Night Hike 101
Eileen Berger Indian Trail Master Naturalist
Of all the fun and informative workshops and classes we Master Naturalists attend, the best ones are always at our annual State Meeting, held each fall in a different part of Texas. Both of the last two were in beautiful settings at New Braunfels and Kerrville. This year’s meeting will be in Navasota at Camp Allen. Our chapter is still in its infancy compared to other chapters, but we are proud to be presenting a class about how to lead night hikes. We are partnering with our sister chapter, North Texas, from Dallas County.
Members from our two chapters will lead 60 Master Naturalists from around the state on a hike along a ¼ mile long paved trail through the piney woods. Four guides, as well as sweepers following each group of 15 hikers, will show the hikers how we help participants learn to appreciate the animals that hunt and forage for food at night, and explain the adaptations these animals have for hunting and avoiding being eaten. We will also have members at four “stations” along the trail to explain and demonstrate these adaptations of sight, hearing, touch, and smell. We discuss courtesy on the trail, and remind hikers to stay on the trail to avoid poison ivy and snakes. Questions about anything we see or hear are encouraged. We may discuss constellations in the night sky, and point out the North Star, which has always been used for navigation at night.
Hiking at night has some drawbacks, but it also has an allure of danger which appeals to those of us who are always up for something new to do outside. When we lead guided hikes at night, we are careful to remove the danger to ourselves and others by carefully planning the route ahead of time. Walking over a creek on a narrow bridge or through shrubs and low-hanging branches may be challenging during the day, but not something we want to experience at night. Our hikes begin with an introduction of the guides, and a little bit about the park or trail we will be using. By this time it will be fairly dark. We carry flashlights with red cellophane over the lens, or flashlights with red lenses, to light the way. In the Dallas-Ft.Worth area, we truly do not have dark skies. At our night hikes in Mockingbird Nature Park, after our eyes adjust, we hardly need flashlights. The hike we are leading for the State Meeting will be truly dark, since the camp is in a rural area.
Surprisingly, we do not see many mammals on our night hikes, although we would like to. They are probably able to hear and smell us long before we reach their homes. We do hear coyotes, birds, and many insects, as well as frogs. One of the interesting facts that we share with hikers is the subject of eye shine, which many animals have, but man does not have. We have seen the green eye shine of spiders on hikes here at home. We hope to see other kinds on our hike at Camp Allen.
If a night hike sounds like something you would like to experience, we will probably plan some in the spring at Mockingbird Nature Park in Midlothian. Check our website, or attend a program at one of our monthly meetings on the 4th Monday of the month. We meet at First Methodist Church in Waxahachie at 7:00 P.M. The program on October 22 will be Beneficial Bats presented by one of our members, Rebecca Schumacher.