|Floating the rain swollen Trinity River under the towering cottonwoods and pecans of the Great Trinity Forest just downstream of White Rock Creek in Dallas, Texas September 21, 2013|
|Hurricane Ingrid Track from NOAA|
Coupled with the approach of the first strong Canadian cold front, the tropical moisture created a much welcomed and widespread heavy rain event in the Upper Trinity River Basin of North Texas.
|Hitting the river at the height of the flood|
The Dallas Fort Worth area saw 3 to 6 inches of rain causing minor flash flooding and the Trinity River to rise some 15+ feet above normal. The average flow through Downtown Dallas is some 500-600 cubic feet per second, after the heavy rains the flow was ten times that, over 5,000 cubic feet per second.
Downstream, White Rock Creek, a tributary to the Trinity River, saw flows over 1,200 cubic feet per second below the White Rock Lake Dam. This translates into a faster speed of flow too, some two-to-three miles per hour.
With the river high and running fast, what better time to get out on the water. Even better, use specially designed lightweight whitewater-purposed packrafts and mountain bikes to make for an entire car-free adventure through the Great Trinity Forest and points beyond. Nearly all the photos here were taken inside the inner highway ring loop of Dallas, Texas known as Loop 12. The exception being a scant few photos taken while visiting Joppa Preserve and the Trinity River Audubon Center which sit a mere city block from Loop 12.
|Paddling on the Trinity River in southeast Dallas under the massive twin I-45 bridges originally designed to accomodate barge traffic between North Texas and the Gulf Coast|
A Float On The Last Day Of Summer
The trip down here hits a number of exceptional places to visit on the Trinity River in one of the largest urban parks in the country known as the Great Trinity Forest. Highlights included not just the grand spectacle of running the river. Anyone can do that. It's being able to fold in a connection to the people on the Trinity using them as a way to connect dots and relevance to a place that has no signs or guideposts. It's still amazing to know that a six mile river float, a twenty mile bike ride, a visit to a world class Audubon Center, a pre-Columbian Native American site, a drink out of an ancient spring and crossing through the State Fair of Texas can all be done inside the city limits of Dallas.
|Floating the Trinity River with the famous Texas Buckeye Grove commanding the view in the background|
Off The Map Route
The ease of access afforded by not just floating the river but also traversing the woods by mountain bike allowed us to condense what would be a twelve hour canoe and hike into one that was a mere five hours. The luxury of not being tied down by a vehicle on the river means no shuttling, no backtracking, no waiting around and means you can go "the back way" at every turn. The road less travelled or no road at all. 26 miles altogether, much of it where no street address exists.
Paddling Route data can be found here:
Map route data Trinity River Paddling Trail Santa Fe Trestle to Loop 12
|Six mile float route from the Santa Fe Trestle Trail down to Loop 12 and the Boat Ramp take-out|
Since the water was high, we were able to use the pack rafts to negotiate up the mouth of White Rock Creek to an area behind Big Spring at Mile 5, where Bryan's Slough/ Oak Creek joins White Rock. A rare treat to briefly paddle into the heart of the Great Trinity Forest.
Route data can be found here:
Map route data Trinity Forest Bike Trail Loop 12 to Trinity River Audubon Center
|Four mile bike route from Loop 12 to the Trinity River Audubon Center|
Packrafts make the trip possible
|Getting ready to launch boats at the Standing Wave|
It's packrafting, not canoeing. It's packrafting, not cycling. These are high performance boats and not pool toys, either. Hard to explain to us Texans as the lionshare of packraft users are high adventurers in the mountains of far flung continents, in desolate hard to reach places no one has ever thought to venture before. To some extent, the Trinity River fits into that. A true classic wilderness float with rarely another human seen the entire trip.
The first use of modern inflatable boats began in the mid 19th century, but the history of inflatable boats goes back much further. In fact, indigenous tribes around the world have, in past centuries, sought to use animal skins and inflated bladders to keep them afloat in the water. These rafts proved in a practical manner that you can fill a water resistant material with air and float the surface of the water.
