Canoeing the Angelina River South of Route 7

Today I took a short paddle trip with the wife along the Angelina River south of Route 7. To paddle it one-way downriver from here would take you all the way to US 59, and neither of us were up for an overnight canoe camping trip today. Instead, we did an out-and-back. The river is slow enough that paddling upriver was not a problem in the slightest.

The goal for the day was to scout an area on the southern edge of the Stephen F. Austin Experimental Forest for a geocache, and canoeing there seemed the best way to go. Scouting operation successful, by the way. Stay tuned for my cache.

Aside from the scouting operation, it was an excellent day to be on the river. The morning was quite cool, so we donned long pants and long sleeves when we left the house. It warmed into the 80’s by afternoon, however, and I was thankful for a shirt whose sleeves could be secured rolled up. The water was quite cool, though. I am extremely thankful that neither of us took an unwanted dip in the river.

Canoe Trail Maintenance

The river was surprisingly clear of woody debris and quite navigable.  In some places, we hung up on sandbars, but along most of the stretch we paddled today, the water was deep enough I could dunk my paddle and not touch the bottom.

Still, there were several places that I had to do a little “trail maintenance” by cutting some limbs out to clear a path for paddlecraft.  But beyond that, there were still many places where portages were necessary to get around a giant logjam (what you don’t see in the picture to the left is exactly how big the logjam behind me is – it’s probably close to 8ft high).  There were also quite a few single logs spanning the river that required creative navigating.  Some were high enough that you could ‘do the limbo’ to get underneath them.  Others rose a few inches out of the water so I had to exit the boat, balance on the log, and lift the boat over.  Overall, however, the river was much clearer and deeper than I expected it to be this time of year.

Yellowbelly Water Snake

This was an excellent trip for viewing nature, as well.  There was a lot we saw that I never got a chance to snap a picture of.  Most common were the turtles.  Those buggers were quite jumpy today.  As soon as we’d round the bend, even if we were floating along silently, they’d plop right into the river, and with the murkiness of the water, it was impossible to see them after that.  We also saw quite a lot of ducks.  I’m not up on my duck identification, but there was a pretty good sized group that kept flying out ahead of us.  We’d come around one bend, and they’d jump and fly up to the next one.  This routine continued for miles and miles.

One thing I did see up close was a water snake.  This was the closest I managed to get to this snake.  It made my wife exceedingly nervous, no matter how much I attempted to convince her it was nonvenomous (even though I couldn’t ID it to species at the time, I could tell it was nonvenomous).  Note the round pupil, which is the most distinctive feature that shows this is a nonvenomous snake.  I also managed to view this snake from a much less photogenic location straight behind, and I saw that its head was very narrow, lacking the wide spots behind the eyes that suggest a location for venom glands.  After getting home to identify this snake, I was able to see it’s most likely the Yellowbelly water snake (Nerodia erythrogaster flavigaster), and not a cottonmouth.

Hibiscus dasycalyx

I will warn you…the next two photos make me a little excited.  When I saw this plant, I knew I had to take pictures of it.  You see, this area is home to the endangered Neches River rose mallow (Hibiscus dasycalyx), so I knew to keep my eyes peeled.  I believe this flower to be the Neches River rose mallow.  Here’s why I think so:

1.  This is obviously a hibiscus of some sort.  That’s not exactly earth shattering, but the additional features will become important.

2.  According to the document from the Fish & Wildlife Service linked above, the Neches River rose mallow  is a:

“Shrubby perennial growing 3-7 feet tall usually with several stems per clump.  Leaves 2-4 inches long, linear, arrowhead-shaped with three deep lobes.”

Hibiscus dasycalyxYou don’t see it in this picture, but this plant was indeed shrubby.  It was between 6-7ft tall, also.  You might notice my hand because I had to bend the flower down to a height where I could take a picture.  You can see that the leaves are linear arrowhead-shaped leaves, but I do not see the lobes (which may indicate this individual has been hybridized).

3.  Hibiscus dasycalyx is an obligate wetland plant, meaning it ONLY exists in wetland zones.  In particular, the Neches River rose mallow prefers floodplains in which the bases of the plants are submerged in the spring with water levels dropping, but the soil never dries and the water table is no more than 5ft beneath the surface.  This specimen was located within the river channel on a steep slope with wet soil.

4.  While this plant typically finishes flowering by September, it may flower into October if water availability is good.  This one was still going at it on October 17th, and there was a good bit of water in the river only feet away.  I’d classify water availability at this location to be good for this plant.

DSCN1872

I think this particular plant is probably a hybrid, to be totally honest with you.  I need to hit my plant identification books in my office at school, but I can’t pin this plant on any one species.  But I’m not finding the best pictures online of the leaves, either.  I can’t find anything with leaves identical to these at all.  edit – after consulting my field guides in my office at school that have better leaf pictures, I believe this is a halberdleaf rosemallow – Hibiscus laevis – and the reason I didn’t see three prongs to the leaf is because I really only looked at the upper leaves.  Rookie mistake. At any rate, Hibiscus laevis is still ecologically important, because it is one of the main culprits that’s resulting in the hybridization of Hibiscus dasycalyx.  It’s still a native species, but it seems it outcompetes the Neches River rose mallow and due to its ability to interbreed with it, is endangering the species.

Moving along, now.  The area was just beautiful today.  How about some nice general river pictures?

DSCN1873

Don’t you just love the pea-soup water in the river?  It’s just so heavily laden with sediment and the water hardly moves.  It’s almost equally easy to paddle upriver OR downriver.  There were a few spots with visible current, usually near log jams or sandbars where the water got shallow.  Mostly, however, there was no visible current.  Aside from a lack of major winds, the conditions were much as you’d expect to encounter in a lake or a pond.  Paddling upriver did not present any significant increase in difficulty moving the boat except for attempting to remember the ideal locations to cross logjams.

On the return trip, I saw another flower that was extremely striking.  This one I’m almost entirely certain is Lobelia cardinalis, the cardinal flower.  I really like this one.  With a lot of the leaves on the deciduous trees beginning to change (mostly shades of yellow), a cluster of bright red flowers really stand out.
Lobelia cardinalis

I can’t leave out the real tidbits of East Texas Americana from my post.  There’s a stretch of the Neches where you can find no fewer than three abandoned school buses (probably used as hunting lodges).  Shacks of all types abound in the bottomland hardwoods along the rivers here.  This stretch of river is no different.  It is home to “The Man Camp” as you see in the photo below.

The Man Camp

It looks to me like the owner of “The Man Camp” is a budding rattlecan artist.  I think his deer pictograph is a little optimistic, though.  How many points would that be?  20?  I also wonder about what’s drawn underneath “Camp”.  Are those supposed to be trees?  Or swastikas?  Either way, I kept my distance.  I didn’t want to be shot.

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