LLANO RIVER VALLEY – Checking into our Junction motel, we asked the desk clerk about fun things to do in town. She quipped, “When you find out, let me know.”True, for a student at Texas Tech University-Junction like her, this old Edwards Plateau ranching town offers little social life. Yet for buddy Joe Starr of Houston and me, it served as an ideal base camp for our 13th river tracing. (Our goal: Trace 50 Texas rivers from source to mouth.)
Of all the constant-flow Hill Country rivers, the Llano remains the least altered. As John Graves observes in “Texas Rivers, ” it is dammed only intermittently between its headwaters in Edwards and Sutton counties and its happy meeting with the Colorado River at Lake LBJ. The Llano has yet to inspire a single fancy resort, and city folk have built only a fistful of second homes.
At the juncture of the South and North Llano rivers, Junction attracts mostly hunters and the occasional road-tripper netted off Interstate 10. As for other towns, Mason has been discovered by outdoor types, as well as history buffs; Llano by those two tribes, plus weekend ranchers who pack the coffee shops and courthouse-square eateries. Kingsland, long a vacation camp on the “Llanorado” peninsula, leads to Leviathan lake-side homes and quaint railroad-era inns but is marred by an eye-melting stretch of highway commercial culture. (Lady Bird Johnson would shudder.)
The lack of development upstream – cherished by river lovers – is rooted in historical isolation. The Llano River Valley has supported only traces of permanent civilization. Local Indians were prey for raiding Comanches and Apaches; the Spanish explored the area, but never planted a presidio or mission here.
Germans and Americans filtered into the valley by the mid-19th century, but the trans-Atlantic rails and highways generally passed it by. Even Interstate 10 has not dramatically changed the upper valley, where we spied unfamiliar birds at South Llano River State Park, surveyed limestone, sandstone and granite bluffs and clambered around courthouses, forts and parks.
Why the blessed development lag on the Llano? Catastrophic floods. The evidence is everywhere, from the strewn-by-giants boulders to the Inks Bridge plaque that records a 42-foot wall of water that roared down the canyon in 1935.
Why build when water will reclaim the land?