Posted by: kerryl29 | June 1, 2021

A Toe in the Water: First Look at Bluebonnets

Many years ago–12 or 13, I think–I had plans to head to Texas during the wildflower bloom to photograph bluebonnets. I was embedded entirely in the Midwest back then–Chicago and Indianapolis–so it wasn’t going to be particularly convenient, but I had a contact down there who had provided me with a fairly extensive list of locations to visit (mostly, if not entirely, in the Hill Country, as I recall). And then, some time mid-winter, as I was beginning to make travel plans, my contact emailed me and strongly suggested that I not bother coming. Most of Texas was in a drought, he told me, and the forecast was for an awful wildflower season, making it (in his opinion) a waste of time and cash. So I canceled. (Epilogue: the advice was apparently on the money, as all reports concurred that it was a very poor bloom that year.)

While I kept the idea of visiting subsequently in the back of my mind, I never really got to the planning stages again, for any one of a number of reasons. But when my wife and I relocated from Indianapolis to the Houston area in the summer of 2019, I figured that I would finally have a chance to scratch the bluebonnet itch. My first theoretical chance to do so would be in the spring of 2020, but the pandemic destroyed that (as it did so many other things); under a virtual travel ban, I was in the Chicago area from late February until August of last year. This year, however, I was determined to engage in some bluebonnet photography.

The 2021 Texas wildflower bloom was later than usual, a product of the extraordinary deep freeze that enveloped the entire state, wreaking havoc for weeks, in February. And while there was a great deal of debate regarding whether said freeze would hurt or help the bloom, when it did occur the consensus seemed to be that it harmed things a bit, at least as far as bluebonnets are concerned. Most long-time observers I discussed this subject with classified this year as a mild (or significant) disappointment. I had no prior experience with the Texas bloom, so I was excited to see just about anything that blossomed.

While my long-term goal has always been to visit the Hill Country for the bloom, I was unable to do so this year. A series of events kept me in the Chicago area until about April 10. The bloom was late, but it wasn’t that late, so by the time I drove back down to the Houston area the best of the Hill Country bloom was, I was told, done. But I wasn’t too late for two other locations: Brenham, in Washington County, an easy hour drive from my base in the northern part of the Houston area, and Ennis, the official bluebonnet capital of Texas, in the exurbs south of the Dallas-Ft. Worth metroplex, about three hours north of Houston.

The Brenham area was the logistical low-hanging fruit, given its proximity. It was expected to be at peak just as I was arriving in Houston, so I made quick plans to zip over there shortly thereafter. Ennis wasn’t supposed to peak until the following weekend. Given the distance involved, I thought it would be best dealt with as an overnight stay and made plans to do so the following week. Ennis was the real prize; it’s widely regarded by bluebonnet aficionados to be either the best or second best location in the state for bluebonnet viewing/photographing. Brenham–though it has a bluebonnet festival of its own (Ennis’ is better known and bigger)–isn’t as highly regarded, but I thought it would make for a warm up for the Ennis trip. Besides, it would be an opportunity for me to, finally, see bluebonnets with my own eyes.

The weather conditions on the day I spent in and around Brenham weren’t great. It was warm (fine), hazy (not ideal) and windy (a real negative). But it was still worth the trip, I think.

Bluebonnets, Washington County, Texas

I learned a few useful lessons during my time in Brenham. The most significant is that most of the best bluebonnet locations–as they pertain to landscape photography–are on private property. I had every reason to believe that this would be true in Ennis as well. (Spoiler alert: It is.) This makes photography a challenge. I do not, ever, wander onto private property unless I have express permission to do so. Most private property in Texas–and most other places for that matter–is fenced, so compositions have to be teased out with this encumbrance in mind. There are some publicly accessible places in both areas that have nice stands of bluebonnets, but they often come with their own limitations (the most notable of these is unwanted elements–think utility polls,. wires and the like–creeping into the scene).

Bluebonnets, Washington County, Texas

The fence issue meant that I frequently couldn’t get as close to the flowers as I would have liked, or approached them from the angle that I would have preferred. It also meant it was often impossible to set up as low to the ground as I wanted. I tried to make the best of it.

Bluebonnets, Washington County, Texas

In fact, nothing about this shoot was ideal. There weren’t as many flowers as I’d hoped to see. The light wasn’t great. The wind was a constant bother. And I only had a vague set of locations to visit, based on some online postings from people who lived in the area.

Bluebonnets, Washington County, Texas

But I kicked around for awhile and finally found a pretty decent cluster of bluebonnets (and paintbrush) near the end of the day. Best of all, it was on a property that was open to public access, so I ultimately got a chance to get close to the flowers and as low to the ground as I liked. I still had to deal with the wind, unfortunately.

Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush, Washington County, Texas
Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush, Washington County, Texas
Bluebonnets and Indian Paintbrush, Washington County, Texas

It had been a useful preview, I thought, for my trip to Ennis, which would commence five days later. I hoped that the flowers–and the associated photo opportunities–would be more plentiful in Ellis County. If may be a bit of foreshadowing when I state that the fruits of that brief trip will take more than one blog entry to cover thoroughly.


Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing I love them as well. Awesome images. I live in Louisiana and just have never made the trip to shoot them. Need to do that. Thanks again God Bless

    • Thanks!

      Not sure where you are in Louisiana, but it could be a bit of a haul for you to hit the best spots for bluebonnets (Ennis and the Hill Country). Regardless, I hope next spring provides you the opportunity.

  2. Had I known, I could’ve pointed you to a great field of bluebonnets in Dubina, about 95 miles west of Houston.

    For the future, there are two groups on Facebook you can check to find locations in the state that are currently looking good. One is Texas Flora and the other is Texas Wildflowers. Most of the photographs posted there are amateurish, but that’s beside the point. I’ve learned about some excellent wildflower sites that way. I’ve also gotten some plant species identified.

    • Thanks, Steve. The location you noted looks good, though this year it probably would have been moot for me. It appears you made that image, at peak bloom, on March 29. I didn’t even arrive in Houston until late afternoon on April 11, By the time I could have made it to Dubina, I’m sure it would have past peak, if not completely gone.

      In any event, it’s worth noting for future reference and I’ll definitely take note of those two Facebook groups.

      Thanks again!

  3. […] my bluebonnet experience in Brenham was less than phenomenal, I had higher hopes for Ennis. A town of about 20,000 located roughly 35 […]


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