Early explorers traveling by water can be forgiven for misappropriating the term “mountains”. Once you’re up out of the river valleys you see the region for what it is: a broad, flat plateau, lifted nearly in place a couple million years ago, judging by the nearly horizontal bands of sedimentary rock exposed along roadcuts. The slowness of the rise was important, it let ancient streams keep wearing serpentine courses through bedrock. As the streams cut down they became more isolated from one another, the species living in the region began to diverge based upon which watershed they inhabited.
The watershed is well off the blacktop and sandwiched between two larger, more popular rivers. The whole region’s underlain by porous limestone and dolomite, and much of this stream’s surface flow gets shunted underground, appearing miles away as springs and seeps in other watersheds. Most every bridge crossing is posted NO TRESPASSING, and the landscape’s bound up in thousands of acres of private cattle ranches. These folks share a common history with Houston, Austin, Bowie, and the founders of the Lone Star State, a history reflected in the Herefords and the ten gallon hats and probably the fetishization of private property rights.
Doesn’t matter, I’m not here to fish anyway, and besides- an older couple and their daughter already beat me to it. I kick around rootwads, pulling up crayfish and inch-long larvae of some unidentifiable lamprey species. It’s hard to love parasites, but most are native, few are blood-suckers, and they’re an indicator of high-quality habitat. Darters, two-inch long fish distantly related to walleye and yellow perch but which took a different, more complicated evolutionary trajectory- stay small, use color and courtship displays to attract mates, build nests instead of broadcast spawning.
Places like this get protected by accident, not through government acquisition but by remoteness and lack of access, and that’s worth thinking about. Not every private landowner is reckless with resources and not every public agency is acting in the best interest of an ecosystem, especially when tourism dollars are at stake. More and more my mind turns to the likes and tweets and commodification of nature, folks acting dangerously or stupidly or ignorantly or irresponsibly with knowledge and experiences with our wild places compromised in the process. I don’t have an answer, much less a solution. But it’s worth examining.