Lake Travis in a Historic Central Texas Drought

Last week’s Project 52 assignment was to pretend that a major online magazine wants you to shoot the photos for a lead story on the impact of weather in your area.  The historic drought in central Texas immediately came to my mind, and specifically how it has affected LakeTravis. We have been hearing on the local TV weather that Lake Travis was down more than 50 feet (15m), but we have not been out there to see it ourselves. Seemed like a great way to make my Project 52 assignment!

So last Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012 on a chilly 40 degree morning, Dad and I headed out to see LakeTravis. The sky was clear and a beautiful shade of blue! While on RR 620, just past Comanche Trail, but still about 2 miles east of Mansfield Dam, we pulled into the parking lot of St. Luke’s on the Lake Episcopal Church. This is normally a very scenic overlook of the beautiful waters of LakeTravis. Using my Canon 5D Mark II camera, I put a circular polarizer filter on the 70-200mm lens, mounted it all on my sturdy Gitzo tripod, zoomed the lens to 140mm and took the photo of the lake you see above.

(Note: you can see a larger version of each photo by simply clicking on the photo – just be sure to press the “Back” button on your web browser to return to my story.)

In a normal year, nothing that appears “sandy brown” would be visible – it would be under water.  Land being visible in the middle of this lake is such an uncommon occurrence that when it does “come to the surface”, the exposed land is referred to as “The Sometimes Islands”.  Right now they are peninsulas that have lots of vegetation growing on them. The small clump of trees on the far right are on Windy Point.

We moved on to Mansfield Dam Park. With all of the stark, barren exposed rock, the bright blue sky, and surrounded by water, I knew that the circular polarizer was really going to help by reducing glare. I changed my lens to the 24-105mm (with the circular polarizer), and we got out of the CR-V to walk around. It was very windy, and with the temperature still very close to 40 degrees F, we were quite cold.

This is looking east towards The Sometimes Islands, and yes, that is the Oasis restaurant on the cliff just to the left of the tree.

The boat ramp was closed. This was the last of all the boat ramps into Lake Travis to close, and currently there are not any boat ramps open to get a boat into our out of Lake Travis. In the photo above, it doesn’t appear to be such a great distance down to the water, but the next photo changes that perspective.

It wasn’t windy on this north shore, so I decided to spend more time investigating this area.

From here, it still appeared to me that there was no reason to close the boat ramp. What would stop anyone from simply removing the orange pylons and backing their boat into the lake for a care-free afternoon of cruising around the lake? Well, maybe this would prevent that:

But even if that didn’t stop them, this certainly would.

We decided to move on and head out and see how things appeared over by the popular lake-side restaurant named Carlos ‘n Charlie’s. We turned right onto Hudson Bend Road, and then a left onto Highline Road.

If your boat is already in the water, and docked at a marina, you are OK, as long as the marina is floating and can be moved further from the shore as the lake levels drop.  That appeared to be case at Emerald Point Marina, which pretty much surrounds Carlos ‘n Charlie’s.

Of course this doesn’t look anything like the photo that you see on Emerald Point Marina’s web site, but then I exaggerated the appearance of the distance by using a wide-angle view by zooming my lens in to only 24mm. But even so, it really is quite a way out from where it would be in a normal year.

We then decided to head back over across Highline Road to see what it looked like on the other side of Carlos ‘n Charlie’s restaurant.

If you’ve ever been there when the lake is up at its normal level, you know that the water line isn’t very far below the tops of the cylindrical concrete supports – and you can see the stains on them showing just how high the water should be! This was looking towards the northeast, and by turning to my left, and looking towards the northwest, you could get a sense of the fabulous view that the current customers were experiencing.

Although this photo doesn’t show it as well as I had hoped, the water level is at least 20 feet below the ledge. The ledge is higher than anything on the few boats remaining in this shallow part of the marina.

I thought it was would make an interesting photo to zoom my lens out to 105mm and get as much of a close-up as I could of the beached floating boat dock that was in the previous photo.

It was getting close to 1 o’clock. We were getting hungry, and the Longhorns were about to play Kansas State in basketball, so we packed up our photography equipment into the CR-V and headed home. We didn’t have much conversation on the way home. I’m sure it was because were were somewhat in a state of shock over what we had just seen. The only hard thing left for me to do was to choose which 3 photos to submit for my Project 52 assignment.

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