Monday, November 11, 2013

Pecos River Adventure 2013

 In April of 1993, me and my two buddies, Keith and Shane, embarked on a quick weekend trip that forever changed my life. It was my first experience to the Pecos River at Lake Amistad. The enormous canyon walls, the wide river cutting through them, the sheer beauty of a fishing heaven. It was an amazing trip with tons of fish caught, but what lit the spark was something as simple as boat trouble many miles upriver from Highway 90 Highbridge. As the two "mechanics" worked on the motor in a cove we drifted into, I grew tired of watching, so I went exploring up the side of the canyon. Within a few minutes of climbing I came across the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Walking through the thick foliage, I had entered an enormous room filled with hundreds of pictographs covering its walls from top to bottom like wallpaper. I hollared at my buddies to come up and we all stood there in amazement at the sheer size of this dwelling that was hidden from view from the river. It felt like we walked back in time thousands of years.We took lots of photos and at trip's end, we headed home, but the curiosity never left.

CLICK ON ANY PHOTO TO ENLARGE


 Through the next twenty years I have spent countless hours, days, weeks, learning and exploring the history of the river and surrounding Trans-Pecos region. Reading every book I could find about it, digging through old archived photos, planning and taking trips, and always day dreaming of our next encounter. It's not obsessive if it's in the name of knowledge....right?
 Now with hundreds of visits to the Pecos River at Pandale, private river ranches, Highbridge, and most the 60 some miles in between, full and nearly dried up, I finally had a chance to bring my son along. He's canoed with me at Pandale, but every time we planned a trip to drop in at the Pecos River ramp, it was pouring rain and he was just too little for such a crazy adventure. Times have changed for us. He's 12 now and can handle himself very well in his own kayak and around camp. The time has finally come. And what better time than on my 40th birthday weekend. (there was really no significance with turning that age, but I figured it would help in getting permission from my wife for a 4 day "man" trip.lol)

Thursday November 7, 2013
 After a month of planning, the day of departure was here. I waited until Nicholas was out of school to get on the road and was already packed and loaded and just waiting for them to get home. Our destination was Seminole Canyon State Park. We would setup our camp there for the next three nights even though our plans were to stay one night on the river. The reason was, I didn't want to get back after two days on the river and setup camp again. Leave the tent up, pay the little extra for that night, and know I have a place to crash as soon as we get out of the car on Saturday evening. This proved to be the right decision for this trip.
 We arrived a little after 8pm and immediately started to make camp. Soon we ran into a small problem....some doofus didn't check the tent out when we left to make sure the thing was tip top shape. The bungee rope that attaches the poles together was extremely brittle and tearing apart between the poles every time it was touched. Grrrrrr.
A not so quick trip to Walmart in Del Rio and we were back to our most humble abode readying ourselves for the big day that lay ahead.

On the road.

Settling into our "new" tent.

Friday November 8, 2013
 We got up early and headed to the park headquarters to finish our check-in. We were a little slow this morning from all the running around the day before but were excited to get to the ramp. I had the print out they made me that morning at the park which stated a less than 10% chance of rain and partly cloudy. Well, you guessed it...rain. And lots of it. Of course, we're dropping in at the Pecos River ramp, of course it's going to rain. Lake's 40 feet low and never rain in the forecast, but here we come, and so does the rain. I should charge for my visits.
 The road there was quick from the park. After passing the old gas station, which we used often in the nineties, we were heading down the long road down to the water. It was once the old highway that crossed the Pecos back before the dam. It now serves as the boat ramp.
I remember this place well. It's sad to see it the way it is now.
The old highway turned boat ramp.
The view towards the Rio Grande and Mexico. Sand/mud bars prevent any travel from the Pecos down to the main lake.
Road down to the ramp on the right.
Ready to drop in.




 It was a slow drizzle to light rain most the day with a few heavier quick showers. We were prepared for this with Mag 2 chest waders, paddle jackets, paddle gloves and frog toggs to keep us dry.


