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With adequate development of its water-based resources, Amistad Reservoir will remedy one of the most serious outdoor recreation deficiencies in the Southwest. The Amistad Project lies in a region characterized not only by easy access from burgeoning population centers but also by a relative scarcity of outdoor recreation opportunities to serve them. Few facilities of any kind exist within 150 miles of Amistad, and though other reservoirs are found between 150 and 300 miles away, none competes with Amistad in recreation potential.

Contributing to its eminence as an outstanding new recreation asset in a region of short supply, the location of Amistad Reservoir astride the United States-Mexico border is highly significant. This very situation which gives Amistad high promise for serving the peoples of the two countries invests it with an international allure that is unique among projects of comparable scope and purpose.

Amistad Reservoir also enjoys a salutary relationship in the total land-use pattern of the region. The economic uses being obliterated by the project have a relatively low value in comparison with those to be substituted, without considering the activity that the project will stimulate on lands outside its boundaries. The net impact on the regional economy should be very beneficial.

Access Map. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)



Automobile: The Access and Regional Maps show the network of highways linking the Amistad Reservoir with the Southwest. Straddling the United States-Mexico border, the Amistad Dam on the Rio Grande is 12 miles west of the town of Del Rio, Texas. U.S. Highways 90 and 277 intersect 4 miles north of this community, providing easy automobile access from all directions in the country.

About 155 miles east of Del Rio on U.S. 90 is San Antonio, where two major interstate highways—35 and 10—intersect. With its connections with other heavily traveled routes, Interstate 35 is the principal north-south artery funneling traffic into Mexico from the United States. Within Texas it extends south from the Fort Worth-Dallas metropolitan complex, through Austin and San Antonio, to the Mexican border at Laredo. The extension of this route in Mexico, Federal Highway 85, is designated the Inter-American Highway, part of the Pan-American Highway System.

Interstate 10 connects Los Angeles on the west coast with Jacksonville, Florida on the east; San Antonio is the midpoint, flanked by El Paso and Phoenix on the west, Houston and New Orleans on the east. This transcontinental route, a heavy carrier of winter recreation traffic, skirts the Amistad area to the north at distances of 60 to 80 miles.

Paralleling this important highway, U.S. 90 is a well-traveled alternate between San Antonio and El Paso. Westward from Del Rio it soon crosses the Amistad Reservoir basin in two places and then remains close to the Rio Grande arm of the reservoir as far as Langtry, where "Judge" Roy Bean's legendary "Law West of the Pecos" saloon-courtroom still stands. From here the highway proceeds through the scenic border country until it rejoins Interstate 10 at Van Horn, Texas. En route it passes within 40 miles of the spectacular Big Bend National Park and 21 miles of Fort Davis National Historic Site, and traverses many miles of the appealing Davis Mountains region.

U.S. 277 is the principal north-south direct access to the Amistad area. Beginning at Oklahoma City, it runs south through the Texas cities of Wichita Falls, Abilene, and San Angelo, crosses Interstate 10 at Sonora, and traverses an arm of Amistad Reservoir just before joining U.S. 90 and reaching Del Rio. Both 90 and 277 bring large numbers of winter visitors through Del Rio from the colder northern climates, these travelers continuing southeast on 277 for the balmy lower Rio Grande Valley.

Del Rio is linked by an international bridge with Ciudad Acuna, its sister city immediately across the Rio Grande in Mexico. Visitors from Mexico City and much of interior Mexico can reach Ciudad Acuna directly by a newly paved road branching off of northbound Federal Highway 57. A longer approach is made by remaining on 57 to its terminus at Piedras Negras on the Rio Grande, and then following Federal Highway 2 northerly up the river to Acuna. The Mexican side of the dam is accessible via a new highway west out of Acuna. When the dam is completed, a road across its top will afford a loop drive between the two cities. Mexico plans eventually to extend the access road westerly on the south side of Amistad Reservoir and then generally paralleling the Rio Grande up to Juarez, possibly continuing on to the west coast at Tijuana. Hundreds of miles of such a route already exist as detached segments of Highway 2, principally along the Rio out of Juarez, and all the way from near Nogales to Tijuana.

