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Preparing for the Devils River - Part Two (Research)

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Preparing for the Devils River - Part Two (Research)

Clint Taylor

I have always been someone to appreciate good knowledge and understanding. Experience is a crucial characteristic of success, but for most of us, we do not have much experience on the Devils River so how do we gain the upper hand without experience. Well, there isn't an easy way, but the best way is through research and gaining as much knowledge over the Devils River as possible. Many of you are probably thinking at this point, "Where do I start?" Well, with all of the technology that sorrounds us today, the internet is the best option.

There are many different avenues for researching the internet, but some are much better than others. I would start out with just going to a search engine and typing in the Devils River and then click the images tab. By just looking at images of the Devils River and the sorrounding area, you can gain a lot on the terrain, water, type of features, and some prominant views for the area. You will quickly learn that the Devils River is quite beautiful if you didn't already know, but it is also out in the middle of nowhere, which is what you should research next.

Using a GPS system, Google Maps, Bing Maps, or some other sort of map imaging interface, search for the Devils River State Natural Area. Although there are a few spots you can gain access to the Devils River, I think the State Natural Area is the best (but we will discuss that in just a second). The State Natural Area is a little more than 15 miles downstream from Baker's Crossing (another popular put in site for going downstream), so you are somewhat in the heart of the Devils River. This is good for just gaining a perspective on where you are in location to your location. You can do this by simply using the directions feature on Google Maps, or a respective feature from another interface. You will notice very quickly that it is in the middle of nowhere. To be exact, the Devils River State Natural Area is 65 miles from Del Rio and 69 miles from Sonora. This is about an hour on paper, but considering that you will travel the last 22 miles on a gravel road, you better plan for at least a hour and a half if not two hours. The last spot for refueling is at a small town called Loma Alta, which is 26 miles from the park, but once again, this is about 45 minutes driving time. If the worst should happen, the nearest hospital is 65 miles away in Del Rio, but with good preparation, you shouldn't have to make a trip to the doctor. All of this information can be obtained from a map system. So far, I imagine you have already gained a better understanding on the Devils River, as I know I did as I started researching.

Looking at pictures of the Devils River and maps of the area is great, but now you need to start getting more information on what you will need to be prepared for and start to think about how you are going to get to the river.

If you are considering on going to the Devils River for kayak fishing, whether on a week trip, or just a few days, you will need to have a plan on how to access the river and how to transport from one point on the river to the next. Now there are a a couple of options for this as I stated earlier, but I suggest going to the Devils River State Natural Area for your first time. You might ask why, but the answer is really quite simple. If you go put in at Baker's Crossing, which is 15 miles upstream from the Devils River State Natural Area, you will need to plan for at least two days and one night to reach the natural area, but more like three or four days if you plan on doing some good fishing. You might say, "Well, that is what I want to do!" That's all good and great, but you still have a lot of loose ends to tie up. Unless you use a outfitter for shuttling you, there isn't a take out point between the Devils River State Natural Area and Baker's Crossing, and the paddling isn't very easy either. You should expect some walking, some dragging your kayak, and some small rapids. Throw in some fishing, and that is going to be a lot of time. Like I said, plan on 2-4 days depending on how much fishing and paddling you plan on doing. Now, if you don't use an outfitter, you can leave your car at Baker's Crossing and go downstream, but you will have to have someone get it for you, and you will also have to have arrangements with someone to pick you up at the State Natural Area. You are probably wondering why I don't suggest an outfitter for all of this. You can expect right around $600-800 dollars to be shuttled from Baker's Crossing to Del Norte (Devils River State Natural Area). To be honest this is a lot of money and a rip off at that. All a shuttle service does is drive you to your put in location, drop you off, and then pick you up at your take out location...for only $600-800 dollars. I don't know about you, but I can't afford $600-800 just for a shuttle service. So what are your options if you don't want to pay for a shuttle service like me. Well here are some of the most reasonable:

  1. Although highly unlikely for most of us out there trying to access the river, there is always the possibility of knowing somebody who owns land on the Devils River. Once again, this is highly unlikely, but there is always that slight chance that you might.

