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Texas Kaleidoscope Weekend trips throughout Texas, a country of its own.

Big Bend

USA | Monday, 9 March 2009 | Views [786]

I decided to kick off my new travel blog with an anniversary post of my Spring Break trip two years ago, trekking 83 miles down the Rio Grande in a canoe. The University of Texas' RecSports department offers an eight-day trip canoeing the Lower Canyons of Big Bend, guided by husband and wife team Jill Harding and Pat Goodman. Starting in Mexico, a group of eight to twelve beginning to experienced paddlers head down the big river. Here is a brief account of our adventure.

Day 1

Saturday, March 10

After careful sorting and some frantic last minute packing, I managed to stuff all my gear into my waterproof bag. At 5 a.m., we piled into two SUVs, and headed west. Hours later, grey, blue and green hills are on the horizon. The ground is a sea of yellow prairie grass and the sky has never looked so big or blue as white clouds roll across it.

Day 2

Sunday, March 11

This morning we put in the water at Outlaw Pass in Black Gap, pairing off two to a canoe in our six boats. My rowing partner is in the stern steering, and I’m the motor in the bow. The goal is to avoid the big rocks and shallowest spots, aiming for the ‘v’ the current cuts in the water. I’m still learning the ropes over the rapids. I pull to either side as he angles us in the right direction, trying to avoid a cane ride as we shoot downstream. Cane is the tall, scratchy bamboo-like stalks that grow against either side of the river bank. Thriving in the most inconvenient spots, it arches over the water and threatens to whip us as we speed by. Cattle scattered along the banks of the river, either peering at us suspiciously or lowing like sirens, randomly interrupt our quiet glide. At night we camp in the open air, without tents, watching millions of stars twinkle and shoot across the sky.

Day 5

Wednesday, March 14

Today we stopped at the hot springs. It’s a natural spa with several cascading pools of bubbly warm water, allowing us to soak off days of dirt and dust. Across the river on the Texas side is an old cistern, once pumped by the springs and used in extracting a special kind of wax for ChapStick from cactus, but long since abandoned. It made for a muddy, slush-bottomed hot tub. A great hike to the top of the canyon revealed the leftover pipes and machinery towering above us. Note to self: learn to watch out for cacti!


Day 7

Friday, March 16

We have gone about 50 miles so far, so 33 more to go. I’m perched on a rock by the water’s edge sipping Cowboy coffee. The caffeine junkie’s camping solace, Cowboy coffee is boiled with the grains directly in the water, which can then be filtered through a strainer, and for a cup of jo it ain't half bad.

Yesterday was a tough day. We had to get out of our canoes at Rodeo Rapids, unload all our gear, carry the boats over land and then reload again. We even skipped lunch, which was fine because we have been eating like royalty the entire trip. The things our guides can make in a Dutch oven are incredible. One of my favorites, chocolate chip pancakes, is on the menu for breakfast.


Day 8

Saturday, March 17

The last couple of rapids today were tough since my sore arms decided to stop working, but I made it to the end of the line where our cars were waiting for us. We got a flat tire bouncing back down the gravel River Road, but finally went on our merry way to our last campsite, for one final night under the stars.


Day 9

Sunday, March 18

We’re on the road for Austin after stops for breakfast tacos and some new tires. I was shocked to realize after a week in the wilderness that there wasn’t anything I really needed or wanted to buy at Wal-mart.

While floating the river, I never knew what was around the next bend. It was almost like being an ancient explorer, pressing relentlessly down the river with spectacular canyons rising up on either side. I loved the space, the stars and the remoteness.

Tags: big bend, camping, canoe


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