Sunday, June 14, 2009

Paddling out for lunch

Just a short food review of some paddler-chow[1] on Lake Conroe. After stumbling (or perhaps "drifting" would be a better word for an aqua-pedestrian such as myself) on "Zach's Bar-B-Q Barge" last weekend, I figured I had to try it. It was good. Okay, maybe a bit more detail is in order...

A BBQ Chicken Sandwich and side of potato salad on a plastic plateZach's Bar-B-Q Barge is docked at what is now "The Palms" marina, formerly Anchorage marina. Judging by the sparse appearance on Google Maps' old aerial imagery and what some people have told me, Anchorage marina was pretty small and perhaps quite run-down. "The Palms" is all-new, very nice, and appears to have a lot more stuff...including the "Bar-B-Q Barge", who appear to have an agreement with The Palms to dock there and do business. The Barge is open on Saturdays and Sundays, serving various BBQ Ribs, beef, and chicken along with a couple of more generic items like hot dogs. I wanted to try the baby back ribs, but decided if I was going to get down to take pictures of the "Southern Empress" and then across the lake to check out Walden marina before heading back home, I'd be better off with something a little lighter. I went with the BBQ Chicken sandwich (pictured here - yes, that's the actual sandwich I ate) which, as I said at the beginning, was good. Personally, I'd have preferred about half as much sauce, but with a teapoon or so of mayonnaise and some swiss cheese melted on top, but that's because I'm an admitted culinary wierdo rather than there being anything wrong with the sandwich...

In any case, I expect to gladly use "Zach's Bar-B-Q Barge" as an excuse to get my lazy butt back into the kayak again in the future.

[1] Yes, the "(Blahblahblah) Chow" thing is almost certainly a trademark of Ralston-Purina corporation, and, no, nothing here has anything to do with them. Also, I'm pretty confident that nothing they serve at the Barge comes as hard chunks of kibble, and I don't think my sandwich would have "made its own gravy[2]" if I dumped water on it. The "Paddler Chow" thing is just parody, obviously.

[2] Okay, okay, "Gravy Train" doesn't have anything to do with Ralston Purina either.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Journey to the Civilized side of the Lake

I went for a nice long paddle down along the Eastern side of the populated end of Lake Conroe this weekend (I consider FM 1097 to be more or less the dividing line between the Southern civilized/populated end of the lake and the Northern wilderness/unpopulated end). Eventually I'd like to assemble a complete listing of the public and paddle-accessible destinations on the lake, but today I just have a few, and a collection of pictures.

I've posted a description and an interactive map which displays the track and pictures from the trip I took over on The Big Room blog. Comments and suggestions are welcome either here or there. More to follow, we promise....

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Oh I'm so woefully behind on this blog. Mea culpa!

So while you're waiting for me to get some new stuff up, here's some stuff from the back end of the kayak (better known as "the spousal unit") from his blog on our paddling adventures: (Lake Paula from the back end of the kayak) (going for pizza on Lake Conroe) (post-Ike)

I have three kayaking trips plus a new place to put in, all which I need to get up onto the blog. I've been so remiss about getting this stuff written up. There's the trip on the trip up the Caney Creek branch islet of Lake Conroe (Oct. 2008), Colorado River south of Smithfield, TX (Nov. 2008); this year's first Hostetter Creek attempt (April, 2009) and yesterday's trip up the Chambers Creek islet of Lake Conroe (May, 2009).

I was going to do a post on the 2008 trip up McDonald Creek from Stubblefield, but the version done by the back half of the kayak is preety good - complete with map, photos and audio (the bit where I realise the spousal unit was recording is worth a laugh). You can find the 2008 Stubble field trip at:

Friday, October 24, 2008

Paddling Lake Paula??? Part 2

Finally, the long-awaited part 2 of exploring north of the Calvary Road causeway, into Lake Paula and up Hostetter Creek. Just to remind you of where we left off, we just finished with the line truck clearing fallen timber from a power line we didn't know existed.

Picking the narrative back up at spot E (the second of the two spots labeled "E"), this is a good place to orient ourselves for the northern half of this paddle. The photo to the left shows the view to your left as you paddle north. This is the breakwater between the inlet proper and Lake Paula. Note the dead sunken timber, some of which is still rather large and erect and not very sunken, at least not yet. There are a couple more persimmon trees in this picture, both growing on the breakwater.

