Sunday, May 8, 2016


A rare and precious unseasonably cool week sent us scrambling for next-day accommodations in a state that is well-known for brutal lack of recreational availability.  But I had a logistical ace up my sleeve.
Not too many people want to visit a park that's largely under twelve feet of flood water.  Village Creek State Park in Lumberton, east Texas, where reservations were there for the taking. 
It's always risky doing something like visiting a flooded-out park, but we figured that, as long as we had a parking niche, in a worst-case scenario we could just relax and take in the air.
And they weren't kidding about the closures, or the extra twelve feet of water.  Most areas were indeed inaccessible.  
Village Creek is exactly what the name implies - a little creek.  But in its May 7, 2016 configuration, it looked more like the Brazos River on a normal day.
Total depth approximately seventeen feet.  That's some creek.  All this was due to record flooding in east Texas in both March and April.  The March flooding sent the nearby Neches River right over the top of IH-10 at the Louisiana border, which I don't think anyone thought was a realistic possibility.  The April flooding added major insult to injury.  
It's a jaunty little state park, though, with wonderful staff and a good vibe despite it's barely-hanging-in-there operational status.
And of course the 2016 floods were by no means the only recent natural disasters to hit the area.  Like all of east Texas, Hardin County retains a strange "thinned out" feel to the woods.  One tends to see a lot of singleton pine trees standing oddly unsurrounded in what should be dense piney woods of the Big Thicket.  This is a visual legacy of 2005's Hurricane Rita which made a direct strike on the area as a Category 3 storm.  
And speaking of Big Thicket, I finally made an important association on this trip.
They are contiguous.  I have camped in Big Thicket before, several times, but I had never stayed in Village Creek State Park prior to this trip.  I was thinking of the state/federal division in my mind, and never really put them together mentally.  But they are together.  This means that the state park could be a good base of operations, or conversely a good pulling out point for Big Thicket trips.

Image annotated from this Big Thicket map.  
We were able to complete some upland hiking, although there was no shortage of water.
Water, water, everywhere.  
Not everyone objected to all this wetness.
Seriously, that is the biggest frog I've seen in my entire half-century of life - and I've always been an outdoors person!  That fallen pine tree is about the size of a telephone pole.  And that's Frogmageddon sitting there on top of it.  I wanted to see it up close, but he wasn't having any of that idea.  He promptly launched himself six feet into the air and disappeared with a tsunami-sized splash.  
Following about a two-mile jaunt, we settled down for the evening.
The mosquitoes were present in abundance, no surprise with all the rain, but no problem for us because we put up our rear screen and left the back doors open overnight.  Our dog watched and listened closely, growling periodically when some situational factor was not to her taste.  She's a good guard dog.  
I watched a surreal sunset through that no-see-um screen.  
The next morning was Mother's Day, and this was my great gift from the ultimate mother - Mother Nature:
It was 62 degrees when I woke up.  Nobody who lives in the northern United States would have the faintest idea of why this would be so exciting to us, but you have to understand that we won't be seeing blissful temperatures like these again until probably late October.  This was an extremely rare treat for us, to be able to go outside and be comfortable in almost mid-May.  It's normally not a possibility.   You can go outside, but the intense heat is a formidable burden. 
Our dog as viewed through the rear screen from the outside, in the 62 degree early morning light.  She's wondering why I'm out there and she is not.  
Following a thermometer-perfect and peaceful overnight, we proceeded to Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge, where I hadn't been in more than twenty years.
Hurricane Rita wasn't kind to it and the storm surge associated with Hurricane Ike pretty much wiped its improvements right off the map ten years ago, but they recently re-built and opened this new visitor's center.  It's gorgeous.  
The inside, with its extensive gift shop and educational displays.  
I had recalled Shoveler Pond from my former trip, so we headed there first.
My original trip had been during the winter, however, as it's normally too hot and humid to enjoy in full summer bloom like this.  So this was a much prettier sight to see.   
I made sure that we got to the refuge before noon, so that we could enjoy it without a lot of other people being there yet.  The birds did not disappoint. 
Cattle egret in breeding plumage.  In the off-season, they are all white.  
The pond includes a neat little boardwalk next to the loop around it, which can be hiked or driven.  
Duckweed reminding me of The Starry Night.  I actually saw that painting on the cross-country road trip that inspired our subsequent purchase of our Airstream Interstate.  
We drove all the way to the far point of the refuge, where mainly the fishermen go, and made ourselves lunch down there by the water.  
At the edge of East Bay, I found some teeth.  These may also have derived from the most recent of our two windstorm disasters - Hurricane Ike, which reportedly drowned four thousand head of livestock in Chambers County.  
We departed Anahuac for the circuitous route around Trinity Bay to home.  With much more to be discovered and enjoyed in east Texas and Chambers County, I resolved to soon determine whether our Interstate is capable of making it onto the Bolivar Ferry without a tail strike due to the ramp inflection.  That would be a much quicker route for us, if only we could do it.  The question has come up before for us, but I was unable to answer it previously (TxDOT told me to phone the ferry operators directly, but I figured they wouldn't be able to tell me anything without a visual inspection).  Following this trip, my motivation to answer this question has been further increased.

Edit note:  One knows one is getting up there in years when one can no longer keep one's hurricanes straight in the mind.  A few edits made to clarify between the two mentioned above.