There are many creeks and streams that flow across the varied terrains of North Texas. Most all course through neighborhoods and business park for at least part of their run. For a majority of these waterways their ultimate rendezvous is with the Trinity River, or one of its reservoirs. Along the way our creeks may flow over beds of silty black clay, sand, or gravel. Sandstone bases are common. Still other creeks carve out their channels through a bed of white Austin chalk.
North Texas creeks come with a colorful variety of names. Here’s a short list: Prairie Creek, Rowlett Creek, Office Creek, Indian Creek, Furneaux Creek, Denton Creek, Hickory Creek, Timber Creek, Cook’s Branch, Farmer’s Branch, Joe’s Creek, Bachman’s Branch, Dixon Branch, Duck Creek, Muddy Creek, Clear Creek, Cottonwood Creek, Long Branch, Spring Creek, Russel Creek, Pitman Creek, Watter’s Creek, Jackson Branch—to name a few.
Perhaps the best known of all of these is White Rock Creek—the Grande Dame of Dallas-area streams. White Rock Creek is—of course—named for the White Austin Chalk bed it flows through. Here is how The Texas Handbook Online describes this unique waterway:
“White Rock Creek rises two miles southeast of Frisco in southwestern Collin County (at 33°08′ N, 96°47′ W). Intermittent in its upper reaches, the creek follows a southerly course for 23½ miles into White Rock Lake. After the lake it continues south for another eight miles to its mouth on the Trinity River, two miles southeast of where the Interstate Highway 45 crosses the Trinity in Dallas (at 32°43′ N, 96°44′ W). The bed of the creek is composed predominantly of Austin chalk, which weathers, upon exposure, to a tan-white color. Some of the earliest settlements in Dallas County were on the creek, which was known as White Rock Creek by 1844, when the National Road of the Republic of Texas was surveyed across it. Although the creek for most of its course lies within the city of Dallas, the natural vegetation along its bank is undisturbed in many areas, which are generally heavily wooded, mainly with cedar elm, pecan, and ash.”
From its headwaters in Frisco, White Rock Creek follows a string of golf courses, parks, and upper-middle class neighborhoods south through Collin County. Approaching Dallas proper, the creek continues through similar, but older environs. Passing under LBJ Freeway, the creek shares its route with a concrete jogging/biking trail that well-conditioned athletes can follow all the way to White Rock Lake and beyond.
White Rock Lake, which is fed by White Rock Creek and ringed by a narrow buffer of fine parks, is perhaps the crown jewel of the Dallas Park System. Well preserved natural areas, beautiful views, and outstanding recreation are the hallmarks of this lake. We’ll start our tour of White Rock Creek here.
The creek approaches White Rock Lake through a surprisingly wild and isolated corridor. A few months back, back my son and I followed this route into the lake via kayak. It was an overcast and rainy day when we made our trip, adding a bit of murky drama to an already fascinating adventure.
The woods get denser as the creek flows under Loop 12. In some places the vegetation is so thick as to be nearly impassable on foot. But soon, the woods part and the creek widens as it morphs into the north end of White Rock Lake. Here over 1200 acres of water lay between us and the dam/spillway, a little over three miles due south. This is a wonderful urban lake. A real treasure for the residents of Dallas and its suburbs. Wikipedia records the following about its history:
Before it was a lake, White Rock Lake was a collection of farms owned by the Daniel and Cox families. The first record of the Daniel family farm is in the Family Bible of Thomas Walker Daniel. He and his wife Frances Herndon Daniel seem to have moved to the White Rock area in the late 1830s and early 1840s. Daniel’s son had a good friend during the civil war named Cox. When the war was over, the Cox family moved to land adjacent to the Daniel family. Together they had a joint family cemetery called the Daniel-Cox Cemetery. Other pioneer families such as the Humbards, the Glovers, Lavenders, McCommases, Coxes and Donagheys jointly maintained the cemetery.
Construction on White Rock Lake began in 1910 in response to a water shortage in Dallas. After the lake was completed in 1911, residential construction around the lake increased, and in the early 1930s the Dallas Park Board, with the help of the Civilian Conservation Corps, began developing the lakeshores into a municipal park. In 1943 the government used the barracks at Winfrey Point to house German prisoners of war who had served in Rommel’s Afrika Corps. In 1992 White Rock Lake Park was a center of recreational activity for central Dallas, providing picnic areas and bicycle and jogging paths.
As improbable as it may seem today, there was a time when a visit to White Rock Lake would require a drive out of town. Today, even with urban sprawl bastioned only by the thin margin of parkland, White Rock Lake still hosts a wide array of wildlife. Bald Eagles, American White Pelicans, Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, Coyotes, Bobcats, River Otters, Pileated Wood Peckers, Feral Hogs, and White-tailed Deer have all been seen around the lake. The list goes on and on. Almost every species of wildlife observable in North Texas has been found at White Rock Lake at one time or another. So to have a few very rare visitors like the Long-tailed Duck, the Mandarin Duck, the Horned Grebe, and others.
