Summer is finally drawing to its close. In Albuquerque, the waning summer temps are in the low to mid 80s. But after the record-breaking heat wave in July, it feels sort of cool now. Though that might be saying something. However, Albuquerque summers have nothing on Texas summers. It’s the humidity that will really get to you. I had a chance to experience a Texas summer in person very recently. Of course, layovers really don’t really count.
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend a week at Trinity River National Wildlife Refuge in Liberty, Texas just an hour outside of Houston. My coworker and I were invited to the refuge to pilot a data collection app for finding locations of old, abandoned oil and gas wells on refuge land. We actually got to see the locations we have looked at for months on our computer screens in “real life”. It was certainly an extreme change of scenery. Albuquerque, New Mexico to Liberty, Texas. A metropolitan deserted area to a country town with huge farms, vast forests, and rich lakes and swamps.
It was an amazing experience. We got to spend a lot of time with the refuge manager and wildlife biologist. I was extremely grateful they took precious time out of their busy schedule to shepherd us around and giving us valuable insight about managing a refuge. Trinity River NWR comprises 30,000 acres of unconnected land tracts and there’s only 4 permanent employees and the refuge is always trying to acquire more land to preserve. The level of responsibility that the refuge staff have is astounding. There’s always something to do. The refuge biologist even said that some of the locations that we were visiting to look for abandoned wells she hadn’t gotten to visit in years.
Going out to these suspected well sites was certainly an eye-opening experience. As I mentioned before, we look at the refuges and their abandoned well locations on the computer. Looking at the screen, the distance between well locations and the distance between the refuge and an accessible road seems pretty small. But, in reality that distance could be yards or miles or apart. In addition, the land tracts that comprise the refuge are not contiguous and can be miles apart. Over that week, we could drive out to a site, hike to a location, look around for a well, hike back, and we could spend a whole day out in the field.
The most surprising thing for me was the size of the terrain features of the abandoned well locations. The man-made platforms that look like tiny squares on the computer screen we could walk around. At some abandoned sites, the well might have been sealed decades ago and it just looks like a regular patch of the woods now. This trip gave me tremendous insight into our remote sensing work.