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Buffalo Bayou with the Sierra Club
August 29, 2010
by John Rich

Note: This trip report is for the same trip as the previous one in the index written by John Berlinghoff.  This additional report give's another participant's perspective.
 Trip Map
On Sunday, August 29th, the Sierra Club, led by  John Berlinghoff, hosted a paddle trip on Buffalo Bayou.  Houston Canoe Club members were invited to attend the public event, and HCC members seemed to represent about one-third of the group, consisting of 25 paddlers in 19 boats.  There were half a dozen canoes, and the remainder were kayaks, one of those being a 25-lb. inflatable kayak which you simply unfold and blow up with air.

(Click on the thumbnail photos to see a larger version.)

 Sabine Put-In  Art Canoe

The put-in location was the northeast corner of the Sabine Street bridge over Buffalo Bayou.  The boats were unloaded from vehicles along the street, carried down the concrete steps, and laid out on the grassy banks.  A convoy then formed to shuttle the vehicles to the take-out location at Hidalgo Park, near Buffalo Bayou at the Wayside Street bridge.  Once everyone arrived at the Park, we all piled into a few vehicles for the ride back to the put-in location at Sabine.

 John B. in water
 Entering water
The paddlers started putting boats into the water, and trip leader John Berlinghoff jumped into the work, stepping waist deep into the bayou water to help paddlers get their boats down the two foot drop, and get situated inside them without tipping over. 

Once everyone was afloat, we gathered up and had introductions, with each paddler shouting out their name, and whether they were a member of the Sierra Club or the Houston Canoe Club, or both! 

Then we headed off downstream under all the downtown bridges, enjoying the Houston skyline, and the manicured creek banks lined with purple flowers.  We took a short foray to the left up White Oak Bayou across from Allen's Landing, to see the site of a proposed new canal.  Continuing downstream on the bayou, we passed under the I-45 and I-10 bridges, which conceal from normal view an early 1900's railroad drawbridge designed by Joseph Strauss, the same architect who would later design the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

 Downtown bridges
Purple flowers
White Oak Bayou
Fading skyline
No one turned the paddle into a race, and we enjoyed a leisurely stroll down the Bayou.  After a few hours, we stopped for a lunch break, finding shade from the searing sun under a bridge or overhanging trees.  It was a good time to chat with old friends, and to make new friends.

 Industrial plant
Loose channel marker  Floating dredge pipes  
Paddling downstream again, this east end of the Bayou gets very industrial, with a lot of noisy operations underway.  There was the scrap metal yard, where large cranes scoop up piles of scrap metal and load them onto barges.  The asphalt plant had rail cars full of sand being banged together by a noisy locomotive, while the sand was offloaded on a giant conveyor belt that carried the sand up into the sky to be dumped in a huge pile.  There were factories and plants that I couldn't even identify, all with loudly humming machinery.

We reached the site of Japhet's Creek, which was cordoned off with a floating boom.  John B. indicated that you could lift up the floats and pass underneath, and that this is a nice natural area to explore.  Across from Japhet's Creek is the boat dock for the Bayou Preservation Association, where they keep a boat that makes periodic trips on the Bayou to clean up trash.  Their trash boat was set afire by vandals a few months ago, but the seem to have a replacement on hand.

 Waving to the "Minnie T"
 Noisy dredge
 Skirting by tug & barge
We started encountering motorboats, ranging in size from the "Minnie T", a cute miniature tugboat, to a giant barge, noisily dredging up the river bottom and pumping the mud through 3-foot diameter hoses to be dumped ashore somewhere else.  All of the motor boats we encountered exercised proper etiquette for our  canoe flotilla, and throttled down their speed so as not to cast a large wake, while our paddlers in turn all moved to the side to give them plenty of room to pass by.

Wildlife: There were few birds seen, mostly the usual egrets and herons, and one kingfisher.  A few gar were spotted in the water, with an occasional mullet jumping airborne.

We passed by a small dirt boat ramp just before reaching the Wayside bridge, where the Sheriff's Dept. was putting a patrol boat into the water, and it didn't occur to me at the time that this was our take-out point.  Many of us continued downstream to where Hidalgo Park was located, thinking that was where we would take out, since that's where our cars were parked.  It turns out that there is no take-out at Hidalgo Park.  So we headed back to the Sheriff's boat ramp, at the southwest corner of Wayside Bridge and Buffalo Bayou, where others were already ashore. 

The take-out    
This boat ramp has a gate along the public road, and may be closed off when the Sheriff is not using it.  However, the word is that you can still use the boat ramp, but you'll just have to park your car at the top of the hill and carry your boat up the hill to your car, rather than drive your car down to your boat.  It's only about a 50-yard walk, so this would be a minor inconvenience.  The hill is also a bit steep, and several cars had to creep up slowly to keep tires from spinning on the gravel.  So if you only have two wheel drive, you might want to take a look at the hill before driving down it, and decide where to park.
The total distance traveled was 7.3 miles according to John Bartos' GPS, and the paddle took about 4.5 hours.

 John Berlinghoff
Once all the boats were out of the water, we ran another shuttle for the half-mile trip to Hidalgo Park so that everyone could pick up their vehicles.  Then the vehicles were driven back to the boat ramp, where boats were loaded up, group conversations held, goodbye's said, and everyone headed home with recharged souls.  Much thanks to John Berlinghoff for organizing and leading this trip.  Please pardon the smudge on my camera lens on the accompanying photo.

It's not the prettiest or most natural part of Buffalo Bayou, but it was a new stretch for me, and I'm always looking to add to my knowledge of the various local waterways.

 The author, John Rich