Best Texas Rivers: Paluxy River

We had stumbled on the Paluxy River on a previous trip.

Paluxy River near Bluff Dale, TX.

The main attraction back then was Dinosaur Valley State Park, where one can, when the water is low, see distinct tracks made millions of years ago. The place was the site of a hoax that attempted to prove humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. Nearby is Dinosaur World, a commercial outlet exhibiting life-size models, and the Creation Evidence Museum, which self-evidently attempts to refute science.

Paluxy River near Tolar, TX

Now we returned on this West Texas tour of shorter rivers to pay closer attention the the Paluxy itself. The29-miles river rises northwest of Bluff Dale and tumbles rapidly and clearly through a green, gentle valley lined with hardwoods. We followed it through some rugged hills along winding roads to the vicinity of Glen Rose, then backtracked to the park.

More Paluxy River in Dinosaur Valley State Park. Water levels up from recent rains.

There, an alert ranger warned us about higher than usual waters. That didn’t bother us much. We scrambled down to the lovely stream and wondered how it had remained so pristine. The ranger told us the flow was controlled up at Possum Kingdom Lake, but that’s on the Brazos River, and the Paluxy is a tributary of that muscular waterway. He must have been confused.

We headed into Glen Rose next, noting the summer cottages along the smaller river, which joins the Brazos nearby. We also spotted again the ominous warts of the nuclear power plant that helps prop up the local economy, along with the vacationers along the Paluxy. The Brazos, by the way, is still quite gorgeous here. Still gotta read John Graves’ “Goodbye to a River.”

Best Texas Rivers: Nolan River

The Nolan River is a mere 27 miles long. Yet it forms all or part of two lakes. And it helps turn the Brazos River from a West Texas waterway into a broader presence on the North Central Texas prairies.

The Nolan River rises on Little Horse Ranch in NW Johnson County, TX.

And it’s surprisingly beautiful. We first caught up with it on our recent Texas River Tracing near the Little Horse Ranch. A kindly country gentleman pulled over to explain whence the Nolan came and where it went. It was the second time on this trip when a passerby thought we were stranded. Fair enough. How many people stop at rivers to hike down to document them?

The Nolan River just above Lake Pat Cleburne.

We followed its narrow path to the town of Cleburne — now a suburb of Fort Worth — where we discovered on old park just above Lake Pat Cleburne. Here, the Nolan attracts winter water birds and holiday fishermen. Down county roads, we glimpsed the Nolan again as it wiggles, strong and cold, down toward Lake Whitney.

The Nolan River a few miles down of Lake Pat Cleburne. Strong and cold.

Turns out the river is named for famous freebooter Philip Nolan who tried to create an Anglo empire in Texas long before the arrival of Stephen F. Austin. Interesting person to honor.

We lost track of the Nolan as it forms the headwaters of Lake Whitney, a large, handsome body of water that, in many places, resists attention. Then we took some backroads to Waco for the night.

In our room, we read about our friends vacationing in Paris, France. On this trip, we spent the night in Amarillo, Abilene, Vernon, Waco, Brady and San Angelo. Beat that.

Best Texas Rivers: Pease River

We had never heard of the Pease River.

North Pease River near Paducah, TX.

Even after researching the 50 Texas rivers we wanted to trace, Joe Starr and I scratched our heads when we stumbled on this waterway that stretches from just north of Paducah to the Red River outside Vernon. It tracks the Wichita River to the south, heading generally northeast, rather than southeast like so many Texas rivers.

Our first attempt to document the Pease on this trip was met with wet, cold, wintry weather. We circled back around to the Paducah area — how many people can say they’ve visited Paducah three times in one road trip? — to pick the Pease up before it its three short branches join. There was some confusion about which of the forks we were looking at, since our maps and the road markers did not agree.

Pease River between Paducah and Quanah.

After returning to lovely Paducah for the third time, we headed up a lonely road to one of the most beautiful crossings in all our travels. First, we were allowed a smooth gravel road down to the riverbed. Just above the high bridge were handsome limestone cliffs which shifted colors in the lowering sun. The Pease had picked up some steam here and we were sorry to leave.

