Hill Country Rivers ~ The Guadalupe

South Fork of the Guadalupe

After rising in western Kerr county, the North Fork of the Guadalupe River runs east, joining with the South Fork near the community of Hunt. After the branches converge, the river flows southeast for 230 miles over a limestone bed lined with cypress, pecan, sycamore, elm, and live oak before terminating at San Antonio Bay.

The upper Guadalupe flows across part of the Edwards Plateau, where high limestone bluffs support bald cypress, mesquite, and grasses. After crossing the Balcones fault line near New Braunfels, the river enters coastal plains and becomes a slower, more placid river.

South Fork detail

Named by Alonso De León, the river has been known the Guadalupe, or Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, since 1689.  Early explorers encountered Tonkawa, Waco, Lipan Apache, and Karankawa Indians along its banks: descendents of even earlier inhabitants of the area.

The Guadalupe River after the joining of the North and South Forks

Longer, deeper, and more amenable to navigation than the Sabinal, the Guadalupe quickly drew settlers to its banks. Europeans arrived as early as the 1720s, when the Spanish established several missions on the upper Guadalupe. Early settlements included Victoria, San Marcos (home of Texas State University and a prime destination for river tubers), and Gonzales, where the first shot in the battle for Texas independence was fired.

Other communities eventually emerged and thrived, including Seguin, New Braunfels, and Kerrville. The small river town ofComfort was the site of one of the Guadalupes’s greatest tragedies; ten children returning from a week at camp perished in the worst flash flooding since 1932.

A river ran through here ~ Cypress and limestone

While the reputation of the Guadalupe as a haven for summertime swimmers and tubers is well deserved, the equal pleasures of a stroll along its banks are available year-round. River-tumbled rocks, late flowers in bloom or not, rusty cypress needles, and water-stirred grasses never lose their appeal.

A hidden North Fork pool


Comments always are welcome.
As always, you can enlarge the images for greater detail. For a more detailed history of the river, this Texas State Historical Association article is useful.

80 thoughts on “Hill Country Rivers ~ The Guadalupe

  1. I really like the Guadalupe! I think you took the first picture from nearly the same spot I took quite a series when we returned from Garner State Park. They – as well as a description of the trip – are still awaiting publication on my blog. There simply was too much going on in between then and now. That’s retired people’s life, isn’t it? Less time than before when working.
    Take care, and stay healthy,

    1. The first photo was taken on TX 39, south of Hunt. It makes sense you would have gone that way from Garner, especially with the closure on 337 requiring a detour. It’s a lovely drive, and a nice spot for a photo. Some of the other low water crossings aren’t so attractive.

      You may have heard my wisdom on time. All of us have all the time there is. The only question is, how shall we spend it? Decisions, decisions!

      1. Yes, we did go through Hunt – on the way out and on the way back. We really love that route, as it has so beautiful views of the Guadalupe. I really want to go back for more pictures. I think I’ll post mine from that same crossing soon.
        The present decision very much on our minds is: do we want an RV – a fifth wheel it would be – or not?

    1. Some of those camps on the North Fork are wonderful. I had the chance to spend some time at the Mo-Ranch encampment there, and enjoyed it. Camp Waldemar is the girls’ camp I’m most familiar with, but looking at the map again, I had to laugh. I had no idea the Kerr Wildlife Management Area is right there at the headwaters of the North Fork. It’s another place to explore.

  2. I could well imagine spending happy hours wandering along the banks checking out all the natural features. It looks very tranquil.

    1. It can be tranquil, but a little attentiveness to events like spring break is useful. In summer, it’s a magnet for kayakers, swimmers, and general partiers. Otherwise, it’s great, especially from late fall through spring. You’d love the birding there, of course. Just standing by the pool in the last photo, I saw Carolina wrens, Cardinals, woodpeckers of some sort, and a whole host of LBBs. It was enjoyable listening to them.

  3. That looks like a lovely area to spend an afternoon. The big flat rocks on the bank in the third picture look as if they were just made for sitting on so that you can watch the river flow by. The sun and blue sky make it all the more appealing – I’m imaging myself there.

