When I was young, my family didn’t go on trips to Disneyland or the Grand Canyon. Instead, we headed West a few hours to our place on the Devils River where I was lucky enough to develop a deep connection with the natural world. What now seems almost unimaginable, there was no cell phone service or wifi back then. Our entertainment was outside.
The Devils is extremely isolated and is located at the intersection of three distinct ecoregions. The result is a wild combination of diverse terrain, wildlife and flora not typically found elsewhere. The rocky hills and turquoise river that snakes through the canyons provided endless opportunities for exploration.
During summers at the ranch, we’d spend our days swimming and fishing or running up and down the mountains to burn energy. We’d often drive around with my Dad to “check on things.” This consisted of us spotting a hill that looked interesting, making him pull the truck over, and racing to the top just to see what the ranch looked like up there. From the crest of one hill, we might be able to see the river bottom lined with large shady pecan trees. From another, we’d spot a pack of aoudads running through a canyon or poke our heads into a cave painted with ancient drawings. What seemed so familiar from the beaten dirt road below, could look and feel so different from a new vantage point. This hunt for new vistas of the ranch was and still is, so fascinating to me.
I’ll never forget the first time my sister and I were old enough to paddle the entire length of our property by kayak. I thought I knew the Devils so well but as I paddled past my favorite swimming hole, Alice’s Wonderland, to a stretch of the river I had never before been, I saw the river from a totally new perspective. The pools not easily accessible from the road were uncharted territory and felt like an incredible adventure. The wildlife seemed not to notice us as deer crossed the river and ducks swam nearby. In fact, about halfway through the trip, one casual paddle stroke lifted an unsuspecting alligator gar right into my sister’s boat. You can imagine our squeals as this dinosaur fish flopped around at her feet!
Every time I paddle the river now, something has changed and there are new things to see: where the river once curved, now is straight, having been washed out from one of the area’s notorious floods. Or perhaps a tree has fallen, damming up a new small swimming hole we would name for the summer, only to disappear the next. Exploring this dynamic place never gets old.
It was this energetic and unstructured interaction with the natural world as a child that ignited in me a sense of wonder and exploration that has carried over into my life today.
This place has taught me so much about myself and about the world around me. It was here I learned key life skills like resilience, creativity, resourcefulness, consideration and curiosity. It taught me not to be afraid to try new things and make myself a little uncomfortable in the name of growth. It taught me to disconnect from the trivial and embrace what is around me. It has broadened my view and has shaped the way I approach everyday situations and problems.
Now as an adult, there is nothing I love more than sharing our place with others.
Every time we have a first-time visitor to the ranch, I insist on taking them to “the overlook.” From here you get a bird's-eye view of a large stretch of the Devils. Even from a couple of hundred feet up, you can see fish swimming in the clear water below. While the quick hike to this spot may not be new to me, there’s something about seeing others experience the place through fresh eyes and from a new perspective that almost feels like you’re seeing it for the first time.
I realize that my experience is not the norm and many don’t have access to wild spaces like the Devils. Unfortunately, these places are largely disappearing from the map and in order to preserve these treasures for future generations, we must share them with others. People can only realize their value if they are able to feel the Devils’ cool water or see straight to the bottom of the river themselves.
So, I invite you to join us at the Hudspeth River Ranch, because this place can only stay wild and pristine if more people fall in love with it just as my family has. Getting outside not only builds a connection to nature but also to each other. I hope through Explore Ranches, more folks can find their place in the wild.
~ Sarah Strunk