But we did. We climbed the canyon walls to Quanah, whose high school team was, of course, the Indians. (As in Comanche chief Quanah Parker.) We immediately headed back down into the canyon to Copper Breaks State Park. We had intended to hike here, but today as before, we seemed to be racing against the winter sunset. The park, which includes a little lake for swimming, was nearly deserted. One exception: The teepee-shaped cabins that surely delighted younger versions of ourselves.

Final Pease River shot of the day near Copper Breaks.

The park offers some magnificent views of the Pease River Valley from an overlook, but not direct looks of the river. So we headed further down the canyon, where we were delighted to see the stream was still strong and clear. We hung a left in Crowell, home to the legendary six-man football team, and tooled into Vernon at dusk.

The next morning, we tried to follow the rest of the Pease to its juncture with the Red River. No such luck. We could spot the prairie canyon from our county road, but all potential access always stopped at posted private land. Ah well. Still, we learned a lot about a new river.

Best Texas Rivers: Forks of the Brazos

Me: What’s that double mountain over there?

Joe: Double Mountain.

Me: Oh.

Joe: As in the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos River.

During a previous trip, we had traced the mighty Brazos from its double mouths near Freeport to a small Double Mountain Fork lake under the Cap Rock near Lubbock. Although hydrologists will tell you that the Brazos, like the Colorado, rises near the New Mexico border, there is little water in those watersheds on the tortilla-flat Llano Estacado. Instead, the tributaries of both great rivers begin to flow normally in the dramatic canyons below the High Plains.

First water in the White River Floydada just below the Cap Rick. Marker says Coronado camped here. Wind is up today.

When they flow at all. On our most recent Texas River Tracing, we followed three forks of the Brazos — White, Clear and Salt — having already done the Double Mountain on that earlier voyage. We were warned by guidebooks that, because of constant pressure on the Ogallala Aquifer, the White River is almost a thing of the past. In modern memory, it was a rushing stream with abundant fish. We discovered almost no water until we reached the small, out-of-place White River Reservoir just above its juncture with the Salt Branch.

12360288_10156289399540316_1824657890685105961_nIt happens again and again out here on the border between the Llano Estacado and the rolling plains to the east. It’s flat, flat, flat, flat, flat, then we plunge into a rugged canyon with only a “Falling Rock” sign as a warning. It happened just south of Floydada for the White. There we found some puddles in a grassy ravine near a roadside park with multiple historical markers. Among the boasts of this little valley is that ranchers found what was believed to be Spanish chain mail nearby, suggesting that Coronado and his far-flung expedition camped here. Well, it’s possible.

In another deserted canyon of the White, we encountered a lonely, well-accoutered ranch house flying the black-and-white “Come and Get It” flag copied from the Battle of Gonzales. The image with a cannon has been appropriated by Tea Party types, which made us laugh. Here was a house many miles from anywhere with a perfectly maintained Ranch to Market Road that comes right up to its driveway. Something tells me that other Texans helped pay for the FM.

12373151_10156289706860316_8853074530028349469_nBelow the White River Reservoir — no boats here either — we stumbled on several gorgeous crossings of the Salt Branch of the Brazos River.

First water of the Salt Branch Of the Brazos River in Kent County.

In contrast to the White, it runs freely and colorfully through stone-walled canyons.

12321144_10156289965735316_7848068793820680584_nAbundant wildlife on an exquisite December day.

The Salt Branch if the Brazos River goes through some gorgeous red canyons.

We took it for granted that it would taste salty, since we tested the Brazos downstream on a previous trip.

The Salt Branch of the Brazos River near where it empties into the Double Mountain Fork.

(The next day, we coursed back around to pick up the Salt near its juncture with the Double Mountain.)

That left the Clear Fork. Author John Graves, who died in 2013, celebrated this hardwood-lined tributary at length.

The Clear Fork of the Brazos River north of Noodle, TX

I think he would be saddened by what we witnessed.

The Clear Fork of the Brazos River widens and deepens at Hawley.

This is a prairie river that plows through farmlands northwest of Abilene. We criss-crossed it on county roads, only to find its low, strong flow interrupted by agricultural and industrial rubbish. Some beautiful stretches remain, but few of them we’d call “clear.”

Pretty much near the end of the road for the Clear Fork of the Brazos River at Lake Fort Phantom Hill, which is formed by Elm Creek, a tributary of the Clear.

