Monday, April 28, 2008

Paddling Angelina

Wherein Merriwether tells of his trip down the Angelina river rather than a movie he watched one night alone in his hotel room.

Unfortunately it wasn't exactly the weekend spent exploring nature I had hoped for...

Thirteen of us had been planning this trip for over four months. Then Fuzzy Buster had a Great Fall and his clan had to back out. Then others had had more minor problems pop up until we were down to four. Then Kmat smashed his foot under a peice of pipe and we were down to three. A very worried three at this point. It seemed the expedition was cursed before ever starting.

It was to be a grand trip down the Angelina River from the Sam Rayburn resevoir down to Martin Dies, Jr State Park. It's billed as a peaceful, scenic river flowing through deep forests where Native Americans once roamed. Beau, Beau's wife and I met up Friday night at Martin Dies, Jr State Park, a two hour drive from Spring, Texas. To get there just head up hwy 59 to 190. Head east on 190 to 48 North. 48 North takes you to the park's main headquarters where you need to get your camping permit, then you head back out to hwy 190, turn left and then almost immediately right onto hwy 48 South into the main campgrounds. It's a great campgrounds with all sorts of ammenities including sites with water, water & electricity, and RV spots. I definately plan on taking the family up there some weekend. The bathroom/showering facilities were AMAZINGLY clean! Like, "better than many hotels" clean! If all State Parks are like this it'll be easy to get Misseswether out in the woods more.

Uh, but I digress (slightly).

Anyway, we cooked up steaks for supper, chatted and listen to several really horny bullfrogs. Thes guys were looking for serious action, which considering all the signs warning people about the large number of alligators in the area, seemed like risky business. But then I know how I get when, uh,...but I digress.

Our campsite in Martin Dies, Jr. State Park. Being lazy, I just slept in Red Rider rather than set up a tent. I really hate putting up/taking down tents.

The next morning Firefly was loaded onto Beau's truck and we made the 20-mile drive up to the Sam Rayburn Dam to launch. The launch site is actually a pretty steep cliff about 20' high and cement blocks at the bottom. It was also filled with very friendly fishermen who chatted with us while we got ready to set out. They also took great delight in pointing out alligators to us as they swam by.

Big alligators.

With lots of teeth.

Which was really cool. Unfortunately they were all to far out to get good pictures.

So here's a picture of Beauu loading his canoe. The dam floodgates are behind him to the left. The Army Corp of Engineers releases water from the dam into the Angelina every morning at 9:30am and then again as needed to control the reservoir level. This doesn't have much effect on the Angelina as it's already a large river and the extra water doesn't change things much.

Firefly loaded up with camping gear and two day's worth of food & water. She's an AWESOME kayak!

Heading down the Angelina.

It was a beautiful river with a nice current and beautiful trees on either side. Then after about a mile or less it turned into a river with houses, cabins, mansions and shacks on either side. Also, not a sandbar to be seen. It turns out once you are on the Angelina you are pretty much stuck, so be sure to go potty before launching.


After a little over an hour we came to the hwy 63 bridge where there's a nice bar right on the river. We considered stopping in for a hot lunch and cold beers but decided to stick to our original plan of finding a sandbar, building a fire and cooking lunch.

I already mentioned there turned out to be NO SANDBARS.

There were a lot of boat launches, however. Which meant there was also a lot of boats. Big, flashy bass boats with huge engines that tore through the water at high speeds and throwing up huge wakes.

"Peaceful" is not the word I'd use to describe the Angelina on Saturday.

About five hours after launching we came to the one sandbar that we had positively identified on Google Earth. It's almost exactly half-way through the trip and our plan was to camp there that night. So of course it was filled with a bunch of drunk partiers (first picture in this post). I hung with them a little bit and cooked my lunch over their fire while Beau and his wife chatted with a proudly racist fellow with a 7th-grade education. Soon afterwards we packed up and headed downstream in hopes of finding someplace else to crash for the night. Considering this was the first sandbar we had seen in about over ten miles we figured we might end up sleeping in our boats.

Looking for a campsite of the beaten path...

I suggested we paddle up one of the many tributaries to look for a place to spend the night. Most were beautiful cypress swamps which I thought held a lot of potential, but Beau's wife was concerned about alligators. Considering we are currently in alligator hatching season when female alligators are at their most aggressive, this was probably a valid concern of hers.

Still, they were very pretty and not easily travelled into by drunks in speedboats (thought that would have been REALLY entertaining!).

We eventually did find a small clearing just big enough for two tents and a fire just upstream from the small "town" of Bevilport. Oh, to camp along the river you need a free permit from the Army Corp of Engineers which you can get from their office next to the Sam rayburn dam launch site during normal business hours. You can also call them at 409-429-3491 for the permit. They actually have a number of nice campsites set up along the river, but most are just a few miles upstream from Martin Dies, Jr. State Park which would have made for a long long first day and way too short of second day on the river.

Supper. Mmm-mm good!