    1. There’s been a lot of sitting, beer-drinking, picnicking, meditating, and swimming on and around those rocks. How much rock is exposed depends on how much rain there’s been. I’ve seen the Guadalupe in that third photo down to a trickle, and I’ve seen it raging well over the rocks at that same spot. It’s one reason I enjoy repeated visits to places I enjoy. It’s good to see them in all their seasons.

      1. Seeing the river at different stages would be interesting. We have river flood meadows nearby and I love seeing the sudden formation of what looks like a lake. Fortunately there are no houses at risk from it.

        1. I suspect your flood meadows are akin to what are called detention ponds here. They fill and drain according to the weather, and help to prevent flooding in surrounding areas. After Hurricane Ike, a few were created in my area. In one instance, a historic building was moved to create the meadow-like space that now helps to control the water flow.

          1. They do the same thing. The meadows are just the low-lying land along the river which floods when we get heavy rain. It surprises me how suddenly the water comes and goes. (They’re a natural feature.)

    1. I’ve been to Garner State Park, but never Guadalupe State Park. There are so many wonderful places set aside for people to enjoy the river; I’m glad you were able to spend some time there with your family.

    1. I think this river would be just your kind of place. You’ve spoken of horses — there’s a famous girls’ camp on the North Fork of the Guadalupe called Waldemar, where Connie Douglas Reeves taught generations of girls to ride. I love everything about Waldemar, and even though I never met Connie Reeves, I love her story just as much.

  4. When we first moved to west Texas, we thought we had been banished to some sort of waste land where we we would never again see anything green. Our ignorance was profound.

    The cool waters of the rivers you highlight produce ribbons of green along their banks which can be a salvation for someone like a displaced Floridian. Surprising, refreshing, soul-renewing.

    Your wonderful photographs have once again excavated magnificent memories. Thank you.

    1. And here’s a little detail I didn’t mention in the post. The Guadalupe is one of the Texas rivers that’s stocked with rainbow trout once a year. This year, Guadalupe River State Park received 1,500 trout in January (a total of about 350,000 fish were released around the state).

      The trout, of course, don’t necessarily stay in the park. I’ll never forget the winter day I came across a fly fisherman very near the spot shown in the third photo. He’d waded out into the middle of the river, and looked for all the world like one of those advertisements for a fly-fishing vacation in Montana. Opportunities abound here!

    1. To be honest, I enjoy the cypress as much as the oaks and maples when they’ve turned that glowing rusty color. I recognized a few of the spots you captured — I think I even saw the Medina River, and I found Utopia. The whole area is splendid, but it’s building up fast. Thank goodness for the state parks, Nature Conservancy lands, and so on. It’s getting close to the time for spring flowers — and more water in the rivers.

    1. It’s quite a different river, Lavinia. At one time, the lower Guadalupe was used for navigation, but after the railroads came, that no longer was necessary. Now, it provides some hydro-electric power, and a lot of opportunities for river sports — and just ‘getting away.’

    1. I know at least one person who’s spent some contemplative time there — and a few of her friends, too. There are a lot of fine picnicking spots, too. In summer, the rocks are hot, but the water is cold. In drought, you can see a lot of critters at the waterside, and in winter? Who doesn’t love bluebird skies and those gorgeous cypress trees?

    1. I like all of these photos, but that cypress and limestone’s a favorite. I rarely post monochrome images, but it seemed perfect for that image.

      I found this fine interview with Sheriff Rusty Hierholzer about the flood. He just retired at the end of December, after forty years as Kerr County Sheriff, and of course losing those kids was one of the most tragic events of his years in office. He’s a fine man, who’s served well.

    1. Like all of these rivers (or the Houston freeway system) too much rain, too fast, can create some real problems. The state marks obvious low water crossings: the not-obvious can be an issue. But on the good days? The Guadalupe has something for everyone, including a lot of beauty.

  5. I am enjoying the posts of the rivers very much. The photos of this one are wonderful and I am so glad that you are presenting these for your followers enjoyment. The photos are crisp and tranquil.

