Saturday, June 20, 2015

Saturday Paddlers - Medina River

The Medina River was running high (800 cfs), it was raining lightly, and the forecast called for scattered thunderstorms in the area and upstream.  Perhaps that explains why only five paddlers showed up for the Saturday Paddlers' planned trip from Pioneer River Resort in Bandera to English Crossing.  These hearty souls were Joline, Don, Bob, and Kathy and I.  After we studied the gauges, looked at the weather radar, and viewed the river running over the bridge at English Crossing, our number dwindled to three.  Joline and Kathy decided to help us run the shuttle and then retreat to Bandera for a nice meal.

Because of the uncertain weather and what effect it might have on the river, a decision was made to shorten the trip by launching about 3.5 miles downstream from Bandera.  Bob secured permission from a local landowner to launch at his riverfront property.  Our put in was about fifty yards upstream of the confluence of San Julian Creek and the river.  This reduced our river mileage from about 12.4 miles to just under 9 miles.

Shortly after launching, we paddled the short distance up the creek to a dam.  Here is Don heading back down the creek to where Bob is waiting for us on the Medina River.

The scenery on this part of the Medina River is varied and beautiful, bordering on the spectacular in places.  Many of the limestone ridges are colored with desert varnish.

Don, using Kathy's kayak for the first time, apparently decided to go for a swim (on a few occasions).

The last time the Saturday Paddlers had been on this stretch of the Medina River was in 2007.  Since that wet year, traveling down the river below the town of Bandera would, because of the drought,  almost always have involved more walking than paddling.  Sadly, since that year there has been more development along the river as large ranches were sold and subdivided.  At least most of the development close to the river has been of fairly high quality.  However, it is still discouraging to see the changes since I first floated on this part of the Medina River about forty years ago.

Rooms with a view - a house in the Bridlegate Ranch subdivision.

Bob leads the way on the swollen river.

This is an upstream view of Privilege Creek from where it empties into the Medina River.  There is a condominium development up the hill to the right.  A sign of "progress" marching into this once-isolated landscape?

Bob and Don pulled over while I attempted to get the blood flowing again in my legs.

Some goats, apparently bothered by our gawking, deftly clambered up to the top of the ridge from the small cave created by the overhang.  If you click on the photo, you may be able to see two or three of them in the shelter.

Clear water cascades from a spring alongside the river.


A landowner has found a way to get down to the river and back up to the top of the ridge.  On the cliff face just past this precarious-looking elevator are several rock climbing anchors and carabiners, perhaps used for rappelling

When we arrived at English Crossing after about two and a half hours on the river, we found Kathy and Joline waiting for us.  They were apparently anxious to hear about our adventure after their longer-than-expected lunch at O.S.T. in Bandera.  Joline even shared some cold onion rings with me!  Despite the slight drizzle which hid the sun from us throughout our trip, it had been a good day on the river - as it almost always is.

Note:  Click on any photo to enlarge.  To view all fourteen photos from this outing, click here to connect to my Flickr page.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday Paddlers - Guadalupe River

The announced trip for the Saturday Paddlers had them putting in at Edge Falls Road and taking out at Nichols Landing, a journey of about 9 miles.  With the river running at about 950 cfs at the Spring Branch gauge, I decided that I really wanted to enjoy more of the river.  So I started a little earlier than the group and about 3.6 miles further upstream.  By launching at the FM 3351 bridge (Sueltenfuss Crossing) north of Bergheim, I would be able to enjoy the excitement of Rock Pile Rapid and Dog Leg Rapid, two of the best rapids on the Upper Guadalupe River.  As seen above, I pulled over just below Rock Pile Rapid to empty out the water that splashed into my canoe as I plowed through one of the standing waves at the bottom of the rapid.

A look back upstream at Rock Pile Rapid

Dry just a month earlier, Travertine Falls was now alive with water from a tributary creek pouring over it and into the river.

I caught up with the group at their lunch break at Guadalupe River State Park.  After the usual snacks and a frozen margarita (or two), we proceeded downstream.  Miguel and several others paddled the short distance up Honey Creek to view the small falls there.