The White Rock Lake spillway—located in the southeast corner of the lake near the intersection of Garland Road and Winsted Drive—is an interesting place in it own right. Immediately adjacent is the thickly wooded old fish hatchery, which contributes to making this end of the lake an intriguing place for wildlife sightings as well. Bald Eagles, River Otters, and a number of other notable species have been observed here with some regularity.
At the spillway, White Rock Creek roars back to life, flowing over the spillway’s stair steps and then under Garland Road. Beginning again to the south, the creek flows through Tennison Golf Course and under Interstate 30. Next White Rock Creek continues under Military Parkway and Scene Road where it enters Dallas’s famed (infamous) Great Trinity Forest.
The Great Trinity Forest hold 6000 acres real North Texas forests—both old growth and new. Within its boundaries is a place as wild and undeveloped as can be imagined, just a few miles from downtown Dallas. Dense woods and foreboding swamps deny all but the most determined a closeup look at the waters of the creek in this part of the metroplex.
White Rock Creek valley is vast and wide here. The best views of the expansive creek valley are afforded along the Piedmont Ridge trail system on the east side. From there you can experience grand vistas of Great Trinity Forest and beyond.
White Rock Creek continues on past 2nd Avenue and then under C.F. Hawn Freeway where it enters William Blair Park. Cutting through the heart of the park, the creek continues its appointment with the confluence at the mighty Trinity River.
The confluence can be reached on foot, but summer heat and thick vegetation can make the trek demanding. This hike is best attempted in deep fall or winter, but I am hard-headed and we made our attempt in early summer. Pushing through the lush bottomland vegetation made the hike a real adventure. There are no well developed paths leading in to the intersection of White Rock Creek and the Trinity—you have to make your own way. Working off trail only adds to the challenge.
When we arrived at the confluence we were taken aback by the anti-climax. White Rock Creek trickles into the Trinity with a whimper, rather than the bang that might be expected. Along its route through the Great Trinity Forest the creek becomes only a shadow of how it appears around its namesake lake to the north.
Heading back out of the woods, we took a different route. This time we followed the Trinity River north until we picked up the Buckeye Trail. This concrete—but largely unused and over-grown—path leads quickly out of the forest and back to civilization.
Behind us we left a number of trail cameras. The pictures they would record would help complete our exploration of this part of the forest and reveal details about the wildlife that calls this area home. The result was this now famous composite picture of impressive DFW urban wildlife, each standing in roughly the same place, just 5 miles south of downtown Dallas.
Now that we have seen how White Creek ends, let’s look back to where it begins. The genesis of White Rock Creek—like we mentioned earlier—is nearly 32 miles to the north, hidden in a forgotten corner of an otherwise unnotable Frisco subdivision. If we pick up again at White Rock Lake and begin to work our way northward, we still have a Twenty-or-so mile trek against the current before we reach the source of White Rock Creek.
Along the way, White Rock Creek flows through a string of parks and golf courses as it makes its way out of Dallas proper. Olive Shapiro Park, R.P. Brooks Park, Fair Oaks Park, Harry S. Moss Park, and the Royal Oaks Country Club mark the way.
The creek continues under Central Expressway and pushes beneath LBJ Freeway, where it begins again to tie together another long sequence of parks and golf courses like jewels on a beaded necklace.
White Rock Creek traces out of North Dallas and into Plano at George Bush Expressway. Gleneagles Country Club greets the creek here. More parks, golf courses, and upscale neighborhoods escort the waters of White Rock Creek north to Sam Rayburn Parkway. We are only three miles or so from the source at this point.
Throughout its entire northern run, White Rock Creek remains rich in urban wildlife. Bobcats, Coyotes, Beaver, Red-tailed Hawks, Owls, and many other species make use of the bountiful bottomlands to secure their livelihoods. Some of our more adaptable wildlife use the habitats created by the creek as a refuge, all the while leveraging the abundance of the surrounding neighborhoods to augment their survival.
A number of relatively newly built Frisco subdivisions offer the creek company as it winds its way through this part of town. Developers have widened the creek channel and dammed its flow to create small, decorative lakes and water features in a number of these neighborhoods.
White Rock Creek twists and turns abruptly in these subdivisions, morphing into small lakes in some places, and narrowing to small concrete channels in others. And then the queen of all North Texas creeks diminishes abruptly. A short run of concrete directs just a trickle of water out of the darkness of an inconspicuous culvert extruding from under Hillcrest Road. These are the headwaters of White Rock Creek. That’s it. That’s where the wonderful waterway known as White Rock Creek begins—as street runoff in the heart of Frisco, Texas. That’s White Rock Creek—End to End.