The Houston Canoe Club
is a Paddle America Club
Link to ACA
"Here be dragons" is a phrase that was used to denote dangerous or unexplored territories on blank areas of medieval maps, accompanied by drawings of sea serpents.
On a warm Sunday morning about 15 members of the Houston Canoe Club and Houston Sierra Club, led by John Berlinghoff, joined forces to paddle Armand Bayou in Houston. The dragons we were to see this day were Alligator mississippiensis, or the American alligator, a dragon that has roamed the earth for 200 million years.
We met at Armand Bayou Nature Center (map here) at 8 am for the morning paddle to beat the heat. Fortunately, there was a cloud overcast which kept us out of direct sunlight for most of the trip, but it was still darned hot. The plan was to put-in at the nature center boat ramp, paddle north under Bay Area Blvd., and follow the meanders of the bayou upstream to Red Bluff Rd., a distance of about 3 miles.
But before we hit the water to begin our paddle, lets take a stroll around Armand Bayou Park and check out the sights.
One of the first things that grabs your attention is signs like these (right). I got a chuckle out of the one that says "and snakes" which seems to have been added on as an afterthought. It's as if some park employee added the obvious alligator warning sign first, but then citizens called in to complain about seeing snakes there also, so the park employee decided that he better add a warning for snakes too. You have now been forewarned!
There are some resident geese in the park, that put out a lot of honking if you get too close. And plenty of pretty flowers too. Stroll around and enjoy them. But watch out for the resident goose crap.
Okay, lets get back to the boating story.
How many boats can
you get in one truck?
The easy way to
The park has a concrete boat ramp that is used to launch into the water. No motorized boats are allowed here, so enjoy the solitude of quiet paddling. The nearby shoreline is now planted with vegetation and has a screen fence a few yards out in the water, I presume to keep boaters from tearing up the shoreline, and maybe also to keep alligators from tearing up the boaters. The boat ramp is now the only place to get into the bayou, and probably rightly so. But this can make things a bit congested with a large group, so work together - don't be a hog.
The boaters entered the water and headed north under the Bay Area Blvd. bridge. It didn't take long for the group to naturally start to separate - there was a "fast" group in front, a "slow" group in back, and a big gap inbetween. Trip leader John Berlinghoff paddled furiously back and forth trying to keep track of everyone, and finally decided that we would proceed as two separate groups, each going at their own pace. To complicate the head count even further, there were other paddlers mixed in with us, that were independent of our group trip. With my big 80-lb. canoe-barge, I usually expect to have to work hard to keep up with the double-blade-paddling kayaks, but curiously, I found myself in the group in front, with most of the kayaks behind me.
Boats in bayou
A family affair
Here be dragons!
Here be dragons! (right) We started spotting alligator-dragons right away, with a couple of small ones, and two large ones, all in the water so that all you could see were their heads. It was too hot to be up sunning on the banks, and I didn't blame them for wanting to stay cool. The only other wildlife spotted were fish and birds.
The fish included mullet, with their characteristic jumping out of the water, and other fish breaking the surface here and there. There were also small bass seen in shallows, hiding in the weeds, only a couple of inches long. Birds included egrets, herons big and small, grebes, a few ducks, and one vivid red cardinal.
Red Bluff Road
Paul in ditch
After several hours of casual paddling, enjoying the sights, we reached the north end of Armand Bayou, where it crosses under Red Bluff Rd. You may have noticed on the map at the beginning of this story that the bayou just seems to come to a dead end there. So we were curious to see first-hand exactly what was going on at that spot. At Red Bluff there is a pipeline crossing, a pedestrian bridge, and two roadway bridges. Once you cross under those, you discover that the bayou becomes nothing more than just a channelized drainage ditch. Nothing natural about that at all. But we continued as far as we could, and the channel became ever more narrow. One paddler took his double-blade paddle apart and used just half of it as a single-blade paddle in order to propel himself in the narrow channel. Another double-blade paddler just continued to use both blades, but pushed off the banks on both sides, instead of dipping them in the water. After a while of this fun, the boats were turned around by climbing up on the bank and rotating them 180-degrees, and we started back.
The trip back was slow and pleasant, and we occupied ourselves by paddling side-by-side and talking about the good books we've all been reading, and sharing our views about books that several people happened to have all read. I picked up some good tips on books I've put on my to-read list. Part of the joy of paddling is not only just the getting out into nature, but also the socializing with amazing fellow human beings. Here be good people!
We finished up back at the park around noon, for four hours on the water, and about 6.5 miles of paddling. Another hot but enjoyable day on the water!
Note: John Berlinghoff is headed off to India for work for several months. He hopes to soon be paddling the Ganges River, and to return home again to Houston in time for the Christmas party. Here's wishing him well in his travels and overseas adventures.