  2. You can stick in at Baker's Crossing, and there is some dirt parking off of the road, but it is very primitive. You could have someone that you know drop you off at Baker's Crossing and then pick you up at Del Norte (Devils River State Natural Area), but this would require the person that is dropping you off to find a place to stay for 2-4 days depending on how long you will be out on the water for. Once you add in the cost of the gas for someone you know to shuttle you, you are talking a couple hundred dollars. Then when you add in hotel costs in Del Rio or Sonora, you can add on another couple hundred dollars. Now, the person who drops you off and picks you up could always drive to Del Norte and camp for $10 dollars a night, but there is no water or electric hookups, so all food and such will have to be in a good cooler. It also gets extremely hot in this region of Texas during the summer months, so they will need to be prepared for that. This is a very reasonable option, but you are still having to fight the whole scheme of shuttling transportation. You will also need a portable bathroom and shower if you would like to stay clean.

  3. Another option that you have is to simply park at Baker's Crossing and paddle up or downstream and then come back to Baker's Crossing and camp there. The next day you would be right by the water and could fish all day long and still experience the Devils River and have a descent camping area, but your car will be left unattended. As you probably already know, there is no water or electrical here either so you will need to plan accordingly. You will once again need a portable bathroom and a shower too.

  4. One of the last options, and what I believe to be the best option is going to Del Norte and camping. There are seven drive in sites at Del Norte for camping, which simply have a flat area of dirt for a tent, and a good section of gravel if you were to bring a camping trailer. If you did think about bringing a camping trailer, you will need to understand that the roads are quite bumpy, so this may become problematic with a trailer. The State Natural Area headquarters has two bathrooms and showers that you can use. As far as accessing the river goes, this is probably the hardest option, but the best option for camping and parking your car. You can simply drive your car into the park and park it with little worries at all. You will only be able to park your car 9/10 of a mile from the river, so you will need a dolly or a cart of some sort suitable for rough gravel roads to tow your kayak or canoe to the river. The hike isn't very long, but it does consist of several hills that you will have to go over and down which make the hike pretty hard if you aren't in good shape and are towing a kayak as well. I only recommend this for people who are in good physical condition, but you don't have to be in marathon shape or anything like that, just good shape.

Although you can hire an outfitter and use someone you know for shuttling, I still think staying at Del Norte is the best option for beginners so I'd like to focus on that. I am sure you are wondering where you take out at, but this is where the catch is. If you park at Del Norte, you will obviously have to come back to Del Norte after you are done out on the water. This also means that every time you go to the river and come back you will have to go 9/10 of a mile to the river and the same 9/10 of a mile back to your car. You will need to be prepared for this and make sure your body has enough endurance with you to make this journey, but if you are planning on going to the Devils River in any form or fashion, you will want to be in good shape anyways.

As I stated earlier, you will most likely want a cart system of some sort for towing your kayak. This means you will need a rugged system capable of some pretty rough terrain. As far as cart options go, there are many DIY options or pre-made solutions you can buy off of the internet. I will have a later post in the future that is just over transporting your kayak from Del Norte to the water, so look out for this. Just as your cart will need to be able to withstand the travel of gravel roads, so will your car. You will really be up a creek if you were to get a flat because there is no cell service, so make sure you have good tires and a good spare to go along with your set. Thankfully, a park ranger does live at Del Norte, and you will have to check in with him , so if something bad did happen, the park ranger would be the person you would want to contact. I would recommend asking the park ranger where he is at certain times should something bad happen, as once again there is no cell phone service. The last possible spot to make a phone call via a cell phone is in Sonora, TX and Del Rio, TX. If you have a loved one that is monitoring when you should be back and where you will be, you will want to make sure and call them before you leave Sonora or Del Rio, as you will not be able to make a call to them until returning back to Del Rio or Sonora.

