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HomeNL-2014-06 50th Anniversary Memories

50th Anniversary Memories
June 2014
Louis F. Aulbach
It seems that my whole life has been with the Houston Canoe Club and its members. That is to say, over the past 34 years, my vacations, my weekend paddles and my day trips have been with members of the Houston Canoe Club or with people I have met through the club. I have learned a lot from the people on these trips and they have been sources of great fun and enjoyment. I would like to mention a few of these experiences and the way they influenced me.


The story of how I got involved in the HCC initially has been told before, but I will recount it here for the record. It was not my intention to be a member of the HCC or any canoeing group. I did not even know how to paddle. However, one summer, my good friend and bowling buddy Hank Moller called me and said he had bought a canoe at a garage sale. "You want to go canoeing?" Hank asked. Well, why not? So, we made our first trip in a canoe over the July 4th weekend of 1980.


That first trip was on the Colorado River from Bastrop to La Grange. We had planned for a couple of nights on the river and had packed our gear in the boat, but the first day, we made it to Smithville where we had left a vehicle. We got out there and camped at the state park near there. We did the section to La Grange the next day. We never did camp out on the river. Canoeing was easy, we thought. We made nearly twenty miles each day. No sweat.


That short introduction to canoeing made us feel like we could step it up a notch. So, early in October, we went to the Guadalupe! Figuring that this river would be like the Colorado, we put in below the dam at Canyon Lake. What we did not count on were all those rapids! Before lunch, we had crashed and swamped the canoe about five times. The weather went south and began to rain. We did not have the right gear. In shorts and t-shirts, we nearly froze. Finally, we pull off the river and walked up to the road to catch a ride back to our car. What a disaster that weekend was! Hank told me later that his fiberglass (yes!) canoe had five cracks in it from our trip.


Undeterred, Hank called me a few weeks later and said that he heard about a local canoe club. If we joined, we might learn how to canoe. I was not all that enthused, at this point. Then, Hank told of the trip the Houston Canoe Club was planning for the Thanksgiving holiday to Boquillas Canyon in the Big Bend National Park. He felt that we should go on it, too. At that, I was very interested. Only a few years prior, I had gotten up the courage to try "camping." Although I was in my late twenties, my only experience with camping had been courtesy of Uncle Sam while in basic training in the Army. The idea of seeing West Texas led me to buy a tent, a sleeping bag and a camp stove. I drove out to the Big Bend National Park on Thanksgiving in 1978, and I was thoroughly enchanted by the experience. That chance to canoe through thirty-five miles of rugged Big Bend canyon country was too much to resist, so Hank and I joined the HCC and went on that canoe expedition through Boquillas Canyon. I was hooked.


During the 1980's, the HCC made many expedition trips to the Big Bend. Joe Butler, a Dallas paddler, had moved to Houston and joined the club. Joe led trips through the Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande in October every year, and I went on my first Lower Canyons trip in 1981. The Lower Canyons trip is an 83 mile wilderness expedition through the sparsely populated desert and deep canyons of the Rio Grande. The week long trip will test your paddling skills and your camping expertise. Numerous class III and one or two class IV rapids, depending on the water level, lie en route. Over forty-two miles of deep limestone canyons are rivaled only by the Grand Canyon. It is the wildest place in Texas. And, the Lower Canyons are the best wilderness experience in the Southwest.

 Joe Butler, taking notes on the Lower Canyons trip of 1981


Numerous Lower Canyons trips were run during the 1980's by the HCC, and they were organized and led by a number of HCC members, including myself. It was certainly a great time for river exploration, and I realized that one thing was lacking for anyone who desired to make this trip. That was a good guidebook. Joe was always taking notes during the trips. With Joe Butler's extensive notes, I put together photos, topographic maps and historical comments into my first river guidebook -- The Lower Canyons of the Rio Grande. Published in 1988, this guidebook became a model for four other river guides to the rivers of West Texas. All are still in print today.

Roy and Jan Edwards, Pete Salzman, Leonard Hulsebosch, Louis Aulbach, Don Windemiller,
and Lillian and Chet Tigard (in front), beginning of a Lower Canyons trip, c1987.


The decade of the 80's was a time in which there were many HCC trips to the Lower Canyons and Boquillas Canyon, but there were also numerous weekend trips to the Guadalupe, the San Marcos and the Medina River. With the need to improve the canoeing skills in moving water, Joe Butler organized an ACA instructional class on the San Marcos that was taken by several HCC members. The ability to negotiate rapids through fundamental boat control maneuvers was essential to successful expedition trips. As the HCC members gained these skills and practiced them on the Hill Country streams, the more the HCC extended their trips to the wild and remote rivers of West Texas. It was during this time that I paddled with HCC members Chet and Lillian Tigard, John Ohrt, Leonard Hulsebosch and many others.


