Matagorda County is in the Coastal Prairie region of Texas, bounded on the north by Wharton County, on the east by Brazoria County and the Gulf of Mexico, on the west by Calhoun and Jackson counties, and on the south by the Gulf of Mexico and Tres Palacios, Matagorda, and East Matagorda bays. The center of the county lies at 28°54' north latitude and 95°59' west longitude; Bay City, the county's seat of government and largest city, is four miles north of the center of the county at the convergence of State highways 35 and 60, fifty air miles southwest of Houston. The name Matagorda, Spanish for "thick brush," was derived from the canebrakes that formerly lined the shore. Crossed by the once highly flood-prone Colorado River, which bisects it from north to south, the county extends across 1,612 square miles of mostly open prairie. With the exception of a slight undulation in the north, most of the county is level, with elevations ranging from sea level to seventy feet. Part of Matagorda Peninsula, a narrow barrier island formed less than 5,000 years ago, runs northeast and southwest for sixty-five miles from the mouth of Caney Creek in the eastern part of the county to Pass Cavallo on the west. The peninsula protects Matagorda Bay and is cut in half by the Colorado River channel twenty-four miles from the pass. Major watercourses in the county include Caney, Peach, Peyton's, Turtle, Cash's, and Big and Little Boggy creeks, the Trespalacios and Colorado rivers, Live Oak and Linville bayous, and Little Robbins Slough. Along the rivers the soils are brownish to reddish, cracking and clayey to loamy, and along the coast soils are sandy. In the rest of the county light-colored, shallow loam covers clayey subsoils; some areas, particularly in the coastal marshes, have gray to black, cracking, clayey soils. Temperatures in the county vary from an average low of 44° F in January to an average high of 92° F in July. The growing season averages 295 days per year. Live oak, post oak, pin oak, pecan, ash cottonwood, elm, red cedar, and mulberry grow in the county's forests; mesquite and prickly pear have invaded the Bay Prairie in patches where the land has been overgrazed. The area harbors a variety of wildlife, including bobcats, coyotes, otters, white-tailed deer, and numerous smaller mammals, as well as oysters, shrimp, fish, snakes, and waterfowl. A number of protected wildlife habitats, including Big Boggy National Wildlife Refuge, the Mad Island Wildlife Management Area, the Runnels Family Mad Island Marsh, and the Nature Conservance, are located in the county. The Colorado Barge Canal, completed in 1959, extends fifteen miles along the Colorado River from the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway to a turning basin below Bay City and links the county to deep water at Freeport and Galveston. In the early 20th century, the county was served by the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads.
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