The fork led us to muddy Lake Fort Phantom Hill, named for a 19th-century outpost on the Clear. We didn’t visit the fort site, but we examined the cliffs above this sizable lake which, perhaps because of the clement weather, was the first with any observable winter recreation on this trip. Impounded in 1938, it’s actually formed by Elk Creek, one of the Clear’s tributaries. The Clear meets the rest of the Brazos near South Bend in Young County.

As we drove into Abilene for the evening, we noticed the odd placement of a giant auto salvage yard and the city’s sanitary landfill uphill of the lake, which presumably provides water for this home to 100,000+ folks.

UPDATE: In an earlier version of this post, Lubbock was misidentified.



Best Texas Rivers: Canadian River

Our plans changed quickly. Jagged winter rain cut off our initial contacts with the Pease River, the first of 11 West Texas waterways that we had intended to trace on this 8-day trip. By the time we reached our evening retreat, Amarillo, it was snowing hard. We huddled, instead, over a Trader Joe’s picnic in our room.

12373306_10156286794985316_4962384951045955964_n.jpgUnblinking sun melted most of the snow and ice the next day, so we embarked on the course of the Canadian River, which rises in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains, slices across the Texas Panhandle, then descends into Oklahoma to join the Arkansas River.

We headed to what we thought was San Jon, Texas, which turned out to be San Jon, N.M. There, we turned north to Ute Lake, which stores the Canadian’s clear water behind a mesa and a dam. No boaters on the lake this day and only a few hardy coots — the feathered variety — on the water. But we could examine the iron-rich rocks that would give the Canadian its rusty colors downstream.

12341091_10156286822985316_5114918200112485740_n.jpgIn Texas, the river cuts through a wide, rugged canyon that offered us few points of entry. We wound through beautiful badlands, then griddle-flat cotton fields, then rolling ranch land.

12390949_10156286920260316_2715981160561045827_nVirtually not a soul on the horizon. A lot more varied terrain than we expected, with plenty of wildlife. Our next contact with the river was at Boys Ranch, Tex., where the Canadian is shallow, red and sandy.

12391302_10156287096560316_4734815947942198957_nThe trip to our third stop took us all the way back into Amarillo’s gravitational field. It was then we realized that the city of 200,000 or so stood on a fairly narrow plateau between two steep canyons, the other being the more spectacular Palo Duro, formed by the Prairie Dog Town Fork of the Red River, previously explored. The rough territory of the more northerly Canadian nudges right into Amarillo proper.

12369089_10156287223105316_3199484546127636372_nWe explored a grassy haunted area on the river’s banks just off U.S. 87 not near any settled town. Riven with off-road tracks and careless litter, it was the type of place where you’d hear the ominous sounds of target practice — and we did. So we hurried north, then east to the verges of Lake Meredith, which lies in a magnificent, broad-shouldered canyon.

12366396_10156287391825316_7760454892793608918_nBut first we stopped at Blue Creek to photograph the place where it enters the Canadian’s big lake. Here, seen from above, the tracks in the sand formed arabesques in the creek sand.

12346480_10156287426815316_1538655353335002138_nReached on a narrow road atop a high, curving dam, our next look-out was perched near the water authority’s inevitable headquarters on a watchful hill. Although the light was fading, our adventure was far from over. After steering through Stinnett, we spied a sign for “Adobe Walls,” the famed fort and trading post founded in the 1840s and the site for two major battles during the Indian Wars of the 1860s and ’70s. How many times would we be in this remote spot — two guys who read every historical marker — so we journeyed down poorly marked county roads, past little canyons cut into the cap rock. Yet once we hit a stretch slushy, slippery gravel, we turned around.

11202652_10156287568315316_8064440695692147688_nWe chased the light across skinny roads and snowy fields along the rim of the Canadian Canyon to reach — where else? — Canadian, Tex.

10583914_10156287661690316_961508717626219238_n.jpgThis railroad town sits on a wide gorge and, at dusk, we walked quite a distance across its historic wagon bridge to catch the last glimmers on our river before it headed off to Oklahoma.

12373415_10156287690960316_778663740355945849_nNight enveloped the two-hour trip back to our room. The irregular, tree-lined lanes along U.S. 60 — formerly part of the famed Route 66 — followed Red Deer Creek, until we ascended back onto the Llano Estacado near Pampa. That site is also very near one source of the Red River, we had learned on an earlier trip. Soon enough, we were back in Amarillo for our second night of sound sleep.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on the blog. For a different display, go to

Texas River Tracing: 50 Trips by Car and on Foot

The Canadian River in the Panhandle. Courtesy of

A short note today.

