Though I am of the mind that anything that controls the mosquito population deserves pious adoration, I am not particularly fond of any critters that have the potential to bite me, specifically spiders.
So you can imagine my reaction when the helpful ranger at the Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge visitors center suggested that to avoid them, I should keep my gaze straight forward and not look up while trekking a short, half-a-mile trail leading to Lake Anahuac — I was perturbed.
"They are all out in full force," she said referring to the golden silk orb-weavers that hang between tall cypress trees.
Crap. It was too late to turn around and I was looking forward to a genteel promenade through the Texas marshlands.
Though the majority of the 34,000-acre sanctuary comprises ancient flood plains, flat prairies, winding bayous, cheniers (sandy ridges that isolate freshwater wetlands from the salinity of the Gulf of Mexico) and low-lying grasslands with impressive, expansive views, this particular track was rich in arboriculture.
With nightmarish musings of one of those arthropods having a feast at my expense — because what insect wouldn't find a melange of Peruvian, Belgian, Polish, Canadian and German blood appetizing (for the record, I know spiders don't feed on human plasma) — I forged ahead and learned that my fears were unfounded.
Yes, these creatures were as large as my the palm of my hand, but they were just content displaying their stunning weaving from trunk to trunk. I wasn't dinner.
With alligator hunting season on the horizon and Anahuac's Gatorfest 2012 just a month away (Sept. 13-16), a few were lurking around.
Instead, I was taken by the calm waters that glistened with neon green moss and the slight undulation of the waves that offered a break from stillness. When the wooded walkway anchored onto an observation deck, Lake Anahuac came into view through a handful of trees.
I had forgotten all about the spiders.
What to expect
With alligator hunting season on the horizon and Anahuac's Gatorfest 2012 just a month away (Sept. 13-16), a few were lurking around. Thankfully, the one that "closed in" on us was a dummy that was part of clever short introduction film inside the reception area.
From the visitors center, the main refuge entrance is approximately 18 miles southeast. Upon arrival, there's a helpful ranger station where you can gather maps, purchase beverages and ask for advice for getting the most out of your excursion.
Like AmEx, don't leave home without bug spray and plenty of it.
If you are a heavy-duty hiker, this won't be your kind of al fresco destination; there are only about 3.5 miles of trails. But if you are needing a respite from the hum of urbanism, what you'll find here are many landing zones where you can space out — and get lost in thought — in what seems infinite smooth fields split by paved roadways and walking paths, most of which are wheelchair accessible. As the road approaches East Bay, there are many spots to relax seaside and fish.
From the road that circles Shoveler Pond, you can spy for many of the 281 species that roam here, among them the great egret, capper rail, black-nested stilt, purple martin, great blue heron and turkey vulture.
From the road that circles Shoveler Pond, you can spy for many of the 281 aviary species that roam here, among them the great egret, capper rail, black-nested stilt, purple martin, great blue heron and turkey vulture.
The adventure continues 7 miles east of the main refuge entrance: A smaller stretch that's accessible through a separate road.
On Skillern Tract, freshwater fish like crappie, largemouth, bass, gar, bowfin, channel catfish and blue catfish can be harvested from one of the three fishing platforms. The 2-mile Live Oak Trail, though camouflaged by taller grasses, is home to butterflies, hummingbirds, songbirds, shorebirds, wintering waterfowl and wading birds — a photographer's paradise. Just walk slowly and quietly to avoid scaring off any winged residents.
From Austin, the trip might require an overnight stay in order to leave plenty of time to explore the town of Anahuac, population 2,010. Most of the restaurants are closed on Sundays — at least they were on this particular day — but I am told by the locals that Tony's BBQ is one of the best places in town.
After visiting the original residence of Thomas Jefferson Chambers, the county's namesake, and the Shilling Office, a 1890 medical office outfitted with period equipment, you can say that you've been-there, done-that — and check Anahuac off your to-do list.