Tag Archive: White Rock Lake


Whitecaps on White Rock!

White Rock Lake dam & spillway

It’s a bit mind-bending that Dallas, after a summer of record heat and drought, was doused by more than 4″ of rainfall in 24 hours earlier this week.

By Wednesday the spillway below the White Rock Lake dam – bone-dry enough to walk across as recently as September – had become a miniature Niagara flowing so briskly that birds fishing its surface were quickly swept downstream.

By Thursday morning the flood was cresting as upstream runoff continued to swell White Rock Creek.

 

 

 

White Rock Lake boathouse bridge

 

Rising water had spilled over onto the lake trail loop and was lapping at the undersides of its foot bridges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A stiff breeze was whipping up whitecaps.

White Rock Lake Corinthian Yacht Club

Dallas skyline from White Rock Lake Cultural Center

It was no surprise that the storm swept lots of refuse downstream, and as the water began to recede the shoreline was littered with twigs and tree limbs.

White Rock Lake rainstorm aftermath

The amount of man-made trash among it was truly sobering, and none among it was more was more prominent than unrecycled plastic and styrofoam packaging bearing the logos of the nation’s largest beverage bottlers and fast food chains.

No one seeing this could help but reflect upon the reality that it was only the tip of an iceberg.  It gives pause to wonder if, centuries into some post-apocalyptic future when man no longer walks this earth, this will be his only legacy.

White Rock Lake rainstorm aftermath

Unsung White Rock Creek

Rivers indelibly stamp the identities of cities like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City, and New Orleans, but Texas rivers are often an urban footnote and perhaps nowhere more so than in Dallas.  Flood prone and rarely navigable, the Trinity River made it easy for railroads to become the transportation of choice for Dallas passengers and freight.  While Dallas’s Trinity River Project promises to reposition the Trinity as an urban centerpiece, the Elm Fork has been hidden from view only blocks from downtown for the better part of a century and seen by most only in passing over its bridges.

White Rock Creek runs alongside Abrams near Royal

Even more unsung among many Dallasites is White Rock Creek.  Its anonymity is curious since it’s the thread upon which so many Dallas suburbs are strung that it’s arguably the metro’s signature urban waterway.   White Rock Creek travels incognito for almost 30 southwesterly miles from its source near Frisco to feed its namesake lake in Dallas, created by a dam built in 1911.  The lake served as a primary source of city water as late as 1950 and since 1971 as the focal point of the far more widely known White Rock Marathon.  The Creek takes its name from the chalk limestone through which its path was carved over thousands of years, and which is clearly visible for much of its length.

The Creek’s obscurity is in part happenstance, as it’s often well shielded from view by the trees which line its banks. Oddly, though, none of the overpasses which carrying geometrically gridded traffic over its meandering course bear an identifying plaque.

South of the LBJ, the Creek is very publicly accessible from a hiking and biking trail that runs continuously for more than 7 miles along its course, beginning just above the lake at Mockingbird Lane and meandering northwesterly through a wooded corridor before slipping under Greenville Avenue and the North Central Expressway to end at the intersection of Hillcrest and Valley View Lane.   Along the way it’s dotted with parks and recreation areas.

Private pond White Rock Creek pond near Spring Valley and Preston

North of the LBJ, public access is limited to a handful of pocket parks stretching from Addison through Plano.  The Creek is an unmarked water obstacle where it passes through area golf courses including Gleneagles, Preston Trail, Bent Tree, Prestonwood, Northwood, and Royal Oaks.  Hidden from public view in secluded neighborhoods are private ponds created from dammed tributaries.

The effect is to create two very different White Rock Creek experiences.  One is very public and inclusive, where the Creek serves to anchor the neighborhoods that surround it as a sort of public trust.  The other is private and exclusive, where the Creek was merely another piece of real estate to be developed.

American cities are built along rivers, railroads, or highways, but watching water flow lazily between wooded banks delivers a sense of rootedness and tranquility that that’s beyond the reach of a graveled rail bed or trucks speeding down an interstate.  White Rock Creek may be unsung, but it’s hard to imagine Dallas north of the Trinity without it.

