By Myra Lee Adams Goff
As I grow older, I find myself more appreciative of the natural elements of our environment and especially of the natural beauty of New Braunfels and Comal County. I’m not so naive to think that changes don’t have to be made to accommodate a bursting population. But, “those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end”.
I remember particularly the beauty of Landa Park with its lake, lined with elephant ears, and I remember “shooting the rapids” at Camp Warnecke in the area where the bottom of the water was solid soapstone. And then the cold, clear Comal River, so filled with crayfish that you couldn’t put your feet down without getting pinched.
When I got my driver’s license (which was at age 13) the River Road was a favorite route to drive. I was familiar with this road because it was a route that I went with my parents on their weekly Sunday drive. I wasn’t too happy about this entertainment that was forced on me at that time, and most of the time I slept in the car, which in itself was quite pleasant. But of all the places that we drove, the River Road was one to remember.
As an independent teenager, just driving along the road, never meeting another car, with the Guadalupe on one side and the bluffs with their flood-chiseled walls on the other, was a thrill. These were days when one could just stop the car, wade in on the smooth rocks and swim in the deeper parts. This was before the dam regulated the depth of the river and the water level was ever-changing.
As a young girl, my mother and her friends frequented the Guadalupe River even more than the Comal. That’s probably because in the 1920s they were part of the “touring car” crowd. It was probably much more exciting to drive out the River Road to the Guadalupe than to walk down to the Comal. The photo shows my mother in the center with some of her friends sitting on the rocks in the Guadalupe. When I see this picture, I am amazed that she is even in the water. She couldn’t swim. My grandmother told me that in the local culture, it wasn’t proper for females to swim in rivers. I guess I was lucky to have a father who at one time was a lifeguard at the pool at Camp Placid in Landa Park. He taught me to swim at age five.
Canyon Dam didn’t stop the flooding entirely on the Guadalupe but it did modify it. As you drive out the River Road, you can see how high and how forceful water has been in the past by the gouged-out bluffs of rock. It’s hard to imagine water that high and that forceful to create these canyons and cave formations.
Originally the River Road was just a narrow lane following the river used mostly by farmers and ranchers. The original rocky trail had four crossings that could be crossed only in dry weather. Sometimes the driver had to stop and clear a path. As can be seen now, large boulders line the road’s edge. Eventually concrete bridges were built. This easier access eventually contributed to the tourist industry.
In the 1930s, camp houses began to spring up along the road. One of the earliest resorts was Waco Springs Park owned by Bob Gode and leased to Phil and Gertrude Rawson. Waco was also spelled Huaco or Hueco, all referring to the same area. There were small cottages with fireplaces, and of course, swimming. Inexpensive to rent, they were perfect for family vacations. After WWII, Gode went into partnership with NBHS coach, Weldon Bynum, forming Camp Huaco for Boys. Football camps were very popular and many of the original buildings are still standing on the side of the hill by the first crossing. For more information on Waco Springs, see Sophienburg.com, Around the Archives, August 10, 2010.
Another such campground was Slumber Falls Camp, ideal for large groups. These camps offered basically the same accommodations as camps along the Comal in New Braunfels. (camps like Camp Warnecke, Camp Giesecke, Camp Ulbricht). Boats could be rented; even bathing suits.
Keep on driving on the River Road and eventually you come to the area known as the Guadalupe Valley with all its small settlements and big ranches. When Canyon Dam was being built, my husband Glyn, began taking slides of the building of the dam, which he did for the next five years. On the website for Comal County one can view this collection of about 50 of the best slides. The whole family would pile in the car and head out on the River Road towards the dam. Close to the end of the road lived Roland Erben and his family. Roland had a contract with the builders of the dam to sell them rock from his ranch, the rock that is hand-set on the side of the dam called rip-rap. Since he was a friend of my father, he allowed us to go rock hunting on his property. Dynamite had been used to loosen the rocks and amazing caves were exposed. What a joy! This experience started our whole family on one of our activities that we all love – rock hunting.
If you grew up in Comal County, you can’t help but have wonderful recollections of the River Road.