Reeves County Lakes, Rivers, Draws & Mountains

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Balmorhea Lake:

 Balmorhea Lake, an irrigation tank also called Lower Parks Reservoir, is located three miles southeast of Balmorhea in southern Reeves County. The surrounding steep to gentle slopes are generally surfaced by reddish-brown to brown sands, clay loams, and clays that support scrub brush and sparse grasses. The lake was built near the prolific San Solomon springs, which had a reported flow of twenty two million gallons daily. In 1583 the entrada of Antonio de Espejo stopped at the spring when Jumano Indians guided the Spaniards up the Toyah valley. Dr. John S. Ford passed through the Toyah valley in 1849 and noted productive land along its banks. Madera Valley, near the reservoir, was farmed by prehistoric Indians and Hispanic settlers. After Fort Davis was reoccupied by the army at the end of the Civil War, a lucrative market opened for the grains, vegetables, and cattle of these farmers, who irrigated their fields from San Solomon Springs, In 1909 the Toyah Valley Irrigation Company was organized to supervise water use of the area. By 1915 Reeves County Water Improvement District No. 1 had acquired the water right and built Balmorhea Lake & Dam. Construction began on the earth fill dam in 1916 and was completed in 1917. The lake surface covers 573 acres, and its capacity is 6,350 acre-feet of water. Sandia Creek feeds into the reservoir from the Northeast, and Kountz Draw empties into it from the south. Runoff from Toyah Creek comes into Balmorhea Lake from Madera Diversion Dam and its canals. Surplus water from Phantom Lake Canal, which is supplied by several springs, is stored in Balmorhea Lake until it is needed for irrigation.   

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Alton Hughes, Pecos: A History of the Pioneer West (Seagraves, Texas: Pioneer, 1978). Roy L. Swift and Leavitt Corning, Jr., Three Roads to Chihuahua (Austin: Eakin Press, 1988(. Del Weniger, The Explorers' Texas (Austin: Eakin Press, 1984).

Hart Draw:

Hart Draw, through which flows an intermittent stream, begins in the foothills of the Barilla Mountains in extreme southern Reeves County and runs northeast for nine miles to its mouth on Sandia Creek, eight miles east of Balmorhea. The draw crosses desert terrain and canyon land of volcanic rock, with mountain wash deposits of sand, gravel, and mud. Soils in the area are clay loams and generally light reddish-brown to brown sands. Local vegetation includes scrub brush, sparse grasses, creosote bush, and cacti.

Fourmile Draw:

Fourmile Draw, a valley with an intermittent stream, begins 1½ miles southeast of Cottonwood Tank in western Reeves County (at 31°35' N, 103°58' W) and runs northeast for nineteen miles to its mouth on the Pecos River, 2½ miles south of Mason Station on the northeastern edge of the county (at 31°46' N, 103°49' W). Threemile Draw joins Fourmile Draw two miles northeast of TP Tank in northwestern Reeves County. Fourmile Draw crosses an area of steep to gentle slopes with alluvial fans and mountain wash materials of sand, gravel, and mud. Local vegetation includes scrub brush, sparse grasses, and cacti. Fourmile Draw may have been named for the width of its flow at flood stage.

Sand Lake:

Sand Lake, a playa, is two miles west of U.S. Highway 285 in central Reeves County (centered at 31°31' N, 103°36' W). The lake is surrounded by flat to gently sloping desert terrain of calichefied bedrock, alluvial deposits of sand and gravel, and windblown sand. Reddish-brown to brown sands, clay loams and clays, and rough stony ground support scrub brush and grasses. Sand Lake is a large playa among many such lakes in Reeves County, covering an area of 1½ miles in length and ½ mile in width. Like other playas, Sand Lake gives evidence of undeveloped drainage in the area. It is fed by several small, unnamed, and immature draws. These normally dry stream beds pour rain water into the shallow depression after downpours, transforming it into a sheet of water. The playa shrinks and sometimes disappears through evaporation between rains. Except when they are salty, playas provide ground water for livestock. However, they are never dependable or long-term sources.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Frederick W. Rathjen, The Texas Panhandle Frontier (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1973).

San Martine Draw:

San Martine Draw, which has an intermittent stream, is formed by the junction of Adobe Draw and Antelope Draw one quarter mile west of the Reeves county line and four miles southwest of San Martine Peak in southeastern Culberson County (at 31°08' N, 104°06' W) and runs northeast for twenty-five miles to its mouth on Billingslea Draw, one quarter mile west of Toyah in west central Reeves County (at 31°20' N, 103°45' W). The area has steep to gentle slopes surfaced by variable soils that support scrub brush and sparse grasses.

