A quick Austin roadtrip, and what did I see? Too much for one post, or even ten. Here’s a broadbrush of my first summer drive between the desert and the green world Austin rests in.

The miles grinded, as I pondered how landscapes could reflect such changes, though abstracting that into a smaller space is much design & intellect. I grouped my stops into how arid each is (& ecoregion), then average yearly rainfall and plant forms – even samples of how one ecoregion can look different when moisture or soils vary. Climate info sources – here and here.

Photos are from 7/29/2015; musical pairing from Jon Dee Graham is here


Arid (Chihuahuan Desert)

Dropping 2000′ in elevation across 4+ hours in the above photos, the humidity started to go up. But average rainfall waited to increase at about the Pecos River, other what the mountains cause further west.

Even the landforms changed, and soils went from limestone to blow sand to granite, then back to clay and limestone.


Semi-Arid (Southwest Plateaus and Plains Steppe)

Yet, a few still recite the mantra, “plants don’t know boundaries”.

Oh yes they do, and we know by them – how plants grow, plus climate data. Gradual changes, then abrupt changes and many plants, insects, etc change over. Then more subtle changes, then something more abrupt. Repeat. Celebrate.

Out of semi-arid and short grasses, into a greener and even more humid world.


Sub-Humid (Texas Hill Country)

One might see “Half Pint” of Little House fame running through the Harper scene. How about Half Pint running around Ozona, or the sandy hills near Fabens? Not so much.

That trip’s diversions took less time than it would have taken to get pics of the throngs in skinny jeans, beards, glasses, etc. in just 5 blocks of Austin :-) But beyond the ecoregions, do not fret – there’s still more than plenty of what’s original – a live show awaited, just up South Congress.


What are the differences you see in my drive? Would you divide it differently?

9 Replies to “Eastbound”

  1. interesting your tree observations too, thanks for the elevation info, that’s a big change which would also influence what does and does not grow, and it must have been a long drive, Frances


  2. an interesting drive, the first photo showing 8″ yearly rainfall, for the first 3 months of this year where I am had 225mm (8″) each month!
    does the height above sea level change too?
    the lack of trees is not necessarily connected to rainfall, as here we get plenty of rain but there are no natural trees and those planted are slow to grow, I have learnt the hard way through gardening that even though it is a common thought that the lack of trees is due to the wind, I am finding it has much more to do with soil depth and fertility, since I started feeding my soil it has made a noticeable difference and all trees planted where there is deeper soil have grown better, none of the island has really deep soil, you soon hit solid granite, the reason the pinus contorta grows is because it likes low fertility soil and has a shallow root system,
    thanks I found this very interesting, Frances

    Good insights – from what I read in your blog (and remembering storms that came off the North Sea, growing up in Belgium), those winds plus rocky soils really limit trees. Interesting on the Pinus contorta…in the desert foothills, we have some dwarf trees in rock outcroppings. In the wetter areas eastward, the Hill Country has live oaks (Quercus fusiformis)…in rocky soil either moist or dry, severe drought periods then floods. Dwarfed compared to the related Q. virginiana in the deep south.

    An elevation change…a drop towards the Gulf of Mexico into wetter climes: the 1st arid photos 800-1,400 meters above sea level (3500-4500 ft); the 2nd semi-arid is 550-750 m (1800-2500 ft), and the 3rd sub-humid is 180-550 m (600-1800 ft).


  3. Your photos are telling. What I’m currently finding especially fascinating is the way microclimates mean what I can grow easily gives a neighbor across town fits. And bulbs planted here bloom 2-3 weeks after bulbs grown a couple of miles away.

    Thanks, your example is often true. Climate zones, then microclimates within each zone. Because how steep mountains are here, we can change 1 zone / mile, since that’s uphill 1000′. And one side of a building, or a low vs. high area can be interesting!


  4. David, love these comparison posts. The Hill Country seems to be trending more dry. I’m thinking our plant communities will change to match. Birds already are–more Crested caracaras, for example.

    Thanks, it helps to pass the drive! Maybe so on the Hill Country drying; some info infers how the greater SW has been in a prolonged wet period, but drier is more “normal”. Though we’ll see – your long-term plants are mostly eastern hardwoods and not western – telling. I recall the Ashe Juniper die-off near your old home; I might post on the dieback near Ozona, where that juniper may have colonized over wetter decades…looks like a 50-75% die-off for 30+ miles. Even right above Austin, I might post on the dieback on Ashe Juniper, though not as bad. Still well-within sub-humid, though west of Fredericksburg – Camp Wood is nearer the change.

    Birds – they move very fast, so often only indicate a short-term change – lack of food, habitat, even weather. Now, if they stick to their new range a few decades, that will be telling. Few to no long-term records (30, 100 years+) to know if that caracara was present in past normal / drier periods.

    Where I lived, some birds and even plants not reported but said to be new, were actually noted by old timers. Newcomers were simply not looking for them, plus that area was lightly urbanized since the 1600’s and heavily since the 1960’s.


  5. …the ground gets more and more covered in vegetation as you approach Austin…..

    Yes – first in thicker grasses, then more trees…and more species.


  6. plants don’t know boundaries –
    said no gardener ever.

    That mantra is new to me, but I guess, Zone denial in other words?
    Our windscreen time often crosses the magic line into, or out of, fynbos.

    I wish, but I hear that mantra from even gardeners, but usually from those of a arts vs. science background. I’m all for zone pushing for small areas, but some make a religion out of chaos. And jealous, too? Windscreen time…must look this up!


  7. The changes are subtle as the rain fall changes…I liked the way you correlated the picture to the rain fall total area. Looks like a combination of soil and rainfall are need to have trees. A little further east and you would have ended up in the swamp I live in : )

    They really are, plus exposure…the rock and soil changes are wild in what they manifest. A fun exercise, and yes, I’m leaving out 1/3 of Texas. I’ll have to do an I-10 Texasthon Trip, and append this, right past the “Bayou City”!


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