The Nolan River is a mere 27 miles long. Yet it forms all or part of two lakes. And it helps turn the Brazos River from a West Texas waterway into a broader presence on the North Central Texas prairies.

The Nolan River rises on Little Horse Ranch in NW Johnson County, TX.

And it’s surprisingly beautiful. We first caught up with it on our recent Texas River Tracing near the Little Horse Ranch. A kindly country gentleman pulled over to explain whence the Nolan came and where it went. It was the second time on this trip when a passerby thought we were stranded. Fair enough. How many people stop at rivers to hike down to document them?

The Nolan River just above Lake Pat Cleburne.

We followed its narrow path to the town of Cleburne — now a suburb of Fort Worth — where we discovered on old park just above Lake Pat Cleburne. Here, the Nolan attracts winter water birds and holiday fishermen. Down county roads, we glimpsed the Nolan again as it wiggles, strong and cold, down toward Lake Whitney.

The Nolan River a few miles down of Lake Pat Cleburne. Strong and cold.

Turns out the river is named for famous freebooter Philip Nolan who tried to create an Anglo empire in Texas long before the arrival of Stephen F. Austin. Interesting person to honor.

We lost track of the Nolan as it forms the headwaters of Lake Whitney, a large, handsome body of water that, in many places, resists attention. Then we took some backroads to Waco for the night.

In our room, we read about our friends vacationing in Paris, France. On this trip, we spent the night in Amarillo, Abilene, Vernon, Waco, Brady and San Angelo. Beat that.