Prairie Branch is one of the trails used by runners in the Rocky Raccoon
50- and 100-mile races this weekend, and my favorite trail to hike each
day because it is located closest to our campsite. It is very relaxing
to walk close to the water on the half of the trail next to Lake Raven.
Despite plenty of sub-freezing and/or wet winter weather Jim and I have
spent a fair amount of time out on the trails the past two weeks.
Fortunately enough days were sunny that I could get some blue-sky photos
to show you! They make the park look so much more appealing than dull,
gray-sky pictures do.
Here's a small map of the park. You can find a full-size map on the
We love Huntsville's extensive system of single-track trails and jeep
roads. Both of us have done several two- to four-hour runs/walks on the
trails the past two weeks, as well as bike rides on the roads and trails.
I'm surprised there weren't more runners here the two weekends prior
to the Rocky Raccoon races. I know a lot of Houston-area runners
participate in the event. I saw more cyclists on the trails on weekends
than runners or hikers.
Bridge over a dry creek on the
Chinquapin loop trail
The trails were in excellent condition until a big storm hit earlier
this week. I'll talk more about that in a little bit and show pictures
of some of the storm damage in the next entry.
Over the years volunteers and rangers have built enough bog bridging
at Huntsville SP that muddy trails aren't as much of a problem as they
were a decade ago when we first ran here. There is also quite a bit of
sand in the soil so it drains pretty quickly.
Prairie Branch Trail
The lake level is one or two feet lower than we've seen
it previously. That's not as apparent from the shore line as it is from
the dam outlet. This is the first time in all of our winter visits that
I've ever been able to walk across the top of the outlet and not had to
detour around it on trails for half a mile (the race courses still
follow the trails this weekend):
View of lake from the dam
which is dry.
Another view of the outlet a few days later
Lower lake levels haven't kept any fishermen and women
away, however. We often saw folks fishing in the lake, even on cold,
View of two fishermen from the
campsite next to ours
Almost every day I took a walk along the lake on Prairie
Branch Trail. The official trailhead is near our campsite and an old
path leads to it behind our camper.
One scene along this trail has intrigued me for two
weeks now. Notice anything unusual in this photo?
See that birdhouse in the center front? There are
several birdhouses in or near the lake along this trail but apparently
this one has slipped down its post and is almost touching the water
-- which is lower than normal right now!
I have visions of alligators lurking nearby this summer,
hoping to catch some hapless birds as they use this box for a nest!
Here are a few more shots from Prairie Branch Trail and
the lake inlet:
Most of the trail photos in this and the previous entry are on the Rocky
Raccoon 50- and/or 100-mile courses.
JUST HOW FAR SOUTH . . . ??
The main reason we keep coming back to this park is the most
excellent trail system. The second main reason is that it's
theoretically a decent place to hang out during the winter. I mean, it's
in southern Texas, not very far from Houston.
Houston is comparatively warm in the winter, right?
Well, that kind of logic hasn't worked out very well for us so far
this trip. Southern Texas has had far more sub-freezing temperatures
this winter than normal.
Palmetto palms on a warm, sunny
and with snow/sleet on them this
In the past two weeks at Huntsville we've run the
weather gamut from the upper teens to 78°F., from
depressing gray skies to total sun, from wet to dry, and from no wind
to 60-70 MPH gusts.
I can guarantee you that we didn't get
much sleep the night the wind blew so hard the camper was shaking and we
could hear pine cones and branches hitting the camper! That was early on
Tuesday morning of this week.
The last four days have been the most
miserable after warm, moist Gulf air from the south collided over
Texas with an Arctic cold front blasting out of the north. That's what caused the high winds
Tuesday that blew some trees down on the power lines, cutting off
electricity in our campground for 32 hours. Temperatures in the teens
and 20s at night, remaining below the freezing point during the day,
have kept the water spigots frozen since Tuesday.
Even some of the water in the wetlands and lake edges froze. I took this
photo at the lake inlet yesterday:
Contrast that with this sunny picture of another part of the inlet a few
We are luckier than some other people,
We knew this was coming for several
days, even as we sweated in humid, 78-degree weather on Monday. Before
the bottom dropped out on Tuesday, we filled our water tank with 90
gallons of fresh water so we weren't at the mercy of a frozen hose or
water spigot. We made sure both propane tanks were full so we could run
our furnace and propane space heater in case the power went off. We had
enough food to last a week or more.
The few RVers that were in the park
mid-week mostly disappeared in search of more comfortable accommodations
. . .
Above: trail across the dam, with
a view of the
lodge across the the lake
Below: same trail, in other direction;
photo taken this week after the storm
We were also much luckier than most of the folks anywhere north or
east of us. Even Houston got some sleet and/or snow. A couple inches of
frozen precip were predicted for the Huntsville area but we got less
than that -- not enough to cover the ground.
A little farther north in Texas it was a different story. Dallas got
an inch of ice, then several inches of snow on top.
The nasty storm spread throughout the entire Plains, Midwest, and
Chicago got what some reporters have written is the worst blizzard in
their memory. Traffic was snarled. Many airports closed. Some runners on the
internet ultra list who were planning to come to Huntsville for the race tomorrow
posted that they are stuck at home, unable to get a flight to Houston. Even Houston's two
airports were affected for a few days as runways and planes iced up and
there were fewer cities safe to go
I'll talk more about how this is affecting the Rocky Raccoon races in
the next entry.
This Frazz cartoon by Jeff Mallett about running in cold weather is
appropriate. It is dated January 16, 2011:
If that's too small to read on your screen, click this
at comics.com. I read my two favorite cartoons, Frazz and Pickles, at
that site each day if we have a good internet connection.
Next entry: the Rocky Raccoon 50- and 100-mile races
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the Ultra Lab
© 2011 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil