Took a spin out last night at our neighborhood Tin Top ramp. Recent rains and subsequent blow out dam releases resulted in this.
I looked it up as I was afraid it was chemical, but it’s most likely organic:
- When leaves, twigs or other organic substances fall into water and begin decaying, they release compounds known as surfacants.
- This interaction breaks the surface tension, which in turn allows air to more easily mix with water and creates bubbles. These bubbles congregate as natural foam.
I just downloaded and listened to the first chapter of Goodbye to a River by John Graves with an available audio credit on our Audible account. Here is what Wikipedia says about this book about my closest river:
“Goodbye to a River is a book by John Graves, published in 1960. It is a “semi-historical” account of a canoe trip made by the author during the fall of 1957 down a stretch of the Brazos River in North Central Texas, between Possum Kingdom Damand Lake Whitney. The book presents both the author’s account of the trip itself and numerous stories about the history and settlement of the area around the river and of North Central Texas. The title refers to Graves’ childhood association with the river and the country surrounding it, and his fear of the “drowning” effect that a proposed series of flood-control dams (most notably, Lake Granbury) would have on the river.
Only three of the dams were built on the river, but at one time up to thirteen were proposed at various locations along its course to the Gulf of Mexico. The success ofGoodbye to a River is often cited as a major reason that the proposed dams were never built.
I did not spend my childhood on this river but did spend some time swimming in Lake Whitney proceeded by family campfires before heading back to the city. The only river in Texas I’ve canoed in before my recent Brazos excursions was the Guadelupe during my His Hill Ranch Camp summers from age 15 to 22. I don’t know why I feel at home in the Brazos, but I fell in love with it around 20 years ago when I would take scenic drives around my adopted home town of Weatherford, Texas. The first time was when my ex husband and I were having difficulties and I took our two very young children on a drive to Pecan Plantation in our old hand me down car. This is a gated community on the other side of De Cordova Dam that impounds Lake Granbury. The gatekeeper had pity on me and let me in to see the beautiful estates and stop by an undeveloped space where the river ran close to the road for the kids and I to wade a bit. That was a beautiful respite from my troubles.
Shortly after, I took another similar trip to Horseshoe Bend, a little non-gated community of stilted small homes that is not as well-off. I was very surprised how wide the river was because my previous experiences going over Texas rivers on bridges showed them little more than creeks. This is the drowning effect the dams have had I suppose. In Graves’ book, the Brazos has always had some pretty deep and wide pockets between narrow high spots and rapids. It was the largeness that I experienced that made me love this river in particular instead of rivers in general.
Still, the fact that it’s a Texas river makes it hold more fascination for me than any other river in any other state, whether it is similar or different. If it’s in Texas, it’s mine, if it’s not, it’s borrowed and foreign.
I feel almost as homey about the Guadelupe, Colorado, the Rio Grande, and all the other Texas rivers too. But not the other Texas cities. I don’t think I can call anywhere else but Weatherford home. The other Texas rivers are the waters I’m lead by where my soul is restored, but not the other towns. I can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Before we hit the rapids I saw smoothed out grass gently sloping up the bank right before the bridge. I looked on my map and saw there was a driveway that connected it to Rochelle’s. I briefly considered putting in there but thought George might have a hard time finding us. Now I wish I had!
While we were waiting for him, I heard the camouflaged air boat approaching and gunning it before the bridge. I’m sure he went up that bank, or up the trailer on the bank. Then they drove under the bridge, passed us on the ramp waving, and went up towards the buildings and the highway. The large air boat with it’s huge fan on the back being pulled behind the truck cast a weird silhouette as it crossed the long, tall bridge against the beautifully setting sun. Wish I had a picture.
