Tag Archives: Colorado River

Southwestern farrago

San Saba Weekly News, October 9, 1891.

Within the last two months, I have collected a special farrago of items relative to the Southwest and travel south of the border.  I had thought about writing a post on each of these items, but probably will not in the near future.  I do not want these bits and pieces to go stale.  So, in this mixed bag of  items you may find something of interest.  Click on the hyperlinks for details.


Tundra Native Flies To Texas | NBC 5 Dallas-Fort Worth.  The Snowy Owl comes to Texas — near Dallas.  This is so rare of a sighting down here that I may drive over to the area and photograph the owl (Robertson State Park at Lake Ray Hubbard Snowy Owl sighting site location courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife).


In Arizona, Rare Sightings Of Ocelots and Jaguars – NYTimes.com.  The New York Times relates to Arizona.  But, two years ago near Abilene, Texas, three sober people sighted what was thought to be a jaguar.  The Texas Parks and Wildlife agency did not confirm the sighting along a brushy ridge line that extended for miles running east and west.  Given the craziness of some hunters, I have not given the story publicity and I do not intend to pinpoint the location.


How safe is Mexico for tourists? – World – CBC News.  This writer has experience in Mexico and his website seems worthwhile.  This is a valuable article for those of you seeking to take your Spring break in Mexico.  Combined with the State Department’s guidelines and warnings linked below, avoid some places and enjoy safely other areas.


Mexico.  U.S. Department of State Travel Warning to Mexico.  The State Department updates these warnings regularly.


BBC – Travel – A German enclave in central Texas : Cultural Activities, Texas.  This is about Fredericksburg, one of my favorite towns in Texas.  I went to Fredericksburg as a boy, before it became touristy.  It still has the old-town feeling.  This was written for the British Broadcasting Company.


Filed under Birds, Fredericksburg Texas, San Saba Texas, Texas

Acequia and Rough Creek mill race

Acequia Madre of Santa Fe

Throughout the upper Rio Grande bioregion, from the uplands of the north to the more desertic and mesa lands to the south, watercourses and their tributaries stand apart as the most defining features critical to all forms of life, biotic and human.  For centuries, this region has been homeland to the aboriginal peoples, the Tewa, Tiwa and Keres (Pueblo) Indians, and the descendants of the first European settlers, the hispano mexicanos.  These cultures revere water, treasuring it as the virtual lifeblood of the community….Nestled within the canyons and valley floors, tiny villages and pueblos dot the spectacular, enchanting landscape.  Their earthen ditches, native engineering works known locally as acequias, gently divert the precious waters to extend life into every tract and pocket of arable bottomland….

But these systems have also performed other important roles…social, political, and ecological.  As a social institution the acequia systems have preserved the historic settlements and local cultures spanning four major periods….The great majority of acequia villages are unincorporated.  In these instances the acequia institutions have functioned as the only form of local government below the county level.

As biological systems, the acequias have served other important objectives:  soil and water conservation, aquifer recharge, wildlife and plant habitat preservation, and energy conservation.

Jose A. Rivera, Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest, pp. xvii-xviii (1998).

In 2007, I drove up Santa Fe River canyon from downtown to the iron gates of the reservoir that held water for the town, including the Acequia Madre.  The acequia no longer irrigated fields, but the channel held water for occasional diversions to small plots in the neighborhood.  For a distance of about two miles, I traced the acequia back towards the center of Santa Fe.  All along the way, I saw some neighborhoods had gleaned the acequia while others ignored it.  At the end of my search near the junction of the Old Santa Fe Trail, the acequia held little water, but it was visible and grasses sprouted about the narrow canal.  It appeared ready, at attention really, to carry water again.

* * *

I spoke with a vintner at Dixon, New Mexico, north of Santa Fe, who also superintended the annual cleaning of the Dixon acequia.  She told me that local inhabitants still work on keeping their canal clear of brush, even if it does not border their property,  a communal behavior extending back to prehistoric times.

* * *

On my great-grandfather’s ranch in San Saba County, Texas, the local inhabitants of Colony and High Valley constructed a grist mill for grinding grain in the late-nineteenth century.  They dug a mill race or channel to divert the water of Rough Creek to the wheel that powered belts to millstones.  My mother often told me she remembered her father coming out of the mill covered in flour, face smothered and sweaty.  As a boy, when I visited my great-grandfather’s ranch, I followed the channel upstream on Rough Creek to where the water diverted.

Today, the mill still stands sans roof, windows and doors; the mill race is visible, though eroded, and no water flows.  On the second story ledge of the mill, a prickly-pear cactus took root in shallow soil, erupting ten or twelve paddles of cacti clearly visible from the ground, its propulsion coming from the prevailing southwesterly wind from High Valley and warmer climes in Mexico that blew seed upwards onto the old mill’s second story.  To this day, picnics and family reunions congregate about the old mill and under the pecan trees nearby.

