Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Day 1: The Beginning of the Lone Star Trail

February 23: It took me some time to pack up my pack in the morning. I don't know why, but it always seems like setting up my pack for the first day of a trip is particularly arduous. Should I take this? Should I leave that? In the end, I decided to take enough food for the entire trip, a slow, relaxing 10 day stroll through the woods. I left my fancy camera behind, though. There just wasn't room in the pack for it.

Just before leaving, I counted the days until my expected finish date and realized I had made an error--it was only 8 days, not 10! I pulled out two breakfasts and dinners from my pack that I wouldn't need after all, but even with 8 days of food, my pack felt excruciatingly heavy.

Once everything was settled, Amanda drove us to... prison! Well, to the Texas Prison Museum. We've visited a number of prison museums across this fair land, and since Huntsville was the prison capital of Texas, we figured we should stop at another one.

Site of the Texas Prison Museum. Amanda is trying to break into the prison after we discovered that the doors were locked. =)

The doors were locked when we arrived, and I looked through the windows to see if there was any activity going on. It was supposed to have opened a few minutes ago. An employee showed up a minute later opening the door, apparently filling in for the person who usually opened the door. She hadn't realized that the door was locked until she saw us locked outside.

We paid our entries fees then spent the next hour or two exploring all of the museum exhibits. It was very interesting. It even included the electric chair which was used to execute 361 people between 1924 and 1964. Executions, of course, still take place in Texas, but now they use lethal injection. And it's performed right there in Huntsville--although not at the museum, of course. It seems a little sad to think that people are legally murdered right there in this town. The people who committed the premeditated murders walking around free just because it was legal. Not that I feel especially sympathetic towards cold-blooded killers, but it also feels so barbaric and medieval to me. Executions really haven't evolved much since the guillotine. (Fun fact: the guillotine was invented to make executions more 'humane.' Same reason people justified the switch to the electric chair and now lethal injection.)

Old Sparky was used to execute 361 people over the years.

Anyhow... I don't really want to turn this into into a political post, and whether you're for or against executions, it's still a fascinating museum to visit. And that was when we discovered that there were actually multiple prisons in the area--not just one! The exhibits often mention one of several prisons in the Huntsville area. We had no idea which one was which. Which prison was it that we saw off the side of the highway? Which of them is where executions are carried out? How many prisons are in the vicinity? We never really did find out.

Amanda was under the impression that there were hundreds of Buc-ees across the state, but I was convinced that they were more rare than she thought. She later looked up that there were about 30-odd Buc-ees in Texas, and was surprised to find that there were closer to 100 prisons in Texas. "You mean there are more prisons in Texas than Buc-ees?!" She seemed distraught at the thought. 

"On the bright side," I told her, "with only a few dozen Buc-ees, it makes it easier for you to visit them all!" =)  

Another fascinating aspect of Texas prison history was the Prison Rodeo. Starting in the 1930’s and only ending in the 1980’s,  there used to be a Texas prison rodeo every year. (They go to the Prison Rodeo in the movie Urban Cowboy)  Only prisoners with good behavior were allowed to participate and the prisons did everything from providing the concessions to cleaning up afterwards. Prison shops would make the tickets and posters, and they made their own saddles and leather goods. At first the rodeo was a moneymaker for the prison system, but they discontinued it after citing that it cost more to organize than it brought in revenue  

Prisoners carved this chess set (and face) out of soap. I've started carving soap figures this past year and was impressed with their work! =)

After our prison visit, Amanda wanted to drive out to the site of an old prison. Well, actually, I'm still not entirely sure if the prison is currently in use as a prison--but it was an old building that, at least at one point, had been part of the prison system. ( Yes, it is still in use ) The museum was never a prison (as far as we know, at least), but she wanted to drive out and see a brick one that some of the exhibits described.

Along the way, we drove by an Ace hardware and I told Amanda to pull over so I could jump out and look for some denatured alcohol. I still had no fuel for my stove. She had already driven a block past it and had pulled over on the wrong side of the road, but I said not to worry about it. I'd just cross the busy street at the light.

I ended up finding the brick prison she was looking for a block away--neither of us had any idea it was so close--but I left my phone in the car so I couldn't even call her to let her know!

This is the "Brick Academy", a prison (or maybe a former prison? I'm not sure!) that Amanda we checked out.

I continued onward to the intersection with the light where I realized that there were absolutely no crosswalks or pedestrian access. There was no way the lights would change so I could cross unless a vehicle came up to the cross street! I started scoping out gaps in the traffic so I could run across Frogger-style when Amanda pulled up at the light, rolled down her window, and said that that brick building a block away was the one she wanted to see. "I know," I told her, "but I couldn't call and let you know!"

