Best rivers in Texas: The Blanco River

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At times, it seemed as if the Blanco River — ravaged a year ago in the Memorial Day and All Saints Day floods — didn’t want to be traced.

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On the first day’s attempt at a tracing, we easily reached the trim town of Blanco via U.S. Highways 291 and 281. At the city limits, we sensed trouble. As we headed south, a straggly but intrepid stream of bike riders headed north. We would not lose sight of them for the next 25 miles. The Real Ale Ride took up much of the narrow river and hillside roads between Blanco and Luckenbach. The idea of trailing them for the 25-mile return trip was ludicrous. So we bopped up to Fredericksburg and circled back to Johnson City and Marble Falls before tracing the San Gabriel River.

(For a more complete account of “Texas River Tracing: 50 Trips by Car and on Foot,” go to TexasRiverTracing.com.)

On the second day’s try, we found ourselves stuck behind both sides of a transported doublewide on U.S. 290, which threatened to slow our early pursuit of the Blanco to a crawl. The eventual appearance of wide shoulders on the highway saved the day.

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Once we prevailed — and after documenting the Old Blanco County Courthouse — we luxuriated along one of the most easily accessed rivers in the state (the ultra-short Comal probably ranks No. 1).

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Accessible, at least, along its upper strands. Along the River Road and its cross-river offshoots, we caught the already strong, clear, white Blanco repeatedly at low-water crossings, weirs and green spaces.

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There were few signs of the big flood here, except for high limbs of tall cypress trees askew. No wonder this stretch of the river, with its rock houses, striated limestone cliffs and crystalline pools near Blanco State Park, is so popular with tourists.

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Below the town of Blanco, however, the river falls into a steep canyon below the Devil’s Backbone, one of the most jagged uplands in Central Texas. Access to the river here is limited.

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Along FM 32, however, we chanced upon the exquisite Little Blanco River, where cypress boughs hung over a fairyland of tumbling rills and dappled banks.

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We headed back to the river at Fischer and the sadly storied Fischer Store Road. Here, last year’s flood had taken out an old bridge, while wiping out houses along the wide canyon.

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We walked in silence out to the middle of the new bridge, amid the wreckage of former holiday homes and giant trees.

From here, we headed to Wimberley, flocked, as one would expect on a Sunday, by day trippers, who meandered around the town square. Cypress Creek looked lovely, in contrast to the washed-out Blanco.

Then on to San Marcos, we played hide and seek with our river as we descended into suburbs and then historic districts in town. After a break in the Hays County Courthouse Square, we found our iPhone footing and finally made solid contact with the river again on the Post Road.

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This is an ancient crossing that goes back at least to the Camino Real. Amazingly, it is served by only a one-lane bridge. This, in one of the fastest-growing communities in the country.

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In the lazy canyon — unlovely after the floods — families went happily about their riverine pursuits in the shallows. Just downstream, across a strip of the fertile Blackland Prairie, the Blanco meets up with the San Marcos River. The Blanco, thus, is among the only Texas rivers to start and — almost — end in the Hill Country, which might help explain its Spanish name.


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