Friday, April 14, 2017


It was pine timber land, and part of it was a Girl Scout camp, but before that, it was probably a church camp, hence the original access being named "Baptist Encampment Road".  And then it was Lake Houston State Park.  And then it became Lake Houston Park when the City of Houston and Montgomery County took it over from the state.  And then it was renamed Lake Houston Wilderness Park.  Despite all these successive identity crises, it has managed to survive largely in its original state.
Upper right.  At almost 5,000 acres, it is without equal in the greater Houston area.  The "parks" that approach it in size tend to be choked with un-park-like developments such as baseball diamonds and polo fields, the latter being a sore spot among certain demographics, because what minuscule percentage of people play polo?  Google doesn't say, but given that it is an elite sport played on horseback, it's not for average citizens.  And yet some of Houston's finest public park land is reserved for it. 
At one point in history, I was actively involved with this park, even participating in public hearings concerning its management at the point where its future was uncertain.  I lost track of how many day trips and camp-outs I've enjoyed here over the past 15 years, but after it was divested from the Texas state park system, frustration caused my interest to wane and I stepped away from it for a number of years.  We've been back for a day trip or two since in the 2.5 years that we've owned our Airstream Interstate, but until some of the improvements were completed, I didn't think about camping here.

That changed with the completion of the bridge over previously-troubled waters. 
One lane beats the hell out of what was here previously - which was no lane. 
The old Baptist-cum-Girl Scout camp was situated on the west side of Peach Creek, and the main park land on the east side.  Until the City of Houston and Montgomery County collaborated to add this bridge, there was only an antiquated foot bridge connecting the two.

According to the gate attendant, it was built robustly enough to accept a full-sized fire truck (I'd asked about the weight limit, given the size of my vehicle and given that no weight limit is posted). 
So, tortured history aside, I managed to squeeze in a two-night stay at my old bottomland stomping grounds.   Here are some pics of those adventures.
Most of the park is thickly wooded, and in its post-logging natural state, although they did clear an area to add a second man-made lake, called Lake Dabney, after former TPWD director Walt Dabney
Part of my purpose for this trip was to not road-test, but rather off-road-test, my folding bike.
Conditions were extremely wet and Peach Creek (in the background) was running very high.  But the bike took the rough conditions without complaint.
Extremely wet, I said.  I had to walk the bike through numerous areas to keep from tearing the place up.  
Amen to that.  Advisory courtesy of the Greater Houston Off Road Biking Association.  
I'm going to intersperse a few macro shots for interest.
Bluebonnets around Lake Dabney.  
The dog and I struck out along Five Mile Road for points south, including Lake Isabel, an old logging reservoir that has been allowed to naturalize.  
I should say, the overjoyed, deliriously happy dog.  Nothing pleases her quite like these kinds of hikes.  
They don't call it Five Mile Road for nothing.  This park is basically the only public land within an hour of my house where I can hike and/or bike and actually get tired.  It's the only park that's large enough.  Round trip from our campsite to Lake Isabel is 9 miles.  
There's a good way to not lose track of your bike - have it be the focal point in many photographs.
I had another motive for this trip, and that was to try out a twenty dollar camping hammock that I'd bought at Cabela's.  It's a low-ended model obviously, but I wanted to try it in order to help narrow down what I'd really like to see in such a device.
I'm partial to Mayan hammocks, in which users lie perpendicular to the long axis.  But I don't know if anyone makes such a thing in an ultralight camping style.
There's a practical purpose with these, as well as the enjoyment factor.  Hiking in hot weather can cause water retention - bloating, essentially.  Taking a rest and elevating the feet like this can help to restore fluid equilibrium.
I said "hiking in hot weather" because, in mid-April, temperatures are already in the mid-80's.  My father walked my land in Canada a few days ago and reported that there's still an 8-inch snow pack remaining (we're trying to get survey lines cut but that requires bare ground).  But we in Houston are already into the cusp of viability for trips like I'm describing here.  In a few more weeks, it will be far too hot for strenuous outdoor exercise.
The impossible greenness of being, as expressed by bald cypress trees.  They are the greenest things around when they leaf out in spring. 
Unfortunately what you don't get with this picture below is the corresponding sound track:  The birds singing, the frogs croaking, the crickets chirping.
Mercifully, you also don't get to hear the occasional A380 screaming at low altitude overhead - this park is only 13 miles north of Bush Intercontinental Airport with its 43 million annual passengers, so air traffic can get interesting at times.  But thankfully, each vectoring cycle does not last very long (the controllers rotate the flight lines so that no one area receives a disproportionate share of the noise).  

