Getting back to nature at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary

May, 2022
Sandyland Sanctuary


A Northern fence lizard shows off its blue belly at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary in East Texas. Pam LeBlanc photo

It doesn’t take long less than a minute, in fact before the first cool discovery at Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary: A fence lizard doing “push-ups” atop a wooden post. 

The pretty little lizard is warning other males in the area not to mess with him as he pumps up and down, flashing his bright blue belly, according to sanctuary manager Shawn Benedict. He picks up the reptile so I can get a closer look. After admiring it for a few minutes, he releases the animal and we head down a trail at the sanctuary, located 25 miles north of Beaumont. 

This land once belonged to the Temple family, whose history in forest operations in East Texas dates back more than a century. In 1977, Time Inc. and Temple-Eastex Inc. donated 2,138 acres to the Nature Conservancy of Texas to create the sanctuary, with the goal of protecting and sustaining native species. Over the years, several smaller tracts were added. In 1994, Temple-Inland donated more acreage, doubling its size with a conservation easement that limits development. The whole project, including the preserve and adjoining easement, now covers nearly 6,000 acres. 

RELATED: Discover the diversity of LBJ National Grasslands

It’s one of two Nature Conservancy properties in Texas the other is Lennox Woods in northeast Texas that is open to the public 365 days a year. People can come here to hike, watch birds, trail run, and paddle. It’s open daily from sunrise to sunset. 

Go for an East Texas hike

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I tromp down a trail behind Benedict, who is a wildlife biologist and has lived on site since 2008. We pass a covered pavilion with picnic tables and some big post oak trees dripping with Spanish moss, and almost instantly the forest swallows us whole. 

More than 6 miles of marked pathways weave through the property, dipping from the sandy uplands filled with tall swaying pines to sloping forests dotted with magnolia trees. Things look entirely different down along Village Creek, a tributary of the Neches River that cuts through the sanctuary in a tea-colored ribbon and is open to paddlers. 

RELATED: Women, Wind and Waves: Surfing for Adventure

This land teems with life, from deer, coyote and bobcat to hundreds of types of plants. In all, more than 700 species grow here, including prickly pear cactus and yuccas, pines and four globally endangered plants including the Texas trailing phlox. The preserve lands are part of the upper loop of the Coastal Birding Trail, too, and are home to the Bachman’s sparrow, a state threatened species, and the brown-headed nuthatch. 

Sandyland Sanctuary

A bright red coralbean plant grows at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary in East Texas. Pam LeBlanc photo

We pass coralbean plants, with their tall stalks of tubular red flowers, and stands of loblolly pines. A zebra swallowtail butterfly flits past, a bronze frog croaks in the distance, and when we step off trail, a snake skitters out of our way.  

Visitors can pick up a pamphlet that explains things you’ll see along the trail. “It’s like having a biologist with you, just in a book,” Benedict says. 

Longleaf pine, the star of Sandyland Sanctuary

pines at Sandyland Sanctuary

Loblolly and longleaf pines grow at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary in East Texas. Pam LeBlanc photo

But the longleaf pine is the star. Historically, the tree covered 90 million acres between East Texas and Florida. The area was heavily logged at the turn of the century, though, and today it covers just 6 million acres. The Nature Conservancy is working with other agencies to expand that area. 

“This is what East Texas is supposed to look like not a whole lot of brush, not a whole lot of trees,” Benedict tells me when we get to an area where the longleaf pine are scattered across the landscape. “You should be able to see through it.”  

He points out the clumps of needles that sprout from the end of slander branches. The needles are as long as spaghetti strands.  

“They look like Cousin Itt from ‘The Addams Family,’” Benedict says. 

They also need good forest management. Preserve managers ignite sections every 18 months or so to select for longleaf pine, which can survive a prescribed burn. Other non-native species die off in the periodic blazes. 

sandyland Sanctuary

Shawn Benedict, manager of the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary, hikes into the forest. Pam LeBlanc photo

After a couple of hours of exploring, we head back out. I’ve seen some cool critters and gotten a taste of what this part of the Lone Star State once looked like. 

Most importantly, I’ve gained a new appreciation for longleaf pine, which can live up to 400 years. 

Follow Austin Travels


Austin Travels is a women-owned, Austin-based travel magazine committed to highlighting destinations in Texas and beyond through the lenses of diverse and talented writers.