    1. “Crisp and tranquil” is an interesting phrase. It’s a great way of describing a late autumn day in the hill country, too: those days when it’s cold enough to see your breath, but not so windy that it becomes uncomfortable. I’m glad you’re enjoying the photos. I hope to post about the Medina, too, but on this trip I found many of my favorite spots fenced off and inaccessible. I’ll have to find a way around that.

      1. Oh I hope that you can gain access to the Medina. With your good luck. I am confident that you will find an access perhaps through a private landowner who might learn of your good intentions. I am sure it is equally as beautiful as the Sabinal and Guadalupe rivers.

  6. I had forgotten the subtle winter palette of that part of the country. Puts me in mind of the genteel wildness of the egg tempera palette of Wyeths, pére (Andrew), and occasionally fils. Winter is a coy time in the uplands and flatlands of Texas, where beauty waits patiently for you to chance upon the half-hidden hints it has discretely scattered about. And then there is that absolute, take-no-prisoners blue of a bright and clear winter’s sky. Makes you wonder what the Power that Is was thinking to leave something so exquisitely precious just lying about.

    1. The third and fourth photos particularly seem to be a hill country analogy to the adobe and turquoise of the American Southwest. I usually find cypress either more vibrantly colored or with patchy leaf loss. I can’t remember ever finding such a great stand of thickly-leaved but fading trees. In this instance, the camera shows it just as I saw it; that doesn’t always happen.

      On this little excursion, I was blessed with four days of pure blue, unclouded skies from dawn to dusk, low humidity, and very little wind. I can’t remember the last time that’s happened.

    1. I’ve seen wonderful photos of rivers without any context other than location, but these hill country rivers are friends, and it just seemed right to share at least a few words about their history, and the way they’ve been shaped by the land. I’m glad you enjoyed meeting the Guadalupe.

    1. I like that one, too. I thought the monochrome treatment was just right; after turning it into a black and white photo, I added sepia, and then desaturated that to only about 10%. I thought it provided a sense of the cypress needles’ warmth.

  7. Very nice shots of the Guadalupe from less commonly seen spots. I’m always intrigued by the rocks and other debris found in cypress trunks and roots along hill country rivers. They’re good reminders of how rough those usually tranquil waters can be.

    1. The rocks serve as a measuring device in the same was that grasses on barbed wire or mud on tree trunks do around here. More than rocks get tossed around and floated along, of course. Once, I found a beautiful fishing lure on the rocks, at the edge of the grasses. I brought it home and turned it into a Christmas tree ornament, after it had served as an occasional cat toy.

  8. Wonderful photos, Linda — this is a section of Texas that I didn’t explore when I lived down there. Maybe one day I’ll get back and remedy that! That blue-petaled flower is stunning — almost looks like its petals were cut out in art class by a determined student!

    1. You startled me when you mentioned a blue flower. When I took a look, I realized that it does look a little blue, but that’s because of shadows. On the left side, you can see a little patch of its pure white — the actual color. I never saw the blue tinge, probably because I saw the actual flower. It’s interesting how cameras see color; it’s not always as true as I’d like, and yellow and white are particular hard to capture. I need to be better about check the white balance settings; that might be the solution.

      Anyway — I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, and I really like your description of the petals. They always make me smile when they begin to curl like that.

  9. back in my river days the Guad was a weekend destination for us with pedestal play boats and kayaks. The San Marcos on Saturday, the Guad on Sunday. about 15 years ago, maybe longer, I lose track of time, there was a tremendous flash flood, friends were at a campground to teach a kayak class that weekend when the river started coming up fast. they broke camp and barely got out. many did not and had to climb trees, cars and boats swept away. it was pretty awesome and devastating all at the same time.

    1. I wonder if you’re remembering the 1987 flood, when ten kids from a church camp lost their lives. That’s the one where the school bus turned over in the water, and the survivors had to climb trees, float down river, and so on. Many of them were pulled out by helicopter. There’s a good video here — an interview with Rusty Hierholzer, who was sheriff at the time.