Limestone cliffs added to the scenery.

Terry, Margaret, Gayle, and I made a rather lengthy detour up Curry Creek.

The waters of the creek turned clearer as we approached the falls, which were running more powerfully than on my two previous trips "up the creek."  Fortunately, we were equipped with paddles.

The other three adventurers turned back once we reached the shallow limestone ledge in front of the falls.  I decided to hike upstream to explore Curry Creek.

A short distance upstream were several small pools and swimming holes, separated by tiny falls.

I enjoyed the view back downstream towards the bend in the creek where the falls are located.

After a somewhat confusing loading of the boats at Nichols Landing, and after I was kindly transported back to my vehicle by Rod, nine of us enjoyed some food and adult beverages at Daddy O's Mexican Restaurant & Cantina on Highway 46.

Terry, Jeri, Margaret, Sandra, Joline, Jerry, Gayle, and Rod try to act like they are having fun at the restaurant.

Notes:  Click on any photo to enlarge.  To see all thirty of my photographs from this outing, click here to be magically transported to my Flickr album.


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Blanco River - Before the Deluge

On May 22, I played hooky from the office and joined three friends on the Blanco River.  The river, which had been running at well below 100 cfs since June of last year (based on the gauge downstream at Wimberley), had received a boost from recent rainstorms.  We had cancelled our planned outing the prior Sunday after the river had suddenly risen to 2,000 cfs that morning and then peaked at 6,000 cfs that afternoon.  The river was now on a steady decline, and we wanted to enjoy the water before it dropped too much further and the drought returned.  Little did we know what would happen the following evening.

We launched our boats near the low-water crossing on Valley View Road shortly after noon.  The flow was around 475 cfs, about four times what it had been when I had first paddled this stretch a year earlier.  We were in for a fun, but not overly challenging, ride.  The view above is looking upstream at the small falls just downstream from the crossing.  For some short (and somewhat shaky, because I was trying to balance my spinning canoe while holding the camera instead of a paddle) videos of the above rapids, click here and also here.

Gary and Jon were in whitewater canoes, as was I.

Tall limestone bluffs lined the river.  For a short video of this scene, including some bird calls (if you turn up the sound), click here.

After stopping for lunch along the bank, we climbed back in our boats.  Jim was the sole kayaker in our group.  I noted that the water under the rock overhangs across the river was about four feet higher than it had been a year earlier.

Around the next bend from our lunch stop, we would see the Fischer Store Road bridge.  It marked the 4.5-mile point of our approximately 8-mile journey to the low-water crossing on Wayside Drive, itself about seven miles upstream from the heart of Wimberley.  Below is a photo of the bridge, taken by Kathy a year earlier when it served as our take-out point.

Note the height of the bridge above the river.  We may have been the last persons to paddle under the bridge.  About thirty-four hours later, the bridge had been destroyed by flood waters.  Saturday night around midnight, the river flow shot straight up to about 70,000 cfs, at which point the gauge stopped working.  It is my understanding that the river climbed more than 40 feet in height in Wimberley, resulting in a tragic loss in lives and severe property damage.

Below are some images from the internet of the Fischer Store Road bridge after the disastrous flooding.

We had a few moments of excitement  as we paddled downstream from the bridge, as evidenced by the damage (shown below) I inflicted on the bow of my canoe.  When I smashed into a water-covered boulder in the middle of a drop in the river, the Purple Fox came to a sudden stop.  I did not.  The fabric anchor for one of my thigh straps ripped apart and my momentum carried me forward, resulting in a faceplant into the front flotation bag.  Luckily, the only damage I incurred was to my pride.

Of course, as we finished our almost idyllic paddling trip at Wayside Drive, we had no way of knowing about the tragedy that would unfold the following night.  Our hearts go out to the families and friends of those who lost their lives, and we wish a quick recovery to those whose homes were destroyed or damaged.  Future trips on the Blanco will inevitably bring forth a lingering sadness and a new-found respect for the awesome power of the river.