Texas: Grapevine Lake

December morning at Katie’s Woods, Grapevine Lake.

Grapevine Lake is an artificial reservoir in the Trinity River basin northwest of the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. The lake lies in north Grapevine near the border of Denton County and Tarrant County on Denton Creek, a tributary of the Elm Fork of the Trinity River. The reservoir, which was built for flood control, is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In 1945 the federal government authorized the lake to tame Denton Creek, which overflowed every spring. And so the condemning of land began—some 12,000 acres. Where the lake now stands once dairy and produce farms flourished. As one historian recalled, people were angry and suspicious, but they had no choice. They said it was progress. Some residents had lived on Denton Creek all their lives and it pained them to see their homes moved, most to the neighboring town of Grapevine. 

Construction of the lake began in March 1945 with the 12,850-foot dam started in January 1948. Both the dam and lake were completed in 1952 at a cost of $11.8 million. 

Locals were told that it would take 10 years for the lake to fill, but as the locals predicted, it filled during the first big rain. After all, the bottomlands reside in the Trinity River floodplain. 

Sailboats on a cloudy October day at Grapevine Lake.

In fact, the lake filled so fast that after 62 years pieces of machinery still rest undisturbed at the bottom of the lake: a mammoth gravel washer and a towering conveyor, as well as a tractor and two dump trucks.

The towns that surround Grapevine Lake are Grapevine, Southlake, Trophy Club, Roanoke, and Flower Mound, but only three municipalities have water rights to the lake: the city of Grapevine, the city of Dallas, and the Dallas County Park Cities—Highland Park and University Park.

Not only is Lake Grapevine a water source for the above mentioned cities, it is also a recreational wonderland. Learn more: Grapevine Parks and Recreation Master Plan. 

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Texas: Keller, Part 2

Fort Worth on the Trinity River

Keller, Texas, located in the Eastern Cross Timbers region, is on U.S. Highway 377 approximately fifteen miles north of Fort Worth in northeast Tarrant County. The town was settled in the early 1850s, although some pioneers had come to the area prior to this date. One of the earlier settlers was Daniel Barcroft who founded Mount Gilead Baptist Church in 1852. One street near the church is named after him, but was misspelled and reads Bancroft Road.

In 1879, rumors spread that the Texas and Pacific Railway planned to push into the northern district of the county prompting more pioneers to gravitate to the region to be close to the railway route. They called their settlement Athol.

Hoping to have a permanent stop on the line, and supposedly at the urging of a Texas Pacific official named Keller, the settlers agreed to name their town Keller if Athol became a stop on the rail line. Evidently, Athol got their whistle-stop. In 1882 the town abstracts show the town as Keller.

Earlier settlers described the Cross Timbers region as being a dense forest of oaks, so impenetrable that they could not pass on horseback without felling some trees. Here the new Texans built homes, grew their gardens, raised peaches and pears, and—hogs—for the area had a plentiful supply of acorns from all the oak trees. Grapevines grew wild and profuse and the close proximity of the Trinity River supplied them with game, but more importantly the water source they needed for cattle raising and farming. 

Today, those early pioneers have long departed this earth, but I have to wonder, did they leave behind a feral legacy? You decide: Southlake Feral Hog Population

Side note: At 710 miles long, the Trinity is the longest river that flows exclusively in the state of Texas. Its four branches include the West Fork, Clear Fork, Elm Fork and East Fork.

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Swakopmund Floods 1974

Toward the end of April, I had planned to launch a series of posts about Texas, as CLON-X is set in the Lone Star State. But life interfered with COVID-19, and stay-at-home orders prevented any nonessential trips, such as our plans to visit Big Bend or even closer to home—Dallas.

So last week, I was pretty sure I had run out of material for future blog posts, and was content to focus on my current thriller with a working title of OM, as well as constructing the backbone for our nonfiction book about how a giant schnauzer transformed the Darcy McClain and Bullet Thriller Series.

Then, I stumbled upon a box of old family albums collecting dust in our garage, the last holdouts from my parents belongings after my mother passed away this year. Unfortunately, most of the photos have faded to a blurry yellow patina, and in others, you can barely recognize the people, unless you are very familiar with the subjects.

During my photo album search, I came upon a series of black-and-whites of the 1974 Swakopmund flood and wanted to share them with you. Darcy lived in Swakopmund as a youngster and that’s the connection between the thriller series and this post. In book six, her past will resurface when an old friend contacts her, drawing her into a dangerous game of cat and mouse.

After graduating from the University of Oregon in 1974, I made the long trip from Eugene, Oregon to Swakopmund, South West Africa—now Namibia—to visit my parents. The company my father worked for at the time had contracted with NamWater to build southern Africa’s first large seawater desalination plant to supply a nearby uranium mine and the city of Swakopmund with water.

Namibia’s climate is hot and dry with erratic rainfall, and their two rainy seasons are in the summer. The Namib—Nama for “vast”—is a coastal desert that extends for 1,200 miles along the South Atlantic coast of Southern Africa and is second in aridity only to the Sahara.

Despite being a mineral-rich region—diamonds, silver, tungsten, lead, zinc, tin, uranium, and copper—water is more precious. Only the Cunene River, which is shared with Angola, provides drinking water for four northern regions of Namibia.

While survival can be a struggle in the Namib, this surreal landscape of towering, windswept, copper-red sand dunes that undulate to a cobalt blue ocean, blurring the line between water and sky, captivated me the moment I stepped off the puddle jumper from Windhoek, Namibia’s capital.

Flash flooding in the desert is common, but I had no idea I would be in Swakop to experience the sight firsthand: Mother Nature in all her force. While living in Africa, I also experienced my most severe earthquake—the Ceres quake in the town of Wellington, South Africa.



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