February 6-8, 2013
When we arrived at Lake Texana State Park we discovered it is no longer a state park but now run by a separate non-profit. This meant our Texas State Park pass (which offered significant savings every time we used it) wasn’t applicable. Since it was late, we decided to stay anyway. I asked if there were alligators in the lake. “Ah . . . . yup,” said the ranger, hesitating a bit, perhaps not wanting to scare us off. The maintenance worker nearby perked up and said, “Yeah. I saw two last week!” This was going to be our first experience with alligator infested waters! They had warning signs around the lake, cautioning against harassing or feeding the gators. We had no intention of doing either.
On our way there from Goose Island, we were waylaid for an hour or so by a torrential rain and electrical storm in Rockland, TX. We lost visibility for driving. Water ran down the windows in a solid sheet. Rainfall was so heavy that we would have gotten immediately soaked if we opened our doors to find rain gear in the back. The wind blew hard, projecting the rain into stinging, wet pellets.
We finally made a break for it into a coffee shop. Connected to the cafe was a talkative photographer and his studio; he was selling his images of Texas wildlife and local landmarks. We talked to him for quite a while and gathered information about the area and photography. He told us about The Crane House, a vacation rental nearby that abuts Aransas Wildlife Refuge. It is the best place to photograph whooping cranes since they wander through the property. You can set up your tripod outside on the deck of the house. As you might guess, reservations must be made many months in advance. Maybe we’ll try that on a future vacation.
The Texana Park was attractive with grassy expanses and spacious campsites, many along the shoreline. Chris didn’t like it, saying it looked like a manicured lawn, but I thought it was pleasant and inviting. When we opened the camper we found the rain had been driven inside and all the bedding was wet. It was no longer raining so we took everything out to dry in the blustery wind.
Here was another birder’s paradise, waterfowl circled the lake in groups. Wading birds of all kinds stood near the edge. The next day I launched my kayak with some trepidation. How safe is it to kayak with alligators? And in an inflatable boat? Boating and even swimming was allowed (at your own risk) so I figured it was okay.
At one end of the lake, dead trees and limbs reached out of the water. I thought I would go there since it looked interesting. As I approached, I saw a dark shape moving slowly through the water. Large eyes and the end of a snout were the only parts visible. But I knew it was an alligator and the soundtrack of “Jaws” sounded in my head as my heart started to pound. I stopped; it stopped. I paddled elsewhere. My first alligator!
I saw many birds. A brown pelican gave a big yawn with its oversized mouth and then stretched its strange elastic pouch toward the sky (see photos below). Two black vultures sat on the shore, watching everything with their gray crinkly heads. Great egrets, snowy egrets, great blue herons, white ibises, roseate spoonbills, glossy ibises, a white morph of a little blue heron. Terns dove in the water, cormorants swam like low riders, ducks and coots busied themselves with preening and eating. Although I took photos, a kayak being blown about by wind is not a good base.
I saw something large break the surface like a sea serpent, arching its large curved body, showing smooth, tan skin. I guessed that it was an alligator gar, a fish in these lakes that can reach ten feet. It was not an alligator, since gators are gray, with patterned skin, much of it rough with bony plates.
Among a carpet of floating plants, I saw two more alligators, motionless. At the other end of the lake across from our campsite, I kayaked into a a small cove. There was a moderate sized gator sunning itself, mostly out of water, on a log. I eyed two more milling about in the shallows nearby. Large turtles also basked in the warm light and cormorants spread and dried their wings perched on dead branches. I soon left the cove and returned, feeling uneasy but excited by meeting the big lizards of the swamp. Six alligators on my first trip!
Back at camp, I looked up the dangers of kayak-meets-alligator online. I guess I should have done that before paddling. Is it dangerous? Yes and no. When its still cool in winter and spring, they aren’t very active. It recommended not boating at dawn or dusk when alligators feed. Later in spring, when breeding starts, males can get territorial and lunge at anything that resembles another male; kayaks are a pretty good imitation. And in summer, mothers can be quite pugnacious defending their nest of eggs or little hatchlings. If alligators are fed they will approach people, sometimes aggressively, looking for food. Mostly, however, alligators don’t want much to do with people and their boats.
NOTE ONE: If you click on the ”WHERE WE ARE” link at the top right of this page, you will see where we are now (or within a few days of now.) I have also added some tantalizing photos of what is coming. If you have suggestions or recommendations of things to see or places to stay near where we are, please let me know! Leave a comment here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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