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HomeNL-2017-06 San Bernard

Paddling Among the Big Trees of the San Bernard
May 21, 2017
Story by Tom Douglas
Photos by Linda Shead, Taylor Cutshall and Tom Douglas

On May 21, our fleet of five canoes and nine kayaks set out to explore the San Bernard River near the town of Kendleton, Texas. This particular stretch of the river, which lies within the Columbia Bottomlands, is called the “Blue Hole” because its channel is wider and deeper. Here, the San Bernard River forms the boundary between Fort Bend County to the east and Wharton County to the west.

Knowing that wet weather was probably on the way, we met up at 9:00 and were on the water a little before 10:00. We began our trip by paddling downstream on calm waters, under a gray sky, and surrounded by a forest of bald cypress, black willow, and green ash. Some of the cypresses at the Blue Hole have been documented by tree ring analysis to be at least 1200 years old, and they are likely much older than that.

Boat Launch at
Bates Allen Park
      Calm Waters,
Gray Sky

By about 10:45, the skies cleared, and we enjoyed sunshine during most of the rest of the paddle. About a mile downstream from our launch site at Bates Allen Park, several adventurous souls hiked around a major logjam to see what lay farther downstream. Having decided that a portage might be too time-consuming, we turned back upstream.

     Taking a Break
     Looks Like
an Elephant

About half way back up to our launch site, some of the boats pulled up into shallow water on the Fort Bend County side of the river to have a close look at what is possibly the largest bald cypress tree in Texas. Its trunk is hollow, with space enough inside for a person to stand and see the sky overhead (check out the photos). We came to refer to it informally as the “Really Big Tree” (marked as “RBT” on the map).

Really Big Tree What the Really
Big Tree Saw

Inside the
Really Big Tree

Rain was on the way, but today the river was only running at about 16 cubic feet per second, which limited how far we would be able to go upstream. We paddled back up past the park, underneath Highway 59, and through a beautiful maze of cypresses standing in the water before the river became too narrow, shallow, and choked with fallen trees to continue. Here, as earlier in the day, we saw plentiful evidence that beavers had been at work – bark was peeled off trees, and the tops of small cypress knees had been chewed, with wood chips left lying on the damp ground around them.

The Work
of Beavers
Trees Dwarf
the Paddlers

Taking heed of the National Weather Service’s hourly spot forecast for the area, we returned to the park by about 1:00, which gave our paddlers enough time to learn more about each other during an enjoyable picnic lunch. And what an interesting group it was. Among others, we had three Master Naturalists, two persons who are professionally active in acquiring land for habitat protection, and yet another with years of experience interpreting nature for the public. After lunch, it was time to finish packing up our boats and gear so that we could head out, just as thunder began to roll.

Trading Stories
Over Lunch
     Where We Went

Joe Coker's Photo Album

The author,  Tom Douglas