      1. I looked up Guad floods. it would have to have been the 1998 flood as I didn’t meet those friends I mentioned until 1991 and I remember it broke all kinds of records.

        1. I just figured out that the 1998 flood happened farther downriver — San Antonio, Seguin, San Marcos, New Braunfels. Once I looked it up, I remembered it, that’s for sure. We went to Kerrville for Thanksgiving that year, and it was all people were talking about. I remember some of the footage of the houses washing down the river. I’m going to tuck this scientific article here just so I can find it again. This paragraph tells the tale:

          “Recreational camps and outfitters’ headquarters buildings were destroyed. Homes near Common Street in New Braunfels had slabs as low as 12.5 feet. These homes had 23 feet of torrential flow over the slabs.

          At the New Braunfels gauge below the Comal River confluence just above 1-35, the Guadalupe crested at 39.3 feet, again some 3 feet above the disastrous flood of May 12, 1972. Water seeped into the Pepperell Mills plant. A large apartment complex on the left bank just downstream received flow through the windows of the lowest floors. Water was within 5 feet of the 1-35 bridge bottom. Below 1-35, fine two-story homes were destroyed or severely damaged. Several RV trailers were washed from an RV park below the 1-35 bridge.”

          The river sure looks pretty today, but don’t turn your back.

  10. Loving these river profiles and your photos are so beautiful. One of my favorite memories EVER was canoeing down the Brazos about 10 years ago. My son was a Boy Scout and while I didn’t always participate in the activities, that’s one I’m glad I was there for.

    1. That would have been a great experience under any circumstances, but to have been able to share it with you son is even better. Which area did you paddle? Was it a day trip, or did you camp?

      It amazes me to think of steamboats going up the Brazos as far as 80 miles south of Waco; I presume you didn’t see any steamboats on your trip! To be honest, I think there are so many snags in the lower Brazos now anything more than a canoe would have a hard time even getting to Washington on the Brazos. I don’t know, but suspect that the railroads put the steamboats out of business.

      I wonder what those steamboat captains would have thought about all the kayakers, canoeists, and tubers on their rivers today?

      1. I realize that I misspoke–it was the Blanco. (That’s what I get for hurrying my comments!) We did camp overnight, but I was in a canoe with my husband and another adult couple. The boys piloted their own boats, with adult supervision. I remember the BS campground being so dark at night and the limited ‘facilities’, uh, limited. :) But the trip down the river was really nothing short of magical: in spring, blooming gorgeousness all around. At one point, in a rise just above the river, a horse galloped along with us as we rowed. Sigh.

        My hub and I also have rafted along the Rio Grande. We’ve been to Big Bend several times, but on our honeymoon, we rafted with a guided tour–so fun!!

        Anyhow, I’m enjoying your river rundowns!

    1. Thanks, Dina. I was blessed with good weather on that weekend, and trees that were just-but-not-quite ready to drop their leaves and needles. The cypress, especially, were lovely as could be.

  11. What gorgeous images, Linda. They really tell the story of this area, don’t they. Love the reflections on that gorgeous blue-sky day and the blooms. It looks so very peaceful — hard to imagine all the tubers and swimmers!

    1. To be honest, I’ll take the tubers and swimmers over the jet-skiers that we have on our lake. Tubers may be loud, but their noise is music and chatter, rather than those ghastly engines. You’d be surprised (or maybe not) to know how many couples come to these rivers for their engagement photos, as well: graduations, Quinceañeras, and family portraits for Christmas cards, too!

    1. There would be a lot to interest you, especially in terms of the Native American cultures that thrived in the area. Land that I used to frequent contained a cooking mound, and evidence of tool-making. Every time it rained hard, everything from flint flakes to scrapers and arrowheads would surface out in the mud. There were a lot of fossils, too, and chert balls. I’ve a small collection as mementos, but the rest is still out there — unpublicized, to protect it from people ready to find what they can and make a profit off it. There’s an article about the work in the area here.

