Traditionally, the job of recording Texas’ natural heritage has not had many takers. Many Texans exercised their ingenuity finding ways to use the land; few have done as much to preserve it. As a result, some of the state’s most scenic regions are unknown to life-long Texans, and much of what is best is in danger of destruction.
Quietly, with a minimum of fanfare, steps have been taken in the past two years to research and document a number of the most important sites and to shed light on how and whether they should be preserved. The work is sponsored by the Natural Areas Survey Project at the University of Texas at Austin. Project director Don Kennard has assembled a team of scientists whose initial investigations, in 1973, covered Capote Falls, Victorio Canyon, Matagorda Island, and the Davis Mountains. The project’s Matagorda Island report was used to close the island’s Air Force bombing range and pave the way for its conversion to a park. The current scientific team is studying a subtropical woodland near Falcon Dam, a wilderness bayou north of Liberty, and two sites near Terlingua in the Big Bend.
Last year the Natural Areas Survey Project visited the headwaters of the Devils River, a cypress swamp along the Sabine River, a 310-foot-deep sinkhole near Rocksprings, and the Canadian River northwest of Amarillo.
It is the water that one remembers longest: the river and the sky against the bleached limestone, blue against white, a desert resonance of the Aegean. The springs pour out of the ancient rock, lingering in pools circled by moss, maidenhair, and watercress, emptying into the river. A superabundance of water: dizzying, vivid, pure; ageless water knifing clear deep channels defiant of geometry, crossing and diverging and crossing again; water spun in flumes as exuberant and vital as the festive dances on a Minoan urn; a processional without music.
The spring-fed Devils River is the last unpolluted major stream in West Texas. Remote and wild, lined in places with steep unbroken cliffs two hundred feet high, it rolls down the southwestern