There was enough changing of activity from paddling to peddling and gliding through rapids and enough speed in the river to keep us from working too hard and to keep my sidesplints from hurting till the last 4th of the trip. Since we were ahead of schedule we mostly drifted the last stretch where we could see the hwy 4 bridge from pretty far away. It was kind of shallow though so we just steered with our paddles. We had eaten most of our food already on peddling breaks where our hands were free. I saved my Snickers because I wasn’t very hungry, but since my side was hurting and I was tired I went ahead. It’s amazing how rejuvenating it was. The Arnold Palmer was also uplifting and helped Rachel a lot a bit earlier. But it has other caffeine side effects that I have to limit. It’s a good thing I got powered up, because I was not expecting the extent of rapids under the hwy 4 bridge. It was a little after 7 so the sun lit up the jutting up rocks, that weirdly and unusually had millions of dragonflies sitting on them. Maybe if they hadn’t distracted me as I was whizzing through what I thought was a clear path I would have foreseen the sudden left turn with the large rock looming on the other side. I was coming down sideways and was headed right for it to hit the middle of my boat. The water was too shallow for me to paddle deep enough to get enough momentum to get around it. I hit it solidly in the middle of my kayak on the right and tried to push off with my paddle but I was going too fast and hit it too hard. My kayak flipped over and dumped me out. The only thing I saw as my legs were out from under me was the Mirage Drives and one flip flop. The kayak was out of reach and moving fast downriver upside down. I grabbed the Mirage Drive, flip flop and was trying to stand up when Rachel zoomed around me and the rock going backwards and smiling as she said triumphantly, “I missed it!” This was payback for all of my “want to go under that tree?” jokes. She said she would go get my stuff. It was hard to wade through the sharp large slippery rocks to the bank as the current was really strong. I got knocked off balance once as I went, but caught myself by putting a hand down. It took a long time to get to the side as I concentrated on the rocks with my wet glasses, glancing at Rachel trying to right my kayak on Rochelle’s rocky ramp. She met me half way with my other flip flop! I thought it was a gonner. My purse had been submerged though and my keyless entry fob was wet. I didn’t know if it would work anymore. And my paddle was gone. My cellphone in the waterproof pouch stayed with the boat, thank goodness. We still didn’t have reception, so she said she’d go up the hill to where we saw Rochelle’s buildings and try to call Dad. Meanwhile I thought I should look for my paddle, but I was a little shaken up and not sure I wanted to get back in right there. I got in her boat and went downstream a ways and didn’t see anything. Feeling more secure again, I decided to go towards the rapids. Sure enough it was caught on a large rock about 10 feet from the opposite bank at the bottom of the rapids. Thank the Lord! I didn’t loose anything! And this morning my keyfob works!
The traffic jam was so bad that it took George two hours, instead of one, to get home. He got to us about 8:30 just in time to have enough light to drain my boat and get them both secured, and to see the amount of scraping etched in the plastic bottoms. He didn’t think we should take them on that trip anymore. That’s a reason to rent canoes from Rochelle’s right there. But without Mirage Drives, I don’t know if you could make it in one day. It was an epic trip and we both loved it! Worth every scratch, but I don’t want to put any more on those awesome boats either.
The prettiest part of the river was definitely before Ioni Creek, along the 7 miles between it and the Hwy 16 ramp. The mountains were steeper and greener. They spread out after that and seemed to get drier, but it was still interesting, rugged, blissfully quiet except for bird and bug sounds, and beautiful. Shortly after Ioni Creek we were taking a detour around a sandy island and saw a large campsite on it with several tents and a smoldering firepit. Since no one was around, we thought that must be the fishermen’s camp whom we met on the rapids. There were also 5 gas cans by the bank. As we threaded through a narrow section we heard a loud helicopter sound coming from in front of us. For what seemed like several minutes it got louder and louder and sounded like it was coming towards us at water level. A large airboat with two men in it and “Air Ranger” written on the side, suddenly appeared turning into our inlet and quickly waved as they went past. Their wake splashed over the side of my boat. So that’s the way to quickly navigate the shallows around here. I imagined they were going to go help or at least meet the fishermen, and wondered if it was planned or they were somehow alerted (with no reception, unless some other carrier does have coverage) to rescue them.
On a more peaceful note, through one long stretch a kingfisher played catch me if you can while he was fishing. Rachel has studied her bird identification and recognized it and later an Osprey pair. Other than that we encountered our usual jumping bass which can startle you when they pop up with a big splash right next to your boat, a group of cows staring at us as we went past their watering spot, hitch-hiking light blue dragon flies keeping us company, several great blue herons and white egrets. We passed about 3 mansions very far apart built on the sides of hills, some house sized rocks sticking out of the river that had rolled down from the cliffs when the water used to flow up there eroding their underpinnings, a couple of guys pulled over in their canoe who were camping in the rocky overhangs, a father and son looking kayaking pair who watched us scoot down a rapid and maybe gave up trying to go up it. Perhaps they came in from the Boy Scout ranch with a zip line that we later passed.
