Last weekend, while Jeff was off working in Connecticut and I was running kids to soccer games and trying to clean and lesson plan and just get our lives back into order, I realized that it had been a month since our last camping trip and we were over a month away from our planned Memorial Day weekend trip. Not that the gap is that unusual for us. After all, it had been over two months between our Christmas trip and spring break and before we moved to Texas we took at least six months off between trips when we had to stop for winter, but I was starting to feel the need to get the family out of town and out into nature, even if it was only for a day.
When Jeff got home on Wednesday I announced, “The weekend is looking beautiful so I think we should take a day trip down to Brazos Bend to go biking and hiking.”
It was a rare announcement but Jeff’s only response was, “Well if you wouldn’t invite everyone over for Easter we could be camping.”
Yeah, that’s not happening. It’s Easter weekend. We went on a spring break vacation once during Holy Week and the whole week felt off. I wasn’t making that mistake again.
So we made plans for Brazos Bend State Park. Last summer when we bought our new camper and decided that we needed to do a test run weekend, Jeff had suggested that we go to Brazos Bend. Sounded great until I looked at the website and discovered that the entire park is full of free-roaming alligators. Since moving to Texas we’ve always known that we live in alligator country. We even saw them in the wild while we were camping at Huntsville State Park, but the thought freaked me out so we ended up at another state park that turned out to be far inferior (probably our first such experience since moving to Texas). I was ready to give the gators another chance and to see if it was a state park that I could willingly camp in for an entire weekend.
After getting a much later start than we had anticipated, we headed towards the park, making two stops along the 70-mile journey. Thanks to our yearly park pass, we were able to bypass the long line of cars to get into the park and headed straight for the park nature center. We were shocked by the packed parking lots and crowded nature center. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who decided that the day was too beautiful to pass up time in nature, especially since it’s one of several state parks close to Houston.
The nature center had more information than we knew what to do with and was full of knowledgeable volunteers. Two of the volunteers gently handled one and two-year-old alligators, giving our kids the opportunity to pet the backs of both gators. Another volunteer handled a rat snake and our daughter spent a couple minutes petting the snake and discussing her love of animals with the helpful volunteer. We finished looking at all of the displays that they wanted to, checked out the windmill right outside of the nature center, and then headed out to get our bikes.
It was windy and we didn’t have time to check out all of the trails, most of which are bike friendly, so we rode our bikes around both camping loops while Jeff and our son investigated the ideal camp site for a return to Brazos Bend. Since our kid rate the value of a state park by quality of the playgrounds, we stopped at the camp playground before heading back to nature center and the truck.
Our next stop was 40 Acre Lake so that we could hike the 1.2 mile trail along the shores of the marshy lake. As we walked along the somewhat crowded trail (it really did feel like the entire city had turned up to enjoy the beautiful weather) we saw two alligators sunning themselves along the shoreline and two large turtles secured on fallen tree limbs, apparently unconcerned by the predators in and around the lakes and marshes in the state park. I got over my immediate fear of the gators that were a little too close for comfort when I realized that it was the middle of the day and they really just wanted to nap. It dawned on me that the gator we had seen over Thanksgiving in Louisiana (the one that disappeared the day after we all thought she was dead) was probably too cold to be interested in our family crew that was hiking right past it.
We fought the wind to climb to the top of the Observation Tower and got arial views of Pliant Lake on one side and 40 Acre Lake on the other.
We promised the kids that once we got back to the start of the trail they could play on the picnic area’s playground. Both kids climbed, hung upside down, and generally enjoyed a little more outdoor play before we had to head home.
Before we left the park we walked out to the end of the pier on 40 Acre Lake to see if there were any more alligators out sunning themselves. We were rewarded with a gator floating in the algae near the end of the pier. Both of our kids were quick to point out the water bottle and one other piece of trash that was floating closely to the gator, giving us another opportunity to talk about carrying out what we carry in to our state and national parks and the damage it can do to the animals. At the same time, we assured them that the alligator seemed perfectly fine and that they didn’t need to worry about it. It would probably go out hunting in a couple hours.
As we were leaving, Jeff boldly proclaimed that he might actually like Brazos Bend more than Huntsville State Park, something he will have to determine when we got to Huntsville for Memorial Day weekend. I had to agree that this was definitely a place to go camping as a family. But more important was our need to just get away and spend active time together as a family, without screens and phones and breaking news. We were out in nature learning more about God’s creation and continuing the process of conquering our fears of dangerous wild animals that really just want to be left alone. I really can’t think of a better way to spend an unscheduled day off from work and school.