We first did the Navasota River by canoe. A blue, plastic canoe. We embarked below the dam at Lake Mexia, navigated several weirs, explored the elaborate Confederate Reunion Grounds, then disembarked at Fort Parker Lake (also known as Springfield Lake after a tiny town that formerly served as Limestone County seat). Must have parked the Suburban at Fort Parker State Parker in advance, because this was well before mobile phones.
The Navasota, perhaps taken from an Indian word for “muddy river,” lives up to its name. It’s a prairie stream from beginning to end, wriggling its narrow way through clay and sandy loams. It rises near Mount Calm in Hill County and pours into the Brazos River at Washington-on-the-Brazos just southwest of the town of Navasota in Grimes County. The river and its tributaries spill into several dammed lakes: This time, we checked out Lake Mexia, Fort Parker Lake and the largest, Lake Limestone.
We first found the river flowing off FM 73 between Prairie Hill and Coolidge. Menacing skies threatened rain, but held off until the end of our day. Here, the land was ravaged, probably by cotton farming and overgrazing. We steered out onto eastbound U.S. 84, which crosses an upper arm of Lake Mexia. We stopped first at Booker T. Washington Park, site of Juneteenth celebrations and other reunions for African-Americans from the area. Then we stopped briefly to see the sadly untended house where my parents lived during the 1980s and ’90s.
Down FM 2705, we stopped by the Confederate Reunion Grounds again, which looked tidier than during our past visits. Here, the river, replenished by a tamed spring, is still quite narrow. Only a few people fished or picnicked.
We took a wrong turn but found our way to Texas 14, leading directly to Fort Parker State Park. Nearby is a replica of Fort Parker, the frontier settlement from which Cynthia Ann Parker, mother of Comanche chief Quanah Parker, was kidnapped. (That year pass for Texas state parks is really coming in handy.) The lake here is pretty and not very wide. I can remember family reunion campouts here above the lake’s low banks.
Back out on Texas 14, we headed to Groesbeck, tidy courthouse town, the right onto Texas 164 and another right on FM 3371, which crosses a fat arm of Lake Limestone, which is big enough for sailing, but attracted this Labor Day only motorboats, and not many of them. Still, a little lakeside county park was pretty hopping with holiday guests.
We turned right at FM937 in Old Union, passed through Oletha before reaching Texas 7, where we encountered the Navasota again. We had hoped for lunch in Marquez, but we found no cafes or even barbecue joints open there, or in any of the small towns we visited. U.S. 79 took us back to the river, which had thickened and earned a fringe of hardwood forests along its banks.
A series of beautiful, winding roads pushed us past Hilltop Lakes. In my youth, I had won an overly easy phone contest for a weekend with my family there. It was, of course, a real estate scam, but we enjoyed the pool and restaurant and any excuse to get out of town back then. This day, we passed through Normagee and North Zulch before hitting Texas 6 in Bryan. Now Bryan-College Station is a city, but you hardly tell on 6, which is wide and often free of traffic.
A few miles down the road, we tooled around Navasota, which had been a booming railroad town at one point. Outside town near Texas 105 we got close to the river one last time. We could see the banks, but the river stays on private land here. On a previous trip, we had recorded the mouth of the Navasota and Joe captured the mix of colors as it joined the Brazos.