The first use of inflatable boats was in 880 BC, when the king of Assyria used greased animal skins inflated with air to move his troops across a river. Other records of history show that during the Ming Dynasty in China, inflated skins were used for river crossings.
|Peter Hackett's boat design used in the Canadian Arctic|
|Modern day pack rafting via mountain bike in Dallas|
The refined and contemporary design of modern boats used today allow for a lightweight and strong boat that can carry many hundreds of pounds of gear and equipment with the boat itself weighing around 6 pounds.
Alpacka Boats and Big City Bike Rafts
The boats used are Alpacka brand boats from Alpacka Raft Mancos, Colorado. They are the Rolls-Royce of adventure boats and are the worldwide standard for expedition travel where water crossings and remote water travel is required. With the Rolls-Royce quality, comes a Rolls-Royce pricetag to buy one. The boat, lifejacket and paddle can run $1000 and priced about the same as a traditional well made kayak or canoe. Well worth every penny.
I had been on a previous bike rafting trip down the river with Will, it started and finished from the Katy Trail Icehouse along the Katy Trail in Dallas. The writeup from that trip in February can be found here: Bikerafting the Trinity River from the Katy Trail. He has some cool outside the box ideas on where to take these rafts around Dallas and could show you the in's and out's of how they work in just a few minutes. He is good people and has some real creative solutions to getting more people interested in the outdoors in Dallas.
If you want to read more about what these boats are capable of, source a book written by Jonathan Waterman and published by National Geographic called Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River. Jonathan Waterman used an Alpacka on his 1450 mile journey from the source of the Colorado River on the snowpack in Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park all the way through Arizona's Grand Canyon and down to Mexico's Baja
Assembling The Boats
Taking the bike wheels off and securing to the bow of the boat takes another few minutes. A 25 pound mountain bike weighs very little in a relative sense. The boats are capable of carrying a field dressed elk, moose or bear out of a boundary wilderness area, a bike cargo is nothing compared to that. The trick with a bike is to make sure all the sharp points of the pedals and cranks do not contact the boat.
This could easily be done with a road bike or any other bike that allows for wheels to be taken off. We were all using the larger 29" wheeled mountain bikes and everything fit aboard with room to spare.
The oars break down into 4 parts and the stuff sack for the boat serves as a dry bag when on the water.
With quick assembly and a recheck of gear, safety chat and route plans, it was time to hit the water.
Our group of four was rounded out by Brendan and John. Brendan has prior experience on the Trinity River upstream the previous year and in heavy thunderstorm conditions.
A note on safety and self-rescue:
I would recommend first time river runners on the Trinity to use a guide or organized group outing with experienced friends who know the ins-and-outs of the river. Makes for a much more enjoyable float. Launching on the fast running and swift rain swollen Trinity is an exciting trip but one I would suggest only for more advanced paddlers in excellent physical condition.
Looks can be deceiving with obstacles just under the surface. With an extra 10-15 feet of water in the river and 10 times the volume of flow, many of the snags and obstructions, actually all of them, were unseen. Made for a beautiful float as not a car tire or piece of trash was seen on the bank. Also makes for very difficult conditions if problems crop up.
Putting Afloat On The Dallas Trinity River Paddling Trail
The Dallas Trinity Paddling Trail is one of 57 Texas Paddling Trails that dot Texas. Half a dozen of which are in the Trinity River basin. More information can be found on the TPWD Paddling Trail Website
Putting in at the Standing Wave 32°45'9.26"N, 96°47'26.43"W is a breeze using the ingress and egress ramps used for portaging around the river obstruction there. A concrete ramp leads from the sidewalk right into the water. Before you know it, you are away.
