Saturday, September 15, 2012

Closing out Summer on Luces Bayou

What a summer it's been for kayaking! The weather has been warm, but not as scorching as last year. And since we've been blessed with more rain, there's been much more water to paddle in the local lakes and streams.

Along the way I've gotten to revisit all of my favorite destinations from last year and I've discovered a few new ones like Luces Bayou. So it's fitting that I spent the last Saturday of summer paddling its waters with one special kindred spirit.

It was overcast and relatively cool on Saturday morning when we reached Ponderosa Marina. The calm and quiet were in stark contrast to my last visit when both the Houston Canoe Club and Houston Kayaking Meetup group were arriving at about the same time. We unloaded our boats, shared a quick breakfast, and then headed upstream.

Other than a handful of fisherman we had the bayou mostly to ourselves. Unless you count the herons. And the egrets. And the kingfishers. And the woodpeckers. And . . . well, you get the idea.

As the morning progressed and we made our way farther upstream, the clouds burned off and the day became quite warm. Now and then we'd pause near the cypress-shaded banks, enjoying the cooler air and soaking in the quiet -- interrupted only by the occasional call of a bird.

Eventually we turned our boats and made our way back downstream at a leisurely pace. We stopped briefly at the local "nude beach" [PHOTO REDACTED] and then finally returned to the marina.

We loaded the boats but somehow weren't quite ready to bid farewell to the bayou. As we lingered, we snacked on some cool slices of apple that tasted especially sweet in the warmth of that late summer afternoon. It was a perfect last paddle to punctuate a wonderful summer on the water.

More Pictures from Luces Bayou

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Armand Bayou Delivers, but Where Are the Alligators?

The unspoiled surroundings and plentiful wildlife of Armand Bayou's upper section have made it a favorite paddling destination for as long as I've had my kayak. This weekend's paddle was true to form, with one notable exception.

After launching from Bay Area Park shortly after sunrise, we headed upstream with the goal of paddling until we ran out of bayou. The surface of the water was relatively calm except where it was disturbed by the leaping of mullet and skittering splashes of startled minnows. In the shallows, herons, egrets, and other wading birds patiently scanned the waters for their prey, while ospreys did the same from the treetops.

As the bayou nears Red Bluff road, the channel forks. Straight ahead, the bayou crosses under the road and becomes ditch-like in character. But to the left, the channel begins to narrow and wind. During past paddles, fallen trees have always blocked the left channel not too far beyond the fork, but this visit brought a pleasant surprise. The one fallen tree that completely blocked the bayou had enough air space on the right to allow a paddler to squeeze beneath it. Beyond that point the bayou was a veritable obstacle course of partially submerged trees, but always with a path through for the careful paddler.

We soon passed the farthest point I'd reached before and continued weaving our way through the narrow shaded channel. We covered about four miles and crossed under a set of high voltage power lines before an obstruction we couldn't readily pass forced us to turn around. After "reloading" one kayaker who ended up in the water after a close encounter with a spider, we headed back toward the launch.

One thing we didn't see during this paddle was an alligator. And I didn't see one during my previous paddle on the Old River, or the one before that at Pickett's Bayou, or the one before that at Luces Bayou, or even the one before that at Sheldon Lake. In fact, I don't think I've run across an alligator all summer. That seems odd, since these are all places I would expect to see them. Maybe I've just been unlucky? Maybe it's because I've typically been paddling with larger groups? I'm not sure, but I hope the pattern won't continue indefinitely. Seeing alligators swimming the channel or sunning on the bank provides a welcome connection to the wild!

EDIT: I'd no sooner posted this blog entry than I noticed one of my fellow paddlers did get a picture of an alligator floating suspended in the water with only eyes and nose showing. Apparently the vanguard of the group got a fairly long look at him before he finally gave up the staring contest and submerged. So, maybe all is as it should be!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Revisiting the Calcasieu

By the time the Calcasieu River reaches the city of Lake Charles, man has tamed much of its natural character. The banks of Lake Charles proper host a casino, a civic center, a marina, and a collection of grand homes. And the river itself has turned tidal and brackish, courtesy of the deep water ship channel which follows its course all the way down to the Gulf of Mexico. The fishing here can be good, but for speckled trout and red-fish rather than bass. But not too far upstream, at places like Sam Houston Jones State Park, the more natural character of the river still shines through.

The park is a great place to picnic, to feed the ducks, or to wander the wooded trails through glades of long leaf pines and various hardwoods. Visits here were a staple of my childhood. Often we'd come by boat, launching at Lake Charles, passing the Salt Water Barrier, and then following the cypress-lined channel upstream to the park.

On my most recent visit to Louisiana we made it back up to the park for the first time in many years. Time appears to have largely healed the scars left by Hurricane Rita and the park was green and vibrant.

Just inside the park entrance we saw a cotton-tailed rabbit foraging beside of the road, unconcerned by our presence. Next a deer wandered out to look us over - apparently looking for a handout.

Once we finished a driving loop through the park we left the car behind and walked a trail around the pond. The nutria and alligators hid from us, but we saw a few wading birds in the pond and numerous squirrels and birds in the surrounding woods.

After the walk we settled down for a picnic by the river. A squirrel arrived on the scene, hoping to capitalize on any unwanted (or just unattended) dainties. A collection of love bugs and ants tried to crash the party but we did our best to un-invite them. By the time lunch was finished, we decided the occasional hints of breeze weren't enough to compensate for the growing heat and we packed up for the air conditioned drive home. Still I was glad to revisit an old friend, even on a rather toasty late summer day.