Colorado River
LaGrange to Columbus, Turkey Trot 2003
November 28-30, 2003

It doesn’t seem that long ago, but the last time we did the Trot from La Grange to Columbus was in the last century, so it seemed time to do it again.  This year we floated three days and two nights on 48 miles of the Colorado River from La Grange to Columbus, along with members of the San Antonio Adventure Club.  We had 28 intrepid voyagers on the river in canoes and kayaks, putting in on the Friday after Thanksgiving, as we usually do.  This trip was a little longer than most, but everyone seemed to take the long paddling in stride.  A great getaway, this is one of the longest river stretches without public access or bridges.  We used Howell Canoe Livery in Columbus at the Hwy 71 bridge as a place to safely park cars, run a driver’s shuttle and rent boats.  They are a good family run operation, and are recommended if you are in the area and need to rent boats.  Call Frank Howell at 979-732-3716.


Putting in at Hwy 71 in La Grange, the water was unusually clear at 500 cfs, you could see to the bottom most of the way, big schools of catfish, gar, bass.  Springs were flowing at numerous places, especially on the upper half of the trip.  This was a pretty good level for the river, the river moved well, especially on the upper half, and helped us make good time.  The sunny days were generally pleasant, but thanks to a recent norther, dry air and a clear sky, the nights were c-c-cold-d-d-d. 


After lunch, I put on the coal and pushed to the front of the fleet to make sure we hit the right island.  It was a great spot with a good sandy open spot in the middle.  We had margaritas for fun and a clam chowder the first night, it was really tasty, but we are still looking for that clam.  Good company around the fire.  Charlie’s dog Pepper put on a good display of popping treats into the air with his nose and then gobbling it before it hit the ground.


I awoke the first morning to a frost encrusted tent.  Actually, everything was frost covered.  Someone said that it got down to 29 degrees.  By my tent closer to the bank of the island I could see where the reeds had been pushed down making a track from the river, and the telltale conical chewed ends of saplings told of a beaver’s presence.  We also saw overflights of cormorants, sandhill cranes, snow geese, unnamed ducks and other winged travelers. 


Gib, Saskia, and I brought up the rear as drag boats.  We passed Primo Island, the biggest on the river.  Although we were on the tail end of the group, we explored the narrow east channel slough.  It was pretty interesting as it wound along under the overarching trees, but the tree fall at the end created a little scramble problem, and slowed things up considerably.  Hope of catching the group now was gone.  When we got to the sand bar at the twin creeks at mile 26 where our target camp was, no one was there.  Now I was worried.  I mentally kicked myself for lagging back.  My 4 year old log notes said that from here on down, the campsites were fairly sparse and not too sizable, and we had a big group.  Visions of the group scattered along a couple of miles of small sand bars, or worse yet as twilight rapidly approached, vainly paddling into the night in a desperate hunt for a camping spot, rushed into my head. 


A great omen.  Before coming into camp there was a buzzard roost on the lee side of some cliffs.  I guessed about 200 vultures adorned the trees, like so many black Christmas ornaments.  Not a bad spot, for they roosted in trees sheltered by a row of cliffs to the north.  It was a race now against the sun, rapidly setting on river right, to reach the camp, wherever it was.  Zoltan had found a great spot, almost an island, two more miles down.  Turns out I had mismarked his map, but in such small turns of fate, serendipity happens.  Maybe this spot wasn’t so good before last year’s flood, but it now is now on my maps.  As Louis Medlock once said “Sometimes you just have to lose yourself to find something”.


The second night was a little strange.  We picked a good spot, but after a great dinner of Rajasthani Gosht, Hara Masoor ki Dal, Basmati Pullao and Teekhi Tarkari (don’t ask me, ask the cook!), we were treated by local youth to some escapades across the river on the high opposing bluff.  Never could see anyone, just some shouts for us to share some beer, and then the ghostly headlights of a dualie diesel pickup crisscrossing back and forth just out of visual range, occasionally beaming across the river above us.  Trying to scope out them out with my binocs, initially I was kind of spooked, expecting maybe something even more sinister.  It kind of reminded me of the movie Duel, where the truck with a faceless driver terrorized Dennis Weaver.  We finally figured it was more like a friendly beer bust going on.  To top it off, to our delight the activity ended with them putting up a pretty decent fireworks display.  You just never know.  We then did our own pyrotechnics.  To ward off the cold, we stoked some of the biggest fire logs I’ve ever seen on a river, rivaling even the Aggie bonfires of yore (in our minds). 


The second morning we awoke to shouts.  An eagle had been sighted just upriver perched in a tree.  With some maneuvering to get a closer look, this magnificent bird took off and buzzed our camp flying downriver, to hands over the heart and some fractured humming of the star spangled banner.  Well, I guess about nothing would top that, not even Ann Carr’s wonderfully tasty dutch oven blueberry muffins whipped up that morning, so we’ll just end this adventure story right here.


Randy Hohlaus