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Daytripper: Devils River

Paddlin’ With the Devil
Written by Chet Garner. Photographs by Hogaboom Road, Inc..

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In the remote reaches of West Texas lies one of the most pristine rivers in the Southwest United States. Surrounded by cacti and rocks, the Devils River snakes through the Chihuahuan Desert like a ribbon of turquoise blue, eventually flowing into Lake Amistad. And for experienced paddlers looking for an off-the-grid adventure, this trip is absolutely heavenly.

Contact Devils River State Natural Area at 830/395-2133. Find more on Amistad Expeditions at www.amistadexpeditions.com.

Chet Garner is the host of The Daytripper® travel show on PBS.

7:00 a.m. Day One My travel companion and I woke up early to rendezvous with Amistad Expeditions, the Del Rio outfitter that would provide our kayaks and a shuttle to-and-from our voyage. We loaded into their truck and spent the next hour gaining valuable insight on how to handle venomous snakes, flash floods, roaring rapids, and protective landowners.

10:00 a.m. We entered the 37,000-acre Devils River State Natural Area. I was stunned at how blue the river was—the result of natural springs, limestone filtration, and the lack of pollution. We moved our gear to the kayaks and hit the water. Soon, the sounds of civilization faded into the rustling wind and flowing water.

10:30 a.m. Within minutes, we heard a roar emanating from downstream. We hopped out to investigate and discovered Dolan Falls, a breathtaking waterfall descending from a 10-foot limestone shelf. To avoid sinking our boats in the first hour of our trip, we portaged them around the falls. However, once our gear was safely tied off below, we hiked back to the top of the falls and plunged into the water–cannonball!

3:30 p.m. After a lunch of pre-packed PBJ sandwiches on a small rock island, we paddled on and arrived at Three-Tier Rapid ready to face a “Class III” run with three cascading stages. I scouted the route, then held my breath and paddled with a fury: left, right, and left again. Before I knew it, I was at the bottom in one piece and right-side up. Whew!

4:00 p.m. We stopped to fish, and the water was so clear I could see the small-mouth bass toying with my bait. I did catch one fish, which I happily kissed and released back to its home.

7:00 p.m. In between the paddling, fishing, and goofing off, we didn’t notice the sun fading behind the canyon walls. Darkness had fallen as we scrambled to find a spot to camp. To respect private property, paddlers must camp on an island (beware of rising water) or along the river bank below the river gradient boundary. Eventually, we found a spot and pulled out our sleeping bags. I wanted to spend all night gazing at the starry sky, but my weary body fell asleep in seconds.

7:00 a.m. Day Two I woke to the sound of chirping birds and boiling water as my buddy made the morning coffee. No coffee shop will ever come close to the experience of sipping joe at the water’s edge while the sun rises over the canyon walls.

8:30 a.m. We packed up camp and hopped back in our boats for the last six miles of our 15-mile journey. As we meandered downriver, I spotted the cave art of Turkey Bluff, estimated to be between 3,000 to 5,000 years old. Through my binoculars (no trespassing!), I could make out a pictograph of a coyote chasing a turkey and couldn’t
help but think it was an early draft of Wile E. Coyote, destined to never catch his lunch.

2:00 p.m. We finally arrived at the take-out point inside the state natural area’s Dan A. Hughes Unit. Our outfitter was waiting and ready to take us back to civilization. I hadn’t once missed my phone, email, or TV and was tempted to go back to the start and do it all over again.

Throughout our journey, we made sure not to leave any trace of our time on the Devils; however, the river’s jaw-dropping beauty and rugged adventure certainly left a lasting impression on us. So whether you follow my footsteps or forge your own path, I hope to see you on the road.

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