Pecos River Journal – Flashback

LSC Pecos River The Search 8As Dan and I drove back down from Fort Worth to Comstock in search for our missing kayaks and camping gear, I had a flashback. Not many people know this, but this wasn’t my first time back down to the river since the flood. I actually went back four days after the flood, and since Dan didn’t have enough vacation time to go with me, I instead asked my wife to accompany me. She’d help with the driving and shuttling, and more importantly, she’d finally see the river in person—this was an important point.

My plan was to take Luisa and Emilio to the lower Pecos and search our last campsite. Emilio Hinojosa was our original shuttle driver, and he lives in Comstock with his wife, Lupe, both of whom welcomed us into their home, and fed us, and gave us a place to stay. Having lived his entire life in Comstock, he knew everyone down there and put us in touch with several people who could help get the word out about our missing kayaks.

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Our shuttle driver from the ill-fated trip, Emilio Hinojosa, accompanied my wife and I back to the river less than a week after the flood. The cabin in the background is the same one we hiked to, on the Jackson Ranch, to await our helicopter ride out of there.

We tracked down the owner of the land that sat above our last campsite from the ill-fated trip, and he granted us access through his hunting ranch, over a series of rough dirt roads that cut through the desert plateau. With some written directions provided by the owner over the phone, we tried, and failed, to find the Jackson Ranch as it’s known, from the main road the previous day. So on our second attempt to find the ranch, we enlisted the help of a young Border Patrol agent who we found at the BP station near Emilio’s house. He was getting ready to go on patrol that morning, and after explaining our situation, he said he was familiar with the ranch and he agreed to lead us there.

So we followed his BP truck through a series of back roads and smaller ranches until we finally arrived at the Jackson Ranch. The ranch owner, who lives near Houston, had given us the combination to the lock; we unlocked the gate, and then we followed the BP agent down more turning roads, several miles worth, until we finally drove up to the edge of the canyon. This was the same spot where Dan, Scott, Ryan and I climbed out of the river the morning of the flood.

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A helpful Border Patrol agent guided us from Comstock to the canyon’s edge, traversing over miles and mile of rough jeep trails cutting through a vast expanse of ranches. The BP agent, who asked not to be identified, regularly patrols this part of the river.

After thanking him for leading us to the river, the BP agent drove off, back into the large ranch, and the three of us—Emilio, Luisa and I—hiked down the steep jeep trail to the river, into the same thick stand of mesquite trees that we’d hiked through to escape the flooding river. Then we turned downriver and followed a flat limestone shelf a couple of hundred yards to our old campsite. I pointed out the ledge where we almost decided to ride out the flood—thank God we didn’t. I also showed my wife the tree which we’d tied the kayaks to.

We had planned to do a quick foot search up and down the river from our campsite. It’d only been five days since the flood and we were likely the first people back there since then. It didn’t take long to find some our things once at the campsite, including Dan’s 9mm handgun which had been in a fanny pack holster that we stashed in the same crevice as the Pelican cases and dry bags. We also found two tripods, the canoe seat frame (we’d been in three kayaks and one canoe), and a few other assorted items, most of them having one thing in common: they didn’t float.

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The fruits of our search included Dan’s 9mm pistol. Despite being inside a closed fanny pack holster, every nook and cranny in the gun was packed with river mud. Although Dan spent hours cleaning it, to this day, the gun isn’t the same. The Crown Royal bags were filled with rocks and used to anchor our tents on to the smooth limestone.

Because it’d only been a few days since the flood, I was hoping some of our things might still be inside the crevice, but when I climbed the ledge and looked into the deep slit in the canyon wall, I was disheartened to see that it was empty. The only remaining sign of the flood was a thin layer of mud lining the crevice floor.

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This is the crevice where we hid our Pelican cases and dry bags containing our equipment. The ledge I’m kneeling on is about twelve feet above the river, and we actually considered riding out the flood on the ledge. We’re very lucky we didn’t.

We searched the river bank about a hundred yards downriver of the campsite, and I couldn’t help noticing the trees, which were all bent grotesquely, about 45 degrees, as if bowing to an unseen force downriver. We found several camping items snagged in the tattered trees, most of them not ours: a couple of tents, a pile of twisted metal that was once a canopy, and the mangled remnants of an aluminum jon boat wrapped around the trunk of a small tree—a testament to the power of the current at the height of the flood. We tried to dislodge the jon boat, but it was so thoroughly wrapped around the tree that it didn’t budge, and I’ll bet money it’s still there today.

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This aluminum jon boat was wrapped so tightly around this small tree that we couldn’t dislodge it.

We didn’t find any more of our equipment, nor any sign of the boats except for the rope Scott had used to tie his canoe to a large rock (the rope was still secured to the boulder). After about an hour or so of searching, we decided to hike back out of the canyon.

Although I was disappointed that we hadn’t found more of our gear, I was glad that my wife got to see the river and campsite up close. This was the spot, after all, where she almost lost both her son and husband to the rising water. More importantly, with the river now back to its normal flow, she saw first-hand its clear running water and beautifully painted canyon walls. Even the best of our photos didn’t do justice to the majesty of the lower Pecos. By having seen it in person, perhaps she would better understand the pull that the river exerted on us.

To be continued…

Lone Star Chronicles – Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Fish

 

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