Moving to Alpine, Texas after high school was a big change, sure Denton was a small town, and having lived in a string of small towns and preceded by one very large one (Phoenix), this was nothing new, but the combination of vast outdoor spaces, colors, and abundant wildlife reminded me a lot of Arizona.
Instead of horse ranches, you saw a herd of pronghorn on the side of the highway. Taking a walk, or better yet a hike, you saw lizards, snakes, raptors, javelina, mule deer, and – if you were lucky (and I was) – a mountain lion. One Christmas morning I went for a walk up Hancock Hill. The top was covered in fog and when I reached it, I discovered a herd of pronghorn which immediately disappeared. No matter where I went, there was always something: raptors, snakes, javelina (men with shotguns telling you to get off their property – something that happens when you move to a new place and get lost).
Wildlife in Denton – I can only speak from my experience of the last 25 years here – but it has changed and unless you have property on the outer edges of town or out in the County somewhere else, you don’t see many creatures like that. But, some are still here, especially along the creeks, sewers, parks, and in some cases, a red fox in a late night parking lot.
Taking a bike ride out of town can provide one with glimpses, along with a few perks, both good and bad: the smell of roadkill, skunks, bored dogs, fast rabbits, tarantulas, and the annual flocks of Canadian Geese. One of my greatest pleasures was being followed by a herd of cattle (does that count?) back-and-forth out on FM 428/Sherman Drive on my way to the Greenbelt. When I noticed them, I wondered: “Are these guys following me?” So yes, I did turn around and rode the other direction just “to check.” And yes, I nearly fell off my bike laughing because it turns out they followed me back-and-forth many times. I am thinking that this had something to do with dinner, but I’ll never know for sure.
The closest I’ve ever come to anything potentially frightening was when I was commuting to work by bike to Denton: some faceless howling creature one dark night along Cowling Road in Sanger – this was before the beautiful canopy of trees lining the road was cut down – on this particularly dark night, those trees morphed into a black cavern of shadows and I heard a howl before I got to the bridge. It was one of those, “I think I’m going to wet my pants moments,” that luckily did not happen and made me realize that I had read the Legend of Sleepy Hollow one too many times.
Bobcat near Sandy’s property
This meandering bit of nonsense occurred because last week, Sandy Shepard came by and brought some neat stuff. He has a bit of property along Milam Creek and a wildlife camera that captures some of the daytime and nighttime critters that traverse it. Some, do more than that: feral hogs tear up his property and trash it. Feral hogs can be dangerous and a serious nuisance throughout Texas, but perhaps this is balanced by the beauty of the deer that hang around his property, some of which are are very tame and will let you pet them.
The images he brought by echo stories told by settlers from the 1850s. You can read some of them in earlier issues of the Denton County News or History and Reminiscences of Denton County by Ed. F. Bates tales of catching wild turkeys, deer aplenty, buffalo, coyotes (well, we’ve still got ’em), bobcat, raccoons, and squirrels! Keep this in mind the next time you decide to take a walk out on the Greenbelt Trail and read up on it: boost your imagination!
We have a little display in Special Collections at the Emily Fowler Library if you’d like to visit, otherwise here’s a little something from Mr. Shepard.
Coyote near Milam Creek
Feral hogs near property
A bit more exciting than the red-winged blackbirds, acrobatic squirrels, possums, field mice, and the occasional skunk or hawk I get, although I’m working on my own little bit of wildlife habitat.
What is in your backyard?
Leslie Couture, Library Assistant, Special Collections