1)A Devil's River Trip Report by Glen Hart (with pictures) on the BCWC web pages and
2)A DEVIL OF A TRIP by Randy Hohlaus
I should have known better when I got the grocery bill for our upcoming May '98 Devils River trip and it totalled 66.60 (no lie). Then the veterans of our last Devils adventure began dropping out like flies, ultimately at the last minute leaving only myself and Larry Elder, and four other boaters from Dallas and San Marcos to paddle on into the unknown river of rumor and mystery. Our goal - 16 miles of what we knew and had been forwarned as one of the most difficult to get to, longest shuttled, lowest watered, biggest rocked, and hostile river banked river runs in the known western world (sort of the same warped sensibility that makes us do the Freeze Trip).
The signs of perdition were everywhere at the gate of this hardscrabble watercourse. All roads into the takeouts are at least an hour from the paved road to reach the river. Much to our chagrin, the gravel road into our meeting place at the State Natural Area was not marked. After half an hour of driving in, Larry and I convinced ourselves we were on the wrong road. Turning around back to the highway(another half hour), we knew we had blown our arranged meeting time with the outfitter's shuttle. At the Loma Alta ice house, we found out that we were on the right road after all. The underworld's minions were also at work on our canoeing partners, as they got not one but two flat tires driving in on the same road. Compounding all these wonderful events, came the outfitter grumped out at having to deal with all these tinhorns and demanding money for the missing no show boaters to compensate for our double length shuttle. Lesser mortals would turn back, but we were determined to give the Devils its due.
After soaking up some local color and chiles at Emilio's in Comstock, we were dropped off for the put in at Baker's crossing with admonishments about the local rules of the river - no camping on the river banks, no ground fires, catch and release fishing encouraged, horseback patrolled riverbanks, $700 fines for trespassing (and leave your copy of the state constitution at home). We got some good tips about islands available to camp on (harldy any).
Baker's campground at the put-in is highly recommended, great sheltered campsites under huge spreading pecans and oaks, a real oasis in the desert. It is on land pioneered in the 1880's by the Baker family, who still run it from the ancestral house. Be forewarned, there are absolutely no nada none facilities here, including water. You will get a complimentary trashbag, however. The other rule - you must be on the river by 9:00 am, no lollygagging.
We pushed off, three boats, into low water. They told us it would be a fifty percent drag, and they weren't far off. It was more like 30 percent walk and tow, 10 percent heave and push. The flow rate was 151 cfs at Pafford, whereever that is. The first half of the run was not too bad, but the lower half, where the bottom changed from solid rock to more gravel, had some brutal spots. Not a river for a dilletante. We were later told that we had missed good spring water levels by a matter of weeks. El Nino's dying gasp had turned off the rains a month before, and we were committed (or should have been).
This river is surprising in the density of vegetation along the banks, pecan and oak bottoms predominate, unlike the river below the natural area or the Pecos. It feels very remote, and what fishing cabins there are are mostly well concealed. The water is crystal clear, and the smallmouth and catfishing is excellent. Catch and release is recommended to preserve the enjoyment for others. In some spots, the river was choked with tall grass with narrow channels to give that "African Queen" experience. High cliffs pocked with caves, probably archeological sites, abound, but don't try and peak. The banks are patrolled by horseback by the ranchers who are very zealous in their interpretation of trespass laws.
We found a series of small rock islands at about the ten mile point, which made a neat campsite with each tent on a different slab of rock with shallow water coursing through the camp. Dutch oven stew, a good nights sleep to the sound of running water all around you, and the next day we were off. The river in this stretch had many drops and a few waterfalls requiring lining the boats. At higher water this would be an exciting run. As it was, we worked our leg muscles out as much as our arms. My own and Larry's new motto for this river: GO LIGHT!
We pulled in at the Devil's River Natural Area. The only way you can camp on the water is to canoe in, and so we did, under a great high cliff and uder the gaze of two great horned owls perched on its crest a couple of hundred feet above us. We had the place to our selves. The cliff was also the source of one of several huge springs which still gush water out over the rocks and down into the river in amazing torrents, guarded by ferns and mosses alien to this desert. Another excellent night of dutch oven shrimp and catfish ettoufee, garlic bread and screwdrivers and our adventure was over, except several hours of dusty shuttle to get back to the highway.
I came back with a grudging respect for the hardness of the land and the fragility of this wonder of nature that runs through it. The landowners who ranch this country are perhaps doing the river the favor by enforcing the resrictiveness of its use. I wonder how much longer these desert rivers have to remain truly wild, until the land speculators break up the ranches and there is a lawyer's or oilman's house on the crest of every other bluff. I hope the stockmen hang on.
Its a rough, hard but rewarding trip. I can't say its for everyone, but we ultimately found this challenging river had its own reward in providing enough of a its fascinatingly beautiful, remote, and rough nature to give the satisfaction of true accomplishment.