Brazoria & San Bernard NWR
All week I pondered how I should spend the first weekend of June down here in central Texas. My time in the state is limited and my goal is to see as much of it as I can before I begin the next chapter of my life in the Pacific Northwest. I have been fortunate enough to live in three beautiful and ecologically distinct areas of the United States in my twenty-five years and I like to take full advantage of exploring each of them.
Fortunately, Texas is encompassed by many different ecosystems, which makes exploring this state even more rewarding. I started with the wooded trails around McKinney Falls in Austin when I first arrived, then enjoyed a sunrise highlighting the impressive sotol covered hillsides of Texas Hill Country during the Cactus Rose 50 Miler, felt the palpable salty breeze billowing off the Gulf on Padre Islands north shore, experienced the isolation of the Chihuahuan Desert and the cool crisp air of the Chisos Mountains. However, I had yet to experience the salt water marshes of Southeast Texas; and what better place to experience that than Brazoria and San Bernard National Wildlife Refuges.
As with most of my long road trips in this scorching state, I hit the road at 3am to avoid the stresses on my car and on myself in the form of traffic. I arrived at Brazoria around 7am, paged through some informational packets and went for the first of a series of runs for the day.
I started on the Big Slough Trail, ran over the boardwalk and sprinted through the trail to unsuccessfully elude the black flies, which had an insatiable appetite for a total of .75 miles. My intention was to run a few loops to rack up a few miles, but the flies made that an unappealing option. So I hit the stone trail to jog the 7.5 mile interpretive loop. I took a few side treks that amounted to another 1.5 miles.
I caught my first glimpse of the majestic American Alligator near Olney Pond, and after passing the Slat Marsh and Mud Flats I jumped onto a grassy single track skirting along Rogers Pond. As the grass height became increasingly high I turned back in order to avoid a potential encounter with a venomous snake. I continued on the trail passing Teal Pond and Cox Lake and then looped back to Olney Pond where I watched the alligators hunt. The flocks of birds were impressive and the bayou was alive with their calls in addition to the masses of amphibians and insects.
After a 9.75 miles around Brazoria NWF, I decided to take a drive down to San Bernard NWF, where I was informed that there not only freshwater and salt marshes but also woodlands. I was intrigued by the diversity of San Bernard NWF, I first took the Bobcat Trail into the wooded section, but the vegetation was shoulder high in spots and after seeing a Copperhead slither by, I decided to cut the hike short.
I ran the boardwalk over to the Wolfweed Wetlands, which were teaming with birds and alligators. The wetlands were quite interesting because it felt like I was running back in Ohio on the gridded out croplands, however, instead of corn in the fields and pavement over the path, it was shallow marshes divided by grassy pathways. I learned from an interpretive sign that the area was indeed a series of croplands before a partnership of companies converted it into a wetland.
Low value wolfweed was grown in the area before, but the land was converted into a network of reservoirs in order to create habitat for migratory birds. The wetlands also created a habitat for the alligator and after seeing the large animal thrashing about in the water on both sides of me, I decided it was time to get off of the narrow trail between the reservoirs. Due to an overwhelming thirst and dehydrated state I decided to simply drive around Moccasin Lake and head toward my next destination. I ran another 3 miles at San Bernard bringing day my total to 12.75.
I had intentions of camping out on the beach near Surfside, where I read of a couple of free campsites, so I headed in that direction. On the way I spotted another wildlife refuge and stopped in for a bit to relax under the shade of some mighty live oaks and went for a shakeout run around a densely wooded trail. Once I got to the beach, I realized I had made a mistake, there is no worse place to be than on the gulf coast of Texas in the summer.
It is a cluster of people with large trucks, loud generators, bad music in addition to litter and general overconsumption. I reluctantly pulled into a beach entrance and spent about an hour swimming in the Gulf. The water was pleasantly warm and it ended up being quite relaxing when I got out far enough to convince myself that I was on a random remote coastline somewhere far away from the over abused disrespected beaches of Texas. I decided to return to Brazoria NWR to enjoy once last glimpse of what the Texas coast should resemble. I ran another 2 miles, bringing my Saturday total to an unimpressive 15.75 miles.
I could not believe how sore I was despite taking Friday off and only intermittedly running throughout the day. Perhaps the increased race load and quickened pace of 2015 is beginning to take a toll or hopefully the lack of sleep and water were the main culprits. At any rate, I watched the sun set on the bayou and reflected on all the amazing things I was fortunate enough to see because of the hard work and dedication of those who believe in preserving Texas as a destination for migratory birds, amphibians, reptiles and future generations to enjoy for years to come.
With that said, I would like to add another component to my blog, as much as I enjoy providing race reports and describing various trips to amazing places; I believe it is quite important to preserve these amazing places and the wildlife that inhabits them so that everyone can get a chance to experience the wonders of nature in the future. Therefore, my fiancé, bird and undulate expert, Apryle Craig will be providing insights into her research and describing the importance of conservation sporadically on the Harriers to Chadron platform starting this week.