River of Contrasts: The Texas Colorado

Views: 1625
Ratings: (0)
Writer and artist Margie Crisp has traveled the length of Texas’ Colorado River, which rises in Dawson County, south of Lubbock, and flows 860 miles southeast across the state to its mouth on the Gulf of Mexico at Matagorda Bay. Echoing the truth of Heraclitus’s ancient dictum, the river’s character changes dramatically from its dusty headwaters on the High Plains to its meandering presence on the coastal prairie. The Colorado is the longest river with both its source and its mouth in Texas, and its water, from beginning to end, provides for the state’s agricultural, municipal, and recreational needs.

As Crisp notes, the Colorado River is perhaps most frequently associated with its middle reaches in the Hill Country, where it has been dammed to create the six reservoirs known as the Highland Lakes. Following Crisp as she explores the river, sometimes with her fisherman husband, readers meet the river’s denizens—animal, plant, and human—and learn something about the natural history, the politics, and those who influence the fate of the river and the water it carries.

Those who live intimately with the natural landscape inevitably formulate emotional responses to their surroundings, and the people living on or near the Colorado River are no exception. Crisp’s own loving tribute to the river and its inhabitants is enhanced by the exquisite art she has created for this book. Her photographs and maps round out the useful and beautiful accompaniments to this thoughtful portrait of one of Texas’ most beloved rivers.

Book website: www.coloradorivertx.com
Book blog: riverofcontrasts.wordpress.com
Author website: www.margiecrisp.com


Former first lady Laura Bush unveils this year's Texas Book Festival poster designed by artist Margie Crisp, author of River of Contrasts: The Texas Colorado. The poster features cliff swallows flying over the Colorado River.
Photo by Grant Miller

List price: $29.95

Your Price: $23.96

You Save: 20%

 

6 Slices

Format Buy Remix

1. Early Spring on the High Plains: Headwaters

ePub

HEADWATERS

EARLY SPRING ON THE HIGH PLAINS in the Texas Panhandle is gray and brown. Dull clouds press down on the unrelenting span of plowed cotton fields. Gusts of wind blow yellow dust clouds that dissipate on the iron-gray horizon. Occasional farmhouses disrupt the monotony with brief flashes of trees, fences, yards, and the accumulated detritus of life scattered and revealed in the open. There is no place to hide.

I feel particularly small in this great expanse, the tail end of the Great Plains. Even though I am barreling along at ridiculously high speeds, this breadth of space gives me the hallucinatory effect of being stationary.

I am in search of a river. The first Spanish explorers named this area the Llano Estacado, or Staked Plains; early Anglo explorers called it the Great American Desert or the Sahara of North America. In the midst of this arid terrain, I hope to find the headwaters of the Colorado River, more than 850 miles of wholly Texas waterway. Reportedly, it begins in the hidden canyons and seeps on the edge of the Llano Estacado just below the Caprock Escarpment.1

 

2. Impounded on the Rolling Plains

ePub

Destiny proudly poses for my camera, a grinning gap-toothed eight-year-old with wind-tangled black hair. Behind her, the orange waters of Lake J. B. Thomas whip themselves into small brown waves. She squints in the sun. The shutter clicks, and with a quick wave she scrambles down the steep rocks returning to her sister and their game of throwing rocks into the water. Her father uncaps a jar of the newest and best stinkbait for catching catfish. The girls squeal and hold their noses while the sleek muscular dog in the back of the pickup sniffs the air appreciatively. The two girls, their dad, and his best friend drove over from Big Spring for a day of fishing but even with the pungent bait, the catfish aren’t biting. I bring over my road map, and together we trace the path of the Colorado River from our position at Lake J. B. Thomas, down to the E. V. Spence Reservoir, and then to the O. H. Ivie Reservoir. The river runs through the Rolling Plains ecoregion,1 the southern end of the Great Plains, a land of deep clays, dry former prairies, and woods. It is bordered on the west by the Caprock Escarpment and the High Plains, on the south by the Edwards Plateau, and on the east by the Cross Timbers and Prairies ecoregion. With an annual rainfall of 20 inches, most of the area is desert-like rangeland locked in an unrelenting battle with woody brush, struggling croplands, and the ubiquitous oil industry.

