We visited the DRSNA for a long weekend in the early fall 1999. After passing through Del Rio, we turned north on Highway 277 and drove 43 miles. We passed the tiny crossroads community of Loma Alta and had difficulty finding the worn sign that points the way to the Devil’s River State Natural Area. Be on the lookout about 3.5 miles past Loma Alta for a sign that says “Dolan Creek Road” where you will turn off to the left.
After you turn off the main road, it’s another 22 miles to the park headquarters down a rutted dirt and gravel road that took us almost an hour to travel … in decent weather. We were glad we’d taken my high clearance Ford Explorer, but a 4 wheel drive vehicle would have been better. And make sure you have good tires – one report from a group of canoeists who had driven down this road indicated that not one but two vehicles suffered flat tires here. Also, the road was merely rutted and dusty when we traveled it, but all indications are that it washes out when it rains. We recommend that you call before you go to be sure the road is passable.
Once you get to the headquarters, it’s another five miles to the campsites. Although the Devil’s River State Natural Area is a 20,000 acre preserve, there are only 7 campsites which are limited to four people per site…and the sites are very spread out. There are a few additional campsites on the river’s edge, but those are reserved solely for canoeists actually coming down the river from the put in at Baker’s Crossing, 15 miles upstream.
If you like primitive camping, you’ll love the Devil’s River State Natural Area. The campsites are located in a large canyon drainage and are nothing more than clearings in the brush. But if you’re willing to bring in all your water, food and other necessities, the rewards of camping in this remote spot are well worth it. The scenery is spectacular and serenity is hard to beat. Just remember, it’s 22 miles back down that rutted road and 33 miles back into Del Rio if you forget any of the essentials!
Campsite Number 4 (the one nearest to the river that can be used by non-canoeists) is probably the best site, but it was taken by the only other person on the park the nights we were there. We took Campsite #3 which is a good 1/2 mile from either campsite #2 or #4 – the camping area is a big space with lots of room. We pulled into the car pad and found a clearing deep in the brush to set up camp.
After we set up our cots and our tents, I checked out the area around the campsite while Louis cooked dinner. In just a few minutes, I saw burned rocks, an obvious lithics site, and even an old rusted horseshoe…all within steps of our campsite. But, beware, state law dictates that nothing can be taken from the park, not even a rock or a rusted horseshoe!
We had brought our mountain bikes in hopes of riding down to the River. There is also a 12 mile bike trail loop. However, the trail is pretty rough and, as always in the desert, full of hazards. We hadn’t peddled more than two miles mile when I got an extremely large cactus needle in my tire. We ended up walking the bikes back to the campsite and not using them again the rest of the trip. We recommend bringing good hiking shoes instead of bikes.
After a good night’s sleep under the brilliant stars and a huge camp breakfast, we started off to explore the area. We’d read some of the history of the area before making the trip and knew it had originally been settled by E. K. Fawcett in 1883. He’d lived in a cave on the property (dubbed “centipede cave” because of the number of those insects that also inhabited the cave) for several months before he and his partners built a log cabin from sycamore logs. Over the years, Fawcett acquired the land that became the huge Dolan Falls Ranch. Parts of the ranch were subsequently sectioned and sold off or portioned among relatives. The nature conservancy bought the land on which the Devils River State Natural Area Is located from R. L. French of Midland.
Louis had been here once before, during the Texas Archeological Field School in 1989, held soon after the area was sold to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and designated a state natural area. At that time, some of the field school participants visited the Fawcett family at their Fawcett Ranch, still a working concern at that time. The Fawcett House burned to the ground in April, 1999 when it was struck by lightening. You can still see the house ruins from the road.
Louis said the area looks basically the same as it had ten years before, but ten years of no grazing has brought the area closer to its natural state. The brush is as high as six feet in some places.
Among the more interesting features we discovered during our hike around
the area was an abandoned line camp with the foundations of a bunkhouse and
a sotol and mesquite stick corral. Strewn around the site were rusted tin
cans. Most of the cans, especially those along the fence line, had bullet
holes in them because someone had used them for target practice in bygone
We hiked down to the River and were amazed at how clear the water was … and how many fish we could clearly see swimming just below the surface. The Devil’s is a fisherman’s paradise and if our view from the bank on river left was any indication, don’t leave home without your fishing gear. Be sure to read the special fishing regulations for the Devils River.
During an afternoon hike on the ridge above our campsite, we were surprised
to see at our feet a huge area strewn with lithic debitage. Historical
records and archeological research indicate that the area on which we are
standing has been inhabited for at least 8600 years. Clearly, this was a
site where prehistoric man had worked flint into tools and points. In the
distance, we could see the buff-colored bluffs which marked the location of
the Yellow Bluff site which is famous for its pictographs, most notably, the
As we finished our hike, the skies darkened … an ominous reminder that the weather can change quickly here in West Texas. We hoped it would not rain so hard that the road would wash out before we departed the area.
The Devil’s River State Natural Area also has facilities for small groups. There is a bunkhouse near the headquarters that will accommodate 10 and a dining hall with a capacity of 20. But to experience the true beauty of the place, select one of the primitive sites and enjoy the best that Texas has to offer.
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Copyright by Louis F. Aulbach, 2001, 2004