We hit the river twice since I have update, for that I am sorry. Currently we are at almost right on 45 miles downstream.
We went out for two days on Feb. 16th and 17th, first getting in at the CR 117 bridge (where I got towed last time), and then floating to the Floresville River Park. This two day stretch was really quite remarkable. We began to see a definite shift in the nature of the river from a clay-bedded system to a more sandy system as the river began to cut into the local sandy soils and sandstone outcrops. As always there were full channel jams that slowed us down, and what makes these bad is that they simply aren’t that large, but they are deceptively hard to maneuver. On the second day of this outing we saw tons of wildlife including a flock of wood ducks, a roost of vultures, and a couple of feral hogs. But we also saw a lot of LWD. The second day’s reach was obviously adjusting to channel widening, with long thin ‘islands’ on the outside of the meander bends that were part of the older banks. The river had left part of the old banks in place, including some trees which were still growing in the channel. These trees, the shallowing of the channel on the outside of the bend as opposed to the deepening (this is what usually happens) cause some real problems with debris jams. We mapped 17 such jams in the first bend alone. Luckily, the trees in this reach seem to be smaller, so mostly the jams were navigable…sort of. The second day was only 3 miles, so we finished pretty early, and came home. Over night we had stayed in the Roadside Inn of Floresville, a real treat let me tell you. Truthfully, we appreciated it as a wonderful reprieve for our aching bones and muscles after the first day of floating.
The next reach we floated on Monday (2/26) was 13.4 miles long. We had originally planned to float it as far as we could, then camp overnight on the banks to finish on Tuesday, but we were making fast enough progress we decided to commit to the whole reach. We put in at 10am in Floresville River Park. We have officially moved into the sand dominated channel. Here in this reach we saw our first defined sand bars, undercut non cohesive banks. Every bend showed this morphology, it was refreshing! The first 10 miles was free of any log jams that caused us pain, well sort of, there was one that had formed at a bend solely because a tree had fallen in at the exact wrong spot, but that took us only 20 minutes to portage and then we were on our way again. We saw a lot more different kinds of life on this reach, including a few snakes, woodpeckers, wild turkeys, and a mexican beaver. Yes, a beaver! They are reputed to be in this area, but haven’t been spotted, so that was a unique experience for us. The beaver had set up shop on a small jam resting on a mid channel bar. I had seen it through the jam and hushed up Tim so we could sneak up on it and get a real look. We cam around the other end and watched for a bit as he went about his business, then catching wind of us hopped in the water and swam to shore. He took a couple of dolphin dives, showing off his characteristic tail for us, and we let him be. Very, very cool. This is the first time I had ever seen a beaver in Texas, though about 25 miles upstream, Tim and I had seen a few beaver cut logs. Now we have confirmed it.
We also had an interesting run in with an alligator…yes alligator! We were not sure originally if it was or not, but after doing some research this week on their habitat, it is pretty certain that was what we saw! While this is cool, and it means that the river quality is improving (the alligators were reported to have left the San Antonio because of pollution issues) we are in an inflatable raft, and are prime food for a 5 foot long modern dino…not my favorite animal spotting!
We decided to float the entire reach, and Murphy was in full affect. Once we committed to it, we ran into log jam after log jam. 4 full channel jams in 3 miles, and it was getting dark. We made our way through the mess, but we had some close calls. One jam had 1 way to traverse it, Tim and I had to get out of the boat and balance on one log in the middle of the rapids in the jam. It was slick, and truly scary. This work is not safe. We made it, but it was truly dicey, and I will remember the experience for the rest of my life. We hit another jam in the dusk, I stayed in the boat to try and help maneuver, and Tim got out onto another log. We got the boat most of the way through, just as the log Tim was balanced on snapped. Thank God he fell into the boat! That could have been a scary experience. We made it to the take out at 7:30, it had been a float in the dark for the last 1/2 mile or so. We got up the cliff to the bridge without to many problems, and were on our way home. That day was probably the hardest day we have had out here yet. This work is wearing on me. I love rivers, I love floating them, and I am experienced and confident in my skills, but as of now I am of the belief that we are trying to achieve too much, and we are pressing our luck.
I took this sentiment to my advisor, something I have been worried tremendously about for a month now, and it didn’t go over very well. She insists that we should have began floating earlier (though a valid point, we had not settled on our mapping methods earlier) and that we have cell phones should anything happen. Unfortunately I did not share her confidence. I suggested a new method that we could evaluate for the second half of the study area, but I don’t think she liked it either. To her credit, later that night she emailed me suggesting that I get a quote for an airplane to fly over the river in a reconnaissance trip.
I had not considered this as an option because I figured it was cost prohibitive, but I called around and got some quote and actually it will be within the grant budget. We will fly on 3/20 for a total of 3 hours. I can’t wait. We will be taking low level oblique photos (pointing the camera at the ground from the window of the plane) of the river for the reach we haven’t floated yet. Using these photos and all of the other data we have generated, I will be able to get an idea of the morphology of the river, then Tim and I can float specific reached downstream verify or “ground truth” what we saw from the air.
Truthfully, I had lost sight of the light at the end of the tunnel until this. I have to finish soon so I can take advantage of the awesome opportunity at the University of Illinois. I will still post news here as we continue to float the river, and I will certainly post picture from our air photo trip as well.