The Mouth of the Salado

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An odor of ruellia at Salado Creek

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.

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 — Salado Creek’s lower extremes are inaccessible and rarely seen. It empties into the San Antonio River a few miles outside of town.

Having spent some time bushwhacking my way along both creeks, I’d imagined this particular confluence must be some kind of Skull Island, an impenetrable jungle, and a biological junction of east and south Texas.

In reality the waters come to a slow, hesitant embrace in a circle of willow, oak and cottonwood. The swirling fury of their combined floodwaters has carved a cliff and built a gravel bar populated, on this day, by a trio of sandpipers. The San Antonio River pushes brightly along on its bed of gravel. Salado Creek, by contrast, is deep, opaque and still.

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Unlike the bubbling river into which it empties, the Salado appears not to flow at all; rather it seems to recede like latex from its approaching mate. Draped in spiderwebs and detritus, its thick green waters glow dimly under the overhanging branches.

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To be fair, Salado Creek’s small flows were diverted many years ago. The springs mostly withered, along with the farms once drawn to its banks, and the abandoned streamsides lapsed into the ligustrum 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 mapper I used to try swimming here, but even then I couldn’t help noticing 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, it makes sense that the dissolved oxygen wouldn’t be quite up to snuff, even without sewage.

So maybe it’s not — yet — the best spot for paddling, fishing, or the life aquatic. In my case, even a few minutes of contact with Salado Creek’s terminal murk was followed by a weird skin infection.

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In recent years Salado Creek may have proved a more useful resource for bicyclists and hikers than it ever was 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 behold the last moments of Salado Creek as it passes into the coastal plains. At their first meeting, the two great floodways drop immediately into a deep, narrow channel across the gravel bar left behind by whichever last great storm.

Their combined ferocity could be easily crossed in a single stride.

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