BOOK: Terlingua River Runners
It all started on the wild rio grande river...
Explorers have been drawn to the deep canyons of the Rio Grande River; the border between Mexico and the United States, for centuries. Santa Elena Canyon, in Big Bend National Park, downstream from Lajitas, Texas and southwest of Terlingua, Texas provided the greatest navigational obstacle for explorers. Although many had seen the mouth of the canyon, there was no documented, successful navigation until January 16th 1882. Two years later, a trapper documented his unwilling entrance into the canyon while be shot at by Mexican bandits. Both parties were in heavy wooden, flat bottomed boats which, more than likely had to be portaged around the obstacle deep in the canyon, now known as the Rock Slide Rapid.
Men died trying to run the canyon, likely in the Rock Slide's turbulent current and protruding boulders. Some were successful in later years in inner tubes and primitive safety gear, but the desire to conquer that rapid in a vast and unforgiving place remains for many.
It wasn't until after Lady Bird Johnson toured the Big Bend National Park in 1966 did the video of her trip down Mariscal Canyon generate interest in commercial trips.
Tough men and women who lived in the Chihuahuan Desert on the Texas side (mostly cinnabar miners) started taking boats down the Rio Grande with paying customers. Other adventurers showed up and lived in the mostly abandoned ghost town of Terlingua. Boating and a beautiful and lawless land drew the modern day pioneers. This book is the story of the large personalities of those who started running this section of the river and created a free thinking community committed to having a good time, being outdoors and seeking new challenges.