Devils River State Natural Area – Del Norte Unit

Devils River State Natural Area – Del Norte Unit

Friday, March 26 and Saturday, March 27, 2021

Devils River is possibly the cleanest, most pristine river in the desert southwest.   It is certainly the most pristine river in Texas.  Within the Del Norte Unit, Finegan Spring supplies Devils River with between 12 and 22 thousand gallons per minute.   Finegan Spring is one of many springs that feeds Devils River.  Total spring flow (as of 2017) into Devils River from all springs averages around 122,000 gallons per minute.  Studies suggest that water falling within the springs’ recharge zone is underground before emerging for between two and 20 years depending on the spring and other factors.   Lots and lots of very clean water.  Finegan Spring is in the Devils River State Natural Area.

Devil’s River State Natural Area (SNA) was established in large part to help protect Devils River and the springs that feed it.  Major contributions have been made by individuals, conservation groups like the Nature Conservancy and government (county, state and federal).

River Gate Access Parking Area
River Gate Access Parking Area

Finnigan Spring is accessible via a trail.  From the River Gate Access Parking Area, take the trail down to the river.

Group Preparing To Depart Downstream (Left)
Group Preparing To Depart Downstream (Left)

This one mile trail ends at the river where there is a drop off and pickup point for paddlers and floaters.

Finegan Springs Trail
Finegan Springs Trail

A trail on the right paralleling the river takes hikers upstream to the Finegan Spring area.

Looking Back To Where The Trail Ended
Looking Back To Where The Trail Ended

The trail ends at the beginning of the springs area.

Looking Downriver, First Spring Is Left Of Boulder
Looking Downriver, First Spring Is Left Of Boulder

The spring has multiple outlets, some of the outflows may be occurring from the base of the mountain and some from the stream bed itself.   The first spring found, left of the above boulder, had relatively small flow.  The second spring’s outflows, below, came from the side of the mountain.

Spring Flowing From Mountainside
Spring Flowing From Mountainside

To see the springs, hikers must walk upstream through the river.  The trail, if there really is one at this point, is completely covered by water.  The river bottom, covered by plants and mud,  is extremely uneven and slippery.  Hikers WILL FALL in the stream.

I was told by more than one park host/ranger that the stream bed was slippery.  Each one told me that they had recently fallen in the river hiking toward the springs.  Starting out in this slippery area, I exercised extreme caution.  Approaching the second spring I fell.  I fell hard.  My elbow and forearm were bruised.  Hip was bruised.  Knee was bleeding.  Bruising on the leg above the knee.  No big deal.  However, I dunked $1,500 worth of camera gear in the water.  When I went down, I just couldn’t keep the camera above water.

Back on solid ground, I turned off the camera.  Back at the vehicle, I separated the lens from the camera body.  Then I opened up all the little covers and removed the battery and the memory card.

The pictures were recoverable that night.  I didn’t touch the camera again for over a week.  I recharged the dunked battery.  Put the lens on and started taking pictures.  It worked.  Plain dumb luck.  I hope I don’t do that again.

Human habitation along the river is at least 11,000 years as evidenced by archeological sites in the Devils River watershed that include significant pictographs.  The park offers ranger led pictograph tours based on staff availability.

We didn’t do a pictograph tour because we didn’t know about it.  Next time?  We have done pictograph tours at Seminole Canyon State Park.  These are highly recommended:

We stayed in Del Rio at Broke Mill RV Park and drove the Jeep into the Del Norte Unit of Devils River State Natural Area on both Friday and Saturday.  From Broke Mill, it took 1.75 hours to reach the park’s ranger station.  The return trip took around the same amount of time not counting the stop at the immigration checkpoint north of where US-377 splits off of US-277.

Open Range Cattle Ranching
Open Range Cattle Ranching

From Del Rio, after travelling North on US-277 for 45 miles towards Sonora, we turned left onto Dolan Creek Road.  Dolan Creek road is a two lane gravel/dirt road with one lane cattle guards every mile or so.  There are a number of low water crossings.  With sufficient rain, the road would be impassible.  Two of the cattle guards were missing sections of pipe.  Vehicles with small wheel sizes could potentially be damaged by these large gaps created by the missing pipes,  the cattle guard equivalent of a massive pothole.

The days we drove Dolan Creek Road, the road was in relatively good repair and might have been driven by a standard passenger car.  Crews building an oil and gas pipeline through the area had been required to repair road damage as they completed their project.  This won’t last past a few good rains.

From the park’s website:
“High-clearance vehicles with 8-ply rating minimum (to minimize flats and blowouts) are recommended. The nearest service station is 25 miles away and is not open all the time. The nearest full service station is 65 miles away.”

