By the Rivers' Edge

The rivers that run through Texas were not historically reliable enough to facilitate heavy transport in the way that the Mississippi and its various tributaries were and still are. The various rivers - Rio Grande, Nueces, Guadalupe, San Antonio, Sabine, Brazos and Trinity - were at times and in places navigable by shallow-draft boats and steamships - it all rather depended on how recently it had rained. They were slightly more useful at providing small-scale power for mills, at those points where they could be built. But the most important use for Texas rivers though, especially the western-most of them - was simply that they were there, providing water in an otherwise arid land.

San Antonio was located where it was because of the generous sources of sweet, cold water - springs of which came out like fountains because of the aquifer, buried deep under the limestone hills to the north. Travelers and memoirists alike noted the importance of water and the river to San Antonio, even in the early days. By mid-19th century, it was noted that the very best houses in town backed on the river, with bath-houses and pavilions built along the banks, and in the heat of summer, practically everyone found relief from it by soaking in the water. After the Alamo, San Antonio's premier tourist attraction is - of course - the Riverwalk. Out of the spotlight, there are a number of projects to extend various existing parks and construct new recreational greenways along the banks of urban rivers and creeks - but that's a year round and on-going project. The major summertime enjoyment of other local rivers is just about to be launched, with a large and refreshing splash.

For San Antonio residents, the nearest place to indulge in that kind of recreation would be on the Comal River (at three miles long is about the shortest river in Texas), which runs through New Braunfels, and a twenty-mile long stretch of the Guadalupe between Canyon Lake Dam and New Braunfels. Those reaches of river are marvelously scenic, with unlimited opportunities for sightseeing, dining and shopping at every bend, no matter if you are kayaking, canoeing or just doing it on a rubber inner-tube. My daughter claims that Texas river tubing is absolutely the most relaxing way to do it; no cellphone, no internet, no city traffic - other than other tubers - just drifting along in the current, keeping cool and watching the riverbank go past. There are some deep places, and some rapids here and there; the river reaches are patrolled fairly rigorously for under-aged drinkers, and for those who carelessly bring glass or Styrofoam out onto the river - but for sheer total relaxation very possibly the only way to beat tubing, is probably a full body-massage at a day spa. A lot of the river outfitters have already opened in mid-March, although it won't really kick into high gear until it gets warmer. By Memorial Day weekend, there'll be so many tubers out there on weekends that you could probably cross the Guadalupe, by hopping from tube to tube.

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