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From the Pen of Carter P. Smith

There are a lot of ways to enjoy a river. Upside-down in a kayak bobbing through the whitewater while your buddies look on uproariously from downstream isn’t exactly how I’d prescribe it for you. Nonetheless, such was the state I recently found myself in just mere minutes, and maybe even seconds, into a half-day run down the Pedernales River.

The river, swollen with the bounty and blessing of some hard late-spring rains, was too tempting for our little merry band of kayakers to pass up. After a year of weather-related records that none of us would like to see replicated, the Pedernales was finally flowing full and strong, even if only temporarily. Reports of cascading whitewater surging over the river’s namesake flint rocks sealed the deal. We were headed to the river.

We had just embarked from a sandy bank on our friend’s ranch when my little mishap in the rapids occurred. Unbeknownst to me, my friend’s wife, who had dropped us off, walked down the shore taking pictures when the first deep plunge into the rocks and rapids got the better of me. It was, how shall I say, an inglorious beginning to what otherwise was a glorious afternoon.

Notwithstanding the above, the run down the river was phenomenal. There was enough whitewater to keep things interesting, and the ample stretches of pools and flat water offered us a chance to immerse ourselves in the river’s environs. Big, steep-shouldered limestone bluffs provided spectacular scenery all along the way. Beautiful stands of towering cypress, pecans and oaks lined the banks and provided deep, cooling shade from the heat of the afternoon sun. Bands of herons and egrets flitting from canopy to canopy kept us company, as did the red-eared sliders that eyed us from bits of driftwood along the banks.

When we kayaked through the portion of the river bound by Pedernales Falls State Park, I was delighted to see groups of friends and families out and about in the park. There were birders and hikers and swimmers and kayakers and waders and anglers, and still others simply content to sit along the water’s edge and watch as the currents passed them by. They were all enjoying the river safely, respectfully and responsibly.

Down the river, we couldn’t help but marvel at rows of bald cypress trees still living but noticeably sheared off and flattened at their tops, about 20 or 30 feet above us. The phenomenon was not an artifact of an errant windstorm or tornado, but rather of a big 100-year flood that had long ago swept through the Pedernales watershed and “topped off” the big cypresses. It was a subtle reminder, and an important natural history lesson, that rivers can, do and will flood again.

When a friend met us at our designated take-out point, albeit about two hours after our appointed pick-up time, we all cried out in unison that we sure needed “to do that again.” I hope we do, and I hope you do, too.

With summer officially upon us, Texas’ inland and coastal waters offer a great, family-friendly way to beat the heat and enjoy the outdoors. Visit the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department website to learn more about the state’s 37 or so officially named paddling trails. These community-sponsored paddling trails offer a great way to experience the state’s lakes, rivers and coastlines in both rural and urban areas alike. Or, as described in my colleague Trey Hamlett’s article, get out and try one of the country’s fastest-growing sports, stand-up paddleboarding. It is a great way to both enjoy a lake and to get in a workout at the same time.

Whether on a kayak or atop a stand-up paddleboard, I can assure you, life’s better outside!

Thanks for caring about our wild things and wild places. They need you now more than ever.

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