Subscribe

A Dozen Central Texas Pumpkin Patches Near Austin

A Dozen Central Texas Pumpkin Patches Near Austin

October Festivals: 10 Texas Celebrations to check out this month

October Festivals: 10 Texas Celebrations to check out this month

Fishing, kayaking and beachcombing on Matagorda Bay

Fishing, kayaking and beachcombing on Matagorda Bay

Gone glamping: Get away, comfortably, this fall near Austin

Gone glamping: Get away, comfortably, this fall near Austin

September Festivals: Celebrate in these 10 Texas Towns this Month

September Festivals: Celebrate in these 10 Texas Towns this Month

Relax and unwind in Round Top, Texas

Relax and unwind in Round Top, Texas

Cozy up around a firepit at a Valencia hotel this fall

Cozy up around a firepit at a Valencia hotel this fall

August Festivals: 10 Texas towns to visit this month

August Festivals: 10 Texas towns to visit this month

Seeking out adventure and finding respite at Horseshoe Bay Resort

Seeking out adventure and finding respite at Horseshoe Bay Resort

Family friendly fun in San Antonio (even if your kids bail on you)

Family friendly fun in San Antonio (even if your kids bail on you)

Bastrop State Park: A backyard gem, then and now

Bastrop State Park: A backyard gem, then and now

Eight beginner-friendly places to paddle in Central Texas

Eight beginner-friendly places to paddle in Central Texas

July Festivals: 10 Towns to Visit this Month

July Festivals: 10 Towns to Visit this Month

Nine Nearby, Natural Spots to Keep Cool this Summer

Nine Nearby, Natural Spots to Keep Cool this Summer

June festivals: 10 Texas Towns Worth a Trip

June festivals: 10 Texas Towns Worth a Trip

Hiking, horses and history at Hill Country State Natural Area

Hiking, horses and history at Hill Country State Natural Area

Explore the great outdoors in little Castell, Texas

Explore the great outdoors in little Castell, Texas

Camping out at Enchanted Rock

Camping out at Enchanted Rock

Walk in the footsteps of Judge Roy Bean in little Langtry, Texas

Walk in the footsteps of Judge Roy Bean in little Langtry, Texas

Getting back to nature at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary

Getting back to nature at the Roy E. Larsen Sandyland Sanctuary

Heading to Brenham? You’re in for a treat

Heading to Brenham? You’re in for a treat

5 hotel pools ideal for beating Austin’s summer heat

5 hotel pools ideal for beating Austin’s summer heat

Thirteen things to love about Lubbock

Thirteen things to love about Lubbock

May Festivals: 10 Texas towns worth a trip this month

May Festivals: 10 Texas towns worth a trip this month

Glamping out at Onera Fredericksburg

Glamping out at Onera Fredericksburg

Six places to park your campervan in Texas this Spring

Six places to park your campervan in Texas this Spring

5 fun family-friendly experiences on the Texas Coast

5 fun family-friendly experiences on the Texas Coast

April Festivals: Celebrate blooms, berries and birds at these top 10 Texas events

April Festivals: Celebrate blooms, berries and birds at these top 10 Texas events