In March of 1988, Leonard Hulsebosch organized a trip on the Pecos River. The HCC had not paddled the Pecos in several years and little information about the river was known to us. The trip did include Lynn Larremore who had been on the river previously. This trip down the Pecos River added a new dimension to expedition paddling for many of us. The Lower Pecos River flows through remote and largely inaccessible canyon lands which have been inhabited for over 4,500 years. The early inhabitants in the river corridor left pictographic and petroglyphic evidence of their life along the river. The extensive collection of archeological sites made the Pecos River a favorite adventure for HCC members.  

Natalie Wiest, Ken Anderson and other HCC members at a Pecos River rock art site.


Leonard followed up that first Pecos trip with a canoe expedition on the Devils River. We paddled from Baker's Crossing to the Lake Amistad weir dam where our shuttle and tow out service picked us up for the 10 mile tow across the windy Lake Amistad.
Louis Aulbach and Leonard Hulsebosch at Dolan Falls on the Devils River, January, 1989


Jack Richardson joined the HCC in the early 1990's and his specialty was the Pecos River. He led so many trips on the Pecos during this time that he earned the title Pecos Jack! The Pecos River is a sixty mile trip down a pool and drop river that can be hard on your boat and hard on your body. The challenging fluted areas of shallow water can test anyone's skill at reading the current. But, the extraordinary beauty of the dramatic canyon landscape makes the Pecos River one of the most rewarding river experiences in Texas. Jack and I collaborated on a guidebook for the Pecos in 1996. Jack set a standard pattern for running the Pecos that is still common today.

HCC members at Pandale, prior to a Pecos trip, Tom Helzer, Jack Richardson,
Mike Clark, Bob Mabe, and Tom's dog Molly, c1995.


The decade of the 1990's was the heyday of state-wide paddling in Texas as the Houston Canoe Club organized and staffed the Southwestern Canoe Rendezvous. For thirteen years, the Rendezvous was the premier paddling event in the state. I was the treasurer for the event for about ten years of that time, and the event was one of the most successful events in which I have been involved. Other writers have written more details of the Rendezvous. I assure you that for all of us who were involved, it was an experience without parallel. For most of the years, the Rendezvous was held at Huntsville State Park. Recently, Linda Gorski and I participated in an archeological survey at the park, and we recalled with fond memories the Rendezvous events on Lake Raven.
Louis Aulbach and Linda Gorski visit Huntsville State Park, the site of several Southwestern
Canoe Rendezvous events, during an archeological survey in April, 2014.


The drought in West Texas during the mid-1990's made it difficult to paddle the Pecos River. Nevertheless, several trips were made during this low water time, and we had to negotiate the high winds and the mud flats of Lake Amistad. The waters in the Hill Country were often good enough to paddle the upper Guadalupe, and many times, the HCC made weekend trips to Kerrville from which we paddled the Guadalupe River and the Medina River. Whitewater canoes and kayaks were very popular with club members during the 2000's, and many trips to the moving waters of the Hill Country were led by Bill and Donna Grimes. Paddlers like John and Anne Olden, Christy Long, Janice and Fraser Baker, and Debbie Snow were regulars.

Janice and Fraser Baker with HCC members on the Guadalupe River, near Center Point, in 2002


Several of us continued to paddle the Rio Grande in the Big Bend during the decade of the 2000's even though the chance of low water was always a threat. Dana Enos, Linda Gorski, Natalie Wiest, Robert Langley, Christy Long, John Rich, Robert Killian, Ken Anderson and others made several trips to the Rio Grande, often combining a short river trip with hiking in the desert of the Big Bend National Park. 


John and Anne Olden running Ledgerock Rapid in Colorado Canyon, BBNP, 2007


It was during this time that we were researching the history of the Big Bend and the communities that existed along the river. A guidebook on The Upper Canyons of the Rio Grande, written with Linda Gorski, was published in 2000, and The Great Unknown of the Rio Grande came from those explorations and trips in 2007.

John Rich, Dana Enos, Linda Gorski dine at their sandbar camp
with other HCC members in the Great Unknown, BBNP, 2009.


As the West Texas drought of the late 2000's set in, our trips to the Rio Grande tapered off. One never knew if there would be enough current to paddle the river. So, now, we wait for better rain and a return to the normal river flows of the past. We can only hope!


In spite of the drought, we have found that Buffalo Bayou, a stream in our own backyard, can also provide for an enjoyable paddle. Canoe and kayak trips from Woodway Drive to Allen's Landing continue to be popular day trips for the members of the Houston Canoe Club.

HCC members have lunch on sandbar in Memorial Park, 2011


The decades of my membership in the Houston Canoe Club have been ones of great friends and true companions. Together, we have enjoyed the best of paddling in the state of Texas. Thank you all!

The author, Louis Aulbach