Park Closure: Due to predicted high water levels for the Brazos River, Brazos Bend State Park is closed to visitors until at least January 16th. Be sure to check the park's website for updates before visiting!
A Saturday at Brazos Bend was just what I needed to relax and recharge.
In an effort to avoid sitting at home alone on a beautiful day I decided to hop in my car and drive 28 miles south of Houston to walk along one of the trails at Brazos Bend State Park. For those who have never been, the park is nestled alongside the Brazos River and is home to several hike and bike trails, lakes, camping areas, and wildlife - including alligators. I had been to the park once before with friends to visit the George Observatory, a part of the Houston Museum of Natural Science, for stargazing. However, this time around, I wanted to explore on my own.
I arrived at 9 a.m. and paid the $7.00 entrance fee ($70.00 will get you a year-round Texas State Parks Annual Pass) and cruised down the windy roads, admiring the wooded wetlands that meet the road's edge. I especially love the Spanish moss that hangs from the tree branches, giving the landscape an eerie, ancient appearance. I drove to the centrally located Elm Lake to walk the trail that surrounds it, hoping to capture some reflection images while the sun was still low in the sky.
I walked the trail alone, greeting the occasional passerby, but for the most part I enjoyed the sound of my footsteps on the gravel and the cascading sounds of the birds in the water and trees. Personally, I don't like listening to music while I'm out running, and especially not when there is a chance I might miss hearing someone yell, "Gator!" Along Elm Lake Trail, which I am sure is the case with most other trails in the park, there are many points where you can stop and look out across the lake to the islands of trees where groups of gators rest in the shade.
I took over 200 pictures during my walk, taking my time to absorb as much as I could of my solo hike, both with my senses and through my camera lens. When I finally got to the point where Elm Lake Trail meets Pilant Slough Trail, I met a family who were about to walk the way I'd just come and, before I could acknowledge them, they yelled, "There's a gator on the trail! You must've just passed it!"
I turned around to see a gator at least 10 feet long dragging what appeared to be a large bird across the trail. The gator was a little less than a quarter of a mile from us, but we turned back, the family walking toward the large reptile much quicker than I did. I was hesitant to even turn back, but I also really wanted to get a picture of it, so I followed timidly, stepping lightly as if the gator could hear only my steps and would whip around to let me know I'd gotten too close. (Yes, I'm a baby.)
I made it probably about 20 feet away from the gator, snapped my pictures and then practically ran back to where I'd met the family, turning back to see more people way too close. When visiting state and national parks, it's extremely important to respect the wildlife for what they are: wild animals, and to give them their space. Admiring from a safe distance is key to staying alive and to not hurting the animals.
By the time I made it back to my car, I realized 3 hours had flown by and I was starving. Luckily, I had snacks and water with me (never forget the snacks and water!). Being alone at the park was a great way to spend my Saturday morning. It had been a while since I'd been on a trail alone and it refreshed my mood and mind. Plus, I still had the rest of the day to do absolutely nothing if I wanted to. ;)
Check out some of my favorite shots:
Have you been to any of the State Parks near Houston or surrounding areas? Do you have a favorite? Let me know in the comments!