If you look to your right, there's a marshy area with some convoluted pathways for Hostetter Creek water to get into the inlet proper. There's also a ton of birds up here: big herons and egrets and lots of duck. There are also some raptors up here we haven't identified yet and well as some birds we northern transplants have never even seen before. If you blow up the photo here, there's a lovely egret hiding in it.

Here we are at spot F. Now you can clearly see a lovely little neighborhood full of nice lawns, pretty houses and all sorts of little dredged boat channels all fed by Hostetter Creek. We're going to paddle north here and then turn right along the northmost shoreline.

Here we have paddled along the north shoreline to spot G, where we can go no further. This is as far east as we managed to go. And here we turned right again, to briefly go south and circle what turned out to be a little island, complete with foot bridge. We first tried to go further up Hostetter Creek, which on the Google Earth images, looks like it should keep going aways - but alas we couldn't get through and still get the kayak turned around. A little sit-on-top kayak might not have to same problem as we did. While Ascospore's 20 foot length makes her really really fast, getting something that long in and out of tight little creeks is not what she does best.

And here we are at spot H, where we've turned right yet again, to head back west, circling the little island. It was like our own little secret stream channel...though it was really a dredged canal. The little island, unexpected with it's little bridge, was cool.

Here's a view a little further along the channel around the island, still paddling west.

Having paddled a bit further and fully circled the island, we had a choice at this point to go back the way we came in or to veer to the left along another channel. We went to the left and found we could get back to the inlet proper heading through some shallow water with encrouchments of duck weed and other copious water plants. The photo is at spot I, where we discovered we could get through. It was fun since we were sure we'd get stuck and have to turn around.

At this point, we did try to go up what we thought might be another outlet for Hostetter Creek water but we couldn't ge through. Lots of fun poking around. Tons of birds through here too, not to mention sagans and sagans of fish.

We decided to make for one of the gaps in the breakwater and enter Lake Paula proper. Having done so, we turned north and found this forlorn broken and half flooded peddle boat (spot J), which obviously had escaped someone's dock and been blown to this spot during the hurricane. We debated what to do here since it look like it might be salvagable but had nowhere to leave it so someone might claim it. The peddles looked like they still worked though it was obvious the steering mechanism was broken. Poor little boat. We ended up leaving it. I never did find a spot where there might be a registry of lost and found Lake Conroe boats from the hurricane. As you can tell from the trip map, we then paddled in circles along the north end of the Lake Paula breakwater and then turned around to head back home.

Now we need to go back to the lower half of the map. After going in circles and poking down many little channels and coves, our route home went fairly straight south.

Here we are at spot K, where we found some interesting pens but up by the State of Texas Dept. of Parks and Wildlife. I have no idea what they are for.

Now according to one of my fishing maps, and confirmed by the number of fishing boats we've seen in this area, between these pens and Stow Away Marina is another hot spot for fish, especially black bass. I have yet to confirm this for myself.

Here we are at spot L, almost back to Stow Away, where we scared up a flock of ducks. Did I mention that this area is filthy with birds?

Here along the north side of Stow Away is a place where you can rent a kayak, at the North Lake Conroe Paddling Company. You can go to the website for these folks and see their selection, which appears quite substantial. Personally, I don't think I'm thrilled with the owner's choice of life preservers, but that's just my opinion. I do think your "PFD" however should be fitting firmly under the arms such that you are supported in the water without the PFD running the chance of rising above your neck and not keeping the mouth and nose out of the water in the event you get a head injury or just plain pass out. And I don't like the concept of inflatable life preservers since if you're unconscious, you can't inflate it after the fact. But what do I know? I've only been boating for almost 50 years and only had at least one friend and fellow experienced boater saved from certain death by his life preserver when he was unconscious in the water. Anyway, that's just my personal take on things like safety. You can't plan accidents - that's why they're called accidents afterall - you can only plan to be prepared for the accidents. Safety should always trump comfort, especially with PFDs. Regardless, check out the website if you think you might rent from these forks - AND call ahead too. The only day they are guaranteed to be there is on Saturdays.