Joe Starr and I are headed back to Texas rivers for 10 days. We plan to trace some relatively short West Texas waterways from the sources to their mouths. We begin later today with the Pease River, mostly between Paducah and Vernon, then tomorrow, the Texas stretch of the Canadian River in the Panhandle.

Bosque River. Courtesy of

Others under consideration — it all depends on timing:

Nolan River

James River

Concho River

Lampasas River

Bosque River

Medina River

Clear Fork of the Brazos

Salt Fork of the Brazos

White River

Paluxy River

Concho River.

If all goes well, by 2017, we should be able to offer you “Texas River Tracing: 50 Trips by Car and on Foot.”

Won’t be able to post blogs on the road, but you can follow our adventures on Twitter (@outandabout), Facebook (Michael Barnes) or Instagram (@outandaboutatx).

Send any hiking or dining advice to

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on the blog. For a different display, go to

Six Square Tour, Humanities Texas, ‘Indelible’ Readings, Downtown Towers, Who Pays for Roads?

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Victoria Cumberbatch and Lisa Byrd at Six Square.

HISTORY: You couldn’t ask for a more effective tour. The African American Cultural Heritage District Austin has been rechristened Six Square. That accounts for the six square miles of the old “Negro District” in Central East Austin, proposed in a 1928 city plan as one answer to the “Negro Problem,” or how to keep the races from mixing. Recently, a couple dozen guests met at Six Square’s HQ on San Bernard Street to mix, sip, sample and board a bus for a tour of the area’s historical sites. Lisa Byrd and Harrison Eppright made superior guides to the Carver Museum, David Chapel, Downs Field, Rosewood Courts, Texas State Cemetery, etc. I encourage everyone to to take this tour, which neatly encapsulates more than 150 years of black history in Austin.

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William Adams and Ed Dorn at Humanities Texas.

BOOKS 1: What a heady crew at Humanities Texas! The stars of the intimate dinner of barbecue and Tex-Mex were Jane Chu, chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and William D. Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. After a big event at the LBJ Presidential Library, they retired to Humanities Texas‘ gracious historic home in the Old Austin neighborhood. Adams and I chatted about history, Texas and Maine. Later, I sat between host Michael Gillette and power couple Amy Updegrove, former publisher of Texas Monthly, and Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Library. Needless to say, the stories flowed like ripe wine.


BOOKS 2: A week of multiple author appearances. “Indelible Austin: Selected Histories,” is well and launched. I’ve made six appearances so far, five in town and one in Houston. Twelve more to go. And that’s just what’s on the books. Thursday, Dec. 10 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., I’m at Sue Patrick on on Burnet Road, interviewed by Ed Clements from NewsRadio KLBJ. Then Saturday, Dec. 12 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., I join more than 20 other Texas authors signing books and talking with guests at the Humanities Texas Book Fair. You are more than welcome to join me at these two free events. “Indelible Austin” slips easily into stockings.


CITY: Pause and take a look at what we are building downtown. Taken from Lori Hawkins and Shonda Novak‘s story in the American-Stateman. “Like Austin’s skyline? Then snap a photo — because it won’t look that way for much longer. Building by building, a wave of skyscraper construction is gradually altering the city’s visual identity yet again. “Skylines are deeply revealing of the inner economic and social character of cities,” said Trevor Boddy, a Vancouver, British Columbia, architecture critic. “Even the most ambitious city planners, mayors or developers cannot design them — they are an organic expression of the vitality of the city.”

dyc-cycle-track-04TRANSIT: One of the finest recent examples of explanatory reporting. Taken from Ben Wear‘s column in the American-Statesman: “My story last week about a delay in the $14 million bike-pedestrian bridge over Barton Creek produced what, after more than 12 years covering transportation, has become a familiar complaint from readers. Why is the city of Austin spending so much money on bike stuff — not just this notably expensive bridge, but all those bike lanes and trails that have been showing up around town over the past decade — when cyclists pay no gas taxes or registration fees? And to that point, some readers suggest, the city or the state ought to force registration of bicycles just like cars, and charge a fee.”

