Hiking from Scyene Overlook to Laceywood Overlook in the background

A five acre, tall grass meadow stands between Scyene and Laceywood with a small intermittent dry wash creek peppered with cottonwoods and willows. The trail across the meadow is easy to access from Scyene Overlook or the JJ Beeman trail.

Laceywood Bluff sits fifteen feet higher than Scyene Overlook and the extra elevation barely clears the tops of the highest trees in the creek bottom below. That affords a great set of pocket views featuring Downtown Dallas as a reward from the top. Two or three very informal foot trails lead to the top. One starting at the Renda Meadow which is rather steep and the other a longer and more pedestrian route from the softball fields in Gateway Park

Much more heavily wooded and steep than Scyene Overlook, the Laceywood Overlook does not see many visitors. Ignored by the ATVs  and dirt bikes that plundered the Scyene Overlook in decades past, this overlook remains densely vegetated.

Downtown Dallas viewed from Laceywood Overlook

The reward for the brief but hard climb is an interesting view of Dallas framed from the east. In the distance to the right, one can see the Texas Star in front of the Chase Bank Building.

Few will ever visit this place. It’s a shame that more Dallasites don’t ever get off the beaten path a little and discover these places on their own. They don’t know what they are missing. In recent weeks, news of a $20 million dollar private trail initiative between the Dallas Arboretum and Audubon Center has been making the rounds. Tinged with “someday you will be able to _____” fill in the blank hike, walk, run bike down here. You can do it now, enjoy the million dollar views for free and not see anything with two legs the whole day.