Best Rivers in Texas: Lampasas River

The recent heavy rains put the Lampasas River at flood stage, and this led to less than ideal viewing. When the water is up to the tree branches, just about every stretch looks the same.

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Looking upstream on the Lavaca River at FM 1690.

The odd sandbar, the tumbled tree trunks, the piles of boulders are all submerged, making most views indistinguishable from one another.

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The Lampasas River looking downstream from FM 1690.

On the other hand, it was a great day for late wildflowers!

(Also, for a more complete account of our statewide adventures, go to TexasRiverTracing.com.)

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Texas thistle.

We started today’s trace between the burgs of Lampasas and Hamilton on FM 1690, hilly pastureland dotted with oaks, pecans and hackberries. Since this was so close to the sources of the Lampasas, we expected a delicate stream. Instead, we found a full, muddy river up to its smothered banks. As elsewhere this week, wildflowers flocked up and down the valley.

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Looking downstream on the Lampasas at Kempner.

Next, we headed back to the tidy town of Lampasas to take U.S. 190 east. Very close to Kempner, we stopped on a busy bridge to find the river, once again, rampant and colored cafe au lait.

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Upstream at Kempner. Joe could have gotten killed taking this shot.

Meadow birdsong trained our binoculars on far points. By the end of the day, we had tallied scissor-tailed flycatchers with breeding plumage, barn swallows, cliff swallows, red-winged blackbirds, brilliant cardinals, way too many buzzards, domesticated ducks, annoying grackles, killdeer, and the ubiquitous mockingbird.

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Greenthread, Indian blanket and mealy sage.

At Copperas Cove, we headed south on FM 2657, a broad highway that led us to a high bridge, where the main attraction was again … flowers, including a prickly pear cactus with two flowers of different colors.

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Lampasas River south of Copperas Cove with cliff swallows.

More flowers: Greenthread, Indian blanket, mealy sage, Texas thistle, brown-eyed susan, silver-leafed nightshade.

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Prickly pear cactus.

Near Maxdale, we zoomed along a lonely stretch of road to find a more clear tributary of the Lampasas, later identified as Mill Creek.

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Mill Creek, upstream.

It was closer to what we expected of the main stem.

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Mill Creek, downstream.

The next incident disappointed one of us mightily. We had so looked forward to the town of Ding Dong. We pictured ourselves posing with the hamlet’s welcoming sign. The jokes wrote themselves. Sadly, this exurb of Killeen displayed no adverts of its existence.

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Bridge over the Lampasas as it becomes Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

Basically, the Lampasas continued to look its big, full self until we reached Stillhouse Hollow Lake, where the water level had risen into Cedar Gap Park. Flood debris covered the shore.

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Plenty of flood debris on a high Stillhouse Hollow Lake.

A local stopped to talk. He had rarely seen the lake this high. He also admitted to having a friend in Ding Dong, which tickles us even to record.

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Sailing will take me away … to Stillhouse Hollow Lake near the dam.

We plowed through Harker Heights to another Army Corps of Engineers park near what was once known in the 1960s as the Lampasas Dam. It’s pretty impressive for something that’s not reinforced concrete. At a marina, we observed the social lives of ducks and one solitary sailboat.

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Lampasas River below the dam as it heads to join Salado Creek to form the Little River.

What remained was one last glimpse of  the Lampasas — a shrouded shadow of its former self below the dam — before it joined Salado Creek to form the Little River. On to Holland, Bartlett, Granger, Taylor and Elgin on the way back to our Austin base camp.

Note: All images today by Joe Starr.