|Just downstream from launching at the Trinity River Standing Wave, Will and Brendan pass the mouth of Cedar Creek|
|Under the MKT Bridge downstream|
The old Katy railroad bridge 32°45'0.06"N , 96°46'38.94"W dates supposedly to 1905 and is one of the oldest railroad bridges still in operation over the Trinity River, if not the oldest. Few ever see this bridge. Tucked away behind a few bends in the river it stands virtually hidden to the river beyond. From this point on, save for a few freeway overpasses, the city that surrounds the river is silent. The river and the 4000 acres of trees that surround it soak up noise like a sponge
|P&G Plant Pumphouse, lower intake of structure is submerged in the photo|
|Photo from 2012 showing the low water view|
|One of the many quiet sections of the Trinity River just south of Downtown Dallas where large tree canopies dapple the sunlight as the strong current gives us an effortless journey downstream|
As one approaches I-45, the river picks up a little speed. Here the river drops a little more in elevation than other sections, thus speeding things up a little. During high water the extra speed is unnoticed, it's easier to see in normal conditions.
|Approaching the twin I-45 spans over the Trinity River|
|Entering Miller's Bend|
Conversation With The Jet Ski Guy On The Trinity River at Miller's Ferry
I would imagine that it has been awhile since riverine traffic has passed each other on the Trinity River in Dallas. One might need to go back a dozen decades to find the last time traffic passed each other here. What better place to have that happen than at Miller's Ferry.
In the distance, we hear the low hum of a boat, rounding the bend, just at the exact spot of historic Miller's Ferry is none other than the jet ski guy.
Like us, the man on the Sea-Doo was riding the crest of the recent rains. He told us that he lives near Ennis and was riding up the Trinity River all the way to Fort Worth! Pretty far. He stopped to talk with us, inquiring about the height of the river at the Santa Fe Trestle and whether or not the "Dallas Wave" aka Standing Wave was inundated. He needed the water to be high so he could pass safely through. Answering in the affirmative, we chatted further.
|Part Chuck Norris, part Kenny Powers, talking about Trinity River alligators at Miller's Ferry with the jet ski guy|
I had previously seen the jet ski guy during high water back in 2012 at McCommas Bluff. There high above the swollen river, I saw two jet skiiers navigate over Lock and Dam #1 and head upstream. Robert Wilonsky at the Dallas Morning News wrote a brief about it here:
Raising Awesome Bar To New Level
The 2012 video is here:
Fun to talk with someone like that as their experience on the Trinity is very parallel to mine yet seen from a different perspective. He spent a moment talking about an alligator recently not far from Downtown Dallas. His gestures suggested an alligator in the three foot range and in an area upstream of Lamar and south of Downtown. The alligator slid off the bank and into the water as he drove past.
The jet skier was headed for Fort Worth that day, we bid our goodbyes, he started his engine, we put paddle to water and just like that we were all gone from Miller's Ferry.
|Floating under the old Central Exwy Bridge|
|Buckeye Trail vicinity on Trinity River|
White Rock Creek and Boating to Historic Big Spring
|Will Saunders at the mouth of White Rock Creek, Trinity River in far background|
With some nice high water we ventured off the Trinity River and headed up White Rock Creek aways. With great ease and a little paddling we reached the flooded mouth of Bryan's Slough also known as Oak Creek.
|Up White Rock Creek from the Trinity River|
|White Rock Creek left, mouth of Bryan's Slough at right|
|Heading back down to the Trinity, on White Rock Creek|
Bryan's Slough was the turnaround and we let the current drift us back down into the Trinity.
|Scenic section of the Trinity downstream of the White Rock Creek mouth|
Not much was said south of White Rock Creek. We just drifted along at a good clip, enjoying the shade of the trees and soaked it all in. Many canoeists face this straightaway as a curse. During normal slack flows and a strong south wind this section gives many a tough go of it. Not this day. It was cruise control.
Take out at Loop 12
|At the Loop 12 Boat Ramp|
Taking out at Loop 12 is fairly straightforward. A standard one lane boat ramp exists there with an interlocking paver design. The Loop 12 bridge does funnel the water to some extent making for some needed elbow grease to get into the ramp. Very easy. Taking apart the boats, re-assembling the bikes took only minutes. It was time once again to saddle up on bikes and head towards our next stop the Audubon Center.
