Less than 70 miles southwest of Austin, the Blanco (pronounced Blank-oh) River begins its journey as a series of springs, small pools, and waterfalls. From these headwaters, the water wends and winds for 87 miles through Texas hill country, cutting through canyons, diving below ground, and re-emerging downstream with a surge.
When Wes Ferguson first learned about the Blanco, he became fascinated by its dual existence. “I was fascinated that the river could flow for a while, then go underground for a while and come back up,” he said in a phone interview.
From 2014 to 2015, Ferguson spent roughly a year hiking, kayaking, and driving the banks (with landowners) of the Blanco River. He weathered withering looks from locals and overnight storms in his hammock. He returned to the river again and again throughout the year to experience the dynamic waterway’s seasonal transformations.
“It’s not only changing around every river bend, but it’s also changing through the seasons. It can be pretty dependent on rainfall, so you go to a place, and after the rains come in the fall, you go in November, and it’s a whitewater paddling experience. Then you go to the same spot next July or August and you’re walking on dry gravel,” Ferguson said.
But, as he talked to aspiring recreators, local law enforcement, and landowners whose properties skirt the Blanco’s banks, Ferguson came to see the river as a symbol of something bigger than itself.
“Ninety-three percent of Texas is privately owned. A lot of our vast wilderness tracts are held privately and it’s not legal to go on them. That’s why public access to these rivers is so important. It’s the only wilderness that we as a people have left,” he said.