Supper was hamburger mixed with assorted stuff, wrapped in foil and cooked over the fire. These are often called "Hobo Dinners" or "Silver Turtles". Make 'em and freeze them before you leave on an adventure and they'll be good for sseveral days if kept in a cooler on ice (Thanks Kat!). Easy to cook, no dishes to clean up, just about the perfect camp food.

Two pounds of hamburger, barbecue sauce, onion flakes, Worchistererer-er-er-whatever sauce, and seasoning salt all mixed up. Serve a chunk on a bun and that's some mighty fine eating! Beau caught a catfish but it wasn't big enough to eat.

Night falls on Beau, his wife, and me (not in picture).

It turns out there was a small, stagnant pond right behind our camp and once darkness fell the thickest swarm of mosquitoes I've ever seen in my life descended upon us. Luckily we had plenty of bugspray with which twarted them them. Woo Hoo for chemistry!

Along with the mosquitoes came a brilliant night sky. There weren't as many stars as over Big Bend but way more than above my backyard in Houston. Better still, fireflies came out a danced through the trees and over the river. It was magical and I took it to be an omen that I'd given my kayak the right name.

Morning came to a still and quiet river. Yesterday's power boats and jet skies were gone...

Then a helicopter showed up and started flying a search pattern just around the bend from us upstream. It flew back and forth as we had breakfast. it flew forth and back as we loaded up. It flew forth and forth as we set out down the river. It flew back and back for the next two hours. We were wondering if there was and escaped convict in the area or if someone had drowned. The river twists back and forth on itself so as the crow flies we didn't get very far away from this noisy air-beater.

Finally the copter broke off its pattern and zoomed by just over our heads. Turned out it was a crop dusting bird.

The stretch of river from Bevilport down to Martin Dies is much nicer than the pervious day's section. There weren't any boats, though most of yesterday's boaters were either hung over or at church (or both) and the weather report called for rain. Better still (though too late for us) there were a number of offical campsites set up along the banks of the river. They were very nice looking,with picnic tables, areas cleared for tents, fire rings, etc... and they were only accesible from the river. Supposedly they only ever get used by hunters so the rest of the year they sit empty. You do need the free permit I mentioned earlier.


Close-up of campsite sign.

By this point we were almost back to Marten Dies, Jr. State Park. Rather than paddling into BA Steinhagen Lake to get to our final landing spot we were able to cut through a swamp channel directly from the river over to the boat launch. The morning paddle took about four hours though we could have stretched it out exploring many more side swamps. However, a cold front was blowing through and it was supposed to bring rain. Beau and wife took off in her car to get his truck from the Sam Rayburn dam while I loaded Red Rider. The rain hit just as they returned. We quickly loaded up his stuff and then parted ways until our next adventure.

And now for "What Did Merriwether Learn"

1. Martin Dies, Jr. State Park is very nice.
2. Be careful when launching your kayak after it's been beached for several hours. A very large snake may have decided to curl up underneath it.
3. With the proper motivation, I can walk on water (see #2 above).
4. You need a strong bladder to paddle the Angelina river.
5. It's a pretty river but it's not a place I would reccomend taking a watercraft with under 125 horsepower.
6. "Silver Turtles" rock after a long day paddling.
7. Bug spray!
8. There are nice campsites along the river but they are all close to the end. One could either paddle upstream from martin Dies, Jr. to them and then explore all the swamps. That would be fun.
9. My "Liquid Logic Manta Ray 12" kayak is great, but it's hard to keep up with two people paddling an 18' fiberglass canoe.
10. It is possible to make instant oatmeal by carefully pouring boiling water into the oatmeal's pouch, letting it sit a few minutes, then digging in. Yummy and no dishes to clean up!

All in all it was a good trip, just not what I had expected. I prefer to get away from people and explore new places where few have ever gone. It's hard to feel like an explorer/adventurer when jet skies are whizzing by you at 60 mph. Oh well, it's still WAY BETTER than sitting home watching TV.

Unfortunately, due to the large number of overnight adventures I've been on lately. Misseswether and Miniwether have asked that I refrain from adventuring for ten weeks. I agreed, but with the stipulation that if Spring Creek gets a enough water to paddle some weekend I'm taking Firefly down it. Suprisingly, Misseswether agreed to take that into consideration. Man, she's the best!

Peace be with you.


Izzy G. said...

Silly, Blast. The oatmeal packs are foil lined/waterproof so you can eat out of the pouch just like little boxes of cereal can be used as bowls!

kmat said...

TEN WEEEEEKS!!!!! Misseswether, please don't ground Blast for so long. Honest, my toe will be better real soon. If not I will have it removed.(Almost did that one on my own.) We will be good boys I promise.

. said...

Um, I didn't know that. *blush*

Misseswether still hasn't forgiven you for the moonshine you brought to my birthday party. Speaking of which, can I get more?

Asa Vermeulen said...

Would you happen to remember a total mileage roughly and a time?(when you put in and stopped both days? please email me at

I plan on taking the almost the same trip soon.