Llano River & James River, Mason County

The James River is a tributary of the Llano in Mason County.  I had heard it might be good for paddling, so I decided to check it out coming back on July 3, 2005 from an Alamo City Rivermen trip to Junction.  My first admonition is not to bother trying to find the James without a good Mason County map.  I had one and there were times I wondered whether I would get there.

To get to the James, drive southeast out of Mason on U.S. 87.  Near the outskirts of town, turn right on FM 1723.  After maybe 2.5 miles, turn right onto FM 2389.  FM 2389 eventually crosses the Llano.  The Llano apparently was divided into two channels maybe a quarter of a mile apart, and paddling conditions seemed marginal.  According to Topozone, FM 2389 crosses an island in the Llano, and paddling conditions may be better when the threads come back together.

In the map at left, the FM 2389/Llano River crossing is at the top, more or less in the center.  The James River Road shows up shortly thereafter.  Disregard all the side roads shown off the James River Road.  They are all private ranch roads.  The first crossing appears at the bottom left.

Shortly after the south channel of the Llano, FM 2389 peters out.  To get to a James River crossing, take a right on James River Road.  The James River joins the Llano just upstream of the FM 2389 crossing and parallels the James River Road, but the first crossing is several miles up the road.

The road is a washboard.  Because my canoe and kayak were mounted on racks above my pickup, I got nasty vibrations if I drove at any speed.  As a consequence, much of the way down James River Road, I could not drive faster than a rapid walk.  At one point I pulled over to consult my map after having been focusing on the road for a considerable period.  I found I had three or four vehicles backed up behind me.  Unencumbered by overhead racks, they could travel a lot faster than I could.  According to signs, Thad Ziegler (I presume of the glass company) has a large ranch along the road.

Eventually, and I do mean eventually when driving at the speed of a fast walk, you come to the first crossing of the James River and the James River Road.

Despite the poor road, I'll confess to surprise when I saw that the crossing was a ford.  I would have taken my pictures from the middle of the ford, but the rocks were covered with algae, and it seemed unlikely I'd successfully walk out there and back without a spill.  I am skeptical of paddling the James, at least at the level it was the day I was there.  It looked like a place to hike, dragging your boat behind you.  But if the river gets enough water in it, I suspect it could be a rip-snorter I would stay off of.

The water level was low, there was evidence that others had recently crossed, and I saw no reason to believe I could not cross it successfully.  On the other hand, I was alone, and my cell phone was not getting a signal.  I looked at the map, and it appeared that, however long I had been driving on a washboard road, it seemed likely I had quite a bit farther to go to pavement if I kept on going.  And I knew that I would shortly encounter another crossing, which I then assumed would likewise be a ford.  I turned around and went back the way I had come.  Call it the wisdom or the cowardice that comes with age.  I have no doubt that 30 years ago I would have charged on.  Of course, 30 years ago, I might have put up with enough of those vibrations to do some real damage.

After retracing my steps back to U.S. 87, I headed south.  Between Mason and Fredericksburg, I encountered another crossing of the Llano.  This is the crossing that was formerly blocked by a cattle pass.  The Rivermen were instrumental in getting the obstruction to the river removed.

Ken Bennight
7/4/05