Toyah Creek:

Toyah Creek rises in northeastern Jeff Davis County three miles west of the Reeves county line (at 30°56' N, 103°40' W) and runs northeast for fifty miles to its mouth on the Pecos River, in north central Reeves County (at 31°25' N, 103°20' W). It runs through Toyah Lake, a playa, eight miles west of the Pecos. Sandia Creek joins Toyah 2½ miles east of Pecos Valley Southern Railway in north central Reeves County. The creek crosses steep to gentle slopes, composed of sand, gravel, and mud deposits washed from the Davis Mountains and surfaced by light reddish-brown to brown sand, clay loam, and rough stony ground that supports scrub brush and sparse grasses. Toyah Creek was named for Toyah Valley, which means valley of flowers. In 1871 George B. and Robert E. Lyle, farmers in Toyah Valley, began irrigation from Toyah Creek. After 1871 Daniel Murphy and Sam Miller, who farmed and ranched in the valley, dammed Toyah Creek and divided the water for use on their lands. Hispanic residents of Saragosa, located downstream, were left without water in a dry year. They threatened to attack and to destroy the dam. Before the water fight began, a long soaking rain fell and flooded the area. In later years the controversy over water from Toyah Creek developed into a feud.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Carlysle Graham Raht, The Romance of the Davis Mountains and Big Bend Country (Odessa, Texas: Rahtbooks, 1963).

Barrilla Mountain:

Barrilla Mountain, a summit in the Barrilla range also known as Flat Top Mountain, is in the southeastern corner of Reeves County (at 30°47' N, 103°37' W). With an elevation of 4,672 feet above sea level, Barrilla Mountain is the highest peak in Reeves County and rises 555 feet above the adjacent canyon land. The surrounding flat terrain and rugged canyon land of desert mountain volcanic rock is surfaced by wash deposits of sand, gravel, and mud that support live oak, piñon, juniper, grasses, maple, ponderosa pine, madrone, and water-tolerant hardwoods and conifers. Prehistoric people lived in rock shelters around the edge of the Barrilla Mountains and left behind pictographs. The mountain and the range were named for the salt cedars that grow in the Trans-Pecos region.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Alton Hughes, Pecos: A History of the Pioneer West (Seagraves, Texas: Pioneer, 1978).

Balmorhea State Recreation Area:

Balmorhea State Recreation Area is located at Toyahvale, at the northern entrance to the Davis Mountains on U.S. Highway 290 in southeastern Reeves County. The park, including its large rock-walled swimming pool, was built around San Solomon Springs by the Civilian Conservation Corps  in 1933. The springs, which have been called Mescalero and Head Springs at various times, issue from caverns in the bottom of the swimming pool. The pool covers one and three-quarters acres, is thirty feet deep in places, and has aquatic plants and fish living in its 76-degree water. Before 1933, 950 acres for the park was deeded to the state by private owners and by Reeves County Water Improvement District No. 1. In the 1940s the state legally lost all of the land except the present forty-eight acres.

Prehistoric Indians and Mexican settlers farmed in Madera Valley near the park in early times. In 1583 the entrada of Antonio de Espejo  met Jumanos in the Pecos valley who guided them up the Toyah valley to the springs. In 1849 Dr. John S. Ford  passed through the Toyah Creek area, noting its productive land and the corn farmed by Mescalero Indians near the springs. After Fort Davis was reoccupied by the army at the end of the Civil War, farmers found a profitable market at the fort for grains, vegetables, and cattle. They irrigated their fields from San Solomon Springs, from which reportedly flowed twenty-two million gallons of water daily. In 1909 the Toyah Valley Irrigation Company was organized to supervise water use. By 1915 Reeves County Water Improvement District No. 1 had built Balmorhea Dam and Lake; later the district donated land for Balmorhea State Recreation Area.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Gunnar Brune, Springs of Texas, Vol. 1 (Fort Worth: Branch-Smith, 1981). C. L. Dowell, Dams and Reservoirs in Texas: History and Descriptive Information (Texas Water Commission Bulletin 6408 [Austin, 1964]). Ray Miller, Texas Parks (Houston: Cordovan, 1984).