Towards the end of the trip we heard the Air Rangers coming back down on the other side of an island bend from us, thank goodness. We also encountered another camouflaged airboat going upstream through a wide part of the river. It was at this part, about 5:30pm that I heard my texting notification. It time stamped when it came through instead of when it was sent. George was confused at my texts and said he could leave in an hour. I yelled in my text that he needed to leave right now or sooner! It would take him over an hour to get home and get his key, another hour to get to our car and trailer and leave his, and then another 20 minutes to get to Rochelle’s. A few minutes later he called me while we were still in the same spot, and that’s when he said he was stuck in Arlington traffic and would have to go home to get his key. Thank goodness he’d already left.
Over the summer, under normal conditions, the Brazos River Authority lets a certain amount of water run out of the dam. I’ve not monitored the usual amounts, but have been watching it for a month or so. They have been letting 75 cubic feet/second out consistently, and 16 cfs out of Lake Granbury the next lake downstream. Since Granbury levels stay constant, there must be a lot of water lost to evaporation.
75 cfs plus whatever comes in from the creeks, keeps the waster running over the rapids, so we didn’t really ever have drag our kayaks over the rocks or sand, except for two spots where we misjudged sandbars, and a couple of places we had to straddle, lift ourselves, and scoot a little to get over the rocks.
Before we even got to the Ioni Creek rapids, we encountered a couple of smaller rapids that you had to thread through in order to not get beached or hit the sides. One of these threw Rachel into a dead, overhanging tree so that she capsized. I was coming up behind her and was able to paddle hard towards the middle to avoid it. She yelled at me to get her stuff instead of helping her with her kayak. So I passed her as she fell again chasing her boat, then I caught her oar, then her hat as it was sinking, and found her water bottle further down, which had enough air in it keep it visible and floating. She got herself sorted on the inside sand bar as I paddled back to her. She had a little scrape and a probable bruise on her shin, but that seemed to be all. She thought the only thing she lost, since the life vest and her insulated lunch bag were battened down, was her long sleeve shirt that she no longer had needed. Then I saw a dark spot under the water close to her which turned out to be her shirt snagged on a rock. She said she wanted to keep going, so we did.
When we got close enough to hear the rapids and see that the next water level was noticeably lower than before the rapids, I asked her if she thought she could make it 13 more miles because I didn’t think we could pull the boats back up the rapids with the water pushing us back. We were averaging 2.3 miles per hour according to my Gaia GPS, which works with no cell reception, but does drain the battery probably a little too quickly to make it 20 miles while recording. There is a way to download the map and work in airplane mode, but I haven’t learned it yet. I suppose a lot of the battery goes to continuously updating the map. We were a little ahead of schedule for getting to Rochelle’s before the sun would set at 8:15pm.
The river gets deep enough between bends to use the pedals, and then we learned that when sand bars appeared before the bends, it always got too shallow so we had to take the pedals and the rudder out and paddle around. I kept looking at the drought conditions satellite google map to see the deepest way around the bends as there were a lot of islands that could be peninsulas that you don’t want to get stuck on the wrong side of. With the glare, it was hard to read the satellite view, but we managed. Looking back, the terrain or traffic view probably would have shown which way to go well enough, but I had been burned with that if you remember from previous posts.
Rachel was up for it, so we went through the rapids of no return. You just had to go through the V in the smooth water to get to the deepest slot, then turn sharply to the left to keep from getting turned around backwards, which Rachel eventually learned how to do. Right when we entered we saw a pontoon boat to the right that had 3 men fishing and a dog in it. Since we were getting shot through really fast, and were all caught off-guard, Rachel didn’t say anything and heard one guy say “Hey!” as he did a double take. Then I went through and said Hello, which they answered, and said, catch anything?, and barely heard him say not yet as I shot past. When I caught up to Rachel, she asked if I saw that their boat was crooked and looked stuck. I had wondered how they could make it half way up the rapid. What if they were stranded? Couldn’t three men pull out their own boat? What could 2 girls in a kayak with no cell reception do anyway? It’s hard to second guess these things.
Speaking of rapids and cell reception. Around the first little bend 1/4 mile or so down from our put in spot we encountered our first fast water. Here’s Rachel coming out of it:
When we regrouped after it, I remembered I hadn’t told George exactly what we’d decided about what to do with the car and trailer, and I knew we didn’t have reception and probably wouldn’t for the rest of the trip. I decided to go ahead and text him even though it said “no service” in case we hit a reception spot and it would automatically send, which it doesn’t. It makes me retry later. When I pushed “send”, miraculously one bar appeared and it went through! Schwew! I told him we could probably meet him at Rochelle’s 7ish if he got the car first.
