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HomeNL-2014-07 Brazos River

Brazos River Fossil Hunting
May 4th, 2014
by John Rich

Another trip on the Brazos River, from San Felipe to Interstate-10.  It's on my side of town, and the quickest place I can get to for paddling. 

And since the county (or someone) has dumped some fresh dirt over the riverbank at the FM-1458 bridge put-in at San Felipe, the trail was obliterated.  The new trail was a narrow sliver of ridge on top of the fresh dirt which was only about 4-inches wide, barely big enough for a single shoe.  This is very precarious for someone carrying a canoe over their head, and mine is 80-lbs worth.  It was like walking a balance beam while carrying barbells, and I'm no gymnast. 
I got to the put-in before the other arrivals, intentionally, to do something about this.  I brought along a shovel and used it to knock off the top of that ridgeline to make it wider.  I wish I had thought to take a "before" photo.  It is now about 12-inches wide, and you can actually place both feet side by side if you need to.  Much better! 
Trail widening    
The trip was suggested by Charles Zipprian, and other participants were two of his sons; Matthew and Chance, and a neighbor friend of Chance's, Steven.  Steven became my bow partner for the day.  So we had five people in three boats.  The plan for the trip was to go slow, enjoy the rapids, scenery and wildlife, walk some gravel bars looking for fossils, do some fishing and swimming, and grill hot dogs during a  lunch break.  I liked this plan! 
About a mile down river you get to the first and best rapid on the section.  We slid through cleanly, and we watched a group which launched behind us slide through also.  A few of them in small play boats hung around a while and played in the eddies, or dragged their boats back to the top and ran it again.  Then they were off, not to be seen again by us.  Those folks seemed to be out for the rapids, and nothing else.  Bah humbug!  Meanwhile, our crew walked the shoreline looking for fossils and petrified wood, or fished. 
Rapid 1   Charles & Chance        
Steven   Matthew fishes
There wasn't much wildlife to be seen.  We passed a large flock of buzzards.  And a really smelly dead cow.  The buzzards were eating their way into the innards of the cow from both ends.  Yuck.  The cow had a yellow ear tag with the name of the ranch and a phone number, which I took a photo of for later reference.  "Hello.  Circle 7 ranch?  Yes, I'm calling to let you know that one of your cows has died alongside the Brazos River."  You're lucky that I can't insert smell into this story.
Dead cow   Ear tag
Rapid 2 produced some excitement.  Two boats dropped over the ledge cleanly, but Charles and Chance tried to squeeze through a narrow notch in the rock.  It looked do-able from the top.  But the nose of their boat submarined on the drop, filling the boat with water, and they quickly sank.  I was pleased to notice that the barrel holding the lunch food was wrapped in a PFD and quickly popped to the surface and floated.  Save the hot dogs!  Loose gear was fished out while it circled in the eddy - if you missed it, not to worry, it would come back around again in another minute.  The boat was tipped on side to dump out the water, re-packed, and we were off again.
Rapid 2   Matthew
Charles & Chance   Uh-oh...   Not good!   Bailing
Next up was rapid 3, which is another wide but small ledge, with a narrow chute on the bottom side with fast-flowing current.  We stopped at the bottom of the rapid for lunch.  It was a warm day and wet clothes were not uncomfortable, and quickly dried out.  But while waiting for Charles to get the charcoal burning for the hot dogs, the rest of us went swimming, fishing and/or fossil hunting.  We had great fun here walking out to the middle of the top of the rapid, jumping in, and floating downstream about 100 yards in the fast current.  Yes, while wearing our PFD's.  We repeated this exercise, and it was clean water and  great entertainment.  With the grill warmed up, we cooked hot dogs and ate lunch, and had big slices of pie for dessert.  Followed by more fossil hunting, fishing and swimming.
Matthew on Rapid 3   Charles & Chance
Charles with grill   Steven fishes   Lunch is served   Swim break
River grass    Water level scene   River rock

Rapid 2   Speed drifting   Drifting   Sit paddling!
John...   rides...   the rapids.
After lunch, it was back in the boats and headed downstream again.  We passed the wreckage of the old narrow gauge railroad bridge still laying in the river, zipped through rapid 4, and were under I-10 for our take-out.  We lugged the boats up the hill, tied 'em to our vehicles, and we headed home, tired, but with big grins on our faces.  What a fine, beautiful day in the outdoors!

So how did the fishing and fossil hunting go?  Well, the fishing was poor - not a single fish caught.  As for the fossil hunting, that was pretty good!  There was plenty of petrified wood to be found, with pieces as small as fingernails, up to as big as a shoe, in a variety of colors from black, to grey, brown, dark red and white.  At one point along the river, I won't say exactly where, I found what appears to be a horse tooth, and it's fossilized, so it's presumably a prehistoric horse, thousands of years old, from long before the Spaniards brought modern horses to the Americas.  As I showed off my horse tooth to Charles, he pulled his hand out from behind his back and showed me the tooth that young Steven had found: a giant mammoth tooth!  No kidding!  Mammoth teeth are about the size of a loaf of bread, and they grow in sections like the slices of bread in the loaf.  What Steven found laying in the river bottom in shallow water was about one-half of a mammoth tooth.  This tooth would be somewhere between 10,000 and 250,000 years old.  Amazing!  And that provided the highlight to a spectacular day on the water.
Horse tooth    Mammoth tooth...              Mammoth jaw 
King of the Ice Age - the Mammoth 

These magnificent beasts once roamed Texas.  Charles Zipprian says the Wooly mammoth was actually a European version, and North America had the Columbian mammoth, which was even bigger than the Wooly.  He just wants to make sure you get your nomenclature correct, because you really don't want to anger a mammoth.  And just think - along with the huge teeth, there were also huge tusks attached to the same skull, both of which may also be laying out there on the river bottom, still undiscovered...

The author, John Rich