A Blue Sky Travel Feature: The Davidsons go to Friendship Lake.
Amistad is the international reservoir that impounds the combined waters of the Rio Grande, Pecos, and Devil's Rivers. It is on the extreme eastern boundary of what is know as the Big Bend Region of Texas. The nearest population center is Del Rio, Texas, across the mexican border from Ciudad Acuna, Coahuila. (coming soon: map link)
In July of 2006, we procured a houseboat from Forever Resorts, and and 3 generations of Davidsons embarked on a far-flung adventure for 4 days and 3 nights.
It seems preposterous that a complete novice could rent a huge houseboat, and with about 30 minutes of instruction, be allowed to take it out on big lake, but Forever Resorts does just that on a number of reservoirs around the US including two in Texas, 5 in California, and one in Arkansas.
I have extensive experience in small, self-propelled craft, but I was nervous, having very little time piloting motorized craft, and certainly not a 65-foot, behemoth. I knew what the winds over a broad lake in western Texas could do to a boat with a large “sail” area, and relatively small engines. Add being responsible for parents, children, wife, brother, his girlfriend and their 14-year-old cat to the potential financial responsibility of crunching someone else’s boat, and you can see why I was off my feed for a day or two in anticipation.
The family arrived in several waves to the Diablo East Marina, just off of US 90, about 12 miles west of Del Rio. I arrived shortly after noon with my 16 year old son, Jett, after a five hour drive from our home in Terlingua. My wife Gay had thrown in with my folks Don and Sue, and along with brother Terry and his squeeze Tracy, they drove in the night before and did the grocery shopping.
When I arrived, everyone was busy stowing personal gear and victualing the vessel. The day was warm, and more humid than we are accustomed to. However, the generator on the boat was humming and the air conditioner was quite up to the job. A mechanic was turning last minute wrenches on one of the two outboard motors. It is fortunate the craft operates adequately with only one engine. Running on two engines will increase the speed about 20%, at almost double the gasoline consumption. “Speed” is a misleading term; these boats are built for comfort.
Driving the boat is simply start the motors, put on the throttle and off you go. It takes much long to figure out how to work the hot tub, the refrigerators and the generator. It is a floating apartment. Marina staff took the boat out of the narrow congested area where it was docked for boarding, drove us into open water, and was retrieved by a small support craft. All of a sudden, I was faced with a broad body of water, an unfamiliar craft, and a family that was ready for power relaxing.
One of the things you learn when boating in current (and flying light aircraft) is that you aren’t always going the direction you are pointed in. With a big surface area exposed to the wind, these big boys don’t respond quickly to the helm, and on the first day I made a long series of S curves across the lake, taking twice as long to get wherever I imagined we were going. Not that anybody was in a hurry but me. I wanted to park the beast somewhere scenic, beyond the last vacation homes, with a good swimming hole.
For a boat driver, this has all the thrill of driving a cement truck with loose steering and poor brakes at 7 mph. There is never anything bad about being on a boat as long as your nostrils are above water, but this is a boat that really wants to be parked. It is not a sightseeing run-about, but an underpowered tug towing a huge floating RV. Driving it is not the fun part.
Amistad, like most man-made reservoirs, has a central area where it is quite broad, and then a number of “arms” where the water backs up into the main river drainages and tributaries. One hazard to watch carefully for in the open areas is submerged trees, whose top branches may just break the surface. Running over these obstacles can potentially damage the propeller and lower engine unit which will facilitate a shorter, more expensive vacation. It takes a sharp eye to see these in time to maneuver; the boat does not respond quickly to sudden course changes.
Our goal was the Devil’s “arm” which is the drowned canyon of the Devil’s River, one of Texas most beautiful. The Devil’s river is fed by a prodigious spring flow from aquifers in the Edwards uplift, and where it still runs free, the water quality is absolutely spectacular. When Amistad reservoir was flooded in 1967, over 800 known archeological sites were covered by still water. The area around the Pecos/Devils/Rio Grande confluence is noted for an abundance of spectacular native rock art created over many thousands of years of human habitation. What beautiful places the confluences of the Pecos and Devils Rivers with the Rio Grande must have been before the reservoir.
-first draft more to come-
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