The Paluxy River is a Brazos River tributary forming at the confluence of its North and South Forks in Bluff Dale in Hood County, Texas, then flowing about 35.6 miles to its confluence with the Brazos River just below its confluence with Squaw Creek on the east side of Glen Rose in Somervell County. Most people who visit the Paluxy River go there to view footprints at Dinosaur Valley State Park, and the river has a typical flow of less than 20 cfs, which is far too low for boating. But, whenever the river rises after a heavy local rainfall and the flow becomes 400 cfs or higher the Paluxy becomes arguably the best whitewater in Texas. If this river had a more consistent flow, then it would be among the most popular in the state, but when the rains do fall and the river becomes navigable whitewater paddlers from across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas head for Glen Rose for a day or more of serious fun on Class II to III+ rapids with big holes and standing waves that can flip a boat in a heartbeat.
After more than four years of extreme drought conditions May, 2015, has seen deluges hit the North Texas area and the Paluxy drainage basin got hammered. On May 10, after years of almost no flow at all, the river spiked to 13,500 cfs, which is far above the level that most people want to even consider paddling. On May 17, Stan Pully and I took our SOAR Inflatable Canoes to Glen Rose. When we left the river was at about 4,320 cfs and I expected it would peak soon thereafter and then start a steady drop to about 2,500 cfs, but when we got to Glen Rose the river had risen to about 9,000 cfs and it was still rising. It peaked at 9,700 cfs around 2:00 PM, and then started a slow decline. It was still at 9,610 cfs when we launched at 3:00 PM at Baker's Crossing about 20 miles above our take-out at Heritage Park just south of downtown Glen Rose. The highest level we had ever run the river was about 3,600 cfs, so this was going to be "new territory" for us. It proved to be the best ride I have ever had on the Paluxy and my early fears of rapids being washed out were quickly allayed as we began encountering the few rapids that adorn the top half of this run.
The first 10.3 miles is mostly flat and extremely scenic flowing through a wild and undeveloped corner of Hood County where the river is abutted by ranches and farms, and only occasionally crossed by roads and bridges. Normally, the river channel winds through shoals and densely forested riverbanks that sometimes make you work hard to navigate. At nearly 10,000 cfs there was none of that to worry us - we had plenty of great lines to choose that avoided bushwhacking and there were no rocks sticking up to grab us as we negotiated narrow, shallow channels primarily because there were no narrow, shallow channels. Some of what would normally be slow channels were screaming like banshees and I recorded a top speed of 13.5 mph on my GPS on one of them. Our initial speed was about 5.1 mph, but as the day progressed I watched as our moving average speed steadily climbed, even on the part of the river that is generally flatter with fewer rapids even on a gradient of about 9 feet per mile. It felt really great being back on the Paluxy, and especially to be moving along as such speed and ease, but we knew that the easy part was quickly coming to an end and it would be time to get down to some serious paddling.
The trip from Baker's Crossing to Heritage Park is almost perfectly bisected by Edwards Crossing, which sits about 10.3 miles below Baker's crossing and about 9.5 miles above Heritage Park. Stan and I decided before launching that we would stop at Edwards Crossing for a lunch break before continuing to our take-out. We chose to stop on river right because it afforded us much more shade from the warm sun, though the day was still many degrees cooler than usual for May in Texas. We stretched our legs, checked the air perssure in our SOARs, snacked and hydrated, then hit the river again. The problem with landing on river right is that you cannot then get to the middle of the river to run the meat of the first rapid below Edwards Crossing, which is just a few yards below the low water bridge, so we missed a big set of holes and waves, but quickly fell into the middle of that first rapid and began a fantastic run of what seems to be almost continual major whitewater all the way to the take-out. By the time we departed from Edwards Crossing the river had dropped, but was still around 8,900 cfs and roaring on a fast current. We were ready for it! This is what paddling the Paluxy is all about. Having run this river many times before at levels from as low as about 450 cfs to as high as about 3,600 cfs I fully expected most of the big rapids to be washed out at this much higher level and that we would have a fast, relatively flat, run down to the park. Nothing of the sort ever happened! It was bigger and meaner than I have ever imagined and it provided the most fun I have ever had on any Texas river with the possible exception of the time when a woman and I ... er, nevermind!
The first mile below Edwards crossing begins with some serious Class II+ to III wave action created by holes where boulders sit in the limestone riverbed, and then it flattens a little as it approaches the ledge off CR 1008 where most kayakers begin their trips because the action is bigger and they don't want to sit in their little boats for 20 miles. But, starting at that ledge is a thrill in and of itself. Big holes and waves immediately get the adrenaline flowing, and from there the Paluxy becomes an E-ticket ride the rest of the way. The second big set of holes and waves below the ledge sets up for a very wet ride and I ploughed into the hole full throttle, punched through the middle of the standing wave, dug deep with a power stroke and rode to the crest of the standing wave and then stalled out for about one second before my boat slid backward into the hole. The wave exploded behind me lifting and flipping my 12-foot SOAR like it was paper and dropping me into the hole. My new MTI Headwater PFD had me back on the surface in about 3-4 seconds and as Stan came by me he asked if I needed a ride. I could see my upside-down boat screaming downriver without me, so I told Stan to go after my boat before it got too far away. He cornered it on the rigth bank a little over a mile downriver. I swam to the right bank, climbed out and began walking down the bank looking for Stan and my boat. I kept getting stung my nettles that felt like a thousand fireants all biting me at one time. The grass and scrub vegetation were thick as thieves and the whole area was muddy with ponded water - the perfect place to encounter snakes trying to stay out of the fast-moving river. So, I opted to re-enter the river and swim down to my boat, and it did not take me long to get there. Using my paddling to steer my body, I was in a passive swim position and hurtling downriver faster than I usually paddle. As I got to my boat I guided myself to the right bank until my feet could touch bottom, stood up and walked out of the river to where Stan had already righted by boat. I drank some water and a soft drink, climbed back in and heading off to the next set of big holes and waves.
As we entered Dinosaur Valley State Park be began to see landlubbers standing along the banks looking at the flooded river and taking photos of us as we sped downriver. We waved and they returned our greetings, but then it was back to setting up and hitting the next holes and waves that awaited us. It was that way all the way through the park and down to the SH 205 bridge.