Monday, July 12, 2010

Brazos Bend State Park ~ Arrival

This past weekend we spent walking in Brazos Bend State Park. It was an amazing weekend, and one that I hope we can repeat sooner, rather than later!

We got the car loaded for the most part on Thursday evening ~ peeked through the windows and wondered where we were going to put the rest of the necessary items ~ like FOOD, shook our heads and went back to finish getting ready for the drive ahead of us. We were up at 4:30 Friday morning, showered, loaded and on the road a little after 5:00 A.M. We were excited to get such a great start because we wanted to get to the park as early as possible. Sites are given out on a first come, first serve basis and we wanted to get the best possible site since we would be there the entire weekend! We made it to Houston and picked up Rick's sister, Brenda. This would be the first time EVER she had been camping and we were excited to be able to share one of our passions of life with her. (Man we were hoping the weather would hold off and it would be a great experience for her!) When we first walked in and saw the pile of supplies she had we didn't know how we were going to get everything loaded in the car, but we made it and once again we were on our way. We stopped for a short lunch and made the park by about 1:30. The folks at the park are wonderful. So friendly and helpful! Rick and I collect the park pins now, so of course as soon as I saw them I showed Rick which one I wanted to add to my collection. We got three of them and I got mine pinned on my hat right away! We got our site, paid the fees and off we went. The volunteers told us that once we got down to the camping area we needed to drive around and check out the sites, if we found one we liked better we could call and they would change it for us.

Once we got down to the sites we decided we DID like another one better and moved to the new site before we got anything set up...this is a good thing, LOL. Our site had a beautiful tree that we were able to set our tent up under. This made for cool afternoon and evenings. The site was clean, well maintained, and plenty big with a nice big picnic table and little grill, as well as a fire pit if we decided we wanted a camp fire. Perfect!

We pitched the tent and got everything unloaded and arranged to our liking and then we were ready to begin exploring. Housekeeping done it was time to LET THE FUN BEGIN!

For our first hike we selected Creekfield Lake. The signs explained that this was a changing ecosystem. What was today swamp would in the future become a forest, so we were observing the birth of a forest. The swamp water will slowly disappear and the life it supports will go away and forest life, trees, plants, and animals will take over.
This was our first view of Creekfield Lake.
Did you notice the light post in the bottom left corner? These are set up along the path to the Observatory. The lights are labeled with planet names to give you an idea of the distance from the sun.
This is actually the trail around the northern end of the lake. It is about 1 mile around this end of the lake, and the trail is paved and well maintained. We were there in late afternoon, so the wildlife wasn't as active as it would prove to be later in the day. We did manage to see this little guy out sunning himself on a log near the banks of the lake.

We continued along the trail and spotted this White Ibis posing for me!

The lake is surrounded by Oak trees covered in Spanish Moss. In hindsight I wish I had gotten a better picture of these. But this was the best I got this trip. (I did get a pretty "artsy" picture of the moss and leaves entertwined that I may select for another post later.)

Once we took a quick trip around this lovely path we decided to head back to camp for a quick dinner to allow time for it to cool down a little so perhaps we would be able to see a little more of the wildlife promised by the several web sites we looked at prior to the trip. We spent some time eating, talking, and laughing and then decided to go over to 40 Acre Lake.
This trail is about 1.2 miles long, but it takes you a lot longer to walk it than you would think. You tend to stop a LOT! We walked down to the pier first to check out that view of the lake. The path here is cement with curbs. We walked down the shaded, curving path barely glancing at the plantlife on either side of the trail in our eagerness to get close to the lake. At about 5 steps from the gate we heard a sudden rustle in the grass to our right and heard a GIANT splash. We all jumped and spun to look at what caused that ruckus. This is what we were greeted with!

Our first glimpse of an American Alligator! We had to laugh out lound at how we had jumped at the splash - but it was nice to know our Flight/Fight instincts were intact and we were ready for the flight part anyway! We walked out to the pier and decided this might be a nice place for some sunrise pictures in the morning. Then we headed back up the pier for some more pictures. At the end of the path I spotted this pretty plant.

I loved the way the sun shone through the leaves and wanted to get a picture quick. After I shot this one I walked back to the pier to capture the water plants along the bank.

There are more, but those also will have to wait for another, later, post.
We walked back up the path to where it intersected with the trail and headed off to the woods. As you walk through the shade you turn a corner and the 40 Acre Lake Trail intersects the Prarie Trail giving you the opportunity to walk through and observe the prarie ecosystem. Since it was late afternoon and still VERY hot we opted to continue through the woods and save the praries for another day. When we got through the woods and got to the lake we were excited to see more wildlife. Not too far along the trail we spotted another turtle sunning himself on a log.

We also had to start our "gator count". At first they were hard to spot in the water. From the picture above you can see that often they are covered in the algae and they don't show a lot of their bodies above the water. We got pretty good at spotting them lurking close to the banks of the lake just about 4 - 5 feet from the edge of the trail.
We walked on up the trail, counting alligators as we went, until we got to the observation deck. Just as we got there another hiker commented to us that if we walked on past and started up the Elm Lake trail we could see an alligator on the side of the road. We thought, "What the heck...we'll give it a try." This is what we saw.

This guy was HUGE! He went from the edge of the water to the edge of the trail easily! We wouldn't get too close since I'm a "Nervous Nellie" AND had read the literature that told us that they can move 30 MPH for 30 feet, so you didn't want to get any closer than 30 feet! In fact 30MPH for 30 Feet pretty much became our mantra on this trail!

We walked back to the observation tower and climbed up to take a peek at the view. From one side of the tower you can look at Pilant Lake, which appears to be more of a marsh than a lake, and on the other is 40 Acre Lake. We got our best entertainment of the day while up in the tower. A young couple chose to walk down the Elm Lake path and became startled when they happened upon the alligator sunning himself alongside the path. They were determined to go on down THAT trail, to not turn around. After several aborted attempts, and much jumping, starting, stopping, yelping, and laughing they finally got by was very funny to watch from above.
After we descended from the observation tower we walked over the spillway and along a shaded path. On one side was the lake, on the other swamp. In a hollow in the swamp we came across this baby.

You can tell he is only a year or two old because he still has his yellow coloration which allows him to hide in the grasses close to the shoreline.
We continued around the lake adding to our "gator count" until we got back to the woods. We ended up counting 12 gator sightings on this, our first foray into the habitat of the American Alligator! Brenda and I were so excited!
We walked through the cool shade of the woods and came across this broken Oak tree branch in the middle of the path. I was fascinated by the Resureection Fern attached to the branch. This fern will appear as a ball of coiled dead leaves most of the time, but turns to a lovely green fern with sufficient moisture. Can you tell there had been a lot of rain before we arrived?

This landed us back at the parking lot where we proceeded to call it a day and head back to camp. We were pretty much exhausted, and knew we would be getting up early to head back to 40 Acre Lake the nexgt morning to try for a sunrise, so we headed for the showers and bed. We laid down and watched the fireflies and stars and listened to the frogs as we drifted off to sleep dreaming of more opportunities to observe the beauty of this park.

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