And that's it, folks. We're at the end of the trip in the inlet north of the Calvary Road causeway, where much exploring and useful time killing was successfully carrieds out. It certainly beat sitting around in the heat in the non-air conditioned house waiting for the power to come back on after Hurricane Ike.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Just a brief mention:

I've put a up a small embedded, interactive Google Maps® display of our trip up the San Jacinto River from Lake Stubblefield at The Big Room, since I don't think we can do that here on Comments welcome.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Intermission: Lake Conroe Dam Damage From Ike

This is a picture of damage at one of the marinas along route 105, not to far from the dam. I swiped this photo off the Sand Jacinto River Authority website, which now have a page dedicated to Hurricane Ike pictures. It's worth checking out at:

I have no idea how long the SJRA sill leave this page up but until they take it down, go put some eyetracks on hurricane damage 80 miles inland of Galveston. I don't know if the photos are in the public domain so it's probably safe to go ahead and assume that the SJRA owns the copyright.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Paddling Lake Paula??? Part 1

Here's the GPS track of our paddle on the 20th of September, a week after Ike blew through the neighborhood. If you click on the picture and blow up the track, you'll notice we did a lot of wandering in the inlet fed by Hostetter Creek, in and around a spot called Lake Paula and up Hostetter Creek as far as we could take the Ascospore and still get it turned around (that's the downside of having a 20-footer when paddling narrow streams...).

So here are some details on the relevant geography north of the causeway for Calvary Road. First there's the non-lake called Lake Spiller, an area of water just across from the Stow Away Marina and bordered by the Loch Ness Marina and RV Park on its northside. This "lake" existed before Lake Conroe did - though some locals called it Lake Renee instead. When Lake Conroe was created, Lake Spiller was submerged into the bigger body of water. Lake Paula, on the other hand, isn't a real lake. It's a part of Lake Conroe in terms of contiguous water but it is walled off, so to say, by a breakwater. The breakwater has three gaps in it, two of which are impassable in low water and one which is good no matter what the lake level is. More on this in a bit. Let's finish the geography before we get to the trip details.

On this trip, we also headed across the lake to the inlets of a minor unknown creek and the Sandy Branch of the San Jacinto River (or at least, that's what we assume it's a branch of). Doing so involved rounding Johnson Spit, which is the little point immediately to the north of Corinthian Point. So again, we're exclusively north of the causeway of Farm-to-Market Road 1097. It's not that we dislike the south end of the lake - it's just that we haven't even caught up with all the trips we've done in August and September yet (one of which does go south - for pizza!). I'm not going to cover the other-side-of-the-lake portion of the trip today. For now, the focus is on the myriad joys of poking about Lake Paula and Hostetter Creek.

Alright, here's a triplog of padding Lake Paula, Hostetter Creek and environs north of the Calvary Road causeway. We started our trip the weekend after Hurricane Ike blew through. We were still without power in fact. Getting out of the house and onto the water was a natural escape from the dark and air condition-less house. We put in at the marina at the Corinthian Point Yacht Club and headed north to the causeway. Below are some photos of the hurricane damage along the shoreline - and keep in mind that there's been a week of cleaning up already...

This is a picture of the damage to the breakwater and docks at the Corinthian Point Yacht Club Marina

Here's the dock and bulkhead damage at the condos at Corinthian Point

Busted dock and dead peddle boat

Heading north between Johnson Spit and Corinthian Point, you soon come upon the causeway and bridge for Calvary Road. Going under the bridge takes you to our first stop, Stow Away Marina and RV Park. Let's take a quick look here at the trip map:

If you eyeball that GPS track for a second, you'll see that's it's pretty convoluted. So we have taken the track and broken it down into a series of stops shown on the next two maps. But before we move on, note that some of the paddling path is on dry land according to the USGS topo map. Guess what? It's all little inlets and swamp and dredged small craft channels in there along Hostetter Creek. There's lots to explore. There's one last thing: the topo shows dry land in the northeast corner of this trip. The Goggle Earth images are worse: it looks like we must have walked the kayak around on mushy ground to do our trip...not so! The Google Earth images were taken in 2006 when the lake level was deliberately dropped many feet to repair the damage to Lake Conroe Dam which was inflicted by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005. In a way, the Google Earth images are good in that they show where the underwater obstructions and shoals are which you can't see when the water level is up.

But I digress...

Here are the trip maps with the stops labeled in order, starting with "A."If you blow up the map on the right, you'll see that stop A is Stow Away Marina.