Although some acequias have fallen into disrepair and the old mill will no longer grind grain, no lament is necessary because these structures symbolize the communal efforts of people to work with the flow of water.  Acequias can be cleaned out and the mill race can be reconstructed to a higher ground so that its flow can be opened to a newly-planted orchard of plum and peach.  The mill race becomes acequia.



Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966, San Saba Texas, Santa Fe

Poprock Hill Pond Mist

Poprock Hill Pond Mist, March 14, 2010 (click to enlarge)

This is Poprock Hill Pond, also known as a stock pond, stock tank, cow tank, watering hole, runoff reservoir or catch pond.  In this region of Texas — central, west — they are called, cow tanks or stock tanks.  “Cow tank,” of course, has familial, idiosyncratic, usage:  Uncle Floyd’s ranch, Tom Parks place and many others.  Cow or stock tank does not have the Walden cachet that reflexively appeals to non-Westerners, non-Texans.  To many of us, however, the cow tank was the first place where we learned to swim, fish and observe water in a region of semi-arid climate.  It was a separate, exciting area, cupped in the earth.

The rivers of Texas, such as Brazos, Colorado, Llano, Pecan Bayou (yes, a river), San Saba, Concho, Pecos and Rio Grande (always drop the word, “river,” before you say or write Rio Grande) may be public in water rights, but only a few families own the land around the river banks.  The Walton family of Walmart has a large ranch along the Brazos River near Millsap, Texas.  The few families that control river banks have no duty to the public to give them access.  To canoe or float down these rivers in Texas, you enter the river at a public road crossing, such as Interstate 20.

For most of us owning land in Texas, our first exposure to large bodies of water — other than bathtubs — were cow tanks, such as Poprock Hill Pond or stock tank, photographed above.  Swimming in cow tanks with cousins was often the first time people saw another body without clothes or scant apparel.  Perch and bass fish were stocked in the tanks and in the winter, ducks arrived to feed, carouse.  The cow tank was a retreat from family conflict, a quiet place to throw stones in the water and watch the ripples circle out to the edges.  It was another visual reference for for drought or abundance:  cow tank down, way down, dry.  Or, the other way:  stock tank up, way up, overflowing.   During the summer, we camped on the northern side of the stock tank, so as to catch the water evaporation from the southwest wind at night as we would sleep in a tent or on cots beneath live oaks, pecan trees.  By the morning, we wrapped ourselves in old quilts or sleeping bags to ward off  the cold breeze from the tank.

Stock tanks, however, are primarily for livestock.  Angus cattle walk the dam and water daily.  Our horses, Star, Lilly, Hija, Fanny and Shiney, wallow in the shallows to the right in the above photograph, bathing and cooling themselves in hot weather.  Hija is a water nymph.  She wallows more than others, she plays in it:  nuzzling the surface, plunging her head down into the water almost up to her eyes, stomping the edge of the bank to splash water on herself.  She’s a fine horse, she is.  If she could, she would bring her stallion to the water’s edge.

This morning, the temperature was 41 deg. F. and I saw the mist arise from Poprock Hill Pond.  Before I threw hay to Hija — she’s a fine horse, she is — I went down to the pond and took the photograph.  I don’t know the temperature of the water, but I’ll get a thermometer one of these days and plunge it into the pond water, if it is pertinent to my tasks that day.  Then, again, I may not.  I may stand on the edge of the cow tank and think of my cousins and Sweet Hija, bucolically at play and passing time.  The registering of the surface temperature may have to wait as I look at the wind moving the surface of the water, the light film of natural oils, the young willows emerging along the banks and the sunlight reflecting.  And, soon — it always happens — I’ll forget myself, looking at a misty cow tank in Texas.

Closeup Mist on Poprock Hill Pond, March 14, 2010 (click to enlarge)


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch, Recollections 1990-

Snow as Fertilizer

Snowfall at Flying Hat Ranch February 11, 2010 (Click to enlarge)

I did not know until today and I think it true.  Snow and hail capture more nitrogen in flake and stone than raindrop.  Grass and crop grow intensely after snow and hail.  Heavy hailstorms on bayous and ponds deplete oxygen.  Fish die.  This was told to me by a rancher from Coleman County, Texas, whose family has husbanded cattle and horses for five generations (130 years) on the Upper Colorado River watershed.  Snow and hail with more (bonded?) nitrogen are nature’s fertilizers.

South of Cisco, Texas, another rancher confirms the observation that snow or hail are fertilizers:  Oh, it’s a fact.  We will have good spring grass with this snow, but I don’t know what the summer will bring as we will have to wait and see.


Filed under Flying Hat Ranch

Protected: Beginning: The Bridge Spoke (With Notes)

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below:

Enter your password to view comments.

Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966

Beginning: The Bridge Spoke

Bend, Texas, in the early fifties….

Two miles away from Sand Cemetery, the Colorado River was host mainly to catfish, some fifty pounds in weight, yellow and blue.  A few ducks from time to time browsed along the banks where the current slowed.  I saw catfish, gar, perch, turtle, ducks and heron.  Blue heron rose off the river, awkwardly flapping to gain lift.  You cross your fingers every time they start up as heron may never make the air.  But they do.  They gain ten or fifteen feet, level off and then in slow wing beats glide above the river following its contours like a liquid highway.  They would turn at the bend of the river, nearly out of sight as I stood on the suspension bridge connecting San Saba and Lampasas counties above the Colorado River, watching the blue heron turn a gray color in the distance.

The suspension bridge sagged three feet as cattle trucks crossed, the weight of the trucks pushing a ripple of bridge planks in front of them, like an ocean wave.  I ran to the end of the bridge and slid down the embankment to see trucks pass, the wave rising and falling.  The bridge held strong for passengers, livestock and man, until it was torn down and replaced by a wider, concrete bridge that held no awe, little respect, and absolutely no history.  The old suspension bridge groaned and creaked when cattle trucks shifted gears to speed over the planks.  When trucks first crossed onto the suspension there was thunderclap.  The new bridge did not speak; it said nothing when built; it says nothing now.


Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966

Beginning: Bend Ford

Jack F. Matthews, Sr., Winter 1941-42, Texas

As posted in “Beginning: Red Ants,” there is first a setting out, a beginning of all things.  Nations and tribes record their origins and seed their narratives with great events and heroes.  Beginnings do not stop with national revolution or constitutions, but are present in the family, the circle of kin.  Not stopping there, the setting out goes even farther down into each sentient, solitary being.  Corporeal narratives, we each are.

The beginning is that earliest moment of consciousness, not self-consciousness because that comes later under the mesquite tree in Texas when the wind blows (at least for me, it was).  It may be a song, a face, an automobile, truly anything under the sky that sticks first in the mind, imprinting a memory.  At that moment the setting out begins and does not end till death.  It may never be written, never told; but it is embedded in the flesh.

Mother’s setting out, she tells me, was when she and her father, Jake, were crossing the Bend Ford on the Colorado River near her Uncle Nathan’s home on horseback, riding double, when the horse slipped and fell on her.  The river bottom, only one or two feet below the surface at the ford, is solid granite like the face of Round Rock near Fredericksburg, Texas, and mother, Jake, and horse entangled, thrashing in water.  Her leg broke and they sent for Dr. Doss who set the leg as her father fashioned a small crutch for his two-year old to walk.  The river became a constant theme in her life: the flood, the boundary, the swimming.  Gywn crossed the river at Bend Ford many times after the fall, but the accident was her setting out, with horse and water above her and a father to save her.

My cousin and I were sitting on the ground outside the one-room trailer house on Austin Avenue in Brownwood, Texas, looking down at a clock.  The year was either 1943 or 1944.  The bedside clock was a throwaway timepiece, the face removed, the case gone, but the wheels and spring intact.  In our play, the clock had been wound tight, the wing nuts stuck in the ground.  The alarm went off and the clock spun around and around.  My cousin and I gazed as only children can, intently focused on the exposed wheels and clock turning in the dirt.  Wheels clicked within wheels turning.  I looked away from the spinning clock and saw green bamboo stalks beside the trailer.  I looked down, my cousin stared at the spinning clock until it stopped, turned again, then finally stopped.  She looked at me.  We giggled.  My beginning was an old clock stuck in dirt, spinning round.

Two-and-a-half miles away from the spinning clock and trailer house, Camp Bowie trained soldiers for the war.  My father, Jack Matthews, had left the camp, left us, and was jumping out of planes for extra money, urging Gywn to keep flying the Irish green.  He was parachuting with Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, destined for Europe and every major combat operation from Normandy to Berchestgarten.  The Band of Brothers, Easy Company.  Since Gywn and Jack had divorced shortly after the war, I knew few details about him.  I found a cache of letters in her things following her death and I did not open them until the summer of 2009.  When I found out he was a foot soldier in Easy Company, I ordered books overnight from Amazon.com and read his story, his name in print.

In Gywn’s cache of correspondence, I read the letters and documents dated until 1946.  There was a story beyond the narrative my mother had told me and its plot lines were different from what I had been told as a boy.  I stopped reading and put the letters back in the Bigso Boxes of Sweden I bought from Container Store to preserve them.  I have put them aside for now because there’s a story to be told.  An old, old story, along the banks of the Colorado River in Texas, before the spinning clock, before my beginning, but in the flesh of my family.


Filed under Bend Texas, Colony Road, Recollections 1942-1966