      1. Wow – that’s amazing the stuff they’re finding there. We used to find the occasional arrowhead in the woods behind our house but nothing at all like this!

    1. The Guadalupe’s a very approachable river; it’s as good for a Sunday afternoon picnic as a day-long hike in one of the state parks it graces. Now I’m trying to remember whether I’ve ever known a scented river — or at least a pleasantly scented one.

      1. Oh they all have scents. You wouldn’t want to smell, say, the Flint river, but they smell of water and rocks or water and whatever lives in them–fish, cattails–organic. You can get a whiff from the distance, like you can smell the ocean.

        1. It’s true that salt marshes and limestone bedded rivers have quite different scents, just as the bays smell different in summer than in winter. Schools of trout can smell like watermelon! I think we’ve had the same experience, but I’ve associated river scents with the suspended and dissolved land in them. Now I know what you mean.

          1. Yes. The ocean one summer in the Outer Banks smelled like fresh scallops. Not sure it always smells that way…At Rehoboth in Delaware, it’s entirely different, more generically briny…

  12. The riverscape in your first picture looks familiar: I think I stopped and took pictures at the same spot a couple of years ago. Because the scene is in the Edwards Plateau, it could just as well be Austin.

    The name Guadalupe is thought to be a hybrid of Arabic wadi ‘river’ and Latin lupus ‘wolf.’ I doubt you saw any wolves along the Guadalupe River, though you could’ve seen a coyote.

    1. The thought of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a river wolf was intriguing enough that I did a little exploring. I found the famous apparition took place in Colonia Villa de Guadalupe: once a separate town, but now a neighborhood in northern Mexico City. A couple of articles mentioned that the word Guadalupe came to Mexico from Spain, where it was originally the name of a river. Wolves are native to Spain, so it’s entirely possible the Spanish river did have wolves roaming its banks.

      I’d be surprised if you hadn’t stopped at the spot in that first photo. It’s far enough from Hunt on TX39 that the kids don’t gather there, there’s decent off-road parking, and those cliffs are pretty darned photogenic.

      Off topic: I thought you and Eve might be interested in this free virtual concert offered by Houston’s DaCamera at the Menil Museum next Tuesday: Ignat Solzhenitsyn playing Prokofiev.The post-concert conversation should be interesting.

  13. Thanks, albeit late, for the tour of the Guadalupe. I love the name and I love “A river ran through here-Cypress and Limestone”. Wonderful detail and combination of elements.

    1. There’s never any late here, Steve! I’m just glad you came by to see that cypress and limestone photo. I really liked it from the get-go, and it makes me happy that you focused on it, too. It was almost monochrome to start with, so I played a little, turning it into black and white, and then adding a touch of sepia. It worked out — gave a little bit of glow to the fallen needles without giving too much color to the bark and rocks.

      1. I’m happy to see you expressing a bit more of yourself in images as you occasionally experiment with the files. What we see exactly isn’t always as interesting as what we saw in our mind’s eye. May I have some more, please, Ma’am?

    1. This is one of my favorite hill country spots, so it’s hard for me to pick a favorite from the group, but that cypress and limestone certainly is one. The third photo of the river and the rocks is another I enjoy, just because it’s so typically ‘hill country fall.’ I was going to post another autumn series or two, but I’d best get at it, because spring clearly is ready to arrive!

  14. It is a favorite spot for so many. Beautiful geology and that river. I’d love to own a house with a porch overlooking the river bank.
    While sometimes there’s hardly enough water to sit in a tube and float, there’s often as good river rafting as many places around the country (not in August HAHA). The trick is to go when no one else it there…which now is practically no time.
    Great shot of tree/bark and limestone! Such texture and lines.

    1. One of the best things about not being a fan of rafting or floating is that the sections of the rivers I enjoy (apart from a few of the crossings) usually don’t have many people around. Of course, as you suggest, that can mean mid-winter afternoons, but they can be quite pleasant, if not as flowerful.

      That tree and rocks photo is one of my favorites. I had no idea when I took it that it would be so appealing. That’s why I never, ever delete anything in camera. You never know.

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