I laid there on the sand. Fight to stay awake. The seven hour drive to Terlingua the night before and a short night’s sleep on the ground before launching our canoes into the muddy waters of the Rio Grande took their toll. Then a long afternoon of paddling to the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon added fatigue.
But the peace I found on the sand, listening to the soft gurgles of the little riffle just as the Big River enters the 1,500-foot-high walled canyon, eased my anxiety about this challenging new adventure. The soothing music of the river flowing through the rocks was soothing. I finally succumbed and fell asleep.
When we broke camp the next morning, the first rays of the sun started streaming through part of the canyon from the east. A splendid spectacle! This was to be the last time we saw the sun, sequestered for 13 kilometers in the deep canyon until we emerged at its far end later that afternoon. The only sign of life we saw was an eagle screeching at us from high in the skies of western Texas and northern Mexico.
The float lasted a long time due to the strenuous portage over and around the infamous “slide”, which was too dangerous to canoe at this water level.
Finally clearing the canyon, the sun warmed us. But a bittersweet feeling washed over me when I realized I had experienced something I had wanted to do ever since I saw a calendar picture of the south exit of the canyon when I was around eight years old. And I realized that I may never be there again.
Later, as I moved from a profession to a more creative vocation, someone asked my wife what was my main interest – hunting, fishing, photography, canoeing – or what?
She hesitated, then replied, “I think he just wants to see what’s around the next bend.”
Maybe she was right. Canoeing – and now kayaking – fueled my wanderlust.
And October is usually the best time to do it. It takes desire, a boat and water in the stream. The drought has taken its toll. Many of Hill Country’s favorite boating waters – including most of the Llano except around Mason – currently have insufficient flow. The Guadalupe gets water from Canyon Dam, and Jerry’s Rentals (830-625-2036) says they’ve had enough.
Aaron Riggins, a Hill Country guide, told me that the Nueces below Camp Wood now have sufficient flow, but the fish have suffered from the drought. The Sabinal and the Frio are quite low. The Colorado below Austin to Webberville is a fine, slow, scenic paddle and good fishing. Cook’s Canoes (512-276-7767) rents canoes and kayaks.
The Rio Grande currently has enough water, but its water level is rising and falling, according to Desert Sports (432-371-2727). Big Bend National Park says of the Lower Canyons: “A journey through these mysterious canyons offers a level of peace and solitude rarely available in the United States.”
The same can be said of paddling most streams in Texas. Especially during our magical autumn weather “Indian Summer”!
Try it yourself!
Woods, Waters and Wildlife columnist John Jefferson can be reached at 512-219-1199 or on his website, johnjefferson.com.