The Bushwhacker's Guide to Exploring Dallas

Urban Explorers are ignoring history and unearthing real nature in Dallas. Now it's your turn to follow the trail they've blazed.

The Bushwhacker's Guide to Exploring Dallas
Tin Salamunic

For a long time, a central part of Dallas' self-concept was the idea that this city had no natural features. At all.

The idea was always dead wrong.

In fact, because large tracts of land had been neglected and ignored by developers from the city's earliest days, Dallas always had more truly untouched or lightly touched terrain than many American cities, maybe even most of them. The thing protecting that terrain from touch was always the powerful conviction that it did not exist — a strange notion that just would not die.

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See more of Schutze on Unfair Park: Get Off My Lawn

Historian Harvey J. Graff opens his 2008 book The Dallas Myth with a dissection of the city's stubbornly persistent "no reason to exist" creation myth. If you haven't heard it, it was the story that because there was no seaport here — no trail, no mountain peak or pass to explain why people built a city in the first place — Dallas was entirely the creation of the human mind and will. And that was supposed to be a good thing.

Robert Lee Thornton, mayor of Dallas in the 1950s, called the city "truly a man-made and woman-made city," with no ties to or origin in the natural world or, for that matter, history. Thornton said the people of Dallas knew all along they could find plenty of history in books and museums if they had time to kill. "What they wanted was progress," he said.

The late A.C Greene, a journalist and novelist, shot down all of that "no reason to exist," laying out all of the crucial natural factors that caused people to settle here and build a city, from ancient Indian trading trails to the Trinity River. But that didn't stop people from saying it. Dallas, it seemed, loved the idea that it was a glittering, glamorous, cryogenically air-conditioned space station whirling through a blazing void infested by ticks, chiggers, snakes and double-wide salesmen. If we could be here and still have really good bars and restaurants, we could do it on the moon.

The others? They could keep their mountains, their beaches, their ruins and their relics. We had our man-made shell to keep us cool.

But that era is over. Without fanfare or formal declaration, this region has turned away from the city's long love affair with artificiality and is now engaged in a vast exploration of our natural setting. Quietly and incrementally, the region has developed what is becoming a wealth of trails and parks designed around nature and the outdoors.

The suburbs, especially those north of the city, have led the way, with vast public investment in assets like the Campion Trails network along the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. Dallas is catching up. Two city council members, Angela Hunt and Scott Griggs, recently announced that they would using discretionary funds to create a paved bike path along the Trinity from upstream of downtown to the opening of the Great Trinity Forest downriver from the city center. And out ahead of this formal municipal activity, a hearty band of urban bushwhackers have been exploring the city's thousands of acres of lost and forgotten land. Their particular form of bushwhacking involves deliberately steering away from formal public parks — the places where everybody else goes — in search of the natural discoveries no one even knows are out there to be found.

Some of it is rough going — places where no one should wander alone or unawares. In some, you could get lost or injure yourself in wild and unforgiving terrain. In others you might stumble into criminal activity — never a welcome encounter on a Sunday-morning hike.

But the places the bushwhackers have uncovered in our urban midst also include some jewels, havens of true wonder, far wilder and closer to nature than anything a parks department could take responsibility for. The bushwhackers include people like Randy Johnson, who was up until recently director of horticulture at The Dallas Discovery Gardens in Fair Park; Charles Allen, the Trinity River Expeditions canoe outfitter; Master Naturalist Jim Flood; and archaeologist Tim Dalby. They all helped identify some whackable bush for this article.

In an urban environment, the work of finding these places sometimes must be followed by the even harder work of excavating them from decades of neglect. That labor often falls to corporate volunteers, like the employees of REI who helped create the treasure listed here as "Dimension Tract." Nonprofit foundations like Groundwork Dallas have accomplished similarly Herculean tasks: Groundwork director Peter Payton led armies of volunteers into the Tune Avenue site over a period of years to haul out vast mountains of dumped tires and appliances. Tune Avenue still isn't a good idea for Cub Scouts — too much danger of running into a marijuana farm — but it's a place where the bravest bushwhackers now can see deer, bobcat, coyote and mink flying through a forest that is rapidly reclaiming abandoned urban streets.

Randy Johnson talks about urban bushwhacking as an experience more exciting than what he could find in even a national park. For him, this is real exploring, like what the first French fur traders did in Canada. It's all about finding places nobody knows about.

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19 comments
pooua
pooua

As a photographer, I judge the natural features of an area heavily on their aesthetic value. As an amateur historian and geographer, I am curious why a town is at a certain spot, instead of 10 feet or 10 miles away. As an entrepreneur, I consider the measure of true appreciation for my work the willingness of others to purchase them. Texas in general and Dallas in particular do not rank very high on my list of impressive natural locations right now, as little I find here merits interest.