 

3. River Revealed: Cross Timbers and into the Llano Uplift

ePub

CROSS TIMBERS AND INTO THE LLANO UPLIFT

Below the dam at O. H. Ivie, the Colorado River cuts across layers of time, digging into the exposed shelves of millions of years. Alluvial deposits along the bed and banks of the river are recent, but the river has relentlessly carved away at the cover of Cretaceous rocks exposing the tilted stacks of old sedimentary rocks in the broad basin. On a geological map, multiple parallel bands of color stripe north to south. The river slices across in a twisting gold line of alluvial soils, descending from young to old, across pale bands of Permian limestone and shale, pink blobs and squiggles of sediment eroded from the Cretaceous and Permian rocks upriver, and into the dark blue patterns of older, exposed Pennsylvanian sandstones. Curving in a tight arc, the river bounces between the old sandstones and tongues of limestone and shale before snaking down the deep canyons of ancient Ordovician limestones into the heart of the Llano Uplift.

In this length of river, seven or eight counties, depending on how you count them, crowd up to the river, nudge each other’s shoulders, and wiggle their toes in the stream. It is a land of big ranches, white-tailed deer and turkey hunting, a few row crops, and pecan orchards. The river regains its strength, pulls water from creeks and springs, and works its way back into a free-flowing stream for a few miles before running into the dams of the Highland Lakes downstream.

 

4. Another Colorado: The Highland Lakes and Lady Bird Lake

ePub

THE HIGHLAND LAKES AND LADY BIRD LAKE

“Who knew,” the ruddy-faced man seated in front of me whispered to his wife, “that bald eagles are really bald? That one doesn’t have a single feather on its ugly red head.” His wife lowered her binoculars and said doubtfully, “That’s a bald eagle?” Meanwhile, the enthusiastic birdwatcher had pushed her way out of the cabin and onto the foredeck of the Eagle II to misidentify more birds. I scanned the sky, “Oh look!” I called and pointed. A dozen sets of binoculars snapped to the section of sky above the limestone canyon. “Oh heck, it’s just another turkey vulture.” I announce. The couple murmurs to each other. “Bald eagles aren’t bald,” she says with satisfaction. “But turkey vultures are,” he replies.

I’m on the Vanishing Texas River Cruise1 with a group of birdwatchers and tourists; we are cruising up the limestone canyons at the head of Lake Buchanan, the first of the Lower Colorado River Authority’s (LCRA) Highland Lakes. Our boat, the Eagle II, is a big, broad vessel with a shallow draft and a glass-enclosed cabin protecting us from the raw January day. A few hardy souls stand outside in the drizzle and wind scanning the skies for bald eagles, osprey, and other winter residents of the canyons. Ferns embellish the cliffs near the waterfalls. Slender trees and shrubs, cactus, yucca, clumps of wiry grasses, and other determined survivors knot their roots into crevices and narrow pockets of soil along the rock face.

 

5. Living Downstream: East Austin through the Blackland Prairies

ePub

EAST AUSTIN THROUGH THE BLACKLAND PRAIRIES

The river pours out of Longhorn Dam and starts a series of lazy, looping curves on its way to the coast. It changes in temperament and character. The way people look at it alters; there can be no mistaking that it is a river again, in name and nature. Just downstream from the last dam (for the present), the river glides underneath the soaring buttresses and pillars of the Montopolis Bridges. The river feels like an anachronism after the high-priced estates and manicured lawns bordering the reservoirs upstream. City of Austin parks bordering the river on either side (Guerro Park on the south and the Colorado River Preserve on the north) are not akin to the mowed and maintained hike and bike trails just upstream around Lady Bird Lake. Erosion eats at the banks of Guerro Park. In the Colorado River Preserve, eroded trails score the woods, heaps of dumped household and construction trash clog the gullies, and debris washed downstream laces the brush.

 

6. Into the Gulf (almost): Gulf Prairies and Matagorda Bay

ePub

GULF PRAIRIES AND MATAGORDA BAY

Tiny whitecaps run upstream against the current, slap the kayak hull, and explode into my face. If I stop paddling for a second, sweeper trees reach out and tangle branches in my hair. After disengaging myself from an amorous willow tree, I have had enough. In a snit, I yell at the wind, “I give up!” and hold my paddle high overhead. The wind grabs the kayak and spins me dizzily up stream where I’m deposited on a gravel bar under a high sand bank. The cold blast and the relentless whistling is blocked; I hear the rumble of traffic on nearby roads, the squeals and keening of killdeer, lesser yellowlegs, and spotted sandpipers as they dodge and bow along the banks. A peevish cry catches my attention. Above me, an adult bald eagle hunches miserably in the crown of a dead cottonwood, feathers ruffled for warmth and looking less than dignified. The giant bird seems just as irritated as I am with the sudden drop in temperature and the onslaught of stiff wind. Buoyed by the eagle’s grumpy camaraderie, I head back into the wind and fight my way downstream.

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub (DRM)
Encrypted
true
Sku
9781603447478
Isbn
9781603447478
File size
0 Bytes
Printing
Disabled
Copying
Disabled
Read aloud
No
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata