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Pecos River, Texas
Report by Marc W. McCord

US Highway 67 / 385 to FM 1980
30 miles

General Description

The Pecos River forms in Mora County, New Mexico, then begins a journey of about 500 miles to its confluence with the Rio Grande at International Amistad Reservoir on the Mexico border near Langtry, the famous home and location of the courtroom/saloon of Judge Roy Bean, "The Law West of the Pecos". Of its total length, about 350 miles flows through the rugged Chihuahuan desert of West Texas, where there is very little to suggest civilization ever set foot here. In Texas, the river flows from Red Bluff Reservoir in Loving and Reeves Counties near Orla in a southeasterly direction through semi-arid scrublands where riverbank vegetation runs the gammit from none to small brush to dense stands of saltcedar (Tamarisk) trees. Below Pandale, the river cuts its way through gorgeous canyons with walls rising hundreds of feet above the riverbed.

Below US Highway 67/385, the Pecos River flows about 30 miles down to FM 1980, forming the partial boundry between Crane, Crockett and Pecos Counties. The river channel is narrow with a low volume flow most of the time, but it can flash quickly during or right after periods of heavy rainfall when the many creeks adjacent to the river feed their runoff into the stream. This reach offers more open range with the same characteristics found on the upper 200+ miles - arid to semi-arid land, large cattle ranches with oil fields, hot temperatures most of the time (though it does occasionally get cold in winter), lots of sand, and not very much in the way of vegetation, cactus, yucca, sagebrush and tamarisk being the staples most often found around here. Roads offering access cross the river at 10, 17, 23 and 30 miles, but there are no services of ANY kind to be found along the way or at these crossings. The river channel is about as flat and non-descript as the surrounding land, and development is all but non-existent, farm and ranch outbuidings being the primary structures seen in this area. Occasional rapids, when there is a navigable flow, offer minor excitement for paddlers. Five Mile Creek, at about 15 miles, and Simson Creek, at about 23 miles, are the primary feeders that enter the river, both on the left side. Agricultural and oil field pollutants degrade water quality on this reach, so DON'T DRINK THE WATER! That is why they make Dr Pepper.

Location

Crane, Crockett and Pecos Counties of far West Texas. The take-out is at the small Town of Iraan, but the nearest significant population centers are El Paso to the west and San Antonio to the southeast, each about 5-6 hours away. (HINT: If coming from San Antonio or Austin, then do NOT speed through Kimble County along IH 10, and especially around Junction - they pay their law enforcement officers from traffic ticket funds!)

Distance from major cities

El Paso 276 miles; San Antonio 290 miles; Austin 321 miles; Dallas 412 miles; Houston 507 miles; Oklahoma City 617 miles; Little Rock 737 miles; Kansas City 917 miles; Albuquerque 435 miles; Phoenix 893 miles; Denver 872 miles; Salt Lake City 1,039 miles (all distances are approximate and depend upon starting point, destination point on the river and route taken.)

Water Quality and Flow Rates

Water quality is generally poor to fair due to low flow and pollution from agricultural and oil field runoff contaminants. Flow is usually too low for paddling except after a significant rainstorm, when the river can flash flood quickly, then drop again almost as fast.

Best time to go

There is no predictable "best" time to paddle this long reach of the Pecos River. Navigable flows depend entirely upon substantial rainfall in the drainage basin of this desert area. If everything from El Paso to Midland and Odessa are getting soaked, then pack the boat and get ready for an "adventure".

Hazards to navigation

There are no substantial hazards to navigation other than the usual lack of water. Occasional small, Class I rapids that can escalate to Class I+ to II- in high water conditions, are scattered along this reach, but generally pose no serious threats to competent boaters. When the river flows, usually in flash flood conditions, fast currents are more the problem than rapids and drops. The river is flatter than a crepe, with few obstructions in its channel. Hot sun and hot winds are the primary hazards, but as they like to say in Arizona, "It's a DRY heat!"

River Access Points

US Highway 67/385 crossing at 0.0 miles; FM 1901 crossing about 22 miles northwest of Iraan at about 10.0 miles; FM 305 crossing about 14 miles northwest of Iraan at about 17.0 miles; SH 349 crossing about 6 miles north of Iraan at about 23.0 miles; and FM 1980 crossing about 1 mile east of Iraan at about 30.0 miles. There are no other access points for this reach of the Pecos River.

Campgrounds and accommodations

There are no campgrounds, hotels, motels or any other type lodging anywhere near this reach of the river. This is the middle of nowhere, so plan on truly "roughing it" if you are coming here to paddle.

Liveries, outfitters and shuttle services

There are no outfitters, liveries or shuttle services in this area. Bring everything you need and run your own shuttles.

Reviewer's Comments

This reach of the Pecos River does not have anything appraoching a perpetual flow, but it is the first significantly navigable section of the river where paddlers can enjoy themselves. Like the reaches above, this area needs recent local rainfall, and a lot of it, but the river is a little wider and flows a little longer when the rains do come. Occasional small rapids add a little excitement for boaters, but they are relatively easy for most people and a snap for experienced paddlers. Surrounding the river is flat, desolate wilderness of the Texas desert with scrub vegetation and no trees except along the riverbanks, where saltcedar likes to take over. If you see anything alive, then it will probably be cattle or oil field workers. Water quality remains poor to fair most of the time. This area begins the approach to the much more scenic and enjoyable reaches of the Pecos River, and its convenient access makes it a good place to paddle if you are in the area when it rains. It is still a long way from any major population center, the nearest being El Paso and San Antonio, each about 5 or more hours away on IH 10, which runs east and west about 15 miles south of the final take-out for this reach of the river.

Technical Data
Class Rating I to II
Length 30 miles
Minimum Flow cfs
Optimum Flow cfs
Maximum Flow cfs
First Put-in US Highway 67/385 crossing
Lat. / Long.
Last Take-out FM 1980 crossing
Lat. / Long.
Elevation msl
Gradient fpm
USGS Gauge Web: Girvin
Boats Canoes, Kayaks
Season Heavy local rainfall dependent
Permits No


Pecos River map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department
Pecos River map courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department


Texas Parks & Wildlife Department

Canoeman River Guide Service - Guided river trips in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah

Dallas Down River Club - Promoting paddlesports, safety and environmental protection

Alamo City Rivermen - Paddling the fine line between geek and bubba

Austin Paddling Club - Just for the fun of it!

Lone Star Paddler - the paddlesports web site of Marc W. McCord

Click the links below for information regarding the section of the Rio Grande and its tributaries where you want to paddle.

Rio Grande

[ Rio Grande Homepage ] [ Colorado Canyon ] [ Santa Elena Canyon ] [ The Great Unknown ]
[ Mariscal Canyon ] [ San Vicente & Hot Springs Canyons ] [ Boquillas Canyon ] [ Lower Canyons ]

Pecos and Devils Rivers

[ Red Bluff Dam to FM 11 ] [ FM 11 to US Hwy 67/385 ] [ FM 1980 to US Hwy 290 ]
[ US Hwy 290 to Pandale Crossing ] [ Pandale Crossing to Pecos River Marina ] [ Devils River ]

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© February 23, 2002. All rights reserved.
Last updated May 6, 2014

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