Because of the impossibly perfect overcast, cool breezy day in August, with a high in the upper 70’s, Rachel and I decided to take the plunge into the upper Brazos while keeping our exit options as open as possible. We packed sunscreen, straw hats, toilet paper, 4 frozen water bottles, Rachel’s 32oz water bottle, 4 small Gator-aids, a large Arizona Arnold Palmer can, leftover pizza, half a turkey sandwich, 2 protein bars, a sandwich bag of Dill Pickle Chips, a banana, and a Hershey’s Cookies and Cream bar for her and a Snickers for me, our cellphones, 1 waterproof cellphone bag, and my un-waterproof purse with my electronic remote car key fob.
The closest boat ramp to the advertised most scenic part of all the Brazos is the Hwy 16 ramp, one mile downstream from the Possum Kingdom Lake dam. The next boat ramp is 20 miles downstream where the Brazos crosses Hwy 4 at Rochelle’s Canoe and Kayak Rental and Shuttle Service. They and other writers recommend you take the trip over two days and camp primitively in the middle. With our Hobie kayak Mirage Drives, we average 2.5mph with stops, so I figured we could easily make the whole trip in 10 hours, if the post dam river was deep enough to use them. The drives stick a little over a foot down in the water. I’d read about the Ioni Creek inlet rapids that are considered class 1 and suitable for everyone. No one wrote about the Hwy 4 rapids, except this Texas Parks and Wildlife description, ” A couple of good rapids, one located beneath the FM 4 bridge, are found on this section during high water”, which I’d forgotten. So I thought we probably could make it in a day. Some people recommend for day trips to turn around just before the Ioni Creek rapids 7 miles down. To keep this option open, I decided to leave the car at the Hwy 16 bridge in case we wanted to turn around. It is recommended you don’t leave your vehicle there overnight because of the meth heads. I hoped and thought we could make it all the way to the Hwy 4 bridge, in which case we could have arranged with Rochelle’s beforehand to pick up our car and trailer so it would be waiting for us even if it were after hours. They close at 5pm. If they stayed open till 8pm we could have left the car where we put in and had them shuttle us back to it at the end of our trip. Or if there had been cell service on the river, which I knew there wouldn’t be as it is very remote, which makes it more beautiful, I could have asked them half way down to get our car for us, but I would have had to arrange for them to have a key. If they had the key, I wouldn’t have been able to turn around if things were too dicey, since I didn’t ask George for his. So I decided not to contact them, and to have George meet us at Rochelles in the evening. Except I forgot to tell him of this eventuality and only gave him a vague description of our possibilities without specifically asking him.
Nevertheless, at 10 am, even after getting up at 7, we put in at the very steep ramp under the historic “18 span stone arch bridge built in 1942 by the Works Progress Administration”.
(click for more detail)
Around here a 500 foot elevation from where you’re standing is a mountain. (tbc)
Rachel and I added another 8 miles to our Brazos tour from Hunter Park, our previous termination point, to the Granbury Marina. I thought it was about 4 miles, but it is 8 miles from ramp to ramp. Thus we did not make it to De Cordova dam, which is probably more than my calculated 14 miles away from where we took out. That’ll be another day starting from where we left off because I don’t think we can make it the whole 22 miles, or more, yet. My side is still splinting. Maybe because of the fast. Here’s the track:
A cool front had come in last night bringing rain to the area, so there was a nice cool tail wind much of the journey. It was also cloudy and the water surface was cooler too, so we weren’t aware we were getting sunburned till it was too late and the clouds had broken up. This was another reason we stopped short of our goal. Conditioning is hard work. I can’t wait to be able to do 20 miles in one day, because then I can make it from Possum Kingdom Dam to Rochelle’s canoe rental, which is the next ramp after one of the most scenic river trips you can take, way upriver from us. There’s a lot more hills and rock formations up there. It’s a bit more than an hour’s drive northwest to the put-in place on Hwy 16. I hope to be up to it before they stop releasing water from the dam so that we can use our Mirage Drive fins and rudder most of the way. We oar’d it for a little while today just for the exercise, but it was much slower and harder going.
The stats for today’s trip showed that our average moving speed was 2.6mph. Combined with stops, it took us 3 hours and 25 minutes. Our average speed was 2.4 mph, so 20 miles should take about 10+ hours. We need to do the Possum Kingdom trip before the fall equinox too so that we have enough daylight. It’s recommended that you camp overnight for that trip and thus do 10 miles a day. But the articles I’ve read account for lots of fishing, fruitless arrow head hunting, and 2 hours to set up camp before dark. I’d rather get it done in a day and sleep in my own bed. I hope there’s not a good reason no one’s blogged about doing that.