Ennis Bluebonnet Trails
The Prettiest Symbol of Texas
Texas has lots of symbols. Everyone knows the Alamo. Of course, the star on our flag - a lone star - is a symbol, and is why our state is called the Lone Star State. Other things, like the Fort Worth Stockyards, Billy Bobs, rodeos, cowboy hats and boots, armadillos, big belt buckles and big hair, Lone Star Beer and Shiner Boch, even the Dallas Skyline - all are Texas symbols.
By far the prettiest symbol of Texas is the bluebonnet. Viewed individually, the bluebonnet is a pretty flower. But when you see tens of thousands of them carpet the landscape you will see why Texans love this flower and protect it with laws that restrict you from cutting them down or picking them.
ENNIS BLUEBONNET TRAILS
Bluebonnets are perennial wild flowers, resilient to the extreme Texas weather, and cover the Lone Star landscape every spring.
Finding bluebonnets is as simple as taking a drive along any major road that goes outside city limits, particularly in central and north Texas. You almost can't help but see the wild flowers growing in patches on grassy medians and roadside fields.
This makes them easy to find, but somewhat dangerous to photograph. All too often you'll find a great area of flowers with absolutely no place to park and get to it. This doesn't stop people from pulling to the side of the road and risking life and limb to take their kids and pets into the bluebonnets for portraits.
There is a much safer alternative. Just load up the family into your car and drive to Ennis, a town just south of Dallas, where you can enjoy bluebonnets galore on the Ennis Bluebonnet Trails.
According to the City of Ennis Website:
Ennis was designated by the 1997 State Legislature as the home of the "Official Texas Bluebonnet Trail" and was designated the "Official Bluebonnet City of Texas." From April 1-30, Ennis showcases over 40 miles of mapped driving Bluebonnet Trails sponsored by the Ennis Garden Club. These trails are the oldest such trails known in the state, and tens of thousands of visitors make the short trek to Ennis to view this wonderful wildflower show. The Ennis Garden Club will drive the trails to check the bloom status each week starting in April. The Club then reports to the Ennis Convention and Visitors Bureau about the latest status of the bluebonnets so that visitors can be well informed where the best flowers are on the trails at the time of their visit. Each year, the bluebonnets will appear on different trails as these are natural to the area. In Ennis, the bluebonnets typically peak around the 3rd week of April, according to the Ennis Garden Club. This can vary year to year due to weather conditions and terrain, so please check this website or call 972-878-4748 before your visit.
Rather than just copying their whole website here, I'll put a link to visitennis.org so you can look more yourself.
The website provides PDF maps and instructions to help you find the best outcropping of flowers. The trails change every year as the flowers tend to pop up wherever they feel like it, so you need to visit their site and get the latest map before you go. The website also gives you regular status reports so you know what to expect when you get there.
I drove a portion of the trails, as I only had an hour or two for my visit because I spent most of the day at Scarborough Renaissance Festival in nearby Waxahachie. This didn't work as well as I hoped, visiting both locations in one day. We felt rushed to get out of Scarborough and rushed to squeeze the wildflowers into the rest of the day. Better to give a full day to each location - they're both worth it.
I would suggest having someone with you as a navigator to drive the trails, unless you're familiar with the area. There were a few BLUEBONNET TRAIL >> signs but not enough to keep you on the route if you're paying attention to the winding two-lane roads. This becomes even more important because LOTS of people are looking at the flowers. That means cars stop in the middle of the road, kids go running across the highway . . . you have to pay attention as you drive.
The large crowds of visitors can be a help as well as a hindrance. You will see a bunch of cars parked alongside the road ahead of you - and that tells you that a prime viewing spot is coming up. I found that the best places also had spacious parking areas close by which made it much easier.
As the city explains in its literature, there are specific places where you are invited to take your kids into the flowers for portraits. I found one spot and there were lots of people taking advantage of this. (as pictured to the right) One suggestion to the city - on your instruction sheets, put the GPS coordinates to the specific places you reference. Providing intersections on your papers doesn't help strangers to the community; GPS coordinates can be entered into cell phones to get directions. This would be a safe and simple enhancement to what you're providing.
If some places are marked as open for visitors to enter, you can assume the others are closed; that is, you shouldn't walk through the flowers there. Often these are behind fences or on private property. Use some common sense; unless it's an open area you shouldn't trudge through the flowers. You'll mess up the scenery for others, and this is Texas - going on to private property could get you shot!
One other thing on the open spaces. At the place I went to, lots of people walked through the flowers as they picked spots for portraits. That's fine, that's what it's there for. But I saw kids and adults running through the flowers, throwing footballs around, and tearing up the display. Why would you throw a football around in the the flowers? Have some consideration for others who will visit the spot in the future and be gentle with the flowers. And you may want to keep your dogs from . . . fertilizing and watering the flowers if you can. Remember that other people will be sitting in the flowers to do portraits. Be a good pet owner and be considerate.
I did not get a chance to eat in Ennis so I don't have any restaurant reviews. I plan to go back later this season or next year, and I will be sure to find at least one local spot to tell you about when I do.
Photographically, this is a pretty easy place to enjoy. As fighter pilots would say, this is a "target-rich environment." LOL Shooting into the sun tends to reduce the quality of your pictures . . . If you find a great spot that doesn't photograph well in the morning, come back in the afternoon when the sun has moved. Focus on individual flowers and clusters of flowers, but don't forget the panoramic scenes of fields and hillsides covered in flowers. I made use of my 18-55mm and 75 - 300mm lenses. Rather than shoot ultra-wide angle shots with my 12-24, I created a couple multi-picture panoramas with the 18-55. Here is one of them:
Don't know how to do multi-shot panoramas? Why, it's easy - read my panorama tutorial to learn how.
When shooting portraits of kids and animals, take lots of shots because you're working with uncooperative subjects. Be aware of what is in the distant background of your shot - flowers, or something less attractive? You should shoot as close to eye level as possible, but you may have to elevate yourself a little to fill the background with flowers. Play with your aperture a LOT. Shoot some wide open to turn the background of flowers into an unfocused wash of colors. (Your zoom lens will help with this.) Then shoot some with a small aperture so all the flowers are in focus as well as the subject. Both approaches work well in this environment; do it both ways and then you can pick which you like best.
I think I'll stop talking for now . . . I will be adding to this write-up at some point when I can go back to Ennis.
Until then, look over the city website and make the drive to Ennis and enjoy their bluebonnet festival. When you look out to see a field covered with purple-blue, with spots of yellow, orange, pink and white from other flowers that are mixed in, you will be so happy you went.
By the way, did I mention . . . it's free.
Ennis gives us a wonderful gift of flowers every year - be sure to take advantage of it, and support the businesses in Ennis to help them cover the costs of running this event!
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