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.

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