Columbus, TX – February, 2016 West of Houston a short ways is the Colorado River, no relation to the more famous river by the same name out west. This Colorado River starts and ends in the state of Texas. We decided to spend a week at the Thousand Trails Colorado River Campground since the weather was looking promising, the river looked like a good one to kayak, and the campground was practically free with our membership.
The town of Columbus is fairly small and has many charming characteristics. It has the basic necessities: a far from super Walmart, two grocery stores, three Redbox. There are lots of beautiful old homes and a quaint town square with a gorgeous courthouse.
It is located between the banks of the river since the river makes a dramatic curve, an oxbow, north of town and returns on the other side of town.
We are always on the lookout for such a place where we can put the kayaks in on one side, have a pleasant float, and then take out on the other side and just walk back to get our truck. This place is perfect. It’s a 6 mile float but only a 1 mile walk between the two accesses. The walk is through the small town and the only downside is that you have to cross two bridges, the longest one had absolutely no room for pedestrians. We pondered this problem at length.
We looked for another access with no luck. We studied the nearby railroad bridge which had a nice wide platform you could walk on but also had a no trespassing sign. Jim was willing to walk the railroad bridge. I was willing to chance the highway since the cars can move over but a train cannot. We each thought the other was completely insane. We did agree if we only had a bike the bridge could be safely ridden over.
We had called the outfitter in town, Howell Canoe Livery, and left a message early in the week to ask about water conditions on the float. They didn’t open until Thursday so when they called back and said they’d help us shuttle our truck for only $10 we agreed our safety and marital bliss was worth that much.
We put in on Friday just before lunch. We only saw 3 other kayakers all day. The river was low but we never dragged. It was mostly flat water with only one or two minor rapids.
We watched this bird struggle with his meal for quite a while. No wonder, that’s a pretty big catch for someone with no teeth. He finally managed to swallow it.
The Colorado is considered a good bass river but the outfitter said no one was having much luck recently. Another kayaker that put in just after us and fishes the river frequently said he hadn’t caught a fish all year. So Jim was pleased that he caught 3 bass that day, the first before even leaving camp.
Earlier in the week we put in at the campground’s boat ramp one afternoon to see how far we could get up river. Jim has a trolling motor on a custom mount he built for his kayak. It is really great on lakes but can get him upstream in a river if the current is not too strong. In the slow stretches he can even tow me. Here is the view from my position of leisure.
I use a retractable pet leash as a tow rope. Jim seemed to take issue with being literally on a short leash when we first set up the system. It works well and he got over it. We do get some looks from other floaters and usually a comment or two. But on this day there was not another person on this stretch of the river and the only looks we got were from the many cows that stared at us from the river’s edge.
We got about a mile and a half up stream in an hour. We had plenty of battery power left and could have gone farther but it was already 2 o’clock. I paddled about half the way and let Jim tow me the rest.
The only problem with the motor is that it gets in the way of Jim’s paddling. So he motored most of the way and only paddled in a couple places it was too shallow to run. There were very few places that had a strong current so we could have made it without the motor if we chose to.
Over the next two hours we floated back to camp and stopped at one gravel bar. Besides the cows we saw lots of turtles, two huge red headed woodpeckers, and a muskrat.
We visited Houston a couple times during the week to pick up this or that. Houston has about every store you could ever want. I had read about a restaurant in an old movie theatre that I wanted to visit. I decided it was a shame we had been to Texas twice in the last year and hadn’t gone to a Tex-Mex restaurant.
The restaurant was fun. They showed an old western on the screen while we ate. The food was pretty good and reasonably priced.
We thought we might go downtown after lunch but decided the trip from the store we wanted to visit to the restaurant was sightseeing enough. The fastest route was by a tollway that was exclusively for those with a prepaid tag. We really didn’t mind taking surface streets because we wanted to see more of Houston. What we saw was the grittier side of Houston, many miles of adult bookstores and strip clubs.
I’m sure if we had more time we would have found a lot of things we enjoyed in Houston but they sure don’t make it very easy to get around this city. My biggest issue is with their toll roads. They have many toll roads around the city and their system is not visitor friendly.
Most of their toll roads do not have manned toll booths. They have entire highways that require you to pre-purchase a tag in order to access them. This requires a one-time fee of $15 plus a deposit into your account of $40! Ridiculous!
We encountered the same issue last year in Austin. One particularly bad traffic day we said to heck with it and took the unmanned toll road. We got a bill in the mail months later. Ten dollars was high for 8 miles of toll road but better than being stuck in gridlock for hours.
Some of Houston’s roads say that you need a tag but it turns out that they have toll express lanes and you can in fact use the free lanes without getting charged a toll. When a highway says things like “last free exit” and “EZ Tag required” I tend to believe it and get off the highway if there is another alternative.
After our first visit I went to their website to try to make sense of it. It was not very helpful. So I called and waited 30 minutes for a customer service agent to answer my questions. She was nice and helpful. But it didn’t change the fact that their whole system sucks the big one!
The best advice she gave me was that if I chose to take a toll road, or inadvertently ended up on one, to just wait a couple days then give them a call. They would then be able to tell me what I owed and take a payment over the phone with only a $1.50 service fee. OK rant over.