The recreation development sites on the U.S. side will have ready access from Highways 90 and 277. The former road passes directly through the sites designated as Diablo East and Diablo West and it skirts those at Pecos River and Langtry (see General Development Plan, page 56). A short spur will serve the lower Rio Grande site immediately below the dam. A new access road of about 5 miles length will be needed to reach the Comstock site from the highway. U.S. 277 passes through the San Pedro site, an existing 7-mile federally owned road leads from this highway to the Rough Canyon site on the Devils River, and the Government owns right-of-way for a future connection between the highway and the Long Point site.

Airplane, Railway, and Bus: Airstrips for light plane access will be provided at Diablo West and Comstock. The 1965 FAA census of planes and pilots in Texas counted 7,971 licensed private planes—the second highest number of all the States. The count also showed 13,900 licensed pilots and 9,000 student pilots in Texas.

Del Rio has recently rebuilt and paved the 3,500-foot runway at the city-owned airport. Nationwide airline system flights do not presently stop here, but there is regularly scheduled air service between Del Rio and San Antonio by a small local firm. The Southern Pacific Railroad's Sunset Limited between Los Angeles and New Orleans provides daily passenger service to Del Rio. Adequate daily bus transportation is also available between Del Rio and all surrounding cities. Ciudad Acuna has a bus line that serves it from Mexico.


The American sector of Amistad Reservoir is wholly within Val Verde County, Texas. County population is sparse, amounting to about two persons per square mile, most of it being concentrated in the county seat of Del Rio. The 1968 issue of the Texas Almanac estimates 28,135 people in the county, 22,016 of these residing in Del Rio. A study of Del Rio in 1964 by the University of Texas Bureau of Business Research predicted a 1989 population of 33,542 for the city. The balance of the county population will remain light and will even decline because of mechanization of its ranching operations.

Population density increases markedly with distance from the reservoir area in most directions. The 1960 census showed 90,000 within a 100-mile radius of Del Rio, 2.3 million within 250 miles, and 7.7 million within 350 miles (all figures for U.S. only). Three-fourths of the people in this last zone are urban dwellers, reflecting a continuing population shift away from rural areas. The zone contains 15 metropolitan centers, including those of San Antonio, the Dallas-Fort Worth complex, and Houston. Houston is now rated the sixth largest city in the United States and one of the fastest growing.

From 1950 to 1960 the population of Texas increased 24.3 percent to 9,580,000 as compared to an 18.5-percent increase for the United States as a whole. The estimated count for 1966 was 10,711,000. Predictions for 1975 approach 12 million, which will rank Texas as the third most populous State. Almost no point in Texas is more than 500 miles from Amistad.

On the Mexican side of the reservoir the pattern is similar in that the urban areas have most of the people and the rural country is very sparsely settled. Within 300 miles of Cuidad Acuna are approximately 1.5 million people, with about 25,000 in the city itself. Other major cities within this zone are Monterrey with 822,000, Torreon with 213,000, Saltillo with 118,000, Nuevo Laredo with 94,000, Monclova with 75,000, and Piedras Negras with 43,000.


Amistad Reservoir will be a conspicuous exception in a large region almost totally devoid of public outdoor recreation opportunities. Following is an account of the few existing facilities.

Within the city limits of Del Rio are the interesting Sari Felipe Springs, copious source of water for the community. Around the springs is a private golf course and downstream from it is a small public park with a few picnic tables, playground, and swimming area. The city has several other small urban parks within its bounds.

Some private recreation facilities at two small hydroelectric impoundments on the Devils River north of Del Rio were formerly important in the regional picture, but these will be inundated by Amistad Reservoir and replaced by its public use developments. At Langtry, about 60 miles west of Del Rio, is the Highway Department's historical museum in which are preserved and exhibited artifacts of the era of "Judge" Roy Bean's self-proclaimed "Law West of the Pecos." A small picnic area is provided here.

The only other tourist attractions within 100 miles of Del Rio are the Caverns of Sonora near the town of that name 90 miles to the north and Garner State Park 30 miles north of Uvalde, which is 72 miles east of Del Rio. The privately owned caverns constitute an outstanding feature which was placed on the National Registry of Natural Landmarks in 1966. The State park memorializes former Vice President John Nance Garner whose home was in Uvalde. It contains about 630 acres of recreational lands, including campgrounds, cabins, and fishing. The town of Uvalde maintains the Garner Memorial Museum in that community.

