Brazos River Earth Exchange

Brazos River, Texas, United States—Land slated for mining—Sandy Skrei

Brazos River, Texas, United States—Land slated for gravel mining—Sandy Skrei

Gravel mines are becoming more numerous along the banks of the Texas’ Brazos River. Some landowners have circumvented environmental protections, electing to start the operation and bear the costs of the fines later, with no regard to the negative impacts on the river and surrounding landscapes. I chose to visit a gravel mine on the Brazos that has done it right, as the landowner would not have contracted with them unless they knew they were going above and beyond what is required to protect our natural resources. I asked the landowner if we could find a spot where we could see damaged land, reclaimed land and an area yet to be mined. The property was rangeland, and after the gravel is removed, it will be reclaimed as “tillable”. This has already been done in other parts of her ranch.

The digging has exposed over 12 million years of soil deposits, yielding mastodon teeth and tusks, petrified wood (above right, my first time to find some!!!) and other fossils.

The gravel is crushed to be made mostly into concrete for roadbeds. At first glance, it is hard to conjure beauty, but upon closer inspection, a certain stark beauty can be celebrated!!! It also doesn’t take long for our native plants to re-establish themselves.

We went for minimalist Bird this year, having found only one piece of trash (another
testament to the quality of the mining company) which we used for the tail (it also helped us find our bird in our sun-bleached smartphone viewfinders!), and being in the blazing hot, 95 degree plus degree sun!

Fortunately, the Brazos beaconed and after an hour and a half exploring and creating our RadJoy bird, we went for a wade! Who would suspect that under the bridge of a conveyor belt in the middle of a gravel mine, the river would run so clear and refreshing? Wading wasn’t’ enough, so we sat and spent time letting the cool, clean,currents of the Brazos River refresh us. That is my shirt, drying in the landowner’s driveway, with the view out her door…reclaimed land, an active mine, and wild bluffs.

We were grateful for the opportunity to see into layers of pre-history, take a closer look the earth that sustains us, find beauty, including imagining being surrounded by a Georgia O’Keefe landscape, all while knowing that the land will be returned to its previous state (although I have to admit I will be sad to see the dramatic hills made by the ‘overburden’ hills smoothed out!), and that our nation’s environmental regulations allowed a massive mining operation without harming the river! How many other places would you feel safe swimming in a river under the shade of mining equipment?

We gave thanks to those who fought to ensure that our resources could be protected, and sent prayers to other waterways in the world that are subject to pollution through mercury mining, open sewage, and other damaging activities.