January 2004–On most weekends you can find my friends and I in the middle of a field drinking beer and relaxing in the middle of a mud filled dirt trail. In the back of a little neighborhood called Rain Tree Village in Katy Texas you can stumble upon an old abandoned excavation site people from around these parts call this place The Cliffs.
I don’t know exactly when but estimate it at least twenty years ago this site was being dug out to build a waste dump. The hole being dug went rather deep and ended up going too deep. At approximately 120 feet the excavators hit a spring bursting forth beautiful pristine blue water. This sudden rush of water drowned out the cranes and excavating equipment and so the company just left them. After a couple of years with the rain the hole filled up more and now has left a large reservoir. With the water still a good twenty feet from the edge of the hole and the sides of the reservoir still being very sheared, this has left certain spots around the hole great for exhilarating cliff jumps. Although the jump is a pretty easy one but after many years the water has left a slight embankment and the water level making the jump a little more dangerous. The ledge is only about four to five feet out but if you miss your jump this can leave a very painful landing. If you hit the jump just right it can be the most fun you have ever had in your whole entire life. My personal experience with this jump has been mostly good with only one accident when I over rotated and landed face down and broke two ribs. During the day the cliffs are inhabited by neighborhood kids out for a swim and to go adventuring on their bicycles. Also there will sometimes be some people more around the college age swimming and drinking.
At night the atmosphere changes leaving mostly the college crowd with large four-wheel drive vehicles. The area directly around the reservoir is surrounded by many mud trails with varying levels of difficulty in navigating ability. The soil is a yellow-brown clay and sand combination. This particular kind of soil can be very slick when it gets wet this leaves many extremely tough vehicles stuck in the most unlikely places. Just this past Saturday night when I was out at the cliffs a buddy of mine with a Jeep Cherokee 4×4 with a lift and very aggressive mud tires was trying to leave and ended up getting stuck in a trail that is normally a very simple pass.
Also upping the degree of difficulty are three bayous that run all around the reservoir. These bayous really stand guard against most intruders. Many spots in these bayous have been dug out leaving a trail to cross the bayou but these spots are still rather difficult to cross. In one location in a bayou close to the neighborhood and at the end of a dead end is a crossing now pretty frequently used that goes right by a tree at the bottom of the bayou. This crossing is pretty tore up and when it rains the bottom fills up with at least a foot of water and leaves the sides very slick with water running down them. This pass is the intermediate pass which is only beat in easiness by the concrete pass on the other side of the cliffs only accessible by a totally separate neighborhood on a totally different street. The most difficult passes are where two bayous converge leaving a point that is barely climbable but can be mastered with some of the best driving skills.
In the back side of it all is a large mud hole that is secluded by dense thicket in all directions except in two places where you come in and where you leave. This hole is only for the big vehicles with the craziest drivers. I personally have fallen victim to this hole leaving my 89’ Ford F-250 stuck in a hole of 3 feet worth of water and mud. This part has taken many vehicles including a few tow trucks with drivers that over estimated their vehicle’s abilities. This spot is definitely not for the faint of heart.
Just in between the wash out hole and the bayou crossings is a clearing by the reservoirs edge. This by far is my favorite spot of the whole place. From there you can overlook the reservoir and watch the moon glisten off of the water. The water from here looks black except where the moon is reflecting off of it giving you a very eerie sensation and a reminder of how troublesome this place can be. In the distance you get a hint of the suburban style houses that seem to go on forever as they fade into the thicket that lines the left side of the view. This spot is perfect for relaxing and drinking a beer. A pathway has been cleared leading down to the water from this spot and onto a beach that has a dirt ramp that has been built by kids that use it to launch themselves on their bicycles into the water. The beach is also perfect location for our bonfires leaving the fire out of view of any passer-by that might call the cops. This spot really lets you get away from everything, to just have the stars above and no other sound or distraction that comes with living in the city. Many people that know about the cliffs have visited this spot making it probably the most popular spot in the whole place.
The Cliffs are not exactly public property so it is illegal to trespass on the premises. The land was owned by and excavation company and after the water filled up the hole they kind of abandoned it. After awhile, people started going out there and doing many things. After a couple people took their ATV’s and ended up killing themselves the company decided to sell the land to the government to unload the responsibility of what happens there. When the government took control they made it illegal to trespass. This has led to the occasional incident with authorities. In one occasion a police helicopter was deployed and used a spot light to find us and then tail us. This was just a scare tactic because after leaving The Cliffs they turned the spot light off and left. Sometimes during the day when people are swimming on the front side of the reservoir a police officer will walk over and make sure there is no underage drinking and ask the people to leave. If there is no other problems and you obey the officer they usually don’t write you a ticket. Occasionally you will get an uptight officer that is new to the area and will issue a trespassing ticket of about $200. Although that police encounters are rare they still happen.
A bigger worry would definitely have to be just the pure danger of off-roading. Besides the skeletons of the burnt out vehicles that still lay scattered around the area and how many of those have been towed out of the area, there still lies many vehicles at the bottom of the reservoir. There are numerous places that can take a vehicle victim beyond repair. The slick bayou sides have made many vehicles roll back down them but not on their tires. Rolling is by far the most dangerous experience you can have out here. I personally have witnessed a good friend roll his Ford Ranger down the bayou and only by the grace of god did he survive with only scratches. Several large holes leave perfect breeding ground for broken axles and other various suspension parts. Many trails a tightly lined with trees and given even the slightest slip can send your vehicle careening into them severely damaging the body of the vehicle. Many areas have very high water that can leak into your vehicle ruining carpet and rusting floor boards all while getting into your engine and flooding it leaving you stranded and out a very costly motor. Most of the time with careful driving and good old fashioned experience you can navigate these trails in and the out with any damage of any sort.
Like most places that are even worth visiting The Cliffs has its draw backs and dangers but if you have never been there you don’t know why it is worth it. I have been to this “redneck paradise” and seen its beauty and why it draws people to its magnificent reservoir with breathtakingly blue water and challenging but inviting mud trails that test you’re driving and vehicles abilities. A place where you can let loose, and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city with only having to travel as far as your back yard.