Monday, October 29, 2012

Lost Maples: Sometimes Green is a Fall Color

The state of Texas is known for many things, but having beautiful fall colors isn't generally numbered among them. One place that bucks that reputation is the Lost Maples State Natural Area, where the ancient stands of big tooth maples growing in the canyons often put on quite a show.

This year the cold weather arrived too late for my scheduled visit. Things were still green and growing when I arrived with no leaf turn to be seen anywhere.

Oh well! For my money, green's a pretty color too and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. I arrived early while the morning was still quite cool and hiked both the east and west trails, taking in the views from the bottoms of the canyons and the tops of the hills.

I highly recommend hiking this park in either the spring or the fall. And if you time your fall trip just right, just maybe you'll catch the maples in their full glory.

More Pictures from Lost Maples

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Blown on the Bayou

I think Mother Nature has it out for me this fall. First, she chased me from Lake Raven with clouds and cold winds during my first paddle of the season. Then she lulled me into complacency with the return of a few weeks of summer-like weather. But after I scheduled this paddle to Pickett's Bayou for my kayaking meetup group, she decided to hurl the first strong cold front of the season at southeast Texas.

The cold dry air started blowing in on the night before the paddle and the RSVP list quickly evaporated. The prospect of a low temperature in the the forties coupled with strong north winds was just a bit too much for most of our members. By launch time, only three of us remained.

Yes, the morning air was cold. And yes, the north wind was blowing. But otherwise it was an amazingly beautiful day. The sun was shining brightly from a flawless blue sky.

The paddle south was uneventful up to the point where we reached Jac's Island. We took the fork toward the right, thinking we'd find a narrow channel there which we could follow toward the Old River. We learned that satellite imagery can sometimes be deceiving, as we quickly ran out of water and were forced to turn back.

Instead we took the left fork, passed Jac's Island, and continued southward toward the narrows. As we entered the narrows, we noticed a moderately strong current pulling us forward. Upon exiting the south end of the narrows and reaching the Cutoff to the Trinity, we found ourselves faced with a small waterfall at the pipeline crossing. The strong north winds associated with the cold front had pushed enough water out of Trinity Bay that the bayou was slowly being drained.

We'd harbored some thoughts of continuing into the cutoff and beyond, but there wasn't any clear portage path around this unexpected waterfall, and we weren't confident the narrows would remain passable if the water level dropped much more. We'd run out of water once again!

We retraced our path through the narrows and then landed briefly on Jac's Island. It gave us a chance to stretch our legs a bit and examine the animal tracks in the sand. After a brief exploration, we returned to our kayaks and headed for the launch. Since the afternoon sun had warmed the air a bit, the headwinds had lost their bite and we made it back in good spirits.

While it may not have been the perfect day for a paddle, I can handle as many imperfect days like this as Mother Nature wants to give me!

More Pictures from Pickett's Bayou

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Fall Arrives at Lake Raven

While I thoroughly enjoy my summer excursions, there's no denying the heat and humidity that characterize most paddles along the gulf coast in the summer. By the time fall arrives, I'm generally ready for a change.

The temperature was comfortably warm as we headed toward Huntsville on this Saturday afternoon. We exited I-45 just south of town, turned west on the Huntsville State Park access road, and soon disappeared into a sea of pines.

The park was hopping, with the usual compliment of campers and boaters being joined a group of mountain bikers there for a race. We made our way down to the boat ramp, unloaded, and shoved off into the relatively uncrowded waters of Lake Raven.

The first couple of hours of our paddle were lovely as we explored the western lobe of the lake. We hoped to spot an alligator if we could. We couldn't. But with the peace and quite of the lake broken only by the calls of birds from the surrounding woods, it was difficult to be too upset about that or anything else. As we circled the lake, we nosed our way into various little inlets. In many of them we disturbed small gatherings of ducks or other water birds. In one we ran across a huge swarm of hornets that had taken over a wood duck nesting box. By the time we got close enough to tell what they were, they were starting to look agitated. Needless to say, we made a hasty retreat.

As we made our way over to the eastern side of the lake, Fall started taking itself a bit more seriously. The clouds thickened and the wind picked up out of the northwest. Soon the temperature had dropped 10 or 15 degrees and we were paddling into a cold headwind that was raising goosebumps all over us. A short time later we reached a unanimous decision that we'd paddled enough and headed back to the warmth of my car.

I'm glad you're here, Fall, but next time we visit I'm going to dress a bit more warmly!