March 9-14, 2013: 10 Young Women of River Watch from four different schools travelled through East Texas, from the Coast up to Caddo Lake, very different environments from where our journey began and ended in Central Texas. Upon arrival at our first campsite at Brazos Bend State Park, students helped set up all the tents, including two recently donated by our friends at Whole Earth provision Company. Our volunteer extraordinaire, Michelle, brought her slack line, set it up and proceeded to help the girls give it a try, which she then did at each subsequent campsite. On the first night River Watchers attended a Star Party at the George Observatory. We awoke to a gentle coastal shower coming down and drove through the rain to Galveston where the students enjoyed seeing the Gulf of Mexico and relished the experience of all the animals at the Moody Gardens Aquarium. A special highlight was the last room at the aquarium which was situated between and under parts of the water so that sharks and tuna and other fish would swim overhead and on both sides of the walkway – amazing! On route to our next campsite, got to ride on a ferry boat where we reenacted scenes from Titanic – arms held out with wind blowing all around and where the site of porpoises elicited squeals of delight from all their viewers. As we drove north from the coast we left behind the coastal prairies and marshes and entered a forest of tall trees. Some of the trees were the same species of pines that grow in our neighboring community of Bastrop in Central Texas, the loblolly pine. But the loblollies of East Texas grow significantly taller than the local ecotype that grow in the Central Texas Lost Pines. That night we camped in the heart of the Big Thicket at Martin Dies Jr. State Park. The a newly hatched luna moth and the sunset reflected on the water and from our perspective between the trunks of the great trees before us two of the of the more memorably beautiful experiences on the trip.
The next day we travelled northward on to Caddo Lake State Park. Caddo Lake is the only naturally formed lake in the state. We had a relaxing afternoon setting up camp and enjoying our time there together. On Tuesday, we were treated to a tour and Career Exploration adventure at the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge. The staff and volunteers talked with the students about the history of the site and about the ecological restoration work they are dong there. We learned about fire and other management techniques, bioremediation of the soil, forest and water management and the control of the non-native invasive aquatic plant, giant salvinia, through the introduction of the salvinia weevil. Staff from the refuge , as well as from the neighboring State Wildlife Management Area, were very generous in sharing their knowledge and information about their career pathways with the students. In the afternoon, we got in pontoon boats and saw Caddo Lake as anyone will tell you is best to experience the place – from the water. We rode through stands of very old cypress trees bedecked with long strands of Spanish moss, saw lots of birds and learned about the history and formation of the Lake. The next day we hiked on the nature trail at Caddo Lake State Park, where we got to look closely at some old Civilian Conservation Corps buildings / structures. In the afternoon we had a truely unique experience. We rode on the only wooden steam boat left in the United States out through Caddo Lake. Some of our students were even treated to the opportunity to steer!
That afternoon, the students used the slackline with Michelle for the last time. One of them made it all the way accross with no help! We are proud of her accomplishment at this personal endeavor. That evening, we shared our last dinner together at a local restaurant, where everyone tried new foods, like alligator (tastes just like chicken). And around the campfire that night, we went around our circle with everyone remembering good times from our adventure together. The students all made new friends and developed deeper friendships on this journey and created memories we’ll never forget. As we travelled back to Austin the student who had walked the length of the slackline decided that she would wait to get the video game she wanted to buy and spend her check instead on a slackline, which she has since acquired and continues to use.