Best rivers in Texas: Rio Grande, Part 2

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Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park. Sarah Wilson.

Today, we attempted to trace the 40 miles of Barton Creek, by car and on foot, starting above Dripping Springs and ending at the greenbelt below Camp Craft Road. Every mile more gorgeous than the previous. More tomorrow morning, if the rains allow.

This week, we’re also recounting some past trips to Texas rivers, notes for which we have lost. That would include the Upper Rio Grande. Although not part a river tracing proper, it was a destination for more than a dozen life trips. Read here about our more systematic look at the Lower Rio Grande.

(Also, for a more complete account of our statewide adventures, go to TexasRiverTracing.com.)

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Santa Elena Canyon in Big Bend National Park. Sarah Wilson.

Neither of us has made the pilgrimage to the great river’s source in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado. We have, however, followed roads down its canyon in Northern New Mexico. And we’ve spent time straddling the river in Santa Fe and Los Alamos.

Farther down river, we’ve dipped into its course at Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Elephant Butte Reservoir. In New Mexico, the Rio Grande alternates between its mountain character and a desert one. By the time it reaches Texas above El Paso, those roles have melded.

Here, the river is briefly imprisoned in a concrete channel, easily crossed when low, probably terrifying when at flood stage. We’ve glimpsed it crossing over into Juarez, the twin within this huge and hugely conflicted metro. We’ve also hiked the Franklin Mountains, forgetting as always to take into account the effect of change in elevation on stamina. Yet we recall with pleasure the electric blue stripes on the skinks there.

After El Paso, the Rio Grande spills into sandy lowlands where Spanish explorer Miguel de Oñate gave thanks during his Entrada into New Mexico. We’ve searched there for evidence of that spot but nobody seems to know or care. Anyway, the land is always changing, as is the river.

Our next frequent contact with the river has been in and around Big Bend National Park. We’ve camped on a ledge in Santa Elena Canyon (forbidden, dangerous), during a thunderstorm in the Chisos Mountains (cold, wet) and in several more civilized campsites (tame). We’ve attempted to traverse the River Road (not wise) and we’ve pitched tents out in the great washes below the mountain (at least we never strayed far from the roads).

On each trip, we crossed into Mexico. Only once legally, at Boquillos. But that’s another story. Above and below Big Bend, roads are few and far between. Yet when we could get there, we did. Particularly memorable was visit to Seminole Canyon State Park, where ancient rock painting tempt one down into the canyon.

Amistad Reservoir is vast. We’ve checked in on highways 90 and 277. We’ve gained a sense of the region from Keith Bowden‘s “Tecate Journals,” which documents his canoe and kayak trip from El Paso to Boca Chica. Bowden’s writing can be irritating and infuriating, but he did make the trip alone and recorded it. Nobody else has, as far as we know.

Several times, we met up with the river again in Del Rio. Oddly, one of the most memorable episodes here came in a motel room, when we heard future President Barack Obama speak during the 2004 Democratic National Convention. “That’s our next president,” we foretold over Stoli shots.

Don’t remember any specific anecdotes about Eagle Pass, but we have spent time in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, where one relative counts family on both sides of the river. Nothing much to report about the river there, or about Falcon Lake. Below there, we picked up the river at Roma, recorded in a previous blog post.

Despite more than a dozen points of contact, we don’t really know the Rio Grande as we do other Texas rivers. It’s almost too much to absorb. And too much of it is remote, and even dangerous.

Two books to check out: “Rio Grande,” edited by Jan Reid, and “Great River: The Rio Grande” by Paul Horgan.

 

 

 


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