Toyah Lake:

Toyah Lake, a playa, is on either side of U.S. Highway 285 four miles southeast of Blue Goose Hill in northeastern Reeves County (centered at 31°22' N, 103°23' W). The lake is surrounded by flat to gently sloping desert terrain of calchefied bedrock, alluvial deposits of sand and gravel, and windblown sand. Reddish-brown to brown sands, clay loams and clays, and rough stony ground support scrub brush and grasses. Toyah Lake, covering an area of 5½ miles in length and 2 miles in width, is the largest of many playas in Reeves County. Like other playas, it gives evidence of undeveloped drainage in the area. It is fed by two immature stream beds-Salt Draw from the west and Toyah Creek from the east. These normally dry draws pour rain water into the shallow depression of the playa after downpours. Toyah is an Indian word meaning "flowing water" or "much water." In 1582 the expedition of Antonio de Espejo marched down the Pecos River to the area of Toyah Lake, where the men met Jumano Indians who told them a more direct route for their return to La Junta.

Gomez Peak:

Gomez Peak is four miles southwest of the intersection of U.S. highways 290 and 80 and Interstate Highway 10, in northern Jeff Davis County (at 31°02' N, 104°04' W). The peak, with an elevation of 6,320 feet above sea level, rises 2,300 feet above the terrain at the Reeves county line, four miles south. The shallow, stony soils on the peak support Douglas fir, aspen, Arizona cypress, maple, ponderosa pine, and madrone.

San Solomon Springs:

San Solomon Springs (also known as Mescalero or Head Springs), the seventh largest group of springs in Texas, rises in southwestern Reeves County (at 30°57' N, 103°47' W) and flows into a swimming pool in Balmorhea State Park in Toyahvale. The Jumano and Mescalero Indians used the water to irrigate corn and peach trees. The springs flowed at an average rate of 230 gallons per second in 1900 and 1978. The springs are the home of several rare freshwater animals including the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Leon Springs pupfish, the original habitats of which have been destroyed, as well as the Pecos gambusia or mosquito fish, a small crustacean, and two kinds of aquatic snail. The terrain surrounding the springs is characterized by steep to gentle slopes with variable soil types. Vegetation consists primarily of scrub brush and sparse grasses.

Horsehead Draw:

Horsehead Draw, a valley with an intermittent stream, begins four miles northwest of the Halamicek Ranch headquarters in west central Reeves County (at 31°35' N, 103°52' W) and runs northeast nineteen miles to a point on the Pecos River, a mile northeast of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (at 31°41' N, 103°38' W). Smith Draw joins Horsehead a mile west of the Pecos. Horsehead Draw crosses an area of rolling terrain and steep to gentle slopes over caliche and alluvial sand, gravel, and mud. The soils vary from rough, stony ground to light reddish-brown to brown sands and clay loams. Local vegetation includes scrub brush, sparse grasses, creosote bush, and cacti. Horsehead Draw was likely named by the early Indians who inhabited the area.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: Barry Wade Hutcheson, The Trans-Pecos: A Historical Survey and Guide to Historic Sites (M.A. thesis, Texas Tech University, 1969).

The Pecos River:

The Pecos River, one of the major tributaries of the Rio Grande, rises on the western slope of the Santa Fe mountain range in Mora County, New Mexico (at 35°59' N, 105°33' W), and runs south through San Miguel, Guadalupe, De Baca, Chaves, and Eddy counties in New Mexico before it enters Texas just east of the 104th meridian. In Texas the river flows southeast, forming the boundary between Loving and Reeves, Reeves and Ward, Ward and Pecos, Pecos and Crane, Pecos and Crockett, and Crockett and Terrell counties. It then enters Val Verde County at its northwestern corner and angles across that county to its mouth (at 29°42' N, 101°22' W) on the Rio Grande in the Amistad Reservoir, between Comstock and Langtry some thirty-eight miles northwest of Del Rio. Through most of its more than 900-mile-long course, the Pecos River parallels the Rio Grande. The total drainage area of the Pecos in New Mexico and Texas is about 44,000 square miles. Most of its tributaries flow from the west; these include the Gallinas River, the Rio Hondo, the Rio Felix, the Rio Penasco, the Delaware River, Toyah Creek, and Comanche Creek. Entering the Pecos from the east are the tributaries Alamagordo, Taiban, Live Oak, and Howard. The topography of the river valley ranges from mountain pastures in the north, with an elevation of more than 13,000 feet above sea level, to grasslands, semiarid irrigated farmlands, desert with sparse vegetation, and, in the lowermost reaches of the river, deep canyons. The principal cities along the river in New Mexico are Las Vegas, Santa Rosa, Fort Sumner, Roswell, Artesia, and Carlsbad; in Texas, the main city on the river is Pecos, the Reeves county seat. In the early 1990s none of these places had a population of more than 40,000. Oil is produced in the eastern portion of the Pecos river valley, part of the Permian basin, and sulfur and potash are also important products.

