The Upper Guadalupe River begins 28 miles west of Kerrville in the low, rolling hills. The river bubbles out of the ground from springs in God's country as it makes its way to the coast, 250 miles away.
It was the river, or rather the cypress trees that grew along its banks, that first attracted German settlers to the area in 1846. Joshua Brown discovered the abundance of bald cypress trees on the Guadalupe River.
For years the shingle mill was the town's primary industry. Then the cattlemen moved in, creating historic spreads like the Y.O. Ranch west of town. Kerr County became one of the first counties in the state where goats and sheep were raised on a large scale, prompting the town to lay claim to being the "Mohair Center of the World."
What the immigrants discovered was that with an elevation of 1,645 feet above sea level the area had a special climate. In the Thirties and Forties the area attracted tuberculosis sanatoriums. Even Jimmie Rodgers, the singing brakeman, lived in Kerrville while trying to ease the symptoms of the disease.
The healthy climate continues to draw visitors to Kerrville. Every summer the hills are inundated with campers at the summer camps and vacation cabins, giving the area the title of "Summer Camp Capital of Texas." And of course, nearly everyone enjoys the cool waters of the Upper Guadalupe River.
Finding a place to cool your heels in the Guadalupe is as easy as taking a drive in the country, but even Kerrville has a swimming hole. Louise Hayes Park on the south bank of the river across from downtown is a popular swimming and picnicking spot. The river bottom is rocky, so bring water shoes.
Southeast of town off TX173, Kerrville/Schreiner State Park preserves a long stretch of river access for public use. The park was donated to the state by the city in 1934 and was one of the Civilian Conservation Corps projects that began Texas' state park system. The park is separated by the highway into two sections - one with river access, the other with a small lake and hiking trails. For information on the park call 830/257-5392; for reservations, call 389-8900.
On any hot day you'll find locals and visitors alike congregating at the Ingram Dam off of TX39 a couple of miles west of Kerrville. The dam was built to create a small lake, but don't tell that to everyone who enjoys sliding down the slick spillway. The dam serves as a beach across the river. The water is deep enough for watercraft to dock. At the bottom of the dam, the water turns into the river again with small beaches shaded by towering cypress trees. Parking is a problem here, and it is best to pay the small fee at the store across the street than it is to pay a tow truck operator.
Heading west on TX39 the road follows the river valley through a landscape that gives the Hill Country its reputation for scenic backroads. A few miles past Ingram Dam is a rest area that has become an unofficial state park with access to the river. Parking is usually not crowded here.
A better swimming hole on TX39 is further west just before the village of Hunt. The North Fork and the South Fork of the Guadalupe River meet in Hunt and the highway crossing is one of the best swimming holes in the area, if not the state. There is plenty of parking. On one side of the bridge the river is shallow water; the other side is a deep pool with a rope swing. In between, in the bridge's shade, is a water chute that can be a fun ride.
There are other swimming spots where the highways cross the river west of Kerrville. The best way to find them is to take a scenic drive until you find cars parked around a bridge. State law says that the riverbed is public property, but the banks belong to the property owners. Finding a safe place to park your car might be the hardest part of finding a swimming hole.
One of the best highways to explore is FM1340 west of Hunt following the North Fork of the river. It winds through the ranch land and crosses the river 10 times. It passes the unnatural wonder of Stonehenge II. Also from Hunt, TX39 follows the South Fork, but doesn't cross the river as often.
From Kerrville, TX16 going to Medina and then Bandera following the Medina River goes through some scenic territory with a few river crossings which are ideal swimming spots. Heading south from Kerrville to Bandera, TX173 is beautiful any time of the year. About the best place to stop is at Camp Verde, an old army fort that once housed camels used to fight the Indians.
For information on the Kerrville area, call the local visitors bureau at 800/221-7958.
Coming up this weekend...
Springerland Garden Fest celebrates the Hill Country culture around Dripping Springs four Saturdays in May beginning May 9 at Sunset Canyon Pottery at 5:30pm; May 16 the soiree moves to Pure Luck Organic Farm at 10am; May 23 at Onion Creek Farm at 10am; and May 30 at Ledgestone Settlement at 5:30pm. Each event includes tours of locally run green businesses, live entertainment, and food. 858-7441 or 280-1976.
Spring A.I.R. Festival at the Recreation Plantation near Dripping Springs features an array of musicians in a meadow overlooking Onion Creek. Camping is included in the admission. Kids are free. Pets must be on a leash. Coolers are welcome, but food, ice, and beverages will be for sale, May 8-10. 374-4495.
Ira Caswell Nature Trail's 64th Anniversary will be celebrated at Blanco State Park with a day of special events, May 9. 830/833-4333.
Texas Fly-Fishing and Outdoor Show at Louise Hayes Park in Kerrville offers classes and exhibits on outdoor activities, May 15-17. 830/895-4348.
Kerrville Folk Festival celebrates its 27th anniversary this year with 18 days of music at the Quiet Valley Ranch south of town on TX16, May 21-June 7. 830/257-3600.
Texas State Arts & Crafts Fair invites more than 200 artisans to display their wares on the campus of Schreiner College, May 22-25. 830/896-5411.
Y.O. Ranch Longhorn Trail Drive lets you become a cowboy for a weekend under the Hill Country skies, May 22-24. 830/640-3222.
Day Trips, Vol.2, a book of the second 100 columns, is now available $8.95, plus $3.05 for shipping, handling, and tax. Mail to: Day Trips, P.O. Box 33284, South Austin, TX 78704.
364th in a Series. Collect them all.