And here is stop A at Stow Away. We've mentioned this marina before. They are the largest marina facility on the north end of the lake, with a store, extremely-overpriced gas, docks, a boat ramp, lots of parking, an RV park, and pretty friendly people. There used to be a restaurant at Stow Away but it's been closed for a while now. The owner of Stow Away would love to find someone to run the restaurant again but it hasn't happened yet. If you want to launch your kayak from here, the put-in fee is $5. Now if you recall, we took this trip a week after Ike. The photo above and to the left is of some of the Ike damage at Stow Away, namely a boat name Belle that has gone drunkenly askew in her boat lift, hence the caption for stop A: "drunken belle."
Stop B isn't really a stop. It's the site of former Lake Spiller - or Lake Renee if you prefer. I've crudely dotted in the approximate boundary of the former lake. In the Google Earth image from 2006 with the low water, you can see a remnant of a southeast shoreline berm of Lake Spiller in the form of a spit. To the right (east) of this feature is some sunken timber that is just under the surface of the water when the lake level is full. The deepest water along the former lake is along the former and current west shoreline.

Stop C is Loch Ness RV Park and Marina, which has recently come under new management. It seems like the current focus of Loch Ness is lakeside camping but they do have a boat ramp. I've not been over there yet to ask if they allow non-camper kayak launching and if there would be a fee. Regardless, it is a really pretty RV park, and as an RV owner myself, I find the lakeview-at-every-hookup concept very appealing. It turns out that this RV park is actually on old business. It's been around since before Lake Conroe was filled. It originally opened up as a shoreside campground on the edge of the national forest along the banks of a nice little lake, called either Lake Renee or Lake Spiller, in what was then a very reclusive spot, out of the way and off the beaten track. While Loch Ness is no longer as isolated, it is still somewhat secluded compared to the southern half of Lake Conroe, and since the paved roads vanish just around the bend from the turnoff into the campground, it has remained a fairly quiet spot for those wanting to get away from the madhouse of Houston.

Spot D is the persimmon tree. To get there from Loch Ness, all we did was paddle north to where the breakwater around Lake Paula meets up with the west shoreline on the Johnson Bluffs side of inlet. The breakwater does not actually shut off Lake Paula from Lake Conroe proper. It stops just shy of that but you can't see that until you are right on top of the gap. The boat channel in and out of Lake Paula goes through that gap. There are always folks here in their fishing boats or on the shoreline rigged up for bass. Almost all of them are very nice to the kayak crowd since they too appreciate calm quiet water. I've seen a lot of folks catch a lot of bass right around that gap but I haven't quite puzzled out what the water conditions are that attract the fish to this spot.

Now right at the end of the breakwater is a tree which we first though was a crab apple tree - because the unripe persimmons really looked like the crab apples I grew up with in New England. We took a sample of the fruit, almost but not yet ripe, when we realized we were mistaken about the crab apples. It didn't take us very long to identify the fruit as the American (as opposed to Japanese) persimmon. We have since discovered that there are at least three more persimmon trees planted along the Lake Paula breakwater. These persimmons were coming ripe during the last week of September and the first week of October - but next year, if you come to pick, remember to leave some for others. I know we have a picture somewhere of the persimmon tree at the end of the breakwater but I could not find it to post up to the blog.

After we visited the persimmon tree, we decided not to enter Lake Paula at the gap for the boat channel but preceded east to the first spot labeled E. (I screwed up on the graphics - there are two spots labeled "E" on the map.) We paddled to this location because we spotted something quite unusual. We heard machinery noises and saw something in the trees. So we went to investigate.
This is a photo of what we saw from across the lake at the persimmon tree - and couldn't figure out what we were seeing. We thought there were just trees there, afterall.

What we found was a electric line truck cutting down tree-fall from Hurricane Ike and fixing a power line we didn't know existed. Since then, we have found that there is no real road there but there is a power line right-of-way through the forest on the east shore of the inlet, the trace of which is clearly visible on a Google Earth or Google Maps satellite image once you know where to look for it. These utility trucks were a very welcome sight for those of us who were still without power.

Now I've been writing up this blog and pulling together all the photos and GPS tracks for the last several days - and at this point, I'm going to go ahead and post and finish the rest of the trip log in a day or two. I think at this point, there's enough here to justify doing this in parts.