Black Fret Ball, 2 Wild Parties, Marc Seriff, Texas School for the Deaf

David Messier and Andrea Villarreal at the Black Fret Ball.

MUSIC: May we say that the Black Fret Ball has arrived? In only its second year, the large benefit for the group that provides incubator services for Austin musicians hit its stride. More than 1,000 variously clad guests of Black Fret first mixed in the Paramount Theatre‘s lobbies, then paraded into the auditorium for — what else? — music and awards. I talked to record producer David Messier about his own upcoming album, “Waiting for Eldridge,” coming out soon on the Fable label. Also to Tamir Kalifa from Mother Falcon, signed to Apple Records, and a repeat Black Fret beneficiary. “Mother Falcon is kind of Black Fret’s poster child,” said Brandon DeMaris, who orchestrates events for the nonprofit group. Among the nominees for this year’s program are some of my very favorite musicians: Casey McPhersonNakiaShakey GravesRuby Jane and Tameca Jones.

Tamir Kalifa and Brandon DeMaris at Black Fret Ball


This update from Black Fret: “All 20 nominees received a grant and a total of $150,000 was awarded at the 2015 Black Fret Black Ball.  All of the grant recipients will unlock their grant dollars by creating new songs, performing outside Austin and by performing for other nonprofit organization in Austin.”
10 received $12,000 grants:
  • The Digital Wild
  • Ruby Jane
  • Tameca Jones
  • Casey McPherson
  • East Cameron Folkcore
  • Mother Falcon
  • Danny Malone
  • Gina Chavez
  • Shakey Graves (who donated his grant back to Black Fret and asked that it be distributed to the $3,000 grant winners, making those grants worth $4,200 each, including the original $3,000 grant Aaron Behrens donated to HAAM)
  • Migrant Kids
10 received $4,200 grants:
  • HAAM (Via Aaron Behrens who removed himself from consideration for a grant and donated his to HAAM)
  • Dan Dyer
  • Holiday Mountain
  • Jazz Mills
  • Max Frost
  • Nakia
  • Not in the Face
  • Riders Against the Storm
  • Shinyribs
  • The Nightowls
‘The Wild Party’ at the University of Texas.

ARTS: Multiple college theater programs tackling tough material. First, Texas State University staged Andrew Lippa‘s “The Wild Party,” based on Joseph Moncure March‘s 1928 narrative poem. Then, the University of Texas took on the even tougher, harsher version of the story by Michael LaChiusa, which coincidently opened during the same season (1999-2000) in New  York. I’ve admired both scores for years, but without these two excellent theater programs, I wouldn’t be able to “see” the shows in my head. Each school can boast certain strengths, but it’s undeniable that the acting and singing in both productions was superb. Thank you TSU and UT.

Marc and Carolyn Seriff. Holly Jackson photo.

CITY: From start-ups to AOL, then the staff of the Long Center. From my story in the American-Statesman: “How often does this happen: A major charitable donor and longtime board member signs on, instead, as a member of a nonprofit group’s staff? Not as the chief, or even as a development officer, but rather as a floating observer and helper. That’s the recent update in the amazing life of Austin native Marc Seriff, best known to the tech community as co-founder of AOL Inc., better known in certain local circles, along with his wife, Carolyn Seriff, as a fun-loving backer of the arts and other charities.”

View of Austin from the Texas School for the Deaf in the 1890s.

HISTORY: Finding historical value in the Texas School for the Deaf. From my story in the American-Statesman: “Was Texas Revolutionary War hero Deaf Smith really deaf? Inquiring minds from around the country have been asking that of Steve Baldwin, former president of the Texas Association of the Deaf, for years. That’s because the Austinite is a widely respected interpreter of deaf history. “He probably had progressive hearing loss,” Baldwin says about Smith. “He was born by breech birth in 1787 and developed a childhood disease. Early on, he had functional speech and hearing. Witnesses during his lifetime — he died in 1837 — testified to his ‘mild’ hearing loss and high-pitched voice. He was probably an above-average lipreader.” Baldwin, who was prepared to go to battle earlier this year when a Texas legislator suggested selling off some of the Texas School for the Deaf’s land on South Congress Avenue, thinks that Texas founders were sensitized to the needs of deaf and hard-of-hearing citizens, in part because of their close association with Smith, whose features appeared on the $5 Republic of Texas bill.”