Bicycle perspective

I blogged earlier about the way in which open windows free us from the quarantine of our airsealed homes and reconnect us to our neighborhood surroundings.

Opening windows is a good first step, but because it goes no further than to let the outside seep in seems to invite action far less passive.  It would be a delusion, though, to think that driving through the neighborhood fits the bill.  Most times we are as firmly airsealed into our vehicles as into our homes, consumed by the chatter of passengers, the blare of the radio, or the distraction of a cellphone.  My East Dallas neighborhood sprawls from Mockingbird Station to the lower end of White Rock Lake, and at almost any time of day plenty of dog walkers, joggers, and baby carriage pushers immerse themselves in the neighborhood at a pedestrian pace.

Bicycling, though, seems to strike a balance distinctively well-suited to this neighborhood.  It plunges the rider into the outside at a pace fast enough to deliver ever-changing scenery that’s still revealed slowly enough to be taken in fully.  Here, where most homes were built in the 1920’s and ‘30’s, it produces a particularly rich experience.  Trolleys and early autos and horse-drawn transit all

Home in Dallas’s Lakewood neighborhood

still shared these streets in their earliest days, and it’s reflected in the neighborhood’s intimate scale.  Here you can still see storefronts built in small clusters no further away from any home than a few blocks’ walk or a couple of trolley stops; more ambitious shopping in a vibrant downtown was within easy reach.   Here there is no tract housing; houses were still hand-crafted one at a time and today they present block after block of charming architectural diversity.  Here churches and schools are less often located at major crossroads and more often nested deep within the neighborhoods they serve.  Here trees are far older than homeowners, and in summer their filtering canopy renders the Texas heat and glare benign.  The Rustbelt neighborhood into which I was born and where I spent my early childhood was not unlike this, and each time I traverse it I’m also reconnected to a past that holds many warm memories.

Every time I drive through the suburbs there seems to me a sameness to them that throws a bland drape over existence there and I can’t wait to get back to my own turf.  Metropolitan Dallas sprawls across the landscape, continuously filling out and filling in.  Its neighborhoods are diced up by expressways that just as often separate as

Another home in Dallas’s Lakewood neighborhood

join together, and inhabited more and more by those born elsewhere who have little sense of Dallas’s soul. I’ve lived in nearly twenty different cities, some with far more going for them than others, but it’s been my experience that where you live in a city is at least as important as what city you live in.  Dallas’ soul is alive and well here in East Dallas, and the lives of those who live here are richer for it.

Chilling in Dallas

An antidote for the sweltering Dallas heat presents itself at 6AM every morning.  Even though eighty degree heat clutches at me as I walk the bicycle out to the street, in only the time it takes to crank through the gears my airstream becomes a steady breeze that chases it away.

1930’s Boat house on White Rock Lake

All across East Dallas a blanket of air chilled by lawn sprinklers hugs the ground beneath the shade of 90-year-old trees.

The route is a time machine that begins in the 1930’s and reaches backward for 50 more years:  Greenland Hills… Vickery Place… Lower Greenville… Swiss Avenue… Junius Heights.  Then it follows the paved Santa Fe Trail until it emerges from the trees at the old art deco public boathouse to reveal White Rock Lake brightening in faintest dawn.

Much of the route is well sheltered by overhanging trees, but nearly half of it circles the lake.  Ducks and geese are beginning to stir along the shoreline, die-hard fishermen are casting lines, and on occasion a lone oarsman pushes a scull through the water ahead of a solitary wake.

Fishermen at dawn on White Rock Lake

These summer doldrums beg for a cooling breeze to skate across the water, but even when the lake is becalmed and glassy the mere sight of so much water seems to refresh.

The rising sun finally catches the brightly colored sailboats bobbing at anchor around the marina and beyond them the downtown Dallas skyline glows a shade of  rose.

Not much further down the trail the cultural center which now occupies the 1930’s bath house is still hours away from opening.  Below the dam the spillway carries only a trickle of water, its parched stone terraces looking like some fairytale giant’s staircase.

The sun arcs toward another 100-plus-degree day, but I arrive home to begin the day thoroughly chilled out by my sunrise excursion.

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