Everything is bigger in Texas and that includes wildflowers. As spring creeps into Texas ahead of the rest of the country roadways explode in color with bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes and many more colorful flowers.
Also exploding? A total disregard for safety as people clamor to get the perfect bluebonnet pictures.
Bluebonnet Season in Central Texas
Bluebonnet Season (or what most of the U.S. would call “spring”) becomes a conquest of sorts in Central Texas. Much like the infamous “leaf peepers” of New England, Texas has its own breed of hard-core, never say die, and perhaps even fanatical seasonal botany enthusiasts that storm the countryside in search of the sights and smells of the bluebonnets. Our Yankee brethren may feel that no leaf peeping adventure is complete without coming home with a half-gallon of Vermont Pure Maple Syrup but here in Texas the ultimate souvenir is the infamous “family bluebonnet pictures.”
This yearly pilgrimage to snap that perfect photo of little Johnny sitting in a field of bluebonnets may seem like a relatively mundane annual ritual but some people seem to throw caution to the wind just to get that perfect picture of the baby laying in a bed of bluebonnets. EMS, Police, and Fire departments across this area of Texas all let out a collective groan as the first bluebonnets and Indian Paint Brushes (the orange/red sidekick to the bluebonnet), because they all know that their days at work are about to get “interesting.”
If you’re heading out to look for photo ops and wildflowers please keep the following safety tips in mind.
BLUEBONNET DON’T: DON’T STOP ON THE SIDES OF HIGHWAYS.
Highways are for AUTOMOBILES.
Yes, highways consisting of 4-6 lanes of traffic that allow a very liberal speed limit of 75 mph are for automobiles, and ONLY autos. Things that should not be on these highways (yes that includes the median and sides of the road) include babies, dogs, cats, Grandma, Grandpa, picnic baskets, the family parrot, or anything else that is not encased in in steel and operated by a motor.
Do yourself a favor and resist the urge to come to a screeching halt in the left lane of a highway to get what you think would be a “great shot” (true story). If that little voice in your head is saying “this might be a bad idea,” now would be a good time to listen.
Would you let your toddler walk across a highway? No? Then don’t stop for pictures there.
BLUEBONNET DO: DO EXPLORE BACK ROADS.
There are many absolutely stunning back roads to be explored and enjoyed that have little to no additional traffic during the bluebonnet season, and are nearly full to bursting with bluebonnets and Indian paint brush gloriousness, so get off the beaten path and explore.
BLUEBONNET DON’T: DON’T TRESPASS ON PRIVATE PROPERTY.
Yes, there is the perfect patch of bluebonnets on the other side of the fence. No you should not scale the fence throwing the baby over to your partner to get a picture. Trespassing is against the law and Texans enjoy some very liberal personal property protection laws. Don’t do it.
BLUEBONNET DO: DO FIND SAFE LOCATIONS TO PULL OFF THE ROAD.
Country churches have parking lots and many times picturesque scenery around them. Local businesses welcome bluebonnet tourists so make a stop out of it. Patronize a country store and take some safe (and legal) pictures on their property. Parks and historical sites are other great spots to scope out.
BLUEBONNET DON’T: DON’T WEAR SANDALS.
BLUEBONNET DO: DO WEAR PROPER FOOTWEAR AND BE AWARE OF YOUR SURROUNDINGS.
Bluebonnets tend to be found in fields. Do you know what else lives in fields?
Snakes: Central Texas is home to a wide variety of snakes which should be avoided unless you plan to be the next Bear Grylls. If you do decide to go wading in a field of tall grass, know that you are in prime real estate for many of these particular serpents that range in poisonous levels from “uh-oh” to “holy crap.” You know how Texans wear cowboy boots? It’s not just fashion- it’s practical. Wear proper footwear that covers the lower part of your leg when in fields. Walk with an exaggeratedly heavy footfall so that the snake can feel the vibrations of you coming and get out of your way. Be particularly cautious when stepping over large rocks or fallen trees, as these are a favorite “hang-out” for our bitey friends.
TRAVELING DAD TIP: If you do happen to be one of the unlucky 37,500 Americans who is bitten by a venomous snake each year, DO NOT have someone try to “suck the venom out.” This does not work! It usually results in two patients instead of one for the paramedics to take care of and an embarrassing story for you to tell your grandchildren. Simply move away from the offending creature, wash off the area with soap and water, and move the extremity as little as possible. Snake bites are rarely fatal, so try not to panic
Creepy Crawlies and Things that Bite: Central Texas is also home to a virtual cornucopia of creepy crawlies including but not limited to: black widows, brown recluse spiders, scorpions, ticks, fire ants, bees, wasps, centipedes and tarantulas (yes…actual tarantulas that live in the wild). The chances of you encountering some of nature’s more “unique” offerings are relatively slim, but nothing spoils a weekend family outing like accidentally sitting little Johnny down on a fire ant nest to take a cute picture.
TRAVELING DAD TIP: If someone is stung or bitten watch for symptoms of an allergic reaction (hives, swelling, etc.). Have any? Seek medical attention immediately. If there is swelling of the tongue, mouth, lips, throat, difficulty swallowing or difficulty breathing, call 911 IMMEDIATELY. These anaphylactic reactions can progress quickly.
BLUEBONNET DON’T: DON’T FORGET THAT NOT ALL FAUNA IS FRIENDLY.
BLUEBONNET DO: DO KNOW HOW TO IDENTIFY AND AVOID MISERY INDUCING PLANTS.
Do a pre-selfie scan of the area you’re planning to sit or lie down in for that perfect picture and be sure it is free of poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, and sharp cacti. Be aware that some stinging plants like bull nettle resemble wildflowers!
TRAVELING DAD TIP: Exposed to a scratchy friend? Wash the affected area with soap and water. If you do develop an itchy rash, they can usually be treated with over the counter creams and salves.
With all of that being said, it is a time honored tradition and a uniquely Texan experience to take pictures in fields of bluebonnets. When basic common sense and safely precautions are followed the experience is more enjoyable. Dress appropriately, keep an eye on your surroundings and take your annual bluebonnet photo.
— Greg Stump
Greg Stump is an EMT in Central Texas with 4 kids, 3 dogs, a Traveling Mom wife and a love of outdoor travel. He sees the dangers of travel done wrong and says “Go anyways.”