Quietly meandering from the heart of a downtown metropolis to the edge of the rural Texas countryside, the Trinity River Paddling Trail offers a unique look at a slice of Dallas few people will ever see. A float through The Great Trinity Forest.
The misinformed myths of the Trinity told by modern yarn weavers serve as more of an impediment to exploration than the physical barriers on the river itself. Seen as a blight by most, few realize that the navigable river mere blocks from their homes affords a simple inexpensive day adventure into some of the most remote and wild places in the state. It does not smell. There is little visible trash. Many of the stretches look like the Brazos, Colorado or Sabine. Snags are few and far between. Bad press and bad rumors have resulted in very little information about this stretch of river being posted online, in print or even by word of mouth.
This was a trip that I have wanted to take for some time. Many of the special places along the river cannot be accessed by land. Locked behind high fences of the industrial plants, behind railroad marshalling yards and impassable swamp. The places I could only view from afar or not at all. Floating the river gets you there. This particular trip follows the course of the Main Stem of the Trinity River from the Santa Fe Trestle Trail to McCommas Bluff. A ten mile route book ended by the Dallas Standing Wave and the Trinity River Navigation Company Lock and Dam #1.
|Put in-Santa Fe Trestle Trail at the Trinity River|
The real obstacle I had to wait on was the Trinity River Project itself. In order to legally put in canoes on the Trinity River, construction of the Santa Fe Trestle Trail had to be completed and open to the public. That happened in late October 2012. Launching canoes below the Standing Wave was the only real option with the Sylvan Avenue Boat Ramp closed until January of 2014.
|Take out- McCommas Bluff Preserve|
Texas Paddling Trails that dot Texas. Half a dozen of which are in the Trinity River basin.
From the outset, the hardest part of the trip appeared to be getting the boats to the river itself. With a locked gate near the DART train station on 8th Street, the portage of carrying canoes down to the water would surely tax even the strongest of arms. Be prepared for the extra time and effort it takes to accomplish this. In addition, a number of news articles have been written about issues concerning the Standing Wave/Dallas Wave . One can easily avoid the soap opera surrounding all that by putting in just downstream.
|Joppa Preserve on the Trinity River, November 2012|
I'll also add, one last time, just to make it perfectly clear that we followed the letter of the law putting-in at the Santa Fe Trestle Trail. The park is now open to the public and construction is complete.
Once afloat it's easy to break this particular route up into three distinct sections of river.
-The early 20th Century industrial area in the shadow of Downtown Dallas
-The old trees, old ferry crossings and old Indian campsites near Miller's Bend
-The true wilderness of the Great Trinity Forest south of Loop 12
Each section of river has it's own feel. One section takes over where the other left off.
Trinity River Main Stem Dallas Wave to McCommas Bluff
|10 mile route with mileage markers highlighted from Santa Fe Trestle Trail to McCommas Bluff|
River height at Commerce Street Bridge: 15.2 feet
Flow: .355 kcfs
Length: 10 miles, 4.5 hours on river
Current Conditions :River gauge at Commerce Street Bridge
14-15 feet is a low flow height for the river. The sites we saw and some of the obstructions would not be visible if the water were a foot or two higher. Flow pushed the canoe along at a slow pedestrian 1-1.5mph through most sections.
Standing Wave to I-45 -- A look at the Industrialization of the Trinity River
|1911 George Kessler Plan, Union Station seen at middle right|
The ten or so river miles floated from Downtown to the edge of the city limits allows one to see the three or four different attempts to tame the river. The first section is the most developed from the old Santa Fe Bridge to I-45. Running behind some of the old heavy industrial areas of Dallas.
Standing Wave/Dallas Wave
|Standing Wave prior to submersion in December 2010|
Mouth of Cedar Creek
|Mouth of Cedar Creek, Moore Park|
Just downstream from the Standing Wave is the mouth of Cedar Creek. Most know it as the creek that flows through the Dallas Zoo. Where this creek meets the Trinity River a small fort once stood, built by the Army of The Republic of Texas during the expedition to scout a Military Road from Austin to the Red River. I-35 now follows that route.
Two maps, below, are courtesy of Mike Toyer a noted Dallas historian who accompanied us on the canoe trip. Cedar Creek is labeled "Houghton's Creek" in the maps, named for Captain M. B. Houghton. Both are very rare old maps that give a glimpse into the wilderness that was once Central Dallas. Both maps can be clicked on to enlarge.
|Upshur's 1841 Map showing the Rio Trinidad, Cedar Springs and stockade on Cedar Creek, from Joseph Milton Nance's After San Jacinto: The Texas Mexican War 1836-1841|
|Colonel Cooke's Military Road and Campaign Map 1841|
Old Forest Avenue Bridge
|Old Forest Avenue Swing Bridge|
|River bend just past the Cedar Crest Bridge|
32°45'0.06"N , 96°46'38.94"W
|MKT Railroad Trestle over the Trinity River, South Dallas|
|Limestone seeps near the MKT Trestle - P&G Plant|
|Ice Age gravel over Cretaceous Austin Chalk, Reverse Fault|
|Dripstone outcropping on the Trinity River|
Proctor & Gamble Pumphouse
|P&G Pumpstation circa 1919-1920|
|Negotiating the constricted narrowing channel at the I-45 Bridge (Bill Holston, Scott Hudson pictured)|
The I-45 Bridge, built in 1971, was another bridge constructed with the belief that one day high profile barge traffic from the Gulf of Mexico might one day turn Dallas into an inland port. The constricting ballast on either side of the river speeds up the waterflow before entering Miller's Bend.
