Santa Elena Canyon

Big Bend NP, Texas – March 2015

I was determined to get my kayak on the Rio Grande River. I had read that because of the limited number of put ins the shortest float available was about 10 miles. Given the slow pace of the river I imagined that would be a very long day. Luckily I ran in to an outfitter on the riverbank my first day.   He was setting up lunch for his charges at a riverside picnic area and I asked him about the river conditions. He said the prettiest place in the park was inside the Santa Elena Canyon and that the simplest way to see it was to put in at the end of it and paddle up as far as I could.

So the very next day I loaded up the kayak and headed that way. The canyon is located at the very end of the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. At the outfitter’s suggestion I drove past the official boat launch about a mile before the end of the road and parked instead at the trail head. I then carried the kayak several hundred feet to the water’s edge.

Paddling up the river was pretty easy. The river averaged only about 20 feet wide inside the canyon and although I knew the water level was down I was still very surprised to realize it was rarely over 2 feet deep. The water was gray and you couldn’t see into it at all. The biggest challenge was finding a channel deep enough to paddle through. It was often easier to get out and pull the kayak over a shallow area than fight the current in the narrow channel deep enough to float.

I quickly got beyond where the hikers could see and the canyon was stunning.DIGITAL CAMERA

I made it one and a half miles upriver to this spot.

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Unfortunately I could not explore this cave because it was on the Mexico side of the river and landing on their shore is against the law. A couple local canoers floated by and I asked them if the cave was natural or man made because it looked like it could be a mine. They said it was natural, the result of volcanic activity. They also said I should be able to make it another mile and a half up river before I would have to turn back. I decided I was satisfied with the days paddling. Instead I enjoyed the large American gravel bar across from the cave for a while then slowly floated back out.

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I would definitely like to do this float again on a warmer day, start earlier, and try to get 3 miles up it as they suggested. Maybe on my next visit to Big Bend.

Hit the Road Jack!!

Missouri to San Antonio – February 2015

After years of dreaming, months of planning, and weeks of packing it’s finally a reality. No more sticks and bricks home for me. The house is remodeled, emptied, and on the market. Practically everything I own is packed in to (stuffed under or strapped on to) my 30 foot fifth wheel and Ford pickup.

The first day of this epic adventure I woke up at 4 am excited to get under way. I still had to finish loading up, clean the house for the last time, and hook up the trailer. I finally hit the road about 9 am. I originally planned to get to my first destination, Dallas, by dinnertime. I got to Tulsa by lunchtime and things went downhill from there. The Oklahoma roads from Tulsa to the state line were terrible! I’ve made the trip several times but never with the trailer and facing a headwind the whole way.

About three I started looking for a place to call it a day. I wanted to get out of Oklahoma though so I stopped at the first Texas State Park I could find. Eisenhower State Park is on Texoma Lake which, as the name implies, is on the Texas Oklahoma state line. It was a very nice place to call home for the night, reasonably priced, and, most important, in the right place.

The next day I finally pulled in to a little town east of Dallas where my brother lives to visit with him and his family for the weekend. There were not a lot of camping options there so I chose an RV park behind a gas station for its proximity to my brother’s home and reasonable rates. I didn’t have very high expectations but it actually turned out to be clean, quiet, and much more pleasant than expected.

After a weekend spent visiting, eating too much, and playing with the great-nephews I was ready to move on Monday morning and see what this full time lifestyle was really about. I had planned to head to San Antonio next but because of a recommendation from my nephew I decided instead to go to San Marcos which is just an hour north of San Antonio. It turned out to be excellent advice.

I found a very nice campground that was well out of the price range I have budgeted per night. But Pecan Park Riverside RV had a coupon on their website for 30% off weeknights, they were right on the river and next door to the outfitter I planned to use, and they had an indoor heated pool. Sold!!

This was my first look at the San Marcos River where it flowed past camp.

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The town of San Marcos is built around the river. It is spring water and incredibly clear for several miles. I checked out the town and access the first day and floated the second. The river first flows through the University of Texas campus. I put in at the city park and then paddled up stream through the campus.

If I ever went back to college this would be my kind of school with a beautiful, clear river running through it. There are big wide steps down to the water so the students can access the swimming area, a shed full of kayaks, and a boat dock.

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The river flowed through town for several miles and there were beautiful pedestrian bridges over it and parks built along it. The best parts of the float were definitely in town since that is where the water was clearest and because of the sheer novelty of floating through a town of 50 some thousand people but feeling relatively remote. After the last city park the river was a bit slow and not as clear. And then there was this!

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The outfitter had mentioned porting over a dam but I never expected anything this big. It was a little intimidating from the top but turned out to be not as hard as it looked. Those big blocks were very helpful. It would have been very difficult to do had I been alone. The view of the dam from below was pretty.

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I would definitely recommend this float. But if I had it to do again I would have just floated through town and taken out at the last city park.

On my last day in San Marcos I drove in to San Antonio. I have been trying to visit this city for 15 years and it never seemed to work out. I’m very glad I finally made it. I went to The Alamo and then walked around the oldest portion of the riverwalk where it makes a loop through the historic district. My first trip around the loop I was getting a sense of the place and oohing and ahhing over all the old buildings and bridges. Next I took the riverboat tour which I considered reasonably priced at only $8 per person and extremely informative. I then took another walk around the loop to get a better look at all the things they’d pointed out on the tour that I’d missed the first time.

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It is a beautiful place and I definitely plan to come back and spend a week or so here in the years to come.