This repost of our Texas River Tracing of the San Marcos is part of an effort to collect records of all 50 trips, some still in progress. Go here for the most complete links.
I had always wanted to visit Palmetto State Park, located on a lazy stretch of the lower San Marcos River. Since childhood, I had read about its semi-tropical vegetation, overflowing mudpots and warm springs. Quite the contrast to the prairies and post-oak breaks on the rolling hills above the hidden valley. (Sorry, that’s still Luling directly below.)
What I didn’t know was that the park encompassed the town of Ottine, an open spot that looked not much different from a mid-19th-century, pre-commercial settlement. It had been requisitioned by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression — fascinating panoramic photos can be found n a hallway at the park headquarters — and a large, white, tiled sanitarium building remains, practically the size of the rest of the hamlet.
"It was a big place during the polio days," my father told me the next day. Who knew? We hiked the trim trails to find sensibly laid-out campgrounds and family activities abounding on an Easter weekend. I didn’t see much in the way of tropical overgrowth until we headed around the oxbow lake, which led us to view reminiscent of the Old South.
Earlier, I had spied this snake, which at first looked to me like a copperhead. Later I identified as a broad-banded water snake. Not so scary.
Our last glimpse of the San Marcos was from a high bridge reached from a lonely Gonzales County road. The wood slats were breaking up and the steel spikes rattled in their holes. The whole experience rattled me too, as I stared down at the river, which had turned gray-green from its upstream blue-green.
As usual on a river tracing, we couldn’t access the actual mouth of the river, which converges with the Guadalupe just above the large town of Gonzalez. Bothersome, it sits behind private-property fences guarded by herds of curious cattle. Still, the San Marcos is pretty dramatic for such a short river. I can see why it remains so popular, recreationally, although far less developed than the upper Guadalupe. And for good reason. The floods, ladies and gentlemen, the floods.