Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Rio Grande Kayak Trip...I saw the river as our founders did.

Small rapids

Saturday morning I did what I promised to do last fall, take a trip down the Rio Grande on a kayak with Eric Ellman and Stephanie Dolanskey-Mathahey from Big River Outfitters based at the Rio Grande Plaza hotel.  You know the big round hotel on the banks of the Rio just down from bridge one.
I went with a fellow blogger, Patricia Driscoll, whom I met last year when she came to the Laredo Rifle and Pistol Club with a group wives who wanted their husbands, who are avid shooters, to teach them how to shoot.  Trish is a fellow blogger who has the very popular Critters and Crayons blog.   Anyway, Trish’s husband had the kids and we headed for the river after a short pre-float meeting at Starbucks.  Nope, they had no whiskey for courage, and I don’t drink anyway, so it was cold turkey bravery that we relied upon to get us on the river.

In case of drowning, just stand up
After a training session on how to paddle  and make the kayak respond to your every command. Kayaking is not just pulling a paddle, but you actually use a pushing motion which is more efficient and easier.  Then Eric trotted (actually a slow walk) us to the river bank for instructions on how to board a kayak. 

Now I have lived here 19 plus years and have been to the river banks many times at many different places.  But never have I been on or in the waters of the Rio Grande.    I explained to Eric though I appear to be very buoyant, that looks are deceiving and I sink like a bag of wet cement. 
Eric then proceeded to jump in the river and show me the best way to save yourself in you fall overboard.  JUST STAND UP.  Yep, it really is that simple.  Right now the river is not very deep which the photo illustrates very well.  There are some deep parts, but not many at least at this flow level. 
No wonder Laredo became the town it is today.  A running river that has plenty of shallow areas for fording commerce was a great place to settle.  In fact the original crossing, "El Paso de los Indios,” is located near LCC.  I am not sure of the exact location as the City of Laredo has a very poor reputation for noting and celebrating their landmarks.  This crossing point was the basis for Tomas Sanchez to establish Laredo on May 15, 1755.  And now, 256 years later, Laredo is one of the largest commercial crossing points in the country.  So, when you see the line of 1,000 trucks a day, hauling billions in commerce, crossing between Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, just remember it all started with cattle crossing in 1755.
So, city, community, and retail leaders in this city, why isn’t the original crossing point well defined and accessible to all Laredoans?  At least there should be some sort of historical marker.  Oh well, off my soapbox, and back to the trip.  Update:  Eric has told me there is a marker for the El Paso de los Indios located behind the environmental center at LCC.  I will hunt that down and post the photo later this week.

Heading towards CPL power plant
Once in the river we moved at a very leisurely pace and took in the sights along the river.  The current is not very strong right now, yet it was enough to keep you moving down stream with very little physical effort.  You will see lots of wildlife and even some domesticated animals, such as horses and cows drinking from the river.  There were lots of varieties of birds crossing the river all along the 2 ½ hour trip. 
One thing I didn’t even think about was that we were traveling along an international border.  Except when US Border Patrol came by on the fan boat, we were traveling on a nice quiet river, the only sounds being water passing over the rapids, birds, and the distant noise from trains crossing the bridge.
Snowy Egert at Casablanca, but they are on the river also
Kingfisher I saw on river late last year
Scissor Tailed Flycatcher, They were also seen by us on the river
Eric even took the time to take us up Manadas Creek (crosses Mines Road ¼ mile west of I-35.  We paddled up about a ¼ mile and saw the carved out bluff that is the south side of the creek.  There are some interesting features that would require a geologist to explain.  There is some rare moss located here according to Eric.  Not sure if those are the ones in my photo.   I did not take my best camera, only a pocket shooter as I figured I would fall in the river a few times during my excursion.  I never did, even though I did get stuck in one of the rapids.  Go figure.

Manadas Creek, Eric and Trish
And if any rumors surface saying that I had some back issues, well just remember, I am getting old, and after 19 years of consuming every Mexican food ever made, not in the best of shape.  But I made it and am 100% this morning.
 If you want to escape the hectic day to day business of Laredo, and maybe even the hectic outings at a park or the lake, a river kayaking excursion is just the thing.  You will see Laredo like our forefathers did.  You will see the banks, bluffs, and tree/cane lined shores.  You will see the flat rock spots, the small rapids that are prevalent along the river.
We put in at Father McNaboe Park and exited the river about 4 ½ miles downstream.  It took about 2 ½ hours to complete the trip.  Trish and Eric discussed the idea of having some activities on the big flat rock, such as early morning yoga, or maybe even a wine tasting event.  Yoga, wine tasting, not on my list, but if there is a chili dog day, sign me up.
In conclusion, if you want to do something that very few Laredoans have ever done, contact Big River Outfitters (956-209-1879) and make reservations for a kayaking trip.  Talk with Eric and Stephanie beforehand and understand the physical requirements on making the trip.  They are great people who really appreciate (unlike some of our local leaders) the Rio Grande and what it means to our community.  They will do everything they can to make your trip an experience you will share for a long time.
Thanks Trish, Steph, and Eric for a fun day.

More photos on my Facebook Page, see Tom Wade Laredo.


  1. Great time with you, Tom! Let's do it again! Great post!

  2. thanks Tom. great job. look foward to seeing you (and your readers?) out there again some day soon.

  3. Awesome photos. I can say "been there, done that" and I'd do it again and again. It was fun!!