Red Belly Writing School offers classes for adults, teens, and children on a variety of topics. The school is owned and operated by fulltime professional writer, Mary O. Parker.

Mary O. holds class outdoors whenever possible for many reasons, one of which is that it often helps her students connect better to their more creative selves. The disengagement we’ve experienced in the last century (or more) from the natural world, has resulted in a disengagement from ourselves. Re-engaging with nature makes it easier to re-connect with ourselves, making creative play easier to grab hold of.

See a current list of offerings at

Professional wildlife & nature photographer and owner of Explore in Focus™, Jeff Parker holds many of his photography workshops at Red Belly Ranch.

Jeff gears his photo workshops toward the naturally curious. At Red Belly, he focuses on native Texas wildflowers, Ruby-throated hummingbirds, Painting Buntings, butterflies, dragonflies and other local flora and fauna that live on this slice of Post-oak Savannah.

Learn about Jeff’s current workshops:

About Red Belly Ranch

Nature-lovers, Jeff and Mary O. Parker, own the slice of central-Texas Post-oak Savannah they’ve dubbed “Red Belly Ranch,” and hold their respective creative workshops & classes here.

Their small nature preserve is so-named for the Red-bellied Woodpeckers that make their homes here in abundance. These entertaining birds make great—albeit, vociferous—muses!

Two small ponds (one is actually very small) attract lots of wildlife, from Great Blue Heron, egrets, Whistling Ducks, Wood Ducks, Red-eared Sliders, to a plethora of dragonflies, damselflies, and frogs of all shapes and sizes. Plenty of animal tracks decorate the ponds’ edges as well, including: White-tailed deer, Rio Grande turkey, bobcat, raccoons, Grey Fox, and opossum.

Season to season and year to year you will find various plants in bloom along with the critters that utilize them. Loblolly pines, Post-oaks, Yaupon, Eastern Red Cedar, Toothache trees, help provide shade and habitat. While each year brings a different mix of native grasses and forbs depending on the weather.

You might also spot Cottontails, Fox Squirrels, Eastern Bluebirds, Painted Buntings, Pileated Woodpeckers, Downy Woodpeckers, American Goldfinch, Cedar Waxwings, Barn Swallows, Tufted Titmice, Carolina Wren, Northern Cardinals, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Pine Warblers, Roadrunners, and more.

Red Belly Ranch keeps one photo blind up year-round, while others are put in place as needed for workshops.

(MEMBERSHIPS: Mary O belongs to the Texas Bluebird Society and the Native Plant Society of Texas. Jeff belongs to the Travis Audubon Society and North American Nature Photography Association [NANPA]. Both are members of the Bastrop Country Audubon Society.)


Red Belly Ranch is located 8 miles from historic downtown Smithville, Texas’ first certified Film Friendly Community where “Tree of Life” starring Brad Pitt and at least a dozen other films have been made. While visiting us, be sure and put aside some time to check out Smithville’s wonderful historic Main Street, including its nice collection of artisan shops and other unique shops, as well as the Lost Pines Artisans Alliance.

Where’s Smithville?

On a map, connect the dots for the cities of Houston, San Antonio, and Austin. Smithville sits about in the middle of the triangle you formed by connecting those dots.

Travel Time:

FROM HOUSTON: About 1 ¾ hours
FROM SAN ANTONIO: About 1 ½ hours
FROM AUSTIN: About 1 ¼ hours
FROM DALLAS/FT. WORTH: About 4 ½ hours

The Red Belly Ranch is located 8 miles from historic downtown Smithville.
It takes about 15 minutes to drive to Red Belly from Smithville.
It takes about 25 minutes to drive to Red Belly from La Grange.
It takes about 35 minutes to drive to Red Belly from Bastrop.

PLEASE NOTE: Red Belly Ranch is a private venue and does not rent the site to private parties. Do you represent an Audubon Society, camera club, writing group, or other group related to what we do? Please contact us if you’re interested in a group rate.