Lower Nueces Exploratory Expedition

As to Texas paddling, most peopleís thoughts range from East to Central to West Texas. Few consider deep South Texas. Even so, a wonderful paddling opportunity awaits you on the northern limit of what early settlers called the Wild Horse Desert. Otherwise known as the Nueces Strip, the term referred to the area between the Nueces and the Rio Grande.

On August 3, 2002, six of us in three canoes paddled the Nueces River from the Highway 359 crossing near Sandia to the Highway 666 crossing near San Patricio. The stretch is about 20 river miles, and there are no intermediate public access points. In the lower portion, however, numerous fish camps dot the bank. As you approach the end, the development becomes nicer.

Because of recent flooding, the river was quite high. As of 4:45 A.M. the morning of our paddle, the gauge height was about 12 feet and the river was flowing at about 2,000 CFS. Conveniently, the gauge is on the put-in bridge. We started paddling a little after 10:00 A.M. and broke for lunch between 12:30 and 1:00. After a leisurely lunch and rest, we started paddling again at 2:00 and were at the take-out bridge about 4:30.

The river channel is set between steep, heavily vegetated, mud banks. If there is a downside to the trip, it is the mud shore. At least at the river level at which we were paddling, to get to the water, you had to venture out into mud that was often ankle deep. But once in the boat, we washed the mud off by putting our feet over the side. Probably because of the recent flooding and high water, the water was colored a milky chocolate.

The current was comparatively fast, and if obstacles normally exist, they were drowned out. Occasionally we had to skirt a tree or other obstruction, but there was always plenty of time. No difficult maneuvering was required, except when I spent too long looking at the bank and nearly ran into the upper branches of a flooded mesquite tree.

The bird life is amazing, and a birder was along on the trip. She named more birds than I can remember. The countless egrets and herons made the biggest impression except the storks. I do not recall ever seeing an actual stork before, but a flock of three wood storks escorted us for a short distance. The wingspan of one of the Great Blue Herons must have been at least six feet. We saw night hawks and some type of larger hawk. After the paddle, while recuperating with liquid refreshment, we watched roseate spoonbills sift through the mud of a stock tank on the Knolle Ranch.

A portion of the trip passes the Knolle Ranch. In addition to dairy cattle, the ranch offers hunting, birding, and a bed and breakfast. The ranch river front would, at normal water levels, be a convenient takeout point for a day paddle. Keep that in mind if you want to combine paddling and perhaps birding with the luxury of the bed and breakfast. Paddling doesnít all have to be camping on a muddy riverbank. If you are interested, Knolle Ranch has a website, and the distinctive name makes it easy to find with a search engine. If you canít find it, contact me.

Living in San Antonio, as we do, we are in easy driving distance of three of the best paddling rivers in the State of Texas, the Medina, the Guadalupe, and the San Marcos. We rightfully concentrate our paddling on those rivers. But when you are in the mood for something different, don't forget the lower Nueces. Itís a different slice of nature from that seen in other parts of the state.

Ken Bennight
San Antonio, Texas