She also triggered the light to change for me which was nice, and I crossed the street leisurely asking that she please not hit me since I wasn't in a crosswalk because, you know, there was no crosswalk.

I put on my mask before I entered the Ace and headed to the paint section which is typically where I can find denatured alcohol. The place was crazy busy with customers. Several signs had been put up that they would not accept refunds of plumbing supplies and such related to the winter storm--that people should take only what they need and not hoard materials that were in short supply.

Stupid hoarders....

An older gentleman near the denatured alcohol carried a large can of kerosene, and nodded at me with a knowing look and made a comment about everyone needing kerosene to heat their homes now. Of course, that was not the reason I was there, but clearly his home had suffered some sort of damage from the storm a few days earlier. And, apparently, I looked like a local since he thought I was suffering the same problems that he was.

I grabbed the denatured alcohol I needed--glad it hadn't been pilfered by others who needed to heat food on a soda can stove. (Fun fact: the hits on The Soda Can Stove skyrocketed during the Texas storm--much to my surprise!) Then I headed to the rather long line of people waiting to make purchases.

I couldn't help but noticed then that every single one of the employees was not wearing a mask. Every one of the customers were, but not a single employee was. Obviously, they did not require masks here, but it seemed a little odd that the employees themselves were so careless. Or even that Ace, a national brand, wouldn't have higher standards. (I realize that the stores are probably franchises, but still, you'd think they would prefer to avoid having their brand associated with a potential outbreak and at the very least require employees to wear masks.)

Well, I should make a correction--there was one employee with a mask, but it was wrapped around the bottom of his face as he coughed and hacked into his hand. I was gobsmacked. I couldn't believe it. Seriously? He's coughing for Christ's sake! When he finished his bout of coughing, he pulled up his mask to cover his chin. Not to cover his mouth or his nose, but his chin. I wanted to shout at him, "That's not how masks work, dumb-ass!" I could only shake my head with disgust. If I wasn't so desperate for denatured alcohol, I would have walked out and bought it somewhere else. At least the customers at the store had more common sense, and even maintained proper social distancing within the line.

I eventually paid for my purchase, then dashed outside to the mini-van Amanda had parked in the lot.

"Give me hand-sanitizer! I need hand-sanitizer! I need it now!" I yelled at her as I rushed toward the vehicle.

I felt so dirty coming out of that place. I wanted to change my clothes and take a shower if I could. Of course, a shower wasn't possible since the hotel had no hot water. *rolling eyes*

After that hair-raising experience, we headed to H-E-B for a few last-minute items for the trail, and again saw large sections of shelves devoid of water, bread and toilet paper. The place had been cleaned out! I had flashbacks back to the beginning of the pandemic, except these shortages weren't caused by the pandemic but rather the storm from a few days earlier. Happily and much to my relief, masks were required here. In fact, that Ace hardware was the only location I saw where masks weren't required. (Or at least weren't being enforced.)

Shelves at H-E-B were bare....

Have you ever noticed that limiting supplies doesn't really seem to be effective at working?

One last stop on our way out of town was to grab lunch for the road. We stopped by a Chic-fil-A. The line for the drive-thru was quite long, but we also knew that Chic-fil-A was a model of efficiency. The line might have looked long, but we felt relatively confident that it wouldn't take long--and it didn't. We were in and out in all of about 5 minutes. Amanda and I were both a little amazed by their efficiency. We expected it, but it's a little scary how fast and efficient they can be.

Amanda parked nearby in the parking lot where we ate lunch in mini-van. That done, she drove out to the beginning of the Lone Star Trail.

In the parking lot, as I added the last-minute additions of food and denatured alcohol to my pack, I noticed that my pack had a rip in it. It was a small rip, but I hadn't even started the trail yet and I needed to repair my pack! But I decided to do that later in the evening after I had stopped for camp. Hopefully the hole wouldn't get much larger as I hiked during the day.

To the trail!

Almost immediately, I noticed something that smelt suspiciously of dog poop and found what looked suspiciously like dog poop on my Croc. Argh! Seriously, people?! I hadn't walked 20 feet in the parking lot and already stepped in dog poop?! I tried to wipe it off on some nearby grass and used the water from a mud puddle in the parking lot, but it was sticky and earnest and did not want to come completely off. Eventually I put on my hiking shoes and asked Amanda if she would work on cleaning the poop off my Croc while I finished packing my backpack. She was kind enough to work on the problem. =)

Eventually, we got everything settled and I hefted on my pack to start the hike. It felt excruciatingly heavy, but I only planned to go about 5 miles for this first day. It was already after 2:00 in the afternoon by the time I would start hiking, and today was never supposed to be a full day of hiking.

