Best rivers in Texas: Onion Creek

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There’s a reason why they call the town Dripping Springs.

As we recently discovered, Barton Creek rises from springs just northwest of this Hill Country town. Onion Creek emerges from the limestone strata not far southwest.

 

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=12012_1118OnionCreek0021While Barton remains a Hill Country stream — bright, fast and narrow within the dramatic confines of its canyon — for most of its journey, Onion feeds a wider valley almost immediately. By the time it reaches Interstate 35, after passing by Driftwood and Buda, its canyon is wide enough to cause major damage during heavy rains.

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

2012_1118OnionCreek0035The Onion makes it all the way past volcanic Pilot Knob to carve its last miles into the Blackland Prairie.

Reputedly the longest creek in Texas, the 60-mile-long Onion, whose true origins lie in Blanco County, is perhaps best known for flooding communities built in the 1960s and ’70s after it emerges from the Hill Country.

We caught up with it on RM 12, not far south of U.S. 290. For a good ways, we followed in along RM 150. The fields, some of them vineyards, are lush and green from all the rain. Here, the stream is clear and rushing. We turned left at FM 1826 to catch the Onion and its cypress-guarded banks again where wine and barbecue rule.

13226732_10156893419080316_4193266699937644854_nThere in Driftwood, we pulled over into Camp Ben McCullough, a Confederate reunion grounds that continues as private campsite. Here, the slower water turns turquoise at inviting swimming holes beneath titanic cypresses.

2012_1118OnionCreek0023.JPGRight after Fall Creek Vineyards, we switched over to FM 967, which tracks the creek from a distance until it boldly crosses the stream near Garlic Creek in western Buda.

2012_1118OnionCreek0025That’s where we found one of the most secure pedestrian walkways to span a Texas waterway. Two high, concrete balustrades enclose the walker in utter safety from whizzing cars on one side and a watery fall on the other.

2012_1118OnionCreek0026Nearby, we climbed a hillside that once was home to the Antioch Colony, a freedmen’s community founded in the 1880s that remained a farm center well into the 1940s. We often run into references to it and its communications upstream with Manchaca (originally Menchaca), another home to freed slaves.

We stopped at a tributary of the Onion in Buda’s Stagecoach Park, where the visitors’ center welcomes one in an 1887 stagecoach inn. Next, we encountered the Onion at a familiar low-water crossing along the Old San Antonio Road, a narrow stretch of former highway that feels lost to time. Hard to believe it is still served by a one-lane bridge.

2012_1118OnionCreek0027We picked up Onion again on Slaughter Lane amid a jumble of new apartment complexes, mobile home parks and older golf-course subdivisions. We headed up Bluff Springs Road to another freedmen’s community, but not before documenting the creek’s growth at a high bridge near Brandt Road.

13240757_10156893797400316_2824028856207350879_nWe couldn’t resist zooming up past William Cannon Drive to see what’s happened to the Sneed Plantation House, another Confederate remnant which continues to deteriorate behind a bent fence. Choosing among the many parks and greenbelts that now take the place of less appropriate uses for bottomlands (don’t build homes here), we steered into McKinney Falls State Park.

2012_1118OnionCreek0028Now this park is best known as a grand swimming and picnicking spot, but not today, with the creek still at flood stage and quite dangerous.

2012_1118OnionCreek0030That and park warnings didn’t keep everyone out of the water, but you can’t stop the human comedy.

2012_1118OnionCreek0032We instead examined wagon wheel tracks from El Camino Real and later crossings, then took snaps of the upper and lower falls.

It’s not far from here to Richard Moya Park in old Moore’s Crossing. Alas, this lovely park, which hosts the former Congress Avenue Bridge, is closed and in complete disarray.

13241160_10156894086940316_7036938343422864467_nNot so the next one downstream, Barkley Meadows Park, a very modern but underpopulated addition with a big picnic area and a greenbelt trail that embraces both sides of Texas 130.

How did this come to be? We followed a concrete trail to a point that turned very muddy and jungle-like to observe the Onion, post-flood, but still quite powerful. There’s one last possible point of entry that we skipped near Fallwell Lane, quite near the Onion’s confluence with the Colorado River, but, hey, we’ll will seek that out another day.


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