She also thinks lakes, which often are unincorporated, drive up police enforcement costs for the counties they are in without necessarily contributing an offsetting amount of new tax revenue.

Salter said the biggest hurdle new reservoirs may face in the future is a more sophisticated rural population, more concerned with conservation. "We are beginning to understand that if we don't work cooperatively, the major metro areas are going to come in and take our resources from us and leave us virtually nothing in return."

That kind of talk is music to the ears of people like Janice Bezanson, executive director of the Texas Conservation Alliance, arguably the most influential conservation group in Texas. Bezanson calls reservoirs, even the ones that offer good fishing, "an essentially urban use."

My son, Will, loaded the canoe at U.S. Highway 79 between Palestine and Jacksonville. On our trip down the Neches River, we paddled through
idyllic scenes of nature,
but we also saw signs of the “undesirable social elements” we had been warned to avoid.
My son, Will, loaded the canoe at U.S. Highway 79 between Palestine and Jacksonville. On our trip down the Neches River, we paddled through idyllic scenes of nature, but we also saw signs of the “undesirable social elements” we had been warned to avoid.

"Rural landowners are not looking for a big lake and marina," she told me. "They know that big lakes bring people who roar up and down on their four-wheelers. Some of these lakes have attracted drug-dealing operations. You have a lot more roads to maintain at county expense. They litter, they trespass. It becomes an urban use, and it totally changes the character of the area."

That may all be true, but I am drawn back to Dallas city manager Suhm's point—that without reservoirs there can be no great cities. Great cities are going to grow. So will their water needs. So must their reservoirs.

The next morning, Will and I delay our departure until 9 a.m. because we are worried about finishing the trip too soon. We are supposed to meet Banks on Highway 84 at 5:30 p.m. I brought along a handheld GPS, a device that reads satellite signals and tells us where we are, and it's telling me we have only a six-hour journey ahead. We plan to stop along the way for lunch and maybe a nap, rather than wait for our ride two or three hours by the highway.

This day is cooler, and the sun is bright and clean on the water. The river is higher and faster today, but it's broad and not too busy with fallen trees. So much for Dennis Hopper's predictions.

On our right a deer bounds away from us toward a group of deer deeper in the woods. They all explode off through the trees, kicking up a silver cloud of floodwater with their hooves.

Twice we find ourselves suddenly and unexpectedly off the main channel, floating through the woods on floodwater. Will cranes forward, waves me this way and that until we get the canoe back into a current. Both times the current carries us back out into the channel.

At about noon we are passing a high bank. Behind it are low, wooded hills. We pull up for lunch. We're trespassing on hunt club land. After we eat, he stretches out on a sleeping pad in the sun. The air is cool for me, so I put my tent up and take a nap inside. At about 2 p.m. we are back in the river. I check the GPS. Looks like we'll still get to Highway 84 an hour and a half ahead of our ride.

We cut across a couple more oxbows. The river is much higher here. The fallen trees are more frequent, and now we seem to have a problem with trees simply growing in the center of the channel. All of a sudden it's touch and go again, dodging through fallen trees in fast water, trying to keep track of the main channel, hoping not to capsize. Somewhere Dennis Hopper just spat.

We have paddled down a long, straight stretch where the current has slowed again. Now we are floating quietly on still water in an eerie graveyard of dead trees sticking up out of the water. We find a derelict duck blind floating crookedly on steel barrels. It's 3:30 when I check the GPS again, and suddenly I feel a catch in my throat.

The GPS shows no river at all. I punch buttons to zoom out and view the map from a broader perspective. Now I see the river. It's at least half a mile east of where we are right now. That means that the straight stretch with the slowing current, which I thought was the main channel, was not. We are nowhere.

I tell Will we have lost the river, according to the GPS. To get back to the river, we must turn to our left 90 degrees, due east.

There is water due east, but it flows off into a jungle so deep and dark, so woven with vegetation, it reminds me of the thorny vines around Sleeping Beauty's castle. He says we should not turn but follow the open water ahead. I disagree. I don't know where the open water is going. We must obey the GPS. I prevail. We turn and try to fight our way through the jungle.

Now another hour is gone. We have returned to the fatter, hairier spider spot. Our canoe is lodged between vines and tree trunks, unable to move. Will has climbed trees twice to try to see out of here, with no luck. Even from up there it's Sleeping Beauty's thorn garden as far as the eye can see. All around us, fallen leaves turn on the dead water in lazy, wind-blown circles.

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