Best rivers in Texas: Navidad River

We continue to repost Texas River Tracing posts, this one from August 2006.

See links to posts and reposts of other tracings here.

We hit the Navidad just west of Schulenburg. After tripping down the bank — no kidding — we found only shallow pools of water pocking the sandy riverbed. Giant swallowtails drfited overhead among the burr oaks.

Tomorrow, we will follow the river down to Lake Texana and, later, Lavaca Bay, during our second official River Tracing.

navidad-river

Courtesy of RepublicRanches.com.

Earlier, we tried to pry our way into the Arnim and Lane dry goods store and opera house in Flatonia. If you’ve never seen it, this corner building is a perfectly preserved historic shop, and not preserved by curators or antiquarians, but rather by the owner, who had worked there for almost a century. Alas, he died three years ago, and the place is locked up. Just pray nobody tries to empty it out to modernize.

In Schulenburg, we ate at the hearty Oakridge — sweetish sauerbraten for me, plate-sized chicken fried steak for Joe — excellent, but way, way too much for one meal.

Then we partook of the only entertainment in town — the single movie showing at the Comfort Theatre, sculpted inside the four-story Von Minden Hotel. Luckily, it was “Talledega Nights,” just right for the NASCAR-loving audience. They completely bought into Will Farrell’s Ricky Bobby character, and groaned when his arch-enemy, an existentialist Frenchman, kissed his husband.

But the movie is so delightfully subversive, they cheered and laughed when, later, Ricky kissed the Frenchman. Once again, culture wins.

Schulenburg at dawn. Broad streets. Quaint old houses. A town of 2,600 where whites, blacks, Latinos and South Asians easily share public spaces, and where the town has inched from its railroad core, to old U.S. 90 to Interstate 10.

We broke our fast at Frank’s, a diner since 1934, where German or Czech sausage replaces patties with eggs and killer biscuits.

We then toured some “painted churches,” unable to break our way into St. John’s, but easily accessing the church in Praha with the ornate paintings from a wandering artist during the 19th century.

So down to Halletsville through supremely tidy pasturelands, then back through county roads to the Navidad, the reason for our River Tracing. We finally met up with a real stream at Vienna. (Earlier contacts with the the Navidad and its rain-fed tributaries, as we traced the river from its source to its mouth, turned up only shallow pools of water.

We returned to the river several times via backroads, hiking down to its sandy, shallow bed as it fell from the gentle hills and oak forests of Central Texas to the green-green expanses of the Gulf Coastal Plain.

At Lake Texana — created mostly by the Navidad — we visited alligators, herons, egrets, bunnies and ever-present deer, which seemed smaller than the usual whitetails.

The dam that impounds the Navidad provided us with a view of what we belive was a bald eagle, then we tried to edge close to the mouth of the river at Lavaca Bay. The river widens here, almost to mock its meager origins just up the road.

We then tried to spy the mouth from Point Comfort, home to three enormous plastics and aluminum plants. (Don’t even want to consider how much pollution they generate.)

Across the bay in Port Lavaca, We ate at Gordon’s — a seafood mainstay since 1964 — which retains a sort of roadside glamour in decline. The rest of PC bustles, whether from the commercial and recreational fishing, the businesses along Texas 35, or simply catering to the workers at the plants across the water. Still, much of its historic core is in decay, looking like most older Gulf towns — weatherbeaten, rescued, then beaten back again by nature.

Then we headed down the bay to Indianola, a place of lasting romance. Here was the biggest port on the Texas gulf, the location of La Salle’s fort, the port of entry for thousands of Germans, Czechs and Austrians. Gone, all gone, wiped away in successive hurricanes, with only a few stilted bay houses of very recent vintage — and one bold statue — in their place.

A visit here as a chlld made a lasting impression about the relationship between hurricanes, climate and geography. Later I contemplated the relationships at our summer retreat, Surfside, which was destroyed by Carla. Surfside itself had replaced Velasco, previously the capital of Texas. It, too, was obliterated by a hurricane.

And we haven’t even brought up Galveston in 1900 or why the Spanish found no significant permanent Indian settlements on the coast, or why they learned not to raise any themselves.

The message: DON’T BUILD ON THE TEXAS GULF COAST. When will people ever learn?

Now we know how it felt, in a small way, for explorers who misread incomplete maps.

This morning, on the third day of our Navidad river tracing, Joe and I retraced our steps through Point Comfort (a town with a difference of 200-residents on its population signs), past chemical and plastics plants, past snow-dappled cotton fields (“gotta get that cotton out before it rains,” one young woman told me), past Lolita to the confluence of what turns out to be the Lavaca and Navidad rivers, 10 miles or so above Lavaca Bay.

There it was plain as day, but not marked clearly on our maps. So, in fact, the mouth of the phantom Navidad that we tried to spy from Point Comfort the day before is, instead, the disgorging of the Navidad/Lavaca river system. Later, we crisscrossed the Lavaca between this point and Hallettsville so many times, we can now say that we know both rivers in the sibling system.

Along the way, we dallied in the ghost town of Morales, formerly an outlaw nest, and witnessed a coyote chasing a doe (“our first mammal-on-mammal predation,” Joe pointed out.)

We also visited the Kreische Brewery Monument State Park, located high on a bluff above La Grange. Here lie the remains of Texans who fought as part of the Dawson Party in the 1840s (after Mexican troops retook San Antonio) and ill-fated members (the monument calls them “martyrs”) of the Meir Expedition, which aimed at capturing a Mexican city, but instead landed the Texans facing firing squads.

The brewery is a charismatic stone building, mostly in Roman-like ruins and half underground, yet the Kreische house, perched on a hill above the brewery, still looks in good condition.

We also stopped at every historical marker from the coast to the Hill Country, purchased a decaf at Latte on the Square, examined the superbly renovated Fayette County Courthouse and ate creamy chicken enchiladas at La Marina, housed in the former glory spot at the now-sad Cottonwood Inn.

UPDATES: We’ll always update our trips and research on this blog. For a different display, go to TexasRiverTracing.com.