rousted my 15-and-a-half-year-old from bed at what must have seemed like the middle
of the night—9 a.m.
“Come on, let’s go find the ghost town I told you
about that’s resurfaced at Lake
“No, I just wanna sleep,” she begged.
“Hey, it’ll be cool,” I
said, trying to be hip. “The lake’s
lower than it’s been in 25 years. No telling what we might find.”
she gave in.
An hour later, which if you knew Hallie you would understand
is fireman-down-the-pole fast, we were on our way to find Old
Bluffton, a 1850s-era town in Llano County inundated when Lake
Buchanan filled in 1937.
In the mid-‘30s, as workers poured concrete
at the dam site and laborers just happy to have a job in hard times used handsaws
to denude the landscape in the future lake bed of oaks and cedars, the Lower Colorado
River Authority paid to have the occupants of the Bluffton
Cemetery exhumed for reburial at a new site well above the future shoreline.
The town’s living residents soon followed, settling what for a time they called
Hoping to get my teenager more invested in this history-oriented
adventure, I handed her a “Mission Impossible”-like case file for her study en
route. The documents included a map, a satellite image, an email with directions,
and a printout of the “Texas Tales” column I wrote on Old
Bluffton in 2003.
Though she actually read the piece, I could tell
Hallie still lacked full engagement in the expedition.
Then I remembered
“Oh,” I said casually, “We’ve got to be careful. There’s
quicksand where we’re going.”
I could see her processing
that information, clearly thinking of the various movies and TV shows she’d seen
in which someone sinks to their doom in a bottomless pit of the treacherous mix
of sand and water.
“Awesome,” she finally said.
the directions, we drove along parts of the normally-submerged old road between
Llano and Burnet
to a point more than 2 miles out into the lake. Then, armed with walking sticks,
bottled water and plastic bags for any treasure we might find, we set about exploring
the dry lake bed.
At this writing, the normally sprawling lake
is only 51 per cent full. On this getting-hotter-by-the-minute July day, a dry
south wind whipped up moderate waves that slapped against the shore. Except for
all the mineralized, iron-like tree stumps left by the “brush cutters” as they
were called, it was like walking on a Gulf beach, complete with a liberal scattering
of mussel shells and fish skeletons.
While a few traces of the old town
have become visible, most of it is still under water. But we did find one substantial
rectangular rock foundation and a scattering of artifacts, including the base
of a green Anchor-Hocking Depression glass bowl and a piece of melted lead from
an even earlier era.
hadn’t been doing this freshwater beachcombing for long before my right walking
shoe disappeared in the fine granite-mica gravel.
“Well, here’s the quick
sand,” I said. “Use your walking stick to check where you’re planning to walk.”
Hallie began stepping more gingerly while poking here and there with her
walking stick, now in full buy-in.
What excited me was not the quicksand,
but the prospect of finding old fishing lures. By the time we were ready to admit
that the sun had more staying power than we did, I had picked up at least $15
worth of lures snagged by normally submerged stumps.
“I can’t wait to
tell everybody I was on quicksand,” Hallie gushed. “I’m so glad I came.”
By this time, the temperature had risen well over 100. Our water bottles as low
as our energy levels, after about two-and-a-half hours we turned to head back
to our SUV.
in mid-stride, my right foot again sank in quicksand. But this time it took in
my leg all the way to the knee. I put down my left foot hoping to get enough purchase
to extract my sunken foot but it too sank.
As Hallie laughed joyously,
I stood in quicksand up to my knees.
“I gotta get a picture of this for
Facebook,” she said, a delighted lilt in her voice.
buzzards, I reluctantly posed for a couple of shots while planning my exit strategy.
OK, I thought, how would Tarzan handle a situation like this?
I was not sinking any deeper. But in the full grip of the grainy goo, I was beginning
to wonder if I’d have to call someone with a chain and four-wheel drive vehicle
to extricate me. Hallie, I knew, would find that positively hilarious.
with less effort than I thought it would take, I managed to get un-mucked.
“This is so awesome,” Hallie said, digging in her pocket for her cell phone so
she could start texting her friends to report her dad had been mired in quicksand.
Back home, after a long shower and supper, I found a digitized story-poem
written by a Bluffton
old-timer in 1932, when his home town’s fate was sealed.
Old Bluffton, for thee I sigh,” he wrote. “When the big lake is finished it will
be a sight I will love to see…the great big dam with its great white wall, but
the memories of Old Bluffton will rise above them all.”
He didn’t mention
© Mike Cox
30, 2009 column
Bluffton | Lake
Buchanan | Burnet
| Llano | Llano
Ghost Towns | Texas Towns | Texas
Texas | TE
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