Shadycrest Baptist Church
Pearland, Texas

Men's Kayaking Trip
San Marcos River

Crossing the Dam
Making a Run through the Gap in the Dam

San Marcos River map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Map of City Parks

Rio Vista Park is at No. 6 on the map and it seems to be a very popular swimming area for young teens and pre-teens. This is probably where those who rented tire inner tubes get out and go back to the Lions Club tube rental area at the City Park.

Many of the children were riding their tubes through the gap in the dam and some were body surfing through it. The men in our group waited their turns and so it took several minutes before we were below the dam and ready to continue. That gave me time to rest a little and to take a few photos from the bank. Then I carried my kayak down the bank where several of our group were helping each other onto the kayaks and back into the water. I was still mostly dry at this point. Some water got into the kayak through the drain hole in the bottom so the seat of my pants was wet.

Overgrown Area
The river above Rio Vista dam was wide and clear of brush and other obstructions except for the highway and railroad bridges, but below the dam we found brush and plants in the water that required us to choose our paths carefully. The bridge in the background may be Interstate 35, which marks the boundaries of the parks on the map.

Jim and Louis
Jim and Louis approaching the area above the second dam where all of us were gathering for further instructions.

On the old dam
Our pastor got out of his kayak and found a good spot on the old dam. The river was split in two at this dam and part of it went over the dam in about a 10-foot drop and the other part continued at the higher level. We found out later that it also ended at a dam where the two channels came back together. To get back into the water, we had to pull our kayaks out onto this concrete part of the dam and then lower them down through the brush to the water below the dam.

Gathering at the River
Our pastor reminded us that one of our members had been baptized at this same spot on the kayaking trip the year before. Then he announced that that member's son had made a profession of faith in Jesus and had requested baptism.

Preparing for Baptism
When I was young, the churches in the community where I grew up baptised new converts in one of the nearby creeks or rivers. It was my assumption that only naturally flowing water was suitable for baptism. It took a while before I was comfortable with baptism in a tub of water inside a church house. Baptism in a baptistry filled with still water reminded me of our childish pretend baptisms in the bathtub at our step grandparent's home. My mother had sternly told us that we weren't being baptised in the bath tub.

Now it seems a little odd to see someone being baptized outside a church building, where the church doesn't control and witness what is done. However, our pastor is authorized to baptize on behalf of the church and there were plenty members there to be witness. My son took a picture with his blue waterproof camera, but lost the camera somewhere along the way.

Our pastor then told us that we had a choice of carrying the kayaks for about a quarter of a mile around the next section of the river or giving the rough section a try. He told us that the man who had guided him on his first trip said that this section was not too bad as long as the river was not too high. It seemed like a good idea because a quarter mile seemed much too far to carry a kayak even using the buddy system and most seemed to think we were getting the hang of kayaking. Little did we realize that up to this point we had just basically been paddling across a pond with just enough current to make the paddling easy.

This is how Marc W. McCord describes this dam at:
"A small waterfall on river right just above the concrete diversion channel about 2 miles below Old City Park can be run by experienced boaters with great care, or portaged. There are two portage options: either just below the waterfall on river right, or across CR 299 to the right of the diversion channel in the city park. The waterfall drop is at the site of an old stone dam, and below the drop some rebar has recently caused damage to boats, so great care must be exercised when running that drop."

So we pulled our kayaks up on the bank between the two channels and worked our way down the bank about eight or ten feet to the water below the old dam and continued our journey.

Making our way through the brush.
The channel was more narrow and there was much more debris in the water and the banks were even rougher than before. I'm not sure how the first person in line decided how to go, but those further back tried to follow the fellow making a successful run. One thing I knew from past experience was not to grab the overhanging limbs or try to push away from them. That might put you in opposition to the current and you'd be left hanging to the limbs. I was trying to learn how to let the current steer me around the obstacles and curves in the river. This photos gives a pretty good view of the seating position in the kayaks.

Upstream are Jim and Louis
This section had dense growth along the bank and more brush out in the stream.

One section near this area had a long curve to the left with a high vine covered bank on the right. The current was strong and I couldn't steer my kayak away from the bank. The current at the bank turned my kayak upstream and push me against the bank. I instinctively leaned away from the bank and in an instant was upset as the current caught the side of the kayak and flipped it over. I managed to cling to the kayak and get myself and my camera back above water. Fortunately, we were required to wear life jackets and, although I was surprised that mine didn't keep me from going under, it did help me stay above water when I got back up. We had also been cautioned to lean away from the current in those situations, but a little experience helps drive that lesson home.

I handed the bagged camera to a friend coming by and others retrieved my hat and paddle for me, but I lost my water bottle.

The water was too deep and the current too strong for me to get back into the kayak so I drifted with the current until I reached a gravel bar on the other side. Those who had collected my things brought them to me and I got started again. However, in the process of getting to the gravel bar, I blocked another fellow and he grabbed some limbs and was flipped into the water.

Approaching the big tree
This is the approach to the large tree that extended across the river from the right. Years ago when I was just a teen, I had a bad experience with a tree across the Point Remove Creek while inner tubing after a heavy rain and I didn't want to repeat that experience again. I could just imagine being swept under the trunk and become tangled in the limbs under water. However, the woman and girl, who had just caught up with us, seemed to be doing well. I took this photo from well upstream so that there would be less danger of getting into a difficult situation with the camera out of its protective Ziplock bag.

As I got closer, I saw that the only way through was in a high current that ran toward the left bank through the limbs at the top of the tree. Try as I might I couldn't paddle myself into that current when it was my turn to make a try. I was forced up against the trunk, but remembered to lean toward the trunk instead of away from it. However, the current was pushing my strongly against the trunk and I wasn't sure how I was going to get away. I managed to slowly, carefully push myself back along the trunk until I was in slower current and then by paddling very hard, I was able to get upstream again. I paddled even harder and got into the current which carried me right past the end of the tree with not problem.

Further down river we reached the place where our portage would have brought us if we had decided to avoid that section. The channel that we had assembled in for the baptism earlier, emptied over a large dam or waterfall into a deep hole and some of the younger ones of our group were jumping and diving into the water. I guess I was too exhausted to get a photo of that.

The Beginning - The beginning of the trip and our float from the San Marcos City park to the swimming hole in the river above the dam of the dam at Rio Vista park.
Baptism/Rough Water - Some go around the dam at Rio Vista and some go over the dam. We continue on a swifter section of the river where we incountered more obstacles. We assembled at a dam that split the river into two parts and faced the decision of portage or tackling a rough section of the river that we had been warned not to take. The most challenging part of the river is difficult to photograph while trying to stay in the kayak, in the current and keeping the camera dry.
Slow Stretch - The Blanco River joins the San Marcos at a big bend in the river. The river was wide and deep with a slow current as it was held back by a big, old Cummings mill dam.
Final Passage - Big cypress trees. A floating pack of young tubers help me quench my thirst. Back at the camp for supper.

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Posted 3/2/06