Lowest Guadalupe

Paddlers in the San Antonio area routinely refer to the Upper and Lower Guadalupe or Guad. The Upper Guad is the river above Canyon Lake, and the Lower Guad is the river between Canyon Dam and New Braunfels. But that leaves a lot of river lower than the Lower Guad. Most of the river below New Braunfels is not appreciated enough by Texas paddlers.

A surprising secret known (almost) only to Texas Water Safari racers is the bottom of the Guadalupe River near Port Lavaca, where it runs into Guadalupe Bay. It is lush and has abundant bird life. In defense of the water safari racers, by the time they get to this segment they are so zonked out they cannot appreciate the beauty around them.

On the weekend of October 11-12, 2003, the Alamo City Rivermen congregated at the Seadrifter Inn at Seadrift, Texas. From there, the plan was to split into separate groups to take advantage of the varied paddling opportunities within 20 or 30 miles. I wanted to paddle the bottom segment of the Guadalupe, and Joan Caswell joined me in my 17 foot Grumman canoe. We put in at the last bridge across the river, paddling down to the river's mouth and back up to the bridge. Although the river was flowing, the paddle back upstream was not difficult. We started late in the day, but we were off the river before 4:00.

The banks are covered in dense foliage, often with huge stands of elephant ears and palmettos. Shrubs and small trees abound, often smothered in vines. Water hyacinth are ubiquitous and are as beautiful as they are noxious. We saw large gar rolling on the surface. Parts of the river brought to mind the African Queen with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. Parts reminded me of the floating gardens of Xochimilco, near Mexico City, although itís been nearly 40 years since I was there. The scenery makes the trip.

To get to the bridge, start at the intersection of the Guadalupe and State Highway 35, between Tivoli and Port Lavaca. Immediately south of the river, a dirt road runs downstream. Although there is a gate, it is a public road. If you find the gate closed, close it again behind yourself. Closing gates behind you is a part of cattle country etiquette. Drive down the dirt road for 4.6 miles and be prepared to get muddy. As you draw close to a red-roofed house, another road intersects from the left. The bridge, which is wooden, is just a stone's throw from the intersection and easily visible. Gib Hafernick, a water safari racer, describes the bridge as the last point where girl friends and widows can see their loved ones go by. The put-in is a little tight, the banks are slippery, and you should beware the poison ivy, but those are the only problems on the entire trip.

On the downstream river left side of the bridge, there is a memorial to Capt. Charles Burkhart. It gives his birth and death as November 19, 1952 to approximately March 14, 2002. The "approximately" is on the memorial. I don't know what happened, but I suppose he drowned at or near the bridge.

This river segment should not remain a secret. It is beautiful, peaceful, and an easy day trip. The area is a long enough drive from most major metropolitan areas that you may end up spending the night in the area, but there is no need to spend the night on the river. The round trip between the bridge and the bay is only a little over five miles. Unless you venture out into the bay, you need no particular skills to enjoy this trip.

A way to make a trip to the area worthwhile is to combine paddling this segment with paddling some of the bayous that cross Highway 35 just north of the Guadalupe, between the river and the Victoria Barge Canal. Goff, Hog, and Schwings Bayous are prime candidates. Given the paucity of camping facilities in the area, you are probably better advised to stay in a motel in Port Lavaca or one of the other nearby communities such as Seadrift. Although itís a slightly longer drive, Victoria offers a wider range of accommodations.

Exercise caution in planning to camp on the river. There is little if any high ground to river right. Much of the surrounding land is marshy, and the banks themselves are often indistinct amidst the thick vegetation. We stopped for lunch and found a relatively dry spot to put cushions. It would have been difficult to find a dry spot big enough to pitch a tent. If you are in the marsh at night, don't walk around without a light and take extreme care. This is prime alligator habitat. But don't let that deter you from the trip. We saw no snakes or alligators (I have been told alligators may keep snakes in check). There may be a little more high ground to river left, but we did not try to get out there. There is high ground along some of the nearby bayous, but that is the Guadalupe Delta Wildlife Management Area. You can check with Texas Parks and Wildlife, but it is my understanding they do not permit camping.

The USGS 1:24,000 quadrangle labeled Austwell, Texas covers the trip. It shows that the Guadalupe splits into north and south segments a little below the bridge. The split is not apparent as you go downstream. The entrance to the north channel may be closed altogether, or it may just be hidden in the thick vegetation.

If you are looking for an easy, scenic, little-paddled trip, this is it.

Kenneth Bennight