Park Entrance With Cattle Guard
Park Entrance With Cattle Guard

Nineteen miles down Dolan Creek Road is the park entrance.  Three miles further is the Ranger Station.  Visitors need to check in at the Ranger Station.

Unisex Restrooms With Showers
Unisex Restrooms With Showers

Unisex bathrooms with showers are available in the above building.  This is near the ranger station.  These bathrooms were clean and spacious.  The facility looked new.

Also near the ranger station is a 5 bedroom, 10 single bed bunkhouse.  The bunkhouse has electricity and bathrooms with showers but no kitchen, refrigerator or laundry room.  There is an outside gas grill for bunkhouse guests to use.  The common area, or living room,  is smallish with limited uncomfortable seating.  We got to see the inside before bunkhouse guests arrived.  It too was clean and had very little wear.

Campsite #2
Campsite #2

Our goal on Friday was twofold.  Checkout the campsites.   Determine what type of camping we could do in the park.

Campsites typically have a metal framed shade shelter with a roof made from smallish juniper logs.  The shelters won’t provide any relief from the rain.  The roof lets strips of midday sunshine through.

Picnic tables are under the shade shelters.  There are fire rings with built-in grill in each campsite.  There is no potable water in or near campsites.

Only campsite #1 appears to be within a mile of the park’s restrooms.  The other campsites will be between one and four miles  away.  Campers will need a solid waste plan.  Hold it, bag it or black tank it.  Leaving solid waste on the ground is not an option.

There isn’t a place for RVs to fill fresh water tanks.  No dump station either.  RV-ers should plan on arriving with full fresh water and empty waste water tanks.

Low Water Crossing
Low Water Crossing Across Typical Park Interior Road

Roads conditions constantly change.  Every time it rains, the road changes.  The park does do periodic maintenance to interior roads.   That doesn’t mean the roads ever are or will be safe for typical RVs.

A park host reported on the effort to bring their fifth wheel trailer into the park.  The drive from the US-277 turnoff onto Dolan Creek Road to their campsite took them three hours.  They drove the dirt roads slowly and carefully to minimize shaking and other stresses on their rig.    No flats.   One camper reportedly broke an axel on their truck while towing their trailer to the park.

Needless to say, being a conservative lot, we will leave our RV at home and tent camp in this park.

Sign - Pack Out All Trash
Sign – Pack Out All Trash

Pack it in and pack it out.  There are no trash receptacles in the park.  Visitors need to take their trash with them when they go.

As with many remote Texas parks, there is no cell service in the park.  Sketchy WIFI is available around the Ranger Station and Bunk House.  Broadcast TV signals don’t reach into the park.

Trail/Road To River From Parking Lot
Trail/Road To River From Parking Lot

Seems like too many don’ts and don’t haves.   What the park has is precious, amazing and special.  It has dark skies, clean air, pure water, amazing views, long trails, great fishing, unusual geological features, pictographs, camping and kayaking.   A great place to enjoy room to breath.

Bass Fishermen
Bass Fishermen

Fishermen wanting bass kept pulling in gar which they kept releasing.  They were serious about fishing, not talking about fishing.

Road/Trail Down To River
Road/Trail Down To River

For people who don’t fancy carrying heavy kayaks and canoes from the River Gate Access Parking Area to the river one mile away, hiring the services of an outfitter might be appropriate.

Outfitter Waiting For Customers To Use The Restrooms
Outfitter Waiting For Customers To Use The Restrooms

This young man works for an outfitter.  His job is to shuttle visitors from the Del Rio area to a drop off point on the river.  As an official outfitter (see official outfitter list), he is allowed to drive past the River Gate Access Parking Lot down to the river to load and unload passengers and their equipment.

Outfitter Unloading Passengers And Cargo
Outfitter Unloading Passengers And Cargo

On this day, his passengers were a group of veterans who were taking their kayaks downriver on a camping trip.

From TPWD Website:

“No public take-out sites are available for private ve­hicles between Baker’s Crossing and Lake Amistad. Your only option is to ar­range take-out with a private outfitter or private property owner.  Shuttles for Devils River paddle trips average two hours each way, mostly on very rough rock and gravel roads.”

On the return from Finegan Springs at the river drop off point, I had another chance to talk to the outfitter.  He was waiting for a group coming south downriver.  His wait would be several hours.  He was picking them up with their kayaks to take them back to the Del Rio area.  I could tell he really liked his job and the people he picked up and dropped off.

Devils River State Natural Area Park Sign
Devils River State Natural Area Park Sign

The park is only open Friday through Monday.  This advantages campers looking for a long four day weekend.  Claim a campsite Friday after 8:00 AM and not have to leave the campsite until 4:30 PM on Monday.

We plan to return with our tent camping gear for four days of camping bliss.  This park is around four hours from San Antonio making it a great getaway weekend destination.

Hope to see you on the road ahead!

 

 

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