San Marcos Greenbelt Alliance •  107 E. Hopkins St. Suite 121A; San Marcos, Texas 78666

The Loop


What in Blazes!?

It’s tough to imagine being a pioneer when this nation was just beginning and the North American landscape was cloaked in thick ancient forests. Navigation must certainly have been a real challenge, with heavy reliance on sun and stars, rivers and mountain tops. Finding one’s way from holler to holler in the uplands of the Virginias required clever devices if people were going to find their way to and from homesteads. The blaze was a common solution. A modest swath of whitewash on the trunk of a tree heartened many wandering souls, who could follow each successive blaze to their destination.
Todd Derkacz and Dick McBride install blaze

The modern version, we call them blazes but alpha numeric reassurance marker is perhaps the more appropriate term, can be found in Purgatory Creek Natural Area. Each marker or blaze has two key bits of information: a letter corresponding to the first letter of the trail name and a number indicating the rough progression along the trail. This data could be very helpful to anyone needing to report trail conditions, interesting features or, as in the case of one desperate fellow injured in the Barton Creek Greenbelt in Austin, the place where emergency services should respond. Zachery Underwood, a geocacher, was able to give coordinates to emergency dispatchers after having been pinned under a boulder, but that still wasn’t enough to get the quick response he would have appreciated (link below). (What’s with hikers and climbers and boulders? Remember the story in the movie 127 Hours?)

Blaze D-156 in Upper Purgatory

If for some reason you find yourself being held down by one of the many boulders out in PCNA or any other emergency that would warrant a 911 call, scout the nearest trail blaze and let them know the letter or trail name and the number – help will find you quickly, and odds are you’ll be glad very grateful it did.

The SMGA trail crew developed the system and, with the City of San Marcos Park Rangers and assistance of police, fire and emergency dispatcher, helped install them. Ever wonder where Critters’ Hall is? Check out D-156. The trail names will appear on SMGA’s upcoming trail maps.
Learn more about the rescue in Austin and the subsequent installation of blazes in this story from a June edition of the Austin-American Statesman (

– Todd Derkacz, SMGA Trailblazer Extraordinaire

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