Now I know that you might be skeptical of putting in at Del Norte and taking out at Del Norte. Well, here is what I suggest you do. There isn't really a way around having to hike 9/10 of a mile to the river, but this really isn't that bad at all as a compromise. Let me explain. If you put in at Del Norte, you are less than 1/2 a mile upstream from Dolan Falls, one of the most iconic landmarks on the Devils River that you will most definitely want to see. If you put in anywhere else, you will have to travel at least 15 miles to get to Dolan Falls...but you are only 1/2 of a mile from Dolan Falls at Del Norte. There is also plenty of good fishing upstream and downstream from Del Norte. Of course you will have to paddle back wherever you go, so if you go a mile upstream, you will have to come back a mile downstream to get out and vice versa. I do recommend that you don't go past Dolan Falls though, as portaging the falls is one of the more hazardous obstacles to overcome on the Devils River, and it is quite time consuming. You definitely do not want to be out on the water when it gets dark since you have to travel 9/10 of a mile back to your car. It would not be fun making this journey at all in the dark. Sure, you will have to paddle upstream no matter what you do, but this is part of the compromise. I imagine you are saying, "What compromise?" Well, here are a few things that camping at Del Norte offers that any other option does not:

  • By staying at Del Norte, you will have your car with you and do not need a shuttle service. One person could both go to Del Norte and access the river all by themselves, although I recommend at least two people going.

  • Del Norte has both showers and bathrooms. If you were to camp on the river, you would have to bring some sort of portable bathroom and be able to store it on your kayak or canoe. At Del Norte there is no need for this.

  • The capability of bringing your car with you means you can store the majority of your gear in your car and don't have to bring it with you out on the water for several days. This includes camping gear, food, fishing gear, etc. If you were to camp out on the river, you would have to bring all of this with you (trust me it is quite a lot of gear, look for an upcoming post on what you will need to have with you when you go to the Devils River)

  • Lastly, the Devils River is very remote and pretty dangerous for the most part due to the remoteness and the possibility of getting hurt out in the middle of no where. If you do get hurt, at least you have your car within a few miles, and you have a park ranger who can help you out should worst come to worst. If you camp out on the water, you are on your own, and if something bad happens you are literally up a creek...more so a river.

As you can see, the Devils River State Natural Area has a lot to offer for the least expenses, but you need to decide what works best for you. As you can see, we have done a lot just by researching a little. We have found out what the area is going to look like, where it is at, and the options that you have for shuttle services and camping. The next thing you will need to research is making the appropriate arrangements. You cannot simply go to the Devils River and start fishing and camping, you have to have certain permits and reservations in place.

Like I stated earlier, there are a lot of arrangements that have to be made and I have tried to list the research in steps that coincide with each other. For instance, you couldn't figure out shuttle services and where to put in or take out at if you didn't even know where the Devils River is located and the possible points of interest. This is why I put the step of researching the maps and images of the Devils River first. Of course this is a little extreme, as I would hope that you knew where the Devils River was if you planned on going there. However, up to this point let's say that you have already decided on where you want to put in at, take out at, how to get there and all of this good fun stuff. So what do you do next? Make reservations and appropriate contacts.

If you plan on using an outfitter for shuttle services, here is a list of three with there appropriate contact information:

