Brazos Hwy 16 Below Morris Sheppard Dam, photo by Bob Smith

Upper-Middle Brazos, Hwy 16 to Hwy 4 (19.5 miles)

Overview

This section of river is at the top of the designated John Graves Scenic Riverway below PK Lake and Sheppard Dam. It is a classic canoe camping river in Palo Pinto County in North Texas. There are some small riffles and rapids with many gravel bar campsite opportunities. 100-500 foot cliffs line the river in many places. A minimum of two days with an overnight camp is recommended for this stretch.

Photo: Bob Smith
Hwy 16 bridge at high water, photo by Bob Smith

Recreation and Access

Quick Info

Length19.5 miles
Class (I-VI)I-II
Minimum Flow150 cfs
Ideal Flow300-1,500 cfs
Maximum Flow5,000 cfs
Current River ConditionsUSGS nr Graford
Put-in mapHwy 16 Bridge
Take-out mapFM 4 at Dark Valley Creek
BoatsCanoes, Kayaks
SeasonYear-round, weather/flow permitting
Highlight100′-500′ cliffs, great canoe camping, dark skies

Natural Features

The Upper Brazos forks originate in West Texas High Plains and Cross Timbers & Prairies vegetation areas. Sand and gravel bars provide excellent riverside campsites, becoming more numerous as you go downriver. The water is typically clear and cold coming from the bottom of Possum Kingdom Lake. Awesome scenery somewhat counters the challenges of wind and low water. In spring, southerly headwinds can be ferocious. Not that far from DFW, overnight camping on the gravel bars with dark and starry nights is an attractive option for getting away from urban light pollution. Bald Eagle nesting and sightings are common along this stretch of the Brazos in fall and winter. Ashe juniper cover the hills plus elm, willow, sycamore and oaks.

Conservation and Threats

There are environmental challenges such as Brazos River Authority over-allocation, very inconsistent dam releases, excess algae cover and occasional outbreaks of Golden Algae. Power plants contribute excessively warm water. Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants must keep pace technologically with a quickly growing population to contain excess nutrients. The Upper and Upper-Middle Brazos have naturally high levels of salt. Gravel mining and rock quarries are a real and present danger to water quality in this stretch of river. Trash is a common problem along the river with careless tubers in the summer and careless fishermen year round.

From PK Dam through Palo Pinto and Parker County to the Hood County line and within a few miles of Lake Granbury, the John Graves Scenic Riverway flows for over 100 miles. Of course, it was named for the author whose celebrated book, “Goodbye to a River” focused on his love of the Brazos and reflection on changes to the river in the late 1950s. By 2000, gravel and rock mining near the Brazos River was wreaking havoc on water quality in the Upper-Middle Brazos. Individuals and environmental groups such as the Brazos River Coalition and Friends of the Brazos were instrumental in bringing concerns to state agencies and lawmakers. They were outspoken in their support for protection of the area of the John Graves Scenic Riverway. With the passage of Senate Bill 1354 in 2005, authored by Senator Craig Estes during the 79th Legislative Session, the Texas Legislature not only honored the author who made the Brazos famous with his tribute to the river, it created a collaborative effort between several state agencies that would strive to improve water quality. Since 2005, the TCEQ, the Brazos River Authority and TPWD have tightened permitting requirements, continued monitoring and water quality testing.

Friends of the Brazos River, led by Ed Lowe, R.I.P., fought a long, expensive battle with the Brazos River Authority from 2003-2014 when BRA applied for a TCEQ permit allowing severe over-allocation of water rights between Lake Granbury and Lake Whitney. This application would have severely impacted the ecological health of the Brazos River and granting of the BRA permit would provide more water than was needed to satisfy out of stream demands. That surplus water could be used to protect and restore the ecological health of the river. The BRA had not developed flow regime recommendations to bolster its case. In the end, the contested case hearing resulted in BRA being denied the full amount of water it was asking for.

Historical and Cultural

John Graves memorialized the Upper-Middle Brazos River in his classic book, “Goodbye To A River” from his canoe trip in 1957 before De Cordova Bend Dam and Lake Granbury were created. John began his three week canoe trip at Hwy. 16 below Sheppard Dam and PK Lake and ended at Lake Whitney.  This part of the Brazos was home to Comanche before the 20th Century and was a ‘Hardscrabble’ existence for many 19th and 20th Century pioneers.

I don’t mean the whole Brazos, but a piece of it that has had meaning for me during a good part of my life in the way that pieces of rivers can have meaning. You can comprehend a piece of a river.

John Graves, Goodbye to a River

Fishing

The common fishes in the Upper-Middle Brazos include catfish, black bass, white bass, striped bass, sun fishes. TPWD stocks the river with Rainbow Trout below Sheppard Dam in winter. Leave No Trace.

Additional Resources