have them—and gently pull it away from the skin with a twisting motion. Clean the affected area with
an antibacterial cleanser and then apply triple-antibiotic ointment. Monitor the area for a few days. If
irritation persists or a white spot develops, see a doctor for possible infection.
Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac
These skin irritants are prevalent on many of the trails in central Texas, sometimes growing into the
trail. They come in the form of a bush or a vine, having leaflets in groups of three (poison ivy and
oak), five, seven, or nine. Learn how to spot the plants, and especially show young children what to
look for. Few things can spoil a hike, or your life the week after, more than accidentally getting poison
ivy. The oil secreted by the plant can cause an allergic reaction in the form of blisters, usually about
twelve hours after exposure. The itchy rash can last from ten days to several weeks.
The best defense against these irritants is to wear clothing that covers the arms, legs, and torso. For
summer, zip-off cargo pants come in handy. There are also nonprescription lotions you can apply to
exposed skin that guard against the effects of poison ivy, oak, or sumac and can be washed off with
soap and water. If you think you were in contact with the plants, after hiking (or even on the trail dur-
ing longer hikes) wash with soap and water. If the rash spreads, either tough it out or see your doctor.
Besides tripping over a rock or tree root on the trail, there are some real hazards to be aware of while
hiking, including a few weather conditions you may need to take into account.
Thunderstorms build over some areas in central Texas almost every day during the summer. Lightning
is generated by thunderheads and can strike without warning, even several miles away from the nearest
cloud. The best rule of thumb is to start leaving exposed peaks, ridges, and canyon rims by about noon
if the weather forecast includes thunderstorms. This time can vary a little depending on storm buildup.
Keep an eye on cloud formation, and don't underestimate how fast a storm can build. Lightning takes
the path of least resistance, so if you're the high point, it might choose you. Ducking under a rock
overhang is dangerous as you form the shortest path between the rock and ground. Avoid having both
your hands and feet touching the ground at once and never lie flat. If you hear a buzzing sound or feel
your hair standing on end, move quickly, as an electrical charge is building up.
The National Weather Service provides these cautions:
If you can hear thunder, you are in striking distance of lightning.
Suspend outdoor activities during thunderstorms and lightning.
Get off high ground.
Do not stay under trees.
Get into an enclosed building or enclosed vehicle.