Go wild: A dozen spots to see Texas bluebonnets and wildflowers

Go wild: A dozen spots to see Texas bluebonnets and wildflowers

A new way to ride: Take an E-bike for a spin

A new way to ride: Take an E-bike for a spin

March Festivals: 10 Texas Celebrations Worth a Trip

March Festivals: 10 Texas Celebrations Worth a Trip

Three Texas sips to warm you up this winter

Three Texas sips to warm you up this winter

February Festivals: Top 10 Texas celebrations to check out this month

February Festivals: Top 10 Texas celebrations to check out this month

January Festivals: Top 10 Texas events this month

January Festivals: Top 10 Texas events this month

Weekend getaway: Carefree in Concan at 7 Bluff Cabins

Weekend getaway: Carefree in Concan at 7 Bluff Cabins

A winter retreat at Hyatt Regency Lost Pines

A winter retreat at Hyatt Regency Lost Pines

10 Magical Holiday Hotels to Check off Your List

10 Magical Holiday Hotels to Check off Your List

Seeking relaxation and uncovering empathy at Miraval Resort

Seeking relaxation and uncovering empathy at Miraval Resort

Texas towns shining bright this holiday season

Texas towns shining bright this holiday season

Soaking in the holidays and Austin’s history at the iconic Driskill Hotel

Soaking in the holidays and Austin’s history at the iconic Driskill Hotel

Martin Dies Jr. State Park is an East Texas treasure

Martin Dies Jr. State Park is an East Texas treasure

Make your way to Matagorda Bay for coast without the crowds

Make your way to Matagorda Bay for coast without the crowds

Fishing up old memories and making new ones at Inks Lake State Park

Fishing up old memories and making new ones at Inks Lake State Park

FIRST LOOK: Inside Chef Tim Love’s new Fort Worth shipping container hotel

FIRST LOOK: Inside Chef Tim Love’s new Fort Worth shipping container hotel

Go to Garner this fall for the Frio, foliage and family fun

Go to Garner this fall for the Frio, foliage and family fun

Wurstfest: New Braunfels’ epic Bavarian bash is back

Wurstfest: New Braunfels’ epic Bavarian bash is back

Discover the diversity of LBJ National Grasslands

Discover the diversity of LBJ National Grasslands

November Festivals: Top 10 Texas events to check out

November Festivals: Top 10 Texas events to check out

20 Texas pumpkin patches ripe with fall fun

20 Texas pumpkin patches ripe with fall fun

October festivals: 10 top Texas celebrations to check out

October festivals: 10 top Texas celebrations to check out

Falling for Fredericksburg: Sample all this Hill Country haven has to offer

Falling for Fredericksburg: Sample all this Hill Country haven has to offer

Central Texas Camping Guide

Central Texas Camping Guide

A fall paddle down the Devils

A fall paddle down the Devils

5 nearby parks perfect for an RVshare road trip

5 nearby parks perfect for an RVshare road trip

September festivals: 10 top Texas events

September festivals: 10 top Texas events

Texas Glamping Guide

Texas Glamping Guide

Women, wind and waves: Surfing for adventure

Women, wind and waves: Surfing for adventure

Dive in: 7 swimming holes and natural spots to splash into near Austin

Dive in: 7 swimming holes and natural spots to splash into near Austin

Girls getaway: 24 hours in San Antonio’s Historic Pearl District

Girls getaway: 24 hours in San Antonio’s Historic Pearl District

A downtown Houston hotel reimagined –– plus 5 things to do nearby

A downtown Houston hotel reimagined –– plus 5 things to do nearby

Texas 2021 Beach Guide

Texas 2021 Beach Guide

A true escape: Domovina Ranch in Smithville

A true escape: Domovina Ranch in Smithville

Royal treatment: 24 hours of spa bliss at one of Houston’s poshest hotels

Royal treatment: 24 hours of spa bliss at one of Houston’s poshest hotels

7 magical things to do with kids in Big Bend and West Texas

7 magical things to do with kids in Big Bend and West Texas

Photo Essay: The missions of San Antonio

Photo Essay: The missions of San Antonio

Becoming a birder at Galveston’s FeatherFest

Becoming a birder at Galveston’s FeatherFest

Seminole Canyon’s world-class rock art is a lens to history

Seminole Canyon’s world-class rock art is a lens to history

Need a break? An Archer Hotel Austin staycation, plus Domain shopping guide

Need a break? An Archer Hotel Austin staycation, plus Domain shopping guide

Discovering Surfside Beach, a Texas Gulf Coast treasure

Discovering Surfside Beach, a Texas Gulf Coast treasure

Nature and nurture: Hill Country wellness retreat offers a salve for the soul

Nature and nurture: Hill Country wellness retreat offers a salve for the soul

Gruene Hall: Daytrip to this timeless Texas treasure

Gruene Hall: Daytrip to this timeless Texas treasure

Everyone’s an artist at Amarillo’s Cadillac Ranch

Everyone’s an artist at Amarillo’s Cadillac Ranch

Get away while giving back to foster children at stunning Hill Country glamping spot

Get away while giving back to foster children at stunning Hill Country glamping spot

Plan Your Outdoorsy Adventure

Plan Your Outdoorsy Adventure

Discover history and simple pleasures in Baffin Bay

Discover history and simple pleasures in Baffin Bay

Texas bluebonnets are back! 10 wildflower hotspots

Texas bluebonnets are back! 10 wildflower hotspots

8 Great State Parks for Camping with Kids

8 Great State Parks for Camping with Kids

Fishing and Sea Turtles and Birding, Oh My: A weekend at South Padre Island

Fishing and Sea Turtles and Birding, Oh My: A weekend at South Padre Island

Relax and relish the coastal charms of Rockport

Relax and relish the coastal charms of Rockport

Social distancing in sleepy Sonora: Escape to a luxury ranch resort 3 hours from Austin

Social distancing in sleepy Sonora: Escape to a luxury ranch resort 3 hours from Austin

Lessons in life and death on the beach in Port Aransas

Lessons in life and death on the beach in Port Aransas