This time of year, I become even more addicted to my phone than usual, but social media isn’t what sucks me in. I don’t find Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit more addictive in May than I do during other months.
The truth is, I can’t stop checking Hill Country river gauges.
May is on average San Antonio’s rainiest month of the year, and it coincides with rising temperatures that make Hill Country rivers perfect for paddling. But in dry years like this, you have to seize the moment when you can. In a matter of days or weeks, the river you want to paddle might drop to a trickle again.
The best way to monitor the rivers’ flows are stream gauges maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey. Each gauge has a webpage showing how much water is flowing in the river at that point in near real time. Many Texas paddlers are familiar with them, but they can be a little hard to interpret at first glance.
Upper Guadalupe River – Center Point to Homilius Road
Location: Lions Park in Center Point (29.94558, -99.040534) to Homilius Road (29.937008, -98.984657).
Trail miles: 4.5 river miles.
Restrooms: No toilets or potable water.
On April 29, my girlfriend, Jessica Mrozinski, and I had the day off work. A couple inches of rain had fallen over the past two days, a recent change after months of dry weather.
We checked the gauge for the Guadalupe River near the town of Comfort, about an hour’s drive northwest of San Antonio on Interstate 10. At more than 150 cubic feet per second, the river was running higher than it had been since May 2020.
Access points on this stretch are some of the easiest to negotiate on the Upper Guadalupe River. We put in at Lions Park in Center Point, a town only 9 miles upriver from Comfort on State Highway 27.
Our takeout point was Homilius Road, a quiet two-lane macadam road with a one-lane bridge over the river that paddlers can use as an access point. When putting in or taking out on Homilius, make sure to leave your vehicle where the parking signs indicate and avoid trespassing on adjacent private property.
This part of the Guadalupe has a ton of variety. It alternates from broad, wide pools with brushy banks to narrow, cypress-lined channels that become mild rapids when the river flows at around 100 cubic feet per second or more. The storm runoff had left the water murky green, cloudier than when it mostly flows from springs along the sides.
On the wide-open areas, we found a springtime prize ready for the taking. Ripe purple mulberries dangled on slender limbs overhanging the channel. We picked as many as we could reach from our kayaks, storing them in an empty beer can.
We weren’t so lucky with dewberries, a species of wild blackberry we found in abundance while foraging this time last year. But all the dewberries we saw along the Guadalupe last week were still too young and green.
Fellow paddle foragers should beware of poison ivy growing in bright green blankets along the banks. The toxic plant seems to prefer the same habitat as the dewberry.
All along the river, we saw signs of the recent drought that started last year. Long walls of ferns that once lined the Guadalupe’s banks had dried to brown crisps. Still, we saw some young ferns unfurling their leaves again and beginning to grow back.
My friend Dave Zambrano, a river steward who spends much of his free time picking up trash along local waterways, was the first to show me this stretch of the Guadalupe three years ago. I’ve been back maybe 10 times, first in an inflatable Seyvlor Quikpak, then my 10-foot Ocean Kayak sit-on-top kayak (if you can’t tell yet, the Trailist welcomes discount gear).
Both kayaks handled this stretch well at high and low flow levels, though I wouldn’t recommend floating it below 50 cubic feet per second unless you’re OK with walking and dragging for significant stretches.
Every trip, I keep getting stuck in a tiny waterfall along an open, rocky-bottomed stretch less than 1 mile into the float. Last time, I managed to wedge my kayak in a slot between two rocks as the waterfall poured water into the boat. Luckily, I wriggled away before the river sank me.
Last week was my first time paddling this stretch during a weekday, so Jess and I noticed the sound of heavy trucks and loaders mining sand and gravel at a quarry along Highway 27.
Aside from an occasional passing truck, the beeping and crunching of the quarry were the only human sounds we heard on the river that day. We loved having the river to ourselves, shared only with the deer and ducks we encountered along its banks.
With Saturday’s rain keeping the rivers full, a group of friends is planning another to trip the Guadalupe again Sunday. Maybe I’ll see you out there.