Sewage Treatment Plant Outflow
|Fisherman at the Central Wastewater Treatment Plant discharge site|
Miller's Ferry to Loop 12 -- Ancient Fossils, Ancient Indian Villages, Ancient Trees
Simple geography keeps this next section of the Trinity from ever being developed or molested by the hands of modern man.
Prominently standing in the Yale Peabody Museum at the turn of the last century was a specimen of Elephas imperator recovered from an area near Loop 12 and the Trinity River. Seen in the photo(right), displayed at Yale with other fossils from the Pleistiocene era. Many of the other animals featured in the photo are part of the O.C. Marsh collection. The great reserves of Ice Age fossils locked away here in the Trinity River are unknown to contemporary Dallasites. Over a dozen of these large animals were excavated from a small area here. I'm certain many more are still there, victims of an old quicksand flat.
Much of this area sits ignored. Which over the course of time has preserved much of it. Some bends of the river that still carry the names of the old pioneers are concentrated in history. Like Miller's Ferry and the 3000 years of history there. Much of that history never made it into a book, matter of fact it still sits on the bank today. Someday I hope that South Dallas realizes they have a place where the rich history of emancipation and freedom can be shown hands-on. It's one of the more powerful places on the river to experience.
Old cowboy westerns have seeded the idea that the Comancheria, the name given to the nation of Comanche once fearsomely lorded over what is now Dallas County. That might be true. But just for a brief moment of time. The Cotton Bowl might have been standing longer than the Comanche cavalry ran roughshod here. The real story is not the Cherokee either. It's the Caddo.
The Hasani are a populous nation of people, and so extensive that those who give detailed reports of them do not know where it ends. They live under an organized government, congregated in their pueblos and governed by a cacique who is named by the Great Lord, as they call the one who rules them all -- Bishop Of Guadalajara, 1676
|The lost village of the ancients|
Thousands of years ago some ancient race of people lived in the woods you see in the photo above. Their history is unwritten. Here in these woods, in this very spot a great ancient civilization flourished for centuries. Charcoal analysis from their cooking fires tell us the woods looked the same today as they did when this site was called home for those ancient forefathers of Dallas.
A civilization that were master hunters. Master craftsmen. Masters artisans. Master traders. They are a group of people to whom no current humans alive will claim as descended from. Wichita? Caddo? Proto-Caddo? Maybe some unknown race of Anasazi that vanished without a trace?
|Miller's Ferry Site|
Old Central Expressway/Highway 310
|Highway 310 Old Central Expressway Bridge|
Buckeye Trail Overlook
|Paved Buckeye Overlook|
Buckeye Grove Overlook
|Buckeye Grove in Rochester Park|
Mouth of White Rock Creek
|Up a creek with a paddle, canoeing up the mouth of White Rock Creek|
|Mouth of White Rock Creek|
From the mouth of White Rock Creek, the river makes a quick turn to the south and a long straightaway stretch to Loop 12. Large cottonwoods line the bank here which serve as cormorant roosts in the fall and winter months. On a day with a strong south headwind, I imagine this would be a difficult stretch for some.
Joppa Preserve to McCommas Bluff -- Old Growth Forest and the River Wild
|The Dallas 9's Otis Dozier's Gathering Pecans, 1941 WPA commissioned mural|
The tracks of the river otter, beaver and swimming pigs in their daily commute are evidenced by marks left here on the shore. The majority of photos featuring coyotes, weird tropical birds and deer come from this area. A place very few ever walk and fewer take to paddle.
Loop 12 Boat Ramp
|Loop 12 bridge, Loop 12 Boat Ramp on river right|
Lemmon Lake Dam Beach
|Lemmon Lake Dam and Wood Stork Roosts|
Dallas Water Utilities Retaining Wall
|The Great Wall---Thousands of feet of retaining wall|
|Demolished pecan grove 2009|
Great Trinity Forest Trail Bike/Pedestrian Bridge
|Trinity River Trail Bridge|
Mouth of Elam Creek / Woodland Springs
|Floating through the heart of McCommas Bluff Preserve on Elam Creek|
The fish in this creek are large and numerous. Rough fish, some quite large like the Buffalofish were 2-2.5 feet in length through this creek area.
The trees here are true old growth forest. Rare in North Texas. They grow tall and strong, old trees that have stood the test of time.
|McCommas Bluff Preserve Take-out|
The Texas Historical Marker for the bluffs reads
The fossil rich limestone here features shells the size of hubcaps that provide a look into the life of the old inland sea that once inundated much of the Central United States. The photo above, in the far background is the best location to disembark canoes. A fishermen's trail exists there which winds through the trees to the top of the bluff. From this point, the river reaches a point of no return where paddlers must commit to an hour long portage of the lock and dam. In addition, the next takeout location would be Dowdy Ferry some miles downstream. It was here we took our boats out of the river and began a loose scramble hike downstream to the historic lock features. Ropes and elbow grease are required to haul boats up the cliffs.
McCommas Bluff has two old navigation projects worth visiting. The crib work for an 1893 dam and Lock and Dam #1 further downstream.
|1893 dam crib work|
|1890s design for the dam|
|Same dam in the 1890s|
McCommas Bluff Lock and Dam #1
|The 100 year old Lock and Dam #1 at McCommas Bluff|
A century old two story lock keeper's house sits on the bluff above Lock and Dam #1 and is a currently occupied private residence. Please respect their privacy.
This was an exceptional trip with exceptional people. A high value experience with deep rewards in seeing a side of Dallas few will ever lay eyes upon. It should be high on every Dallasite's checklist of life.
Trinity River Expeditions: http://canoedallas.com/
Dallas Downriver Club http://www.down-river.com/
Commerce Street River Gauge http://water.weather.gov/ahps2/hydrograph.php?wfo=fwd&gage=dalt2
DORBA Trail Conditions http://www.dorba.org/trails.php