 

My main intentional photographic types are landscapes, nature and female nudes. I began hiking several years ago to help me find beautiful natural locations where I could photograph nude models. I also discovered that I greatly enjoy skinny-dipping and nude recreation. Unfortunately, Dallas is not a great place for any of these interests. No one wants to see photos of a scrub-choked lot, even if I have a naked woman posing on it, an opinion I base on the willingness of people to pay for copies of such photos. I have an aversion to skinny-dipping with alligators and gars (and copperheads, cottonmouths, snapping turtles, etc.).

 

As for the reason for Dallas' existence... I'm still waiting for that one. The scrub lots next door aren't the answer. But, thanks for the article. I may yet find a great location, and I love to explore.

TiminGRLND
TiminGRLND

Did I miss something; "We've also included a list of valuable websites"?  I swear I didn't miss this when I read the article.  I even came here (online) to see if it was just missing in the print version.

 

Can a more observant reader or the editor/writer clue me in where these websites are listed?

 

Jim and the rest of the writers for Dallas Observer: I enjoy your work and thoroughness on many issues I find important even if officials would prefer me to nevermind (e.g. white water park!, fracking, missing 1.1 million in dallas dump, bicycle lanes, trinity river development that isn't a highway, water quality testing... and so forth)  Keep up the good work.  

Randy
Randy

Rename this article "Where to dump a body in DFW"

mcdallas
mcdallas

Thanks for not mentioning this place near Mountain Creek.  Great for exploring, but I think it's owned by an energy company and set for gas drilling.  32.65242,-96.990272

 

Oh, as Perry would say: "oops".

 

Also, thanks for not mentioning this place:  32.685186,-96.978342

Okay, I did that one on purpose.

 

For both of these, the "wild" and "sketch" levels would be scored in exponential nomenclature.  But they are quite pretty and peaceful.

 

Neither of these are park land.  It is probably against the law to go on these properties.  Don't do it.

BillHolston
BillHolston

thanks Jim for this great article. I think it's worth mentioning a couple things: People really should be prepared out there. Hat, water and insect . Jim Flood deserves a lot of credit for being such a great resource on this Forest. He's quick to point out he was inspired by the late great Ned Fritz. Tim Dalby is a walking encyclopedia about the history of this area, including bison, mammoths and native america sites. There's much to explore. Ben's blog http://dallastrinitytrails.blogspot.com/ is the best resource out there on this. Thanks for the article Jim. 

Tim.Covington
Tim.Covington

Jim,

This is a great article. I try to remind people that there are plenty of natural places to walk and explore in Dallas county. They just have to be willing to leave their cars and look for the places that others rarely go to.

California Crossing is a great example. I used to work in Las Colinas. I would often go there during lunch or after work and walk the trails. On weekdays, I usually did not see another soul on my entire walk.

South_Irving_Refugee
South_Irving_Refugee

"Some of it is rough going — places where no one should wander alone or unawares. In some, you could get lost or injure yourself in wild and unforgiving terrain. In others you might stumble into criminal activity — never a welcome encounter on a Sunday-morning hike."

 

This is great article on the natural environs of D/FW. You forgot to add avoid the Mexican Cartels and native Negro population on the trails. Otherwise no complaints.

 

 

 

chris02569
chris02569

@TimJordanDFW Explore the big D lol :)

Newtonianphysic
Newtonianphysic

@Dallas_Observer great article. Can't wait until it cools off to head to some of these spots . Less chance of skeezy interaction then.

ClaytonBurris
ClaytonBurris

@kirby_kiefer @Dallas_Observer interesting! and good read... Did you send this to BB?... I hoped it was about werewolves getting bushwacked!

JimSX
JimSX topcommenter

 @South_Irving_Refugee Good point. I will add it here: Persons who ave lived their entire lives in very small gene pools, especially those who are frightened by people who do not look like their cousins, are advised to stay indoors.

kirby_kiefer
kirby_kiefer

@ClaytonBurris that's what I was thinking

South_Irving_Refugee
South_Irving_Refugee

 @JimSX  @South_Irving_Refugee Honestly Jim, I do love your articles and have followed you since I was old enough to read the "Dallas Times Herald". You do slap around the vacant North Dallas clowns with ease.

 

However, the many beautiful public venues in DFW are not safe. You know this and I know this.

 

When's the last time you hung around Fair Park?

 

Fair Park should be a showcase for Dallas. Instead it's a derelict warzone.

 

When has Deep Ellum been anything substantial prior to 1986-7?

 

I've live all throughout Dallas County, including Old East Dallas. It's a third-world crap hole. Swiss Avenue on one side, Gaston Avenue on the other.

 

Gene pools aside, I've traveled the world and seen brutality and violence you wouldn't believe. Our own special variety we brew in Dallas is nothing new.

 

That the Observer wants to promote parks in DFW is commendable. But be honest. Why are these parks not currently being utilized?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

chris02569
chris02569

@TimJordanDFW I have some obscure 2nd cousins there, I may have to visit for the D one day lol

chris02569
chris02569

@TimJordanDFW Haha, I am counting on it!

TimJordanDFW
TimJordanDFW

@chris02569 you totally should! That whole "everything is bigger in Texas" thing, pretty much a FACT. :-D

 
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