Down the Ol' Dusty Road - Devils River State Natural Area
by Sarahweinstein on June 2, 2011
Devils River State Natural Area is one of those places you'd think doesn't exist anymore in the States. To get there, you have to drive 22 miles on a dirt road, passing ranches, avoiding cattle, and hoping the rocks don't blow your tires out. F-150's speed past, inciting envy of their large trucks and grille guards. After 45 minutes on the dusty, dirt road, you see a small sign marking the park entrance. There are no flashing lights or fireworks declaring, "Congratulations! You made it!" It makes you wonder why they even bother having a state park all the way out here at all, but only for a minute, of course.
The park was officially acquired in May 1988 and spans almost 20,000 acres. Yeah, it's huge. The state didn't do much to the land, hoping to restore it to its natural state after decades of cattle grazing.
There are seven vehicle-accessible campsites: four closer to the river, and three larger ones closer to the check-in up on a hill. There is also a cabin and dining hall for groups. That's the extent of the amenities. There's no clean drinking water. There are showers at the check-in cabin, but from the looks of them, you're better off just rinsing off in the river. Camping and facility stays are by reservation only, and reservations must be made at least two days in advance. The park ranger leaves sticky notes on the door of the check-in for people he's expecting to arrive that day. In addition to the trail to the river, which is more like another dirt road since sometimes vehicles for kayaking and canoeing trips go down it, there is a 12-mile loop hiking trail that takes you through the arid landscape, which also has some campsites along it as well.
We had planned this stop on our trip, so there was a sticky note telling us which sites we could choose from. We skipped setting up our tent right away, though, and went straight to the river. Our dog, Mandy, trotted alongside us, panting from the summer heat. A 1.5-mile walk in 100-degree heat can get old real quick, and it took some effort to look around and remind ourselves of the beauty surrounding us--dramatic cliffs and canyons, blue and orange rock topped by green tufts of cactus and juniper. Dried up creeks leave a trail of rocks cutting through the landscape. As we rounded the hill alongside the trail, the river came into sight, and our pace picked up a little. Meanwhile, Mandy was looking at us like we were awful parents.
We came to a clear area, where a large flat limestone rock provide a nice dock to rest on and a good place from which to jump into the river. The water is cool, clean and calm. Floating here, we could finally enjoy the view and imagine what it was like to cross Texas hundreds of years ago and stumble upon this oasis.
Sunset was due up soon, so we trekked back and popped up our tent. A burn ban is in effect right now due to high winds and an unusually dry spring. We were prepared, though, and brought lots of pre-made foods. Tip: We cooked white bean, spinach, vegetable broth and couscous all together ahead of time, and then jarred it to save for a filling meal.
As we ate and popped open a bottle of wine, the large, orange sun disappeared behind the hills and the brightest stars began to shine. We couldn't see an artificial light anywhere. We couldn't hear any cars roaring down roads. We weren't even anywhere close to any of the other campers. It was just us, the dog, our little orange tent, and the great big Texas sky.
THINGS TO BE AWARE OF
Ticks are rampant in this area starting in the spring and lasting until the fall. Be sure to check yourself. Also, there is a gas station 25 miles away from the park that seems to never be open. And there's not another one for another 60 miles from there. If you're driving, be sure to fill up on gas in Del Rio, and make sure you're well-stocked on water before heading there.
Having a truck or SUV is ideal, but there are vans that go there from Del Rio and commercial kayaking outfits based in Del Rio that start their trips in the park as well.