Recently a friend and I took a paddle trip down the Devil’s River in South West Texas. The Devil’s River is considered by many to be the cleanest river in Texas. The Devil’s maintains this status mostly because of its remote nature. There are only two public water crossings along the rivers entire 47.7 mile stretch between Baker’s Crossing (Hwy 163) and the High Bridge over Lake Amisted (Hwy 90). Surrounding land is all private ranch estates. Land owners have been rumored to diligently guard their property and even shoot at paddlers attempting to exit their boats. All this has left this class I-IV whitewater river completely unspoiled.
The Devil’s River is characterized as a spring fed pool and drop river flowing over limestone. The river has a good variety of cool deep pools interrupted by the frequent class I-II rapids. Nearly all of these smaller rapids are complicated by the vast number of reeds growing directly in the middle of the river. At some instances it will appear that the river simply comes to an end where openings in the reeds are barley large enough for your boat to fit through. You have to follow the sound of flowing water to find your way through the reed jungles. Sometimes you will break through to a tunnel of reeds and fast flowing water. Other times you simply dead end into more thick reeds capable of bending your boat if you are not careful. But the reeds are all part of the beauty of the river.
At 16 miles below Baker’s is one of the real jewels of the Devil’s River. Dolan Falls a solid class V+ waterfall with a 10 -12 foot drop into strong hydraulics. I am told that only a few paddlers have ever tried to run the falls. One report is that a young man that ran falls and was sucked under a hidden rock ledge. Reports say he didn’t come back up for 100 yards down stream. Validity of these reports is questionable…but it is safe to say attempting to run Dolan Falls is a bad idea. A portage on river right allows for great pictures.
If you do want to paddle the Devil’s you have to make arraignments through Gerald Bailey who lives in the Blue Sage subdivision about 25 river miles below Baker’s Crossing. Gerald has options for a number of different trips for a sum of money often costing several hundred dollars. His price is not all together unfair considering the great distance he must drive to shuttle you to the different put ins and take outs. Friends and I have done this a few times…putting in at Bakers, camping at the State Natural Area (15 river miles below Baker’s) and then taking out at the private low water crossing near Gerald’s. Since the land is privately owned Gerald is a necessity unless you want to continue 22.7 miles down river to the Lake’s Rough Canyon Marina.
Recently I discovered that a friend owns property on the Devil’s in the Blue Sage subdivision just up river from Gerald Bailey’s place. This came as a pleasant surprise to me and the friend and I started making plans for a day trip. According to the TPWD you can put in, but not take out at the State Natural Area if you make arraignments through Gerald. I assumed Gerald had to be involved because of the necessity to take out on private land or simply to run a shuttle. Since someone in our group owned land down river and we would be running our own shuttle we would have been able to bypass Gerald. I called the Natural area to arrange a put in and informed them we would be taking out on our own private property. The guy at the Natural Area said we would still have to pay Gerald if we wanted to put in on STATE property. WHY? The only answer they could give me was “That’s the way we do it.” I called Gerald to arrange the put in. I told him we wouldn’t need a shuttle and that we wouldn’t need to take out on his property. All we would need is for him to let us in. Gerald wanted $92 for us to drive out of our way to pick him up, take him back to the natural area to unlock a gate (a state owned gate on state property) to gain access to the water. We would then have to have our guy drive him back home. $12 went to the State for day use fees…the rest went in Gerald’s pocket.
Is it just me or is the State enabling a monopoly? Because of their decision to mandate Gerald’s involvement the only way you would ever be able to access the river without Gerald would be to paddle the entire 47.7 miles from Baker’s crossing to Rough Canyon Mariana. This would necessitate at least 2-3 nights on the river with little to no place to camp due to all the private property defended by Winchesters. Why can’t a park ranger unlock the State owned gate on state property? One followed us the entire 22 miles on unpaved 4×4 trails down to the gate in order to pull us over for excessive speed… Are you kidding me? The condition of the road wouldn’t even allow me to drive faster than 20 MPH. It would seem the rangers don’t have anything to do other harass citizens attempting to recreate in their park. Why not give them a job and let them open the gate for the small number of people who don’t need Gerald to run the river? Would it do any good to write the State to complain about this set up? Probably not. I guess if you want to run the river you have to be willing to pay.