I often wonder what it would have been like to be born before the advent of modern civilization. A time before pollution, homes, shopping centers and high-rises swallowed our unobstructed view of the natural landscape around us. Back when the only lights to illuminate the sky were the sun, moon and stars.
The Devils River on a small-scale represents those days. It’s one of the few places that has held its indigenous roots due, in part, to its remote locale and callous terrain. The River has largely remained unchanged since the days the Native Americans roamed its banks. I’ve dreamed of paddling and fishing the crystalline waters of the Devils River ever since the first time I came across photographs showcasing the river’s beauty many years ago.
As with any trip of this magnitude getting a dedicated group of people willing and able to make the trip is not an easy task. A float down the Devils River is a far cry from a leisure stroll down your favorite stream. As the name implies, the river is isolated and unforgiving. The river is a test of vigilance and resilience for even the most seasoned paddlers and campers. The feeble need not apply.
We had a solid group of five proficient paddlers planning on making the trip. Leading up to the trip work obligations began to whittle down our group one by one. A week before the trip our group was down to two people. I began to wonder if I would have to make the voyage down the river alone. Thankfully Brian assured me I would not have to make the trek solo.
Brian and I arrived in Del Rio, Texas the night before our adventure. We booked a night at Who Cares Bed and Breakfast run by Marlene Walker (who also provided us with our shuttle to the river). Who Cares is cozy ranch-style home complete with a flock of wild roosters, not all of which take too kindly to strangers, especially one rather intrepid fowl.
After small talk and a few cold beers with a few guests, who were also putting in the next morning, we went to bed. Marlene had breakfast ready before the first sport woke. Our last meal consisted of some sort of breakfast casserole, biscuits and gravy all washed down with a glass of orange juice. The food was appetizing and filling.
We finished breakfast and then loaded the rest of our gear into the ramshackle van that would shuttle us to our destination. The van spoke a familiar language to anyone who has ever owned a vehicle past its prime. It spoke a language of squeaks and whines. Considering the topography, I’d expect nothing less decrepit.
After an hour drive down jarring, unpaved ranch roads we reached the shores of the river. The river was clean, clear, and deeply rooted among the natural flora and stony canyon walls that towered above. The limestone crags were a skyscraper worthy of my admiration.
We had four days to traverse 32 miles. From the start, I pledged to savor every mile, one paddle stroke at a time.
We cleaned up several garbage bags worth of beer cans and bottles on the lower stretches of the river near where it empties into Lake Amistad. We were later told by Gerald Bailey, river guide and outfitter, that we picked up the most trash by any of his clients since he’s been guiding on the Devils River.