Barker Reservoir, Houston
When VT puts character limits in these boxes, they might as well have "Bill, we don't like you" in big bold letters. I like to write, and my descriptions of places tend to be long. If people don't need that much information, they can always skim what I've written. I try to start every paragraph with a sentence that describes the rest of the paragraph. If it doesn't interest you, you can skip to the next paragraph.
Anyway, I'm using this tip to tell people how to find the Buffalo Bayou path that I described in the "Walking along the bayou" tip.
Access is best at three places.
1. The far end of the path starts at a parking lot on the west side of Hwy 6 a little ways south of Memorial. The parking lot is surrounded by a big, grassy area that is a nice place to go by itself. The trail leaves the parking lot, crosses the bayou along the highway bridge, and crosses under the bridge to follow the bayou.
2. An intermediate location is on the east side of Dairy-Ashford just south of the bayou. The parking lot is just north of an office building and can be tough to see. I believe that the address on the office building is 1010 S. Dairy Ashford. The parking lot is the last bit of pavement south of the bayou.
3. A third access is along Memorial. I think it's west of Eldridge by a little bit, but it may be east of Eldridge. Another access to this area is from the feeder road along I-10. This area has a little park with some kid toys. It isn't actually on Buffalo Bayou, but feeder trails make a nice loop that runs to the bayou and back.
Access to the parts of the reservoir described here is at three locations.
1. The parking lot for the west end of Buffalo Bayou is also a great place for getting onto the dam. The lot is a little ways south of Memorial on the west side of Hwy 6. A path leads from the parking to the dam which is clearly visible. I once saw an alligator in the water coming under the dam. I also described this location in my Buffalo Bayou access tip.
2. The best parking lot to go into the reservoir is on the west side of Hwy 6 at the intersection with Briar Forest Road (maybe Briar Forest Drive). The parking lot is just north of a gas station that was a Diamond Shamrock station when I was there.
3. The third access point is a little park called George Bush Park that is just over the dam on Westheimer. To reach this park, one must take Westheimer west past Hwy 6. The road forks, and one must take the right fork past a National Guard armory. The road crosses the dam, and the park is a little further on the left. This parking lot is good for going south along the dam but not as good for seeing much else.
The path on top of the dam is good for mountain biking and a few trails go into the reservoir. One can reach it from the Buffalo Bayou trails, and I always came that way. Where roads cross the dam, there are gates that one must cross. They involve a fairly easy step over and lift of the bike, but they are a slight nuisance. The trails in the reservoir can be very good or very bad. The roads are pretty good when they aren't too wet. In the winter and spring, there can be a few short but legitimate single-track trails that wind around a few places. Usually, they are overgrown in the summer.
The little lake near the Briar Forest access point has a few picnic tables that seem to fight a losing battle against vandals and tropical storms. At one time, they had little roofs, but I believe that all of the roofs had been blown down or broken down before I moved. I often saw families in this area having a little picnic or people walking their dogs. I've seen people fishing in this lake, but I have no idea whether the fishing is good or whether the fish would be safe to eat.
The parks to the south of this area are okay but not particularly pretty. Like most little parks in Houston, they are just a place to take the kids or walk the dog. One of them is located near enough to the dam to provide good access for walking along the dam. The others are further into the reservoir and offer no access to anything except the park.
My favorite activity in the reservoir was walking and bird watching. One access area is on the west side of Hwy 6 where Briar Forest Road intersects Hwy 6. The gravel road leading over the dam and into the reservoir was a nice place to walk when the puddles weren't too big. I saw numerous bird species in the reservoir in this area. Typical sightings included cardinals, myrtle warblers, black phoebe, kestrel, harrier, and a couple of sparrow species. There is a little lake/big pond in this area, and I once saw a flock of about eight avocets in the lake. Egrets and herons are often in this area as well. My personal homepage has a photo of a rose-breasted grosbeak taken in this area.
I've seen some other critters in this area as well. I was once fairly far back in the woods and heard a rustling in the undergrowth. I watched and waited, and an armadillo eventually came out onto the overgrown road on which I was walking. I've seen a big garter snake and once caught a small cottonmouth. I once saw a bobcat in the far south end of the reservoir. I suspect that they live in this area as well, but sighting one would be a rare treat.
The path along the top of the dam can be a fun place to walk also. While views of a city are never at the top of my list, the dam is high enough to give a few okay views of Houston. Of more interest to me are several swallow species that I've seen on the dam and feeding along a creek just below the dam. The creek also has the usual water birds like egrets and killdeer.
Barker Reservoir is a large flood control area on the west side of Houston between Houston and Katy. The reservoir has been formed by the erection of an earthen dam maybe thirty or fifty feet high between the flood plain and Highway 6. Buffalo Bayou enters from the west and meanders through this area before going under the dam and continuing towards the east. The north boundary of this area is formed as the dam makes a 90-degree turn and continues towards the west a little ways south of I-10. To the south, the dam makes another westward turn of about 45 degrees and follows another branch of Westheimer. Eventually, the dam becomes smaller and eventually ends.
There are varying amounts of development within the reservoir. The north end is pretty rustic with just a few mud and gravel roads penetrating a short distance into the trees and brush. The area near Briar Forest Road has a single mud and gravel road running into the reservoir. This road continues for a couple of miles with several branches. These branches generally lead to tankage of some kind. Further south, the place is a developed a little. A commercial shooting range is located along another branch of Westheimer that crosses the dam and goes through the reservoir. There are numerous soccer fields and a couple of nice little parks. The top of the dam has a gravel path along its entire length.
Technically, the whole place is a flood plain, and all activities in it have to be considered in light of the fact that heavy rains, particularly over an extended period of time, turn it into a swamp. However, there are many times when it is dry enough for walking, biking, or horseback riding. I'll describe a few of the sights and activities available during these times.
Okay, I stretching to include this tip in the "Hiking" theme, but it fits no other button in the list.
On the far western end of Houston, the city has some nice paths along the Buffalo Bayou. The paths start at Hwy 6 where the Buffalo Bayou comes out of Barker Reservoir. They follow the bayou three or four miles towards the east to where the bayou crosses under Wilcrest (maybe Kirkwood). When I lived there, they were lengthening the paths and may have added more already.
These paths are not great outdoor adventure. I wouldn't recommend planning a trip to Houston to see them, but they are a nice place for someone staying in the area and looking to take a walk.
The path is about four feet wide and is fairly well paved. I rode a mountain bike with semi-slick tires along this path most of the time. The path is good enough that a road bike with narrow tires would be able to negotiate it. The big problems for any biking are crowded conditions, speed restrictions, and a few grouchy old ladies who walk their dogs and gripe about bicycles.
I've in-line skated the path once, and I had a rough time. Most skaters will generally be okay, but skaters also have to worry about the crowds, the speed limits, and the grouchy old biddies. When I went, I hit a seam in the concrete that sent me into a head-over-heels flip.
Bird watching is fair to moderate along the path. I've seen a couple of species of doves fairly often and some mockingbirds. Nearer the reservoir, I often saw snowy egrets and occasionally green herons. I think there are some sparrow species too, but most of my time on the path was spent on my bike and not looking for birds.
I would rank the girl-watching slightly below the bird-watching. (I won't try to rank the guy-watching because that's not my thing.)
Because VT has placed a word limit on these tips, I'll tell about access in a separate tip.