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HomeControl PanelCustom PagesNL-2018-09 Turtle Bayou

Turtle Bayou Languid Waters, One Year Since Harvey
August 25, 2018
by David Portz

Participants (10): Bruce Bodson, Ken Daigrepoint, Amy McGee, Alice Nissen, D. Portz, Margaret Sheldon, Ellen Shipman, Natalie Wiest, Fran Wilcox, Paul Woodcock
Coordinator: David Portz

Variably cloudy
Temp in 90s, “Ozone Action Day”
Wind: occasional puffs
No perceptible current

Executive summary: We explored from Turtle Bayou: up-and back on Whites Creek, lunch at a real picnic table, then up and back on Lees Gully, exactly one year after Hurricane Harvey. Downed logs and jams involved amusing clambering, ducking and squeezing. Contrast of pretty cypress-sheltered bayou with less-pretty cluttered gully. On the latter: clutter torn from humans, algae blooms, ghosts.

Our group of two canoes and seven kayaks gathered from 9:00 to 9:30 at the White Park put in, a parking lot and boat ramp accessed from I-10 via exit 812. This is east of Houston and East of the Trinity River complex; Turtle Bayou flows into Lake Anahuac. Whites Park has Texas historical significance: Anglo-Americans retreated from an attempt on the Mexican garrison at Anahuac to the ranch of James Taylor White at this site and drafted the Turtle Bayou Resolutions (1832), successfully explaining away the nature of their insurrection. This site is a present day-pilgrimage site for lawyers; sometimes smells like fish.

The coordinator gave a brief safety talk and introduced a guest lecturer (no, Bruce Bodson) on the various species of turtles we wouldn’t see.

Turtle Bayou is a good ‘go-to’ spot for some beautiful placid-water paddling, giving access also to sometimes-choppier water on Lake Anahuac. For those who don’t mind paddling alone but don’t want to take large risks, this is a delightful location. Our club frequently schedules paddles here.

Launching from the cement boat ramp and the mud-and-gravel bank, we first paddled a 3.3 mile up-and-back route on Whites Bayou. This is a sequence of long languid pools hemmed in and shaded by tall cypress, connected by angles and curves. It was continually beautiful. The clot of folks out in front could exist with the Tricolor Herons, Snowy Egrets and occasional Great Blue Heron before these were flushed by the happily conversing larger group. This was a no-visible-alligator day. We steered around projecting sticks and logs in the water until finally encountering a jam, which Bruce Bodson clambered onto. He cleared a twisting channel, then remained to tug though our various boats. Upstream we continued this dodgy behavior until we came to a prodigious logjam. Bruce was up for it but we turned back because plenty more water was available.

launch   Bruce & Amy - vanguard
Whites Bayou

Whites Park has a shelter and picnic table up a small grass slope from the boat ramp. We convened in these civilized circumstances for lunch. Margaret had surplus cookies and communal Doritos also. Lunchtime featured an uncommon amount of laughter. There were tales about a Chuckwalla (lizard) in a glove compartment, a drove of tarantulas in a donut box, and fifty scorpions indoors escaped from a large pickle bottle - and none of these practical jokes.

A whiff of heaven and hell characterized this day - comparing the before-lunch and the after-lunch paddles. Before lunch was luscious on the water. I could not help but see Dave Kitson floating here and there, smiling and looking up to the trees from his kayak, at one point with his feet up and his hands behind his head, elbows out, breathing deeply and watching the breeze rustle the reds and oranges in the cypresses. Whites Bayou must have been submerged by Harvey waters, but I don’t think strictly speaking it served as a channel for rapid drainage. It appears not to have suffered the swift-flowing currents which chew banks and topple trees. That strong destroying wash certainly showed in our after-lunch paddle in Lee Gully.

  cocktail dress

The club paddled Lee Gully in 2017 within a month or two after Harvey – several of this trip’s participants were there and observed the carnage. The riverside clutch of houses on Carolyn Trail Road overlooking Lee Gully were after Harvey only wrenched-apart half-houses, with their walls and cabinetry strewn down the bank. Outside curves of the creek looked to have eroded 30 feet, turf flayed from the dirt layers, roots sticking out like exposed wiring, tall trees tumped over. In the gully right after Harvey there were dead pigs and dogs drowned below and a boar up in a tree stinking mightily. From communities farther upstream, closets and bureaus-full of clothes were hung up to 30 feet high in the trees. Today some of those same textiles were still in the same locations, rags. Others we prodded as solid clotted lumps on the banks. After Harvey there were bras and lingerie hanging in the bushes, Astros, Oilers and Texans jerseys, jeans and chambray shirts. Some of those are still there this trip, a red party dress.

Lee’s Gully also had: the patched, overturned hull of a long-suffering skiff, the traditional blue and white plastic half-coolers, several crazily tilted and undermined wooden fishing piers, broken bridge abutments, an empty red oil drum, and a long-rusted acetylene tank. And of course the gully featured stout cords and transparent lines with hooks, dangling from trees - abandoned limblines and trotlines. One very nearly snagged and wounded our Ellen Shipman. There were many more trees downed across the channel than in the before-lunch paddle. We made it our project to get under and around many of these. Those in canoes had sometimes a harder time than the kayaks with the ‘limbo’ involved in getting under felled trunks. Paul Woodcock relishes this sort of ‘problem-solving’. He clambered out of his canoe a couple times to clear the way or help others conquer blockages. Bruce Bodson is also very happy when bushwhacking and improvising.

Paul assisting Fran Natalie and Ellen - ducks

Also in this purgatory: a stream of clear water empties into Lee’s Gully and in the pool there and several stagnant pools immediately downstream, the algae blossoms into a thick olive-green surface scum. The suspicion arises that this stream is effluent purified not-quite-up-to-legal-specifications, causing accelerated growth.

We paddled out of Lees Gully and then south on the actual Turtle Bayou under I-10 to conclude our paddle at 3:15 pm, 7.3 miles. On a stick in the bayou offshore from the depopulated RV Park, a lone red-eared slider had the courage to face the lot of us – a turtle about two inches long.

The author, David Portz