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Navigating the Rippy Branch

This week I was set free from the university because of the Thanksgiving holiday, so I was able to travel home to Texas and spend time with my family. Today was the last day of this break since my sister and I are heading back tomorrow, so today my father and I went to Lake Mineral Wells State Park in western Parker County to go canoeing. I wish I had pictures to show for it, but we didn’t bother about taking the camera with us this time, so I shall have to describe it with words.

Lake Mineral Wells, like most lakes in our grand state, has only existed since a more linear waterway was dammed up by people who needed drinking water. It was the fortune of Rock Creek to be dammed in 1918, so that the folks across the county line in Mineral Wells could use it as a water supply. It’s a nice enough lake, as lakes go, but we were bound for Rock Creek, since floating around a lake in a canoe is simply not as interesting as navigating a creek or a river.

There were some kind folks who allowed us to embark from their campsite along the lake, and from there we headed across the short distance to the mouth of the creek. We had some difficulty with the stiff wind blowing us repeatedly into a stand of ominous cattails, but we finally made it into the creek, where the water was more tranquil. The last time I had been up Rock Creek was in the summer, so now in the late fall things were hardly as vibrant as I remembered them. But there were a few fall leaves left, and plenty of ducks and egrets to keep us company, along with an occasional turtle.

The first stretch of the creek is somewhat unique. To our left was a wetland which is maintained for the wood ducks, and to our right, although not visible from our low vantage point, was the lake. Farther along, however, we came to deeper woods, at least for a time. That was when we began seeing signs of civilisation along the east bank, such as houses, vehicles, and a chair whose back was shot full of holes. I didn’t remember all this from last time, but apparently that side of the creek is private property, while the other side is in the state park.

We made good time, and arrived at a low water crossing about half an hour till noon. This is a place where the hiking trail crosses the creek, and normally the water is not high enough to flow over the concrete. This time, however, we were able to paddle the canoe almost all the way over the concrete because of the water, so we decided to go beyond and see what there was to see in the rest of Rock Creek.

It was unspectacular, to say the least. The water was stagnant and didn’t smell very pleasant; plus it was rather darkly-coloured–not a good sign. And we hadn’t gone far at all before we met a blockade of dead trees fallen into the creek, which were impossible to pass. So we decided to turn back and eat our lunch near the trail. We disembarked along the bank a little ways from the crossing, and carried the canoe overland back around to the trail.

Our lunch was delightful (as has been everything my mother has cooked this week!), but I will not waste words describing it. After a while we were floating on cleaner waters, headed back south the way we had come. This time, however, we decided to explore a tributary we had spotted flowing into Rock Creek from the east. Normally we probably would not have been able to navigate it, but with all the recent rain the water was very high. So we went a little ways, and found it to be a really nice little stream. There was a place where we ducked beneath some overhanging tree trunks, but soon we encountered a place where a dead tree was laying across the stream, and there was simply no way around it or below it, since it lay so close to the water. So we were forced to turn around, but not without expressing our joy at being able to explore this small stream.

When we returned to the lake, we paddled straight out into the wind. We had wanted to paddle up into the ducks’ wetland, but that waterway was blocked by trees, so we decided to head back to the mainland. Determined to evade the clutches of the cattails this time, we plied our oars as hard as we could against the wind to get to the other shore. I fancied myself a Viking piloting his longboat across a windy channel, with his many oarsmen paddling on both sides. Of course we were only two, and our canoe was no longboat, but I did find riding the waves quite exhilarating.

We made it back safely, and did some errand-running before we went home. And when we finally did get home, I looked up a topographical map on the Internet to find out where we had been. As it turns out, that tributary we went up is called Rippy Branch, and was probably named after Edward Rippy, who lived in that area and was killed by Indians in 1870. I also learned that during that same time period, there was a small coal-mining town in that area called Rock Creek. The Handbook of Texas Online says that the whole area was incorporated into Camp Wolters, and since most of this land later became Lake Mineral Wells State Park, I wonder if traces of the old community still remain in the park’s borders.

Our area has so much history (as do all parts of the world!), and I have all the more appreciation for the places I was able to visit today after finding out about the people who used to live there. That’s why, wherever I find myself, I want to find out the history of that place. What exists today is a result of what has happened in the past, and I delight in finding these connections. Hopefully I can return to that place again, and I hope to continue to learn about its history.

One thought to “Navigating the Rippy Branch”

  1. It was a great day! I enjoyed our travels very much. I look forward, Lord willing, to many more excursions. Maybe I can get your mother to give my shoulders a massage after all that paddling.

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