My first steps on the Lone Star Trail....

The information board at the trailhead had a sign warning about bigfoot roaming the area, and that there had been 42 sightings so far. There was a detailed description about what to do if one spotted a bigfoot (don't run from it, don't chase it, don't yell at it, don't feed it, etc... but DO take photos!)

I got the impression that it was some sort of game the forest service set up. Like there was a wooden bigfoot moved around and hidden on local trails for people to find. Kind of like letterboxing or geocaching, but on a much larger scale! But I don't really know what was going on with the bigfoot, but I wasn't too terribly worried about it. I should definitely keep my eyes open for it, though.

Watch out for bigfoot!

And then... I started hiking. Amanda started her long drive back to Dallas-Fort Worth, and I started hiking.

Maybe a mile up the trail I ran into a father with two children. We had actually seen them when we first arrived at the trailhead, and he had asked me about advice about what areas would be best for hiking with children. I didn't think anything in this area would have been off-limits, but I demurred an answer by saying that it was the first time I was there was well and didn't really know the area, but that anywhere was probably fine.

I stopped and chatted with them for a few minutes. The kids seemed excited at the idea of finding a bigfoot. One of them reported seeing bigfoot tracks--the prints were HUGE! I hadn't noticed any unusually large prints myself, but I went along with the story. "Wow! Really? Did they look fresh?"

He kid reported, that yes, they did look fresh. And, he thought, that bigfoot was friendly because he liked to dance. "Dance?" I asked, confused.

"Yes," he explained. "It looked like the footprints had been dancing on the trail, and if he likes to dance, then he must be friendly."

"Of course!" I agreed. "I think you're probably right. That would be something! To catch bigfoot dancing on the trail!"

The dad had asked how far I was planning to hike, and I told him the entire trail--all the way to the other end.

"How far is that?" he asked.

"About a hundred miles," I told him.

The little girl's mouth dropped open in shock. "A hundred miles!?" she exclaimed. It was so adorable. I don't think she would have been less in shock if I had said that I was hiking to the end of the world, or at least as far as New Mexico which--for Texans--is often considered the end of the world. ;o)

I enjoyed our little chat, but then it was time to continue onward.


The trail was a little muddy in parts, but the weather was warm and clear. I took a few long breaks just because I could and I was in no rush. And anyhow, the weight of my backpack was crippling. Any excuse to get it off my back and eat a few snacks to make it lighter before continuing on was a good use of time, in my opinion.

After 4.6 miles, I officially called it quits for the day. I stopped just past a small, clear, slow-moving creek on a nice layer of pine needles in the woods. The campsite didn't have any views, but it was comfortable.

I filtered a couple of liters of the water from the creek with my new Sawyer filter. The kit I bought included a bag that allowed me to hang it and let gravity do the work of pushing the water through the filter, and I was happy to let gravity do my work for me. =) It didn't go fast, but I was in no rush. I'd be here all night! (In fact, it took less than a half hour to treat the water.)

Some of the these trees would have been a LOT of fun to climb!

The steepest part of the trail was going into and out of creek beds, and this particular one was very slippery as you can see from previous hikers who slid down the mud!

Camped for the night.

I know I have a reputation as someone who "never" treats their water, but that's not true. It just depends on the trail and the water! And on this trail, surrounded with agriculture and civilization, I was going to treat all of the water I consumed!


Lou Catozzi (PI Joe) said...

Bigfoot? Really? I didn't know that the US Forest Service had that much of a sense of humor. I'll snoop around their website and see if I can find out anything about the "sightings". That is a pretty "red-neck" part of the state, after all. I hope you had a good hike. I've had the LST on my list for quite a few years now so I'm glad I get to read about it thru your trip.

Mary said...

Maybe a little research into the terrible people who’ve received the death penalty would be educational. It’s so sad and disgusting what people can do to others.

I love reading the details about getting to the trail, what you do before you start, and the people you encounter along the way.

Trailguide said...

Great trail report for Section I of the LSHT. I found your tour of the Huntsville Prison system really interesting. The Walls Unit is where executions take place. The tall pine trees you want to climb are part of a red-cockaded woodpecker colony. I love this open, grassy section.

Blogger said...

There are 3 prisons in the Huntsville city limits (or darn close enough). The Walls Unit is only 2 or 3 blocks from the "center" of town and about a 1/2 mile from Sam Houston State University. I can recall several nights in college, we walked over to the prison to gawk at demonstrators. Good time on a Saturday night.

Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to your posts on the LST! I'd love to do it sometime myself, so I will be reading all your information and details with great interest.