The Great Trinity Forest Trail
A four mile paved trail was built in two phases, 2009 and 2012 between Loop 12 and the Trinity River Audubon Center. The bike path skirts Little Lemmon Lake, Lemmon Lake and a couple of unnamed ponds on the south side of the Trinity River. The concrete trail was built upon an old gravel road which once served private fish camps along the lakes when it was a private hunting and fishing club known as the Trinity River Rod and Gun Club.
|The tall trees of Joppa Preserve near Lemmon Lake|
|Trinity River Trail Bridge Crossing|
|Trinity River Trail Phase II near the Audubon Center|
North of the bridge, the trail is shade-free as it crosses through the old Deepwoods landfill east of the Audubon Center.
|Trinity River Audubon Center|
|Will talking with Jenna Hanson Director of Education at the Trinity River Audubon Center|
Jenna from the Audubon Center came out to speak with Will about the bike rafts and doing something with the Audubon in the future. Bike rafts might be a good fit for exploring the Trinity down here in the near future as more people visit by bike.
|Brendan at the TRAC|
Visiting Big Spring and Shooting The Breeze With Billy Ray Pemberton
|Historic Big Spring in the Great Trinity Forest|
|Billy Ray Pemberton|
We did not bother with filling water bottles at the Audubon Center. I knew a place just a five minute ride up the road where we could fill up, where the water was clean and cold. Big Spring.
We'd already had a great time meeting the jet ski guy, had the red carpet rolled out for us at the Audubon Center, how to top that?
Only one place to go, that's a visit to the Pembertons. We found Mr Pemberton on this stunning bluebird sky of a summer afternoon relaxing at the base of the ancient Bur Oak next to the spring. I imagine if anyone reading this had some magic place like this behind their home, you'd likely do the same. The sounds of the city disappear down here. It's often quiet enough to hear a bird's wings flap in passing or the sound of wind moving through a field of grass. It's an oh so rare refuge inside Loop 12.
|Mr Pemberton welcoming the guys to Big Spring|
An hour or two earlier we were not far from this spot, having paddled up White Rock Creek to where Bryan's Slough terminates. As Mr Pemberton explained the big floods over the years we mentioned how far up the creek we had come that day on the height of the water. I think we could have easily paddled here that day rather than ride, had the mood struck.
|Billy Ray Pemberton telling the story about the Big Flood of 1908 and the walnut tree here that marks the high water mark|
So much history sits here that it would take ten trips to soak up. Billy Ray gave us a short cliff notes on the place as we filled our water bottles, drank the water, then refilled again. Few Dallasites have seen what Dallas once looked like, before there was a Dallas. Few realize that some residents like Billy Ray still work the land, grow their own crops and eat the bounty that God provides. He lives it.
I have yet to find someone who does not come away with a deep and profound appreciation for Big Spring or the treasure of a man named Bill Pemberton. Put a smile on our faces the whole ride home.
Ride Up White Rock Creek to the M-Streets
|Riding Samuell near Lawnview|
The Lower White Rock Creek Trails are better walked that ridden, rough entrances and trailheads are difficult to find and traverse Devon Anderson, Grover Keeton and Gateway Parks in this area. Out of the floodplain the trail is on solid limestone outcrops and features cedar trees for the most part.
I think the city is moving away from the idea of trails here, preferring to use a floodplain route they call the Arboretum-to-Audubon Trail. That would run closer to the creek and be more prone to extensive flooding.
|Past the putting green of Tenison Golf Course|
The last rise in the route was over the hills of Tenison Golf Course and the grind up La Vista through Lakewood Country Club.
From outward appearances we look like a group coming back from a casual concrete grind around White Rock Lake. The truth was we had come full circle with the ride here as we merged onto Skillman, reaching a point where we had been just five hours before.
|Riding through Lakewood Village|