Ready for war....or rain....or fish.
The rain spit on us all day long, but yet it was not discouraging our moods as we paddled along the canyon walls listening to the birds and the goats bleating from high above us. One thing that we planned on being a pain was the wind....which was non-existent. Say what??? No wind??? You've got to be kidding me. I'm pretty sure if the wind would have been howling, things would have been different with respect to our moods.
 We were surprisingly warm throughout the morning until the gloves got soaked and then the cold started to irritate our fingers. And the rain continued.



Still coming down 2 hours after launch



After hours of rain we figured it was time for lunch. We had been in search of a suitable spot to get out of the rain for a while. It's amazing how few places there are out here to get out of the kayaks. Just because the water comes up to the side of the canyon doesn't mean you can get out. The canyons go a lot further down below water level before they start to turn into the canyon floor.  Where the level is at, even as low as the lake is, there may be a fifteen to twenty foot drop right off the wall. No where to step but straight down. We paddled into a cove that had a bit of a gravel bar we could climb on to get out. Stretching our legs and looking around, we found a small cave just above were we pulled the kayaks up at. A perfect spot for lunch, a dry spot.



 During the dry time in the cave, we started discussing what was going to happen next. We weren't sure what the weather was going to do. There were two downpours that lasted a few minutes each while we were sitting there. Then at some point there was an idea brought to the table. What if we paddled around exploring more areas, head back to the ramp, sleep in a dry tent after a nice warm meal and head out again early the next morning? But the plan was to camp out here. I think the constant beating of rain down on our hoods was getting the better of him. I could see in his eyes, it was starting to wear on him. I had to step back and refocus. He's only 12, I don't want this to be a "oh yeah, I remember that night, it was miserable" kind of trip. The word was given...let's go explore some more and get back to camp for some warm vittles. There was an immediate change in attitude. Fun was restored.

We found another really great side canyon to play in. It was underwater for many years, but now is great to paddle around in. It seems like it went on forever, further and further back. I would paddle down and it would keep making tight turns where I would be alone for a few minutes then I would turn around to see Nicholas coming round the corner. It finally ended with cavern like walls surrounding us in a deep emerald pool of water. It didn't feel like the rest of the river, it was like it brought us to a different place. Another cool cave to climb around in and explore. This one was filled with trash and debris from years past as the water receded.






Our day on the great river was coming to an end. It rained six out of the seven hours we were on the water, still no wind and a great sense of satisfaction. We were still in high spirits and excited about getting here early the next day to continue our adventure. We were back at camp by dark.

 I'm usually pretty restless just sitting around in a tent. The burn ban was still in effect in Val Verde County, so no campfires. After getting all of our gear out of the yaks, I noticed the clouds had all but cleared off with some approaching from the south over Mexico. I thought it would be a good time to get the camera out and play a while before bed.


Orion above the horizon with the lights of Del Rio glowing against the clouds in the distance.



Our campsite at Seminole Canyon State Park


  It wasn't very long until the clouds rolled back in and covered the sky. It was time to turn in for the night and let this sore body get some rest for another full day on the water.

Saturday November 9, 2013
 We awoke early the next morning feeling great...or as great as turning 40 that day can feel. I had no service any where close to there, but my son was able to get a decent wifi on his kindle and was able to text back home that all was well and we were still alive. After the nice birthday wishes we had a quick breakfast and off to the river we headed.

 As soon as we got there I knew the rain was done with us, but our old friend, the wind, had shown up and would be our constant companion the rest of the day. 





Our main goal was to get to Deadman's Canyon and explore as much as we could in between. We came up on the railroad highbridge, built in the forties, at around mile 5. It is such an impressive structure. We could hear the train miles before we could see it as the sounds whipped through the canyon walls. I was able to finally see the remnants of the old railroad bridge built just before turn of the century. The times we passed it before, it was always under water, as well as the pump house.
 There is so much history just surrounding this bridge and the previous one, and what it meant to America from the early days through WWII and up to now. It will definitely need it's own post in the future.






We continued our trek up river and finally got to the spot that started my fascination with the Pecos and it's history all those years ago. It's not near as close to the water as it used to be. It would be quite a climb through some heavy brush and I wanted Nicholas to see what it was like for the people here thousands of years before us. Then it hit me. I wasn't sure of the legal part of going up there. I'm well aware of the Devil's River issues. Was it considered legal to walk up the face of the canyon that is still in the boundary of the national park? Was it considered private property? That wasn't part of the thinking process 20 years ago, but have a better knowledge of things now. I hate having a conscience sometimes. So we decided to just go up to where the water line was at and wander around what was underwater just a few years ago. It looked to be a difficult venture anyway. We shot some pics and talked about the old days on the river.



