Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day on the San Marcos River

Virgin Voyage of the Riken Raft

As you may know, I got a really great eBay deal on a used whitewater raft. It even included a trailer. Just one small detail - we had to drive to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to pick up the bargain. Kathy and I made the trip in May, and now had the raft (along with a few other purchases) sitting in the garage. What to do?

Plans were made for Father's Day. We drove up to Austin on Saturday evening, pulling the trailer behind us, and spent the night with Hal and Carey in their new home. On Sunday morning, I headed alone down IH-35 to Buda for a "quick" shopping trip at Cabela's. Kathy and the kids gave me a head start, and then drove to San Marcos. They had a beer near the courthouse square as I completed my shopping. We then met at the Cape Road crossing of the San Marcos River, towards the end of Thompson's Island. We left Sally's car there, and headed in the van to City Park for our launch.

We carried some additional passengers with us - three clueless young men who had floated from the park down to the road crossing, thinking that there was a shuttle to take them back. They were getting ready to walk back to the park (one of them in bare feet, as he had lost his sandals on the river), a 2.3-mile hike to the other side of the Interstate, carrying their inflatable pool floats. Two of them rode in the trailer, perched atop our raft. As it turned out, their vehicle was in a prime parking space at the City Park. After unloading the raft from the trailer (with their help) and unhitching the trailer, we were able to park our van in their spot. We used the hand pump to top off the raft, loaded the beer cooler and other necessities, worked our way past the numerous picnickers, and slid the raft into the water. We were underway.

Kathy, Sally, Carey, and Hal provided the power strokes, while I sat perched on the stern and steered. There were a lot of people in the river, most of them tubing. Very few of them appeared to ever check their rear view mirrors to see what was catching up to them. The young swimmers jumping into the first chute at Rio Vista Dam were particularly unaware of the floating behemoth bearing down on them. I'm not sure how many bodies we ran over at the falls. I do know that my paddle contacted at least one head as the raft climbed over the huge standing wave at the bottom of the first drop. Fortunately, no damage done, and perhaps one swimmer learned a valuable lesson.

About two miles downstream of the Park, we arrived at the top of Thompson's Island. We chose not to run Cape Falls, which leads to the main channel of the river on the right side of the island, as we had been advised that there was a large downed tree blocking that channel. As we stayed left, we spotted this Yellow-crowned Night Heron on the left bank. She wasn't particularly happy to see us, but didn't take flight, either. From there, it was only a few hundred yards along the left channel, an old mill race, to our take-out at Cape Road. Once there, Sally drove me back to City Park to pick up the van and trailer. Soon the kids were headed back north to Austin and Kathy and I were on our way south to San Antonio. It had been a great Father's Day.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bandera Canyonlands and Medina River

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About thirty people gathered early on a Saturday morning at the third crossing of the North Prong of the Medina River on FM 2107. We were there to participate in a North Prong Medina River Watershed Tour sponsored by the Medina River Protection Fund. Our kind hosts were Judy and Jerry Pierce. Shown above is Judy giving a brief introduction at the crossing. From there, the Pierces led us up Mickle Creek Road to their Lonesome Hills Ranch, the site of our tour.

We hiked up a small ravine, passing by several small springs. The water table had risen after most of the juniper had been cleared from the ranch, and there was quite a variety of trees and plants. Above, Jerry explains the work they have done at the ranch as Bob Brischetto, who helped organize the tour, listens.

Blackberries were starting to ripen on this bush. They were quite tasty.

With no livestock grazing, the grasses and flowers were quite lush.

After the severe flooding in 1978, the Corps of Engineers had constructed several dams along the Medina River tributaries. One of them created this lake at Lonesome Hills Ranch.

After the formal tour was over, about a dozen of us accompanied our hosts on a driving tour up FM 2107. The road crossed the North Prong several times as we gained elevation, and the scenery was very nice.

At one crossing, the river spilled over rock ledges between large bald cypress trees.

We speculated about how long ago this boulder had broken free from the rock face.

Nancy found a comfortable seat.

Looking down about fifteen feet to the shallow river.

With our headwaters tour over, we drove back to the town of Medina to pick up the boat trailer and vehicles we had left there on the way up to the North Fork. Of course, we also had to eat lunch at Love Creek Orchards Cider Mill and Country Store, which is where we had parked our gear.

After lunch, ten of us launched our kayaks at the Camp Bandina crossing. Earlier that morning, on our way up from Bandera,we had left a couple of vehicles at the Peaceful Valley Road crossing, about 3.5 river miles downstream from our put-in. Those deciding that the day would not be complete without actually getting on the river were Stan, Joline, Nancy, Dan, Cynthia, Bill, Bob, Linda, Laurel, and I. Sorry I didn't get a group photo.

Joline, Cynthia, and Dan pretended to be enjoying themselves.

Some deeper water gave Dan an opportunity to practice his roll. Cynthia was ready to provide any assistance that might be needed.

Along the way, Bob worked hard to remove some of the invasive water plants that had established a foothold in one section of the river. Sorry I didn't get a photo of his efforts. The roots those plants have are really large.

A merry group (Joline, Nancy, Stan, and Linda) at the take-out. Looks like Stan's whistle worked well in calling the wildlife.

Note: To view an additional 22 photos of this outing, click here to be linked to my Flickr page, then click on "Slideshow."

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Guadalupe River

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Five renegades decided to break free from the herd and hit the river on their own schedule one Saturday morning. These rebels, who will go unnamed (for a few seconds), launched their boats at the Zoeller Lane crossing a couple of hours ahead of the Saturday Paddlers. Some were heard to intone: "Early at last! Early at last! Thank God Almighty, we are early at last."

Bing always seems to be happiest when fishing (or sending impolite jokes by email). Kathy, on the other hand, seems most content when just sitting in the water.

Bing's friend from work, Teresa, who was joining us on the water for the first time, explores the shoreline at our lunch break.

Kathy and Susan enjoying the current.

Correction: Bing is happiest when he catches a fish.

Kathy and I briefly explored Violet Creek. Susan and Teresa glide by the mouth of the creek on their way to Violet Rapid.

Now that is determination.

Kathy was more relaxed.

Teresa seemed to enjoy the challenge.

I point out the way as Susan "assists" me in moving my canoe back upstream to run the rapid a second time.

After my second run through the rapid using the river left route, I start back upstream along the right bank to try that side.

It's amazing how much the river changes at different water levels and after even minor flooding. We were now able to take the river right passage through Violet Rapid without facing water that was too shallow, a change from recent years.

Kids, don't try this at home. Unless, of course, you have a river in your back yard or a large bathtub.

For an additional 31 photos from this outing, click here to go to my Flickr page, then click "Slideshow."