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Michael Barnes

Texas River Tracing: James

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Didn’t know that Texas had a river named the James? Neither did we. And we drove right past it when we traced the Llano River on an earlier trip. Don’t picture something like Virginia’s longest river. The Texas edition rises in Kimble County and travels a mere 36 1/2 miles to a point on the Llano just below Mason.

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Ruins of the Pontotoc and San Fernando Academy in Pontotoc, TX.

We didn’t travel to the ghost town of Noxville. In fact, I don’t think we made it across the Kimble County line from Mason County. We followed narrow county roads and kept encountering “Posted” signs every time we spotted the free-flowing James.

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The James River near Eckart James Bat Cave.

Now, we make it a rule not to trespass on private property. But sometimes we can’t really tell. And we found a spot not far from the Eckert James River Bat Cave where we could wander past gravel piles and right up the banks. A herd of cattle were curious about us.

Me: “Maybe we should get out.”

Joe: “They’re on the other side of the river.”

Me: “Which is about three feet wide and not as deep.”

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Near where the James River meets the Llano River.

We hit the jackpot, however, where the James enters the Llano. Here, a wide reed-wild gravel bar showed signs of a severe flood, including a sign that was twisted around on itself. I explored two rivulets, one weak, one strong, but out on his own, Joe found the actual mouth of the James, a rarity for us.

We determined that the best place for the night would be Brady — the ‘heart of Texas’ — and so headed in that direction. Did I forget to say that, in Abilene, we ate at Betty Rose’s Little Brisket on the suggestion of former resident and Statesman editorial writer Jody Seaborn? No big city pretense here. Just meat and sides.