Devils River Dash

What the hell had I gotten myself into?

Regretting an adventure well before one has even arrived at a destination is not generally a very good sign. But here I was, fifty miles still left before I was to reach Del Rio west of San Antonio and the sun was starting to make its presence known. The delayed hangover from the night before had finally kicked in, I was hungry and the coffee was not making any headway in clearing the cobwebs in my head. This was going to be fun day.

The two hour trip to the border at Del Rio took me an extra thirty minutes that I couldn’t account for. I must have been abducted by aliens or blacked out from the increasing heat. Either way, I was finally here at my first stopping point. I topped off the tank, got me some grub a and second cup of coffee. Sufficiently answering the requisite Border Patrol questions at the stop, I headed north, away from the Rio Grande and relatively populated Upper Valley into the dry Brasada. Fifty minutes later, I had found the dirt road I was looking for.

What if they built a State Park and nobody came?

I had only heard of this place within the last month, a State Park where none showed up on a map. A 20,000 acre snapshot of a hard scrabble ranch life in the middle of nowhere. No crowds, no noise and access to one of the most remote, inaccessible and pristine rivers in the Southwest. This is where the stereotypical West begins. Indians, Cattle and Ranchers, gruff Texas Rangers, US Calvary and Settler Trains bound for California Gold Rush, it’s a history stained landscape made famous by Hollywood on more picturesque locations in Arizona.

Devils River State Park lies a mere sixty minutes from the nearest paved road. Just past Dead Man’s Canyon and Big Satan Creek and what appeared to be an abandoned mining camp you’ll find the Ranger Station manned by one very unlucky or lucky, depending on your outlook, individual. Thoroughly not warned of what laid beyond the Ranger Station and with a cursory inquiry as to whether my Jeep was a four wheel drive, I paid my three dollar access fee and officially entered the park, literally the sole visitor on 20,000 acres. The “Jeep Trail” that led down to the river was a bumpy affair, but not overly difficult. I reached the first of the multiple Dolan Creek crossings after nearly fifteen minutes and after quickly sizing up the clear, slow moving water I proceeded to cross. The stream bed seemed to have no bottom and kept getting deeper the further in I went. The normal blend of engine and exhaust note dulled out as the undercarriage submerged and then water started seeping in through the bottom of the doors. This, was not good.

Visions of water filled pistons danced through my head. The brief moment of, ah crap what am I doing, passed as I gained needed elevation on the bottom and clawed my way across the rest of the creek. Now, that was fun! This is the way God intended a SUV to be used and I was lovin’ it. Then, realization that my isolation from the civilized world could have serious consequences if I were to have an accident, an unwelcomed meeting with a venomous reptilian or some sort of vehicle trouble finally sank in. I was, for all intents and purposes, alone out here and I couldn’t rely on someone else to fix the problem. Upon coming to the second crossing I took the time to walk through it first, and I’m glad I did. This time around, the creek was even more cunning and deceptive with a depth greater then the last. Nearly up to my waist, this creek had just beaten me and I could drive no further. I packed the water, the camera, left the cell phone that had been without any signal for almost two hours and checked the temperature. 99°… Toasty.

It was one and a half miles down to the Devils River, and I was to cross the Dolan Creek three more times. The last being a postcard perfect waterfall into a deep Caribbean blue pool complete with a large school of fish. I couldn’t take the time to take a dip, I had a river to find and my trusty map said it was only… back in the truck. Whoops. I plodded on and arrived at the river twenty minutes later.

A warm breeze was coming from the south, up through the wide green valley. The only sound out there was the rustling Sycamore leaves in the wind. No sounds of anything remotely human related were present to spoil this moment. And the water, well, I’ve never experienced water such as this. So pure that it smelled of a fresh summer rain. A hokey description to be sure, but that’s what it smelled like and I think most people can relate. Somewhere along the way, the hangover, much like my misgivings about this adventure, was forgotten. I immersed myself completely in the moment. I spent the better part of an hour there doing nothing but swimming and relaxing… and it was everything doing nothing should be.

I’m still temporarily unable to control the movement of time so I grudgingly decided to head back before it got too late. I wanted to make the four hour trip in the daylight to avoid driving the suicidal “deer in the headlight” country at night without first purchasing a deer catcher for the truck. Besides, I was developing a nice burn from the sun and I had already gone through three liters of water. It was time to go.

I bounded back over the dirt road past the numerous roadrunners, deer, cattle guards and shotgun riddled signs. I was northbound for I-10, an alternate and hopefully quicker way home. It had been a long pleasant day, but I wanted to get back to civilization. I found my way to Mountain Home just past the YO Ranch and hooked up with a delightfully empty Interstate devoid of its usual cross-country traffic. The sun was setting and I was on one of my favorite stretches of twisty high speed blacktop. Looky there, it’s even been freshly repaved.

Cranking the radio, I grinned and dropped the hammer.

[450 miles round trip]