Watching the drought roll in at Colorado Bend State Park

July 6, 2011

It took me a couple of tries to figure it out — last week when I told people Kathryn and I were off to Colorado Bend State Park to spend time on the river, several people commented about how much cooler it would be there.

What?  West of Killeen about an hour, ten miles of dusty road outside of Bend, Texas (population 1,637), Colorado Bend is not cooler than Dallas.  It was over 100° F every day we were there, stayed well above 90° most  of the nights.

Kathryn Knowles checking wildflowers, Colorado River, Texas

Kathryn studied wildflowers at a spring at the side of the Colorado River during a break from kayaking; this spring's flow was reduced, but still moist enough to create a near-oasis.

Our well-wishers were geographically confused.  They thought we were headed to the Colorado River in Colorado, not the Colorado River in Texas, which is not the same river at all.  I didn’t bother to check the temperatures in Colorado, but one might be assured that it was cooler along the Colorado River in Colorado than it was along the Colorado River in Texas.

It was a return trip.  We stumbled into the park 16 years ago with the kids, for just an afternoon visit.  The dipping pools  in the canyon fed by Spicewood Springs captivated us.  It took a while to get back, and then the kids were off doing their own thing.

So, just a quick weekend of hiking/camping/kayaking/soaking/stargazing/bird watching/botanical and geological study.   Park officials closed the bat caves to human traffic in hope of keeping White Nose Syndrome from the bats; we didn’t bother to sign up for the crawling cave tour through another.

Ed Darrell at Colorado Bend State Park, Texas

The author, still working to master that Go-Pro camera on the hat -- some spectacular shots, but I don't have the movie software to use it all; you know it's hot when SPF 75 sunscreen is not enough.

What did we see?  Drought has a firm grip on Texas, especially in the Hill Country, especially outside of Dallas.  The Colorado River  is mostly spring fed; many of the springs are dry.  No water significant water flowed through the park while we  were there — kayak put-ins have been reduced to the downriver-most ramp, and the bottom of the boat launch ramp is three feet above water.  Gorman Falls attracts visitors and scientists, but the springs feeding it are about spent this year — just a few trickles came over the cliff usually completely inundated with mineral-laden waters.

Drought produces odd things.  The forest canopy around the park — and through most of the Hill Country we saw — is splattered with the gray wood of dead trees, many of which at least leafed out earlier this spring.  The loss to forests is astonishing.  Deer don’t breed well in droughts; deer around the campsites boldly challenge campers for access to grasses they’d ignore in other seasons.  One ranger said he hadn’t seen more than about three fawns from this past spring, a 75% to 90% reduction in deer young (Eastern White Tail, the little guys).  Raccoons are aggressively seeking food from humans, tearing into tents and challenging campers for food they can smell (lock your food in the car!).  Colorado Bend is famous for songbirds, including the endangered Golden Cheeked Warbler, and the elusive, spectacular painted bunting.  But the most commonly-sighted birds this year are turkey vultures, dining on the young that didn’t make it healthy into the summer and won’t survive until fall.

Warming denialists’ claims of “not so bad a drought” ring out as dangerous, wild delusion.  (By actual measurement, Texas average rainfall the past nine months was 8.5 inches, the driest ever recorded in Texas, shattering the old record drought of 1917).

Great trip.  Kathryn’s menu planning was spectacular.  The old Coleman stove  — a quarter century old, now, with fuel almost that old — performed like a champ even without the maintenance it needs (later this week).  Other than the hot nights, it was stellar.

Stellar.  Yeah.  Stars were grand.  It was New Moon, a happy accident.  A topic for another post, later.  Think, “Iridium.”

So posting was slow over the weekend.  How far out in the Hill Country were we?  Neither one of us could get a bar on our phones.  We were so far out the Verizon Wireless guy was using smoke signals.

Thoreau was right, you know.


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