Kerrville State Park in Kerr County is about 175 miles east of Del Rio by road. This 487-acre recreational area along the Guadalupe River also provides camping and fishing. Beyond this range, outdoor recreation is centered around the cities of San Angelo and San Antonio which have numerous small reservoirs open to fishing and boating. Many of these are surrounded by private property which limits public access. The Kerrville-San Antonio area is also the threshold of central Texas' highly popular "Hill Country," a recreational region rich in spring-fed streams, caves, rolling hills, dude ranches, summer camps, and hunting places. Sizeable reservoirs are lacking in this broad zone, however.

About 270 miles downstream from Amistad is Falcon Reservoir, formed by the International Boundary and Water Commission's first dam on the Rio Grande. Completed in 1953, this project has very little public recreational use because the shoreline is almost entirely privately owned. A 572-acre State park near the dam provides some recreational facilities.

Due west of Amistad is Big Bend National Park. Although its spectacular mountain and desert scenery is a very significant resource, it does not fulfill the need for water-based recreation and is some 250 miles farther from the major population centers of Texas. Fort Davis National Historic Site is 230 miles west of Del Rio, and Padre Island National Seashore is 300 to 420 miles to the southeast.

Little is known about comparable opportunities on the Mexican side of the border, but they are believed to be of the same or greater sparsity.

Regional Map. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)


Amistad Reservoir lies in a region of moisture contrasts. Except along the project's three main impounded streams—the Rio Grande and the Pecos and Devils Rivers—water is extremely scarce throughout the area. Virtually all of the tributary canyons are dry and carry water only during periods of rain, yet there are several large springs within the main gorges. All those in the project area will be submerged. The most notable is the Goodenough Spring on the Rio Grande near the midpoint of the reservoir. It is one of the largest in the United States. The Devils River is almost entirely spring fed from sources in its upper reaches. Just outside the reservoir are San Felipe Springs, Del Rio's water supply.

With a generally thin soil and vegetative cover reflecting the semiarid environment of the region, the Amistad Reservoir basin is essentially an area of modest-capacity livestock production. Lands on the United States side are now used almost solely for sheep and goat grazing (Del Rio describes itself as the mohair capital of the country). Limited cattle and horse raising may be successful during times of adequate rainfall.

Relatively large ranches averaging about 10,000 acres cover the area. Their size and a traditional resentment toward intruders during critical phases of livestock breeding have restricted public road access in the reservoir vicinity. Privately controlled hunting has been the only public use of these lands. In the absence of any publicly owned lands in this part of Texas, hunting is by lease arrangements with some of the ranches. The owners find the income from such sources to be a welcome supplement to earnings from ranching operations on this somewhat marginal land. White tail deer hunting is most popular, bringing lease fees of from $.25 to $.50 per acre per year.

A type of use which has already been terminated by the Amistad Project was the generation of hydroelectric power at two small tandem dams on the Devils River. Their narrow reservoirs—named Lake Walk and Devils Lake respectively in the upstream direction—are both linear, confined within the limestone walls of the river canyon. They and the private recreational facilities along their shores have been acquired in their entirety and closed because all will be inundated by the Amistad Reservoir. However, both lakes will periodically re-emerge as entities when Amistad is drawn down to their respective levels—1,040 feet for Devils Lake and 1,000 feet for Lake Walk. These two small segments of the superimposed Amistad Reservoir, then, can never fall below the particular elevations cited. The lower level will rarely be reached.

Quality public stream fishing is available at a small undeveloped county park on the Devils River below Lake Walk. This has been one of the most heavily fished reaches of stream in Texas. Although this portion of the river will be inundated by Amistad Reservoir, its present use indicates the nature of the fishing to be expected in the Devils' clear spring-fed waters upstream from the impounded level within the recreation area. There is little precedent for fishing on the Rio Grande and Pecos sectors of the area because of restricted access across the private lands.

In a State renowned for oil and gas production, the Amistad region is virtually devoid of either. A few holes have been drilled, but all are dry. In spite of negative results, exploratory activity has been extensive in the past few years. Oil and gas leases held by large corporations cover most if not all of the lands bordering and underlying the reservoir. The Federal acquisition program for most of the project lands does not include the mineral estate.

With construction of the Amistad Project, the appearance of numerous private housing subdivision tracts on lands immediately outside the reservoir takeline heralds a distinct new trend. Landowners are selling or leasing the property for both permanent and vacation home development. Beneficial as this activity will be to the regional economy, management problems for the national recreation area, stemming from pressures for private access privileges to the reservoir, can be anticipated.

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Last Updated: 26-Mar-2007