Sunday, August 26, 2012

In With The Old

At this point in my life, I have no idea how many times I have traveled Interstate 10 between Houston and the Louisiana border. I was raised in Lake Charles while my grandparents were still living in Houston, so that stretch of road was intimately familiar to the family station wagon. Now that I call Houston home and my parents remain in Louisiana, my RAV4 has traced the same path in reverse countless times. And on every trip, about an hour east of Houston, I have crossed a wide bridge bearing the legend Old and Lost Rivers.

In moments of idle fancy I have wondered which part was old and which was lost, but the flashes of curiosity never went any farther -- until I bought my kayak. Now I see the area with different eyes. The surrounding Trinity River basin is a natural treasure with countless options for paddling. Over the centuries, the Trinity has meandered over miles of bottom-land on its way to the bay. As it has wandered, it has left behind a maze of bayous, sloughs, and old river channels like the Old and the Lost.

I have already already written about my paddles in the Trinity National Wildlife Refuge at Champion Lake. This weekend I finally had the chance to to get better acquainted with the Old River.

We launched our kayaks at the Old River bridge on FM1409 and headed slowly upstream. The water was placid except for the occasional roll of a gar. The banks were lined with cypress, pecan and other hardwoods, often with an understory of palmetto. There were occasional signs of development: a ranch, a few houses around a golf course, a few pipeline crossings. But mostly there were heaping helpings of peace and beauty.

As we continued upstream, the channel slowly narrowed and the welcome canopy of trees closed in overhead. After a little over three miles we turned back toward the launch and enjoyed the scenery a second time on the return trip.

On some cooler day I still want to explore the area downstream section. And then of course there's the Lost River. And Lake Charlotte.  And . . .

More Pictures from the Old River

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Seeking a Little Refuge on a Scorching Summer Day

I have been plotting a return to the Trinity National Wildlife Refuge since my first visit last year. At that time the drought of 2011 had already taken its toll on Champion Lake but we had a wonderful paddle on Pickett's Bayou on the last cool Saturday in May.

While I knew an August weekend was unlikely to be even remotely cool, I wanted to see Pickett's Bayou again and paddle Champion Lake for the first time.

The day started out warm and progressed rapidly to hot, relieved slightly by an occasional breeze and patches of shade along the bayou's banks. The water level in the bayou was a bit higher than on my last visit but otherwise the paddle south through the hardwood forest of the refuge had the same lovely character.

As we continued south past the sand bar and approached the Cut Off, the bayou narrowed and the trees provided a welcome canopy overhead. And we weren't the only ones who seemed to like the area. A whole colony of banana spiders had spun webs across the channel above our heads. A bit surprisingly, we also found that we were paddling against a current as we proceeded south.

Once we reached the Cut Off, we turned east toward the Trinity River. We found the gate closed at the the Corp of Engineers' "Structure A", but a fair amount of water was still pouring through, thus providing the current we paddled against coming down. We took the closed gate as a sign and turned around. We started back toward the launch with a respectable current helping us along until the bayou widened again.

It was approaching noon before everyone was back on dry land. By then, the heat had taken its toll on the group's enthusiasm for more paddling. Some packed up and headed out, while a few of us gathered in the shade for a picnic lunch.

By the time lunch was over, only two of us remained to take a look at Champion Lake. I had hopeful visions of gliding through the shady groves of submerged cypress trees but it wasn't meant to be. While the lake has plenty of water, it has been taken over by various types of vegetation. The only open water we could find was in the largely unshaded area of Big Caney Creek on the northeast side of the launch. We paddled until we ran out of water and then had to concede defeat. I fear that a full exploration of Champion Lake is going to have to wait until next spring!

More Pictures From the Trinity National Wildlife Refuge

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Lake Conroe: A Visit To Wildwood Shores

The weekend brought the chance to visit a new area of Lake Conroe. This time we launched our kayaks along Stubblefield Lake Road and paddled south. We followed the old river channel as it made its winding way through the upper section of the lake bed. Eventually the channel reached slightly deeper waters and the lake opened up before us.

We turned east and made our way over to the only development on this section of the lake, the aptly named Wildwood Shores. After entering via a drainage culvert, we explored the canals of the subdivision and the lower section of East Sandy Creek before making the return trip to Stubblefield.

More Pictures From Lake Conroe