Baked by the summer sun and covered in sparse graffiti, the 1,000-foot-long path of 40-foot-wide concrete stretched out ahead of me, like an abandoned runway built for gigantic fashion models or tiny airplanes.

I stood straddling my bike there at the confluence of Culebra and Helotes creeks, two fast-developing waterways along Loop 1604 on San Antonio’s Far West Side. In 2015 and 2016, crews built paved trails traversing this area, which offers an unusual blend of natural space and concrete hardscape meant to contain the raging flash floods that can rip through the channel.

Combined, the Culebra and Helotes creek greenways have about 2.5 miles of trail. That includes the paved trails along both creeks and a short section of gravel inside Culebra Creek Park, which also has a network of small paths through the forest and along the creek.

Culebra-Helotes creek greenways

Offers: Hiking, biking
Location: Main trailheads at Culebra Creek Park (10919 Westwood Loop, San Antonio, TX 78254) and Terra Oak (10140 Terra Oak, San Antonio, TX 78250)
Trail miles: 2.5 miles of mostly concrete trail, with some gravel at Culebra Creek Park.
Restrooms: Restrooms and potable water at Culebra Creek Park; portable toilets and potable water at Terra Oak.

Culebra Creek Park contains most of the shade in the area. There, floods have scraped the creekbed down to bare rock, and pools of water collect among the depressions. Some of the ponds are deep enough for anglers to sit in the shade and cast their lines.

When I visited for the first time on Friday, it didn’t take long to explore the park, about a third of which is made up of sports fields. I then biked east along the greenway and crossed under Loop 1604, emerging into an open area dominated by concrete dams, embankments, and channels.

When facing east, I could look right and see the flat rocky bed of Culebra Creek. To my left was the narrower Helotes Creek, which at that point is a man-made channel of stair-stepped banks. The rows reminded me of the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheater, now half-covered in sunflowers and brushy trees.

The two creeks come together at the end of the strange concrete runway, built on a ridge that separates the two waterways. The Culebra Creek Greenway trail ends at the confluence, where the runway stops at a fence. With sparse trees and an open view of the sky, it seems like a good place to sit and watch the sunset during cooler months.

Bring plenty of water and sunscreen during summer visits, and avoid bringing dogs when temperatures are hot enough to burn the pads of their feet. The concrete creates an intense heat island effect, to the point that I couldn’t linger too long in the mid-afternoon without getting back on my bike and activating some evaporative cooling from the breeze.

Turning north from the Culebra-Helotes confluence takes visitors along Helotes Creek, where the concrete ends within less than a quarter mile and trees loom over the natural creek bed. Visitors can follow the Helotes Creek greenway a little less than 1 mile north to the trailhead at Terra Oak across from Burke Elementary School.

Some of the thickest groves of Texas persimmon I’ve ever seen grow along the trail. The rich, purple fruits are ripe for the picking right now.

Ripe purple Texas persimmons are ready for picking along Helotes Creek Greenway.
Ripe purple Texas persimmons are ready for picking along Helotes Creek Greenway. Credit: Brendan Gibbons / San Antonio Report

Hopefully, these trails will one day extend farther and connect to the Leon Creek Greenway, but that might take a while. Land records show the City’s property only extends to the creekbeds between Terra Oak and Culebra Road, with the State of Texas and private landowners owning the Culebra Creek farther downstream. Bexar County Hospital District owns much of Helotes Creek north of Terra Oak.

Brendan Gibbons is a former senior reporter at the San Antonio Report. He is an environmental journalist for Oil & Gas Watch.