These were blooming all along Five Mile Road.  I don't know what they are.
Our dog was a rescue and we don't have definite information on how old she is, but we know she has to be at least 8 years old, and she could be significantly older than that.  We are at the point of her age where we are very careful not to work her too hard.  She is very fit, but we have to travel fairly slowly and have periodic rest stops in the shade.
Here she is 7 miles into the 9 mile round trip.  This was a rare pose, however.  She did not want to be still and rest.  She was too excited to be on this trek.  
I had intended to do more testing of our van's new lithium battery system on this trip, but what ended up happening instead is that I mostly relaxed and enjoyed it, blowing off every other responsibility for 48 hours.
Camp site view from my rear door.  It's a bit fuzzy because it was taken through the noseeum screen. 
The next morning, we set off down the newly-named Ameri Trail that now extends southward along Caney Creek, where no state park trail ever existed previously, so that part of the park was brand new to us.  Notice I said, "next morning".  Temps fell to the low 60's overnight, which in Houston is roughly on par with hell freezing over.  But the day broke in full sunshine, and we were the first ones down the trail that day, so do you know what that means?
Perfect conditions for snakes:  Cool night, sunny morning, nobody else on the path.  Our dog is trail-trained and spends a lot of time behaving well as an off-leash companion.  But on this morning, I'd had the good sense to keep her leashed and close to me the whole way down this trail, because this is what greeted us.  Such an encounter was inevitable. 
You might miss such a critter, if all you saw was that pose above.  He blends in very well with his surroundings.  But get close enough, and what you'll see is a bit more distinctive.
Say cheese. 
The cottonmouth, aka water moccasin, is one of our Big Three, with the other two being rattlesnake and southern copperhead.  My least favorite is the copperhead.  With the other two, at least you might receive a warning, either visual or auditory.  A copperhead will simply strike without announcing itself.
Keeping the dog very close while resting.  No dog can survive a strike by any of the Big Three. 
A dog in the lap is a first-class ticket to general fawning and ham sandwich behavior.  Go ahead - show me your unabashed dogness.  And who cares if you buried your snout in the sand?  You clearly do not.   
The lower river trail is unprecedented - passing out of the Peach Creek sub-watershed and into the Caney Creek floodplain, the scene scales up accordingly.
Higher, wider, deeper.
There were some enormous point bars, such as this one.
Pure white sand, mostly quartz.

Of course, the Big Three are not the only reptiles we have to worry about around here.
Alligator tracks were everywhere, although they were mostly small.  But gators can (and do) take dogs when they get an opportunity. 
I returned home just as all hell was beginning to break loose on Houston's freeways for the long Easter weekend.  I'll remain comfortably holed up at home while much of the rest of the city waits in line for access to the likes of what I just departed.  Literally so - as I was leaving the park around noon, cars were already lined up from the entrance gate back to F.M. 1485.

And so the sun sets on yet another extremely fast (48 hours) but wonderful trip.
We'll be back.  During non-peak times when the crowds are not present, that is. 


  1. Your dog is my kind of dog! She sounds like a ton of fun to have around. Great photos! I had never seen alligator tracks before. So what did you think of the hammock?

    1. I think I got my money's worth with the twenty-buck hammock. It worked, but was nothing special. I've got a friend who wants to loan me his Hennessy for comparison, and I'm going to take him up on that. The Hennessy is about an order of magnitude more cost.

      As for the gators, between them and the snakes, it amazes me that people don't get into more wildlife conflict than they do. We have periodic local news stories about a gator taking a dog, or a large gator appearing to stalk an elementary school, or a rattler striking a child on a local beach (cue Life Flight), but I suspect that such incidents are under-reported. I don't know too many real outdoors people living in the Deep South who have not, at some point, lost a dog to a snake.

  2. Enjoying, and learning from, your blog.