 As we sat on the banks we realized it was getting close to 2pm and we needed to start heading back. Deadman's Canyon will have to wait for another time. We only had limited time before it started to get dark. Then it hit me again. Our old pal the wind would be yelling in our face all the way back. Just like all the paddlers before me have said, that wind tunnel is going to be a booger. The wind tunnel is a two and a half mile stretch of canyon that runs northwest to southeast. The wind is known to come south southeast a lot of the time....and today was no different. Off we went.




Things were a bit difficult the first few miles back. Then we hit the infamous wind tunnel. We could see the white caps and I knew the wind still couldn't have been more than 15mph. This wasn't going to be fun. Thank goodness we have Prowler 13's. They cut through the water with little effort. Just don't stop paddling. We still averaged 3mph going straight into the headwind. Soon we were out. I mean, as soon as we turned the corner and could see the highway bridge, it was like everything became still. We laughed as we went under the bridge at how crazy it was not to have to fight so hard like we did just a few moments earlier.


Checking out the goats climbing in the background.



The boat ramp was a sight for these forty year old eyes. I was glad to be back. Two days and 18 miles. I felt every mile too. We had an absolute blast. Nicholas handled every challenge like a champ. Never complained even when I thought he would, or at least should. I was surprised and impressed for someone who just in May had to have surgery to put his forearm back into one piece. These are the memories that will last the rest of our lives. There's nothing better than being able to experience these adventures with my son. I always knew we would one day, ever since he was an infant and we stood at the top of the highbridge overlook, planning a day like this 12 years ago. We're already discussing our next outing.....as soon as the soreness leaves.

 We were both beat by the time we hit camp. But it's my birthday. No camp food tonight for us. We changed and headed to Del Rio where there was a steak at Applebees waiting on me.

 We got back late and Nicholas still had a book report due on Monday. So as he read through his book, I played outside with my camera.







We even made a quick trip to the Highbridge over the Pecos for a few night shots. These were taken at about 10pm.



Sunday November 10, 2013
 The next morning we got up to a nice fog covering us up.


It was soon gone and we broke camp and headed over to park headquarters to take the tour of Fate Bell cave. We have taken it quite a few times in the past, but it never gets old. If you're ever in the area, that is a great tour to take. They do a great job teaching the history of the land.



Here are a few extras I got while walking around that day.



This is definitely a trip that takes planning and a bit of stubbornness. I've been told I have plenty of that. It was an amazing adventure, one for the books. I can't wait to get back down there. Until then, i'll have to spent my free time tearing up the bass around here. Always day dreaming of just one more day on the Pecos.

 Oh yeah, I nearly forgot. Fishing. Well, this wasn't really a fishing trip for us. I did bring my arsenal, but I fished maybe an hour's worth in two days. Weird? Yeah, I know. I didn't really think about it too much. I had two great hook ups, but one got me caught up in a stump, the other spit the lure at me right by the kayak. That one was probably about three pounds....I mean, that one was pushing ten pounds easy. :)

Everything was shot with a wide range of gear.
Nikon D7000
Fuji Waterproof Camera
2 GoPros
Sony Sureshot


Thanks for coming along,

Scott












4 comments:

  1. What a wonderful read, Scott. Don't know what you spent on the trip with Nicholas, and don't really care--just knowing the value is....priceless!! Your camera shots of the canyon are phenomenal, and I'd be a Texas-size liar if I didn't admit to more than a little jealousy for the weekend you got to spend with your kiddo in such a magical location. I know you have to be one proud Papa!!

    Keith Morgan--"morgangler"

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    1. Thanks Keith. It was by far the best trip for so many reasons, with many more to come. It's only four hours from you....start planning. Oh and btw, the whole trip cost $100....as far as my wife knows. LOL

      Scott

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  2. Looks like a great time with your son. Happy belated birthday.

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    1. Thanks! It was the best, i've got some planning to do, only 359 more days til my 41st birthday...lol

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