  • Amistad Expeditions - (830) 703 0127

    • Amistad Expeditions has both shuttle services and river guide options

  • Expedition Outfitters - (210) 602 9284

    • Offers guided fly fishing trips

  • Reel Fly - (830) 964 4823

    • Guided fly fishing trips, boat rentals, and shuttle services

Using a Shuttle Service

The nice thing about using an outfitter is that they will do a lot of work for you, but you will still need some permits and such. If you put in and take out at a different location, you will need a Devils River State Natural Area Access Permit (DRSNAAP), which is required for every member that is a part of your party. These cost $10 a person and can be purchased through the Texas Parks and Wildlife Customer Service Center at (512) 389-8901. If you plan on camping on the river, which I imagine you would have to if you are using a shuttle service, you might have to purchase a camping permit. If you do not camp at Del Norte (Devils River State Natural Area) or Big Satan (15 miles downstream from Del Norte), you do not need a camping permit. However, if you do plan on going past Del Norte, I would recommend camping at Del Norte along the way, as Del Norte is right before Dolan Falls, and you are allowed to camp on the banks of Del Norte. Something you cannot do anywhere else. One thing about the Texas river system is that a private landowner cannot own a river, but they do own the banks of the river, so if you are camping on the banks of the Devils River and not within Del Norte or Big Satan, you are trespassing. You are only allowed to camp on rocks and land in the middle of the river, which is not too common. There is a rule of the boundaries of the river, which means if the river was low, and the bank next to the river was exposed, it is still part of the river even though it does not have water at the moment. This is kind of a sketchy concept though, so I suggest contacting Texas Parks and Wildlife in regards to this question. However, if you do go past Del Norte and decide to camp at Del Norte along the way (which I highly suggest), you will need to get a primitive paddle in campsite reservation. The cost is $5 per a person, and you have to make a reservation ahead of time. You can call the same number as you did for the DRSNAAP at TPWD Customer Service Center (512) 389-8901. If you did plan on taking out at Del Norte with an outfitter, you will definitely have the upper hand, as they are allowed to drive the 9/10 of a mile dirt road that leads to the river that everyone else would have to walk. Once again, you are paying $600-800 dollars for convenience, not efficiency, as $600-800 is a hefty price to pay. As far as using an outfitter goes, this will be almost all you have to do as they should cover up most of the loose ends. There are some advantages to using an outfitter, but only you can decide if you can afford one and would need one.

Using a Self Shuttle Service

If you are not going to use an outfitter but plan on using a different take out location than your put in location, you will need to go through the same procedure as if you were using an outfitter, as you would still need a DRSNAAP and campsite reservations if you plan to stay at Del Norte. You will also need to have a solution to how you will be dropped off and picked up. If you plan to put in at Baker's Crossing and be picked up at Del Norte, there is no entrance fee to enter the park, but whoever is picking you up can only get as close as everyone else - 9/10 of a mile. This means you will have to have some sort of solution to transport your kayak or canoe from the river to the car. For a self shuttle service regarding a downstream multi-day trip, this is about it.

Using the Same Put In and Take Out Location

If you are on a budget, using the same take out location as your put in location is probably your best option. The two main options would be Baker's Crossing, but I do not recommend this for a single point of put in and take out. Del Norte is the best option, as you can camp at the park for $10 a night and also ensure that your car is in a safe place. Having your car with you is a great option because you can leave the majority of your gear in your car like I talked about earlier. There is some compromise though, as you have to walk the full 9/10 of a mile to the river on a hilly gravel road, walk back to your car on the same hilly road, and you will also have to paddle upstream the same distance you paddle downstream. However, this isn't bad at all, considering you wont have to pay $600-800 dollars for an outfitter. I really like this option, as you have a base camp, you only bring a minimum amount of gear out on the water, and you save a lot of money.

As you can see so far, there are a lot of things to consider with the Devils River. Research is all part of evaluating these decisions, so research, research, and research more. For the most part, there is always more to research, but the main points I have covered in this article are what you will want to focus on. Here is an additional link for some more overview on the Devils River:

Texas Parks and Wildlife Devils River Information

This link has a lot of valuable information, such as the Preparing for a Devils River Trip . This link has an included paddler's map which is very helpful along with a plethora of information on the Devils River. If you have any questions regarding the Devils River, please use the contact form to contact me as I would be happy to help you out. Be sure to check my other articles from the "Preparing for the Devils River" series if you have not already. I have the links below:

 

Preparing for the Devils River 1

Preparing for the Devils River 3

You will probably want to check out my article on my personal experience on the Devils River, which you can find below:

The Devils River - A Hidden Oasis