On the first day of exploring the San Antonio River north of Blue Wing Road I came upon a wide gravel bar that marks its confluence with Salado Creek. The swirling fury of their combined flood waters have left behind a record of piled gravel populated, today, by a trio of sandpipers.
Although its upper reaches are well explored — all the rains that fall in far north and eastern San Antonio eventually end up in the Salado and its network of roads and trails — its lower extremes are inaccessible and rarely seen. It empties into the San Antonio River outside of town. Having spent some time bushwhacking my way along both creeks, I’ve imagined this particular confluence must be some kind of Skull Island, an impenetrable jungle, and a biological junction of east and south.
In fact the waters come to a slow, hesitant embrace in a circle of willow, oak and cottonwood: the San Antonio River pushing brightly along on its bed of gravel, and the Salado Creek deep, opaque and still.
Unlike the bubbling clear river into which it empties, Salado Creek appears not to flow at all; rather it seems to recede sludgelike from its approaching mate. Draped in spiderwebs and detritus, its thick green waters glow dimly under the overhanging branches.
Salado Creek’s small flows were diverted for irrigation many years ago. The springs mostly withered, along with the farms once drawn to its banks, and the abandoned streamsides lapsed into the impenetrable darkness with which we’re familiar today. In rainstorms, the swelling waters swallow up the banks and everything within them; and afterwards the branches are festooned with shopping carts and fluttering plastic debris.
As an itinerant twentysomething I used to try swimming here, but even then I noticed the massive fish kills that would occur when a sewer main broke. With so many golf courses for neighbors and so much fertilizer being used along its banks, maybe it makes sense that the dissolved oxygen wouldn’t be quite up to snuff. So maybe it’s not yet the best spot for fishing, or aquatic life in general.
In fact, even a few minutes of attempted paddling in Salado Creek’s terminal murk was followed, suspiciously, by a weird skin infection.
In recent years it may have proved more useful for bicyclists and hikers than it ever was as a source of reliable water. Today the stream’s flow is augmented with recycled water from the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Anyway, today, at last, a chance to see the final gasp of Salado Creek as it passes into the San Antonio River.
At their first meeting, the two great floodways drop immediately into a short, narrow cut across the gravel bar left behind by whichever last great storm.
Their combined ferocity? Could be easily crossed in a single stride.