In addition to being a county boundary stream, the Pecos serves as the eastern boundary of the most mountainous and arid region of Texas, generally known as the Trans-Pecos. From below Sheffield in eastern Pecos County to the river's confluence with the Rio Grande, it passes through a deep gorge, which has long constituted a barrier to transportation and which has prevented irrigation from this part of the lower Pecos. Elsewhere along the course of the river, however, the diversion and impoundment of its water has radically altered its appearance in Texas. Early-day travelers described the river as generally sixty-five to a hundred feet wide and seven to ten feet deep, with a fast current. It was fordable at only a few places, the most famous of which was the Horsehead Crossing. Irrigation from the upper section of the Pecos (between Girvin in northeastern Pecos County and the New Mexico boundary) began in 1877. Appreciable development of irrigation in this area, however, did not come until after 1888. Completion of the Red Bluff Reservoir (in Reeves and Loving counties, forty-five miles north of Pecos) and a hydroelectric power plant in 1936 made possible the creation of water-improvement districts in the lower valley. By the mid-1980s there were more than 400,000 acres under irrigation, using both surface and underground water; crops produced in the Pecos valley included cotton, alfalfa, forage, grain sorghums, vegetables, and fruits, especially cantaloupes. By that time the river was usually a small, shallow, narrow stream with a sluggish current; it was bordered by desert shrubs. Except during floods, its flow for a considerable distance downstream from the Red Bluff Reservoir consisted principally of releases and some reservoir seepage. Nonetheless, the Pecos can still become a dangerous river during heavy thunderstorms.

The earliest-known settlers along the river were the Pecos Pueblo Indians, who arrived about A.D. 800. Supposedly the first European to cross the river was Francisco Vázquez de Coronado, who reached the area in 1541. In 1583 Antonio de Espejo called the river the Río de las Vacas ("river of the cows") because of the number of buffalo in the vicinity. Gaspar Castaño de Sosa, who followed the Pecos northward, called it the Río Salado because of its salty taste, which caused it to be shunned by men and animals alike. According to Adolph F. Bandelier, the name Pecos first appears in Juan de Oñate's reports concerning the Indian pueblo of Cicuye, now known as the Pecos Pueblo, and is of unknown origin. To Mexicans the river was long known as the Río Puerco ("dirty river"). The earliest European settlement was founded about 1636 at San Miguel del Bado in the upper valley of the Pecos. With the Anglo-American occupation of Texas, the middle and upper Pecos valley became the chief western cattle trail to the north, as well as the site of several famous cattle ranches. A small church group settled at St. Gall, Texas, in 1845, and Fort Lancaster was built near the river in 1855. Except for settlement around the fort, the earliest Anglo settlement in Texas on the river was Pecos, founded in 1881 when the Texas and Pacific Railway crossed West Texas.

Water conservation practices on the Pecos River are overseen by the United States Bureau of Reclamation, along with the state engineer of New Mexico, the Pecos Valley Artesian Conservancy District, and the Carlsbad Irrigation District in the upper river valley. The Red Bluff Water Power Control District, along with its seven water improvement districts, oversees water use in the lower valley and works to provide equitable distribution of water supplies. For many years the amount of water available for irrigation was a matter of contention between New Mexico and Texas. Around 1948 the two states entered into an agreement known as the Pecos River Compact, which required New Mexico to maintain deliveries of water depending on the amount of water reaching the river in New Mexico by natural causes. Texas for years considered New Mexico to be deficient in living up to the terms of the contract and in 1974 filed suit. The United States Supreme Court ruled in June 1987 that New Mexico owed Texas 340,000 acre-feet of water for the period between 1950 and 1983, and ordered that New Mexico repay with deliveries of 34,000 acre-feet of water a year for ten years.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: J. Evetts Haley, Charles Goodnight (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1936; new ed., Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1949). Alton Hughes, Pecos: A History of the Pioneer West (Seagraves, Texas: Pioneer, 1978). Robert T. Lingle and Dee Linforth, The Pecos River Commission of New Mexico and Texas: A Report on a Decade of Progress, 1950-1960 (Santa Fe: Rydal Press, 1961). National Resources Planning Board, The Pecos River Joint Investigation (Washington: GPO, 1942). Ward County Historical Commission, Ward County (Dallas: Taylor, 1980?).

Delmar J. Hayter

 

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