Sunrise over Lower Red Rock Lake

Sunrise over Lower Red Rock Lake
Sunrise over Lower Red Rock Lake

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Annual Paddle on South Llano River, Texas

I can't remember when I first started going to South Llano River State Park on a regular basis. My first visit there was amazing. A friend and I camped there among many birds I'd never seen, along with displaying turkeys. And the river looked like it could provide a fun paddle.

Then I remember a weekend paddling different stretches of it with the Houston Canoe Club. After that, it begins to be a blur of memories. But at some point, in the last several years, I started going over there the first weekend in May and invited friends to go with me. This grew into an annual activity. After I started traveling, my friend Winnie took over several of my annual trips, including this one.

I was so glad to be back, both to see the river and meet friends from Del Rio, Corpus Christi, Houston, and Austin. I rode down with my friend, Bruce.  We didn't get there until suppertime, so we set up camp, ate supper, visited a little while, and went to bed. I woke up around 5 A.M to answer the call of nature. The stars were so fantastic I lingered outside to enjoy them. The entire milky way was visible as was the north star.  I could find the few constellations I recognize.  I could even see the north star.  The crescent moon had already set and Venus shone brightly in the eastern sky.  I tried to take a picture but couldn't succeed.  Next time, I'll have to remember to bring a tripod.

All too soon the sky began to brighten and the stars fade. Birds started calling, led by a chuck-will's widow. Soon the hundreds of bells vireos were chiming in along with Inca doves, morning doves, and white-winged doves, cardinals and other birds.  I quickly got dressed and grabbed coffee and cereal, then picked up my water back, binoculars and camera and went off for a day of birding with Helen, Monica, and Linda.  (I'll share those pictures later.) The rest of the group did a long paddle on the Sough Llano and I didn't see any of them until about 4:00 P.M.

We first birded a trail from the campsite to the river, then down to the day use area and back to headquarters. Then we birded the four blinds. Finally, about 3:30 P. M. we stopped because the other birders were going back to Austin and I had a date with my hammock.  The day had started cool enough for a jacket until mid-morning but around noon, I'd had to zip off my pants legs.

I had to move my hammock twice to keep it in the shade and enjoyed watching a few birds still active in the mid afternoon while reading and swinging in my hammock.

Then it was time for showers and fixing supper. Since I have no room for an ice chest, I decided to just take sausages and put them in in a crock pot with grape jelly and barbeque sauce. I had it ready by the time the hungry paddlers arrived back at camp so it made a good appetizer for them.  We then shared chilli, several salads, watermelon, and desserts.

All  but four of our group 

Bruce and I after a big meal

The next day I got up early and had my camp packed up by the time Winnie and Bruce got up.  I had a couple of hours available to go birding so checked out two of the blinds near the camping area.  Then I found Bruce had put all the paddling gear in the front seat and Winnie had her front seat full, so I just walked down to the put-in.  We were putting our boats in a the low water bridge in the park and then paddling to the next bridge, a distance of about five and a half miles.


Winnie's picture of us at the start

By the time I got there, Ann had arrived and was getting her stuff out, while Bruce and Winnie had all our stuff ready to go. (Winnie has my white water kayak and loaned it  back to me for this paddle. ) I sat with the boats and read while they ran the shuttle.  We finally got started about 11:00 A.M. The day was getting hot but the water was cool and a breeze added its coolness.


Bruce getting underway, supervised by Ann

Winnie helping Ann get started

Looking back at Winnie coming around the first turn. 


Heading downstream


Winnie's picture of me 

The river is spring fed by over 100 springs, but I'm not sure if all the springs are all still running.  It was at low as it was a couple of years ago when I paddled it, which is about the lowest level at which it can still be paddled.  I think all of us had to slide across rocks a few times by pushing with our hands and paddles and a couple of us had to get out and pull boats over really low places.


Winnie in front of the mountain that is across the street from the park


In places, the creek is cutting a wider swath through high banks

Bruce got way ahead of us, then stopped to watch a ringed kingfisher.  We only got a quick look at it before it flew around a bend and disappeared. This was the first time I'd seen this species here. Other birds we saw were northern, barn, and cliff swallows, white-winged and mourning doves, a little green kingfisher, and a great blue heron.  We heard summer tanagers and bell's vireos. 


While in other places it looks like a small, harmless creek


Usually any fallen trees have been cut to keep the channel open for paddlers


Winnie takes more pictures than I do


Winnie and Ann trying to make it through a boney spot


This is view from a high bank where Bruce and I waited on Winnie and Ann


In another pool

Another high bank - good for swallows and kingfishers


Fun all done

We rode back to the parking lot at the put-in and moved Bruce's boat and our paddling stuff from Ann's car to ours and started back home.  The weekend was way too short - no time to hike or bike or find the black-capped vireo or golden-cheeked warbler, two rare endemic species.

Stream Data:  The stream was running at 45 cubic feet/second the entire time we were this.  This is the lowest flow you want to paddle and 50 cubic feet/second would be much better.  Gage information is here: http://waterdata.usgs.gov/tx/nwis/uv/site_no=08150000&PARAmeter_cd=00065,00060

On the personal front, I'm still in Galveston. I have been getting referrals from my original doctors. I now have had two MRI's - one on my right shoulder, and one on my upper back.  I hope to get four surgeries this fall - two on my wrists and two on my rotator cuffs.  Just got the right shoulder diagnosed and had the left shoulder diagnosed last year.  My back is deteriorating but I'm hoping to stabilize it with exercise.  I have an appointment for physical therapy next week.

I'll go visit my children in the Texas Hill Country next weekend, then start my trip up north.