15-Nov-2003 -- After snagging my tenth confluence in September, I immediately started making plans for the next DCP adventure. The area with the highest concentration of unvisited confluences in the forty-eight states was Texas, with five remaining to be visited at that time. I started making plans to visit all five during a long weekend in October or November. Given the size of Texas, I was lucky they were as collocated as they were! Repeated attempts to obtain permission to visit 27°N, 98°W (on the King Ranch) were denied. The call of the virgin confluence led me to pursue one well out of my experience base, the marshy point at 30°N, 94°W. Despite obtaining permission, I was really apprehensive about tackling this confluence, especially after hearing tales from a nearby resident of eight-foot alligators, water snakes every foot or so, thick mangroves, and mosquitoes so large they "wear tennis shoes and carry you off." Imagine my relief when another gentlemen logged a successful visit to this challenging confluence during my planning period! I decided I would try to visit the other three virgin confluences in Texas, all conveniently located (more or less) near San Antonio, during one weekend in mid-November, 2003.
As is my nature as an anal-retentive engineer, I planned the trip nearly two months in advance. Through endless phone calls and explanations of the DCP mission, I finally obtained contact information for the landowners of these Texas confluences. They then granted me permission to visit the three confluence points, proving just how hospitable Texans truly are. I knew it would be challenge--a stranger (from California, no less) calling up to obtain access to their private property. I usually would start these conversations by telling them I'm not a hunter, fisherman, environmentalist, or (worst of all) a telemarketer; this generally kept the landowners on the line long enough to hear about DCP and their unique connection to the project.
Of all of my confluences to date, obtaining permission to visit 30°N, 102°W was the easiest. To date, I still have not spoken directly with the landowner! I called his number and left a message about my desire to visit this point on his property; he left a message on my voicemail (phone tag, you're it!) within twenty-four hours, granting me permission! He gave me his blessing to contact another gentleman, the manager of the sheep ranch containing the confluence point. I had some wonderful conversations with the ranch manager during the planning portions of the trip, mainly about their local six-man football team. My dad played eight-man high school ball in western Kansas, but the concept of six-man football really blew my mind.
Anyway, I left LAX at 1 am PST on Saturday, November 15, 2003, after a late shift at work, some great Mediterranean food, and a wonderful concert by the Caltech Concert Band. Thankfully, I slept a bit on the relatively short flight to Dallas on American Airlines. Groggy, I arrived around 6 am CST, with an hour layover before my nearly parabolic flight to San Antonio. I scored exit rows on both flights, which helped me get a little more rest before my busy weekend of confluence hunting. I arrived at San Antonio International around 8 am local, right on time. It was cool and drizzly, but what a nice change from the autumn heat of Southern California. I picked up my blue Dodge Neon and headed west on I-10, cranking CD's most people wouldn't be caught dead with in Texas. The weather was inclement, but only in patches. I was hoping to see a lot of wildlife on this trip, and I did get my wish, though most of it was of the road-kill variety. The occasional splash of fall color was a nice treat, though.
I decided to stop in the town of Sonora for lunch and gasoline (well, my bladder actually was playing dictator by this point). I found a Dairy Queen, a naughty outpost from my youth in the Midwest. There are no DQ's in Southern California, so I decided to indulge in a burger, fries, Dr. Pepper, and a wee hot fudge sundae. The drive west of Sonora turned very scenic, with beautiful views of Texas hill country. I made great time to the town of Sheffield and then took Highway 349 to Dryden, a gorgeous, sixty-mile drive through the hills. I wanted to take a picture of a lonely windmill, but could never find a good stopping point to do so. I finally managed to make my windmill stop less than ten miles from Dryden. At the town of Dryden, I turned left on Highway 90 and went about eight miles to my turn-off for the ranch. I had no trouble finding the ranch or even working the gate, a remarkable achievement by someone with so little common sense. I was right on time, too, since the ranch manager was expecting me between 2-3 pm.
I met the ranch manager's daughter and son-in-law within a few minutes. As I went to shake the son-in-law's hand, he pulled it away, saying it wasn't a good idea. I looked down and noticed he was covered in blood. Hoping I hadn't stumbled into a real-life horror movie, I shot a quizzical look his way. He told me he had just slaughtered a javelina (an ugly, wild pig of Texas) in order to mount his head! Boy, I should have taken a picture of that! The ranch manager then cracked me up when he saw my shorts and t-shirt and told me to "put on my long britches"-I haven't heard that term since I was growing up in Kansas. It was very sage advice, given the pernicious flora awaiting me on the way to 30°N, 102°W.
The ranch manager and I set off for the confluence in his pick-up around 3:15 pm CST, hours before dusk. We crossed Highway 90 and entered another part of the ranch behind a posted gate. We took a quick gander at the map before leaving; he had a very good idea how to get to the confluence. We could have actually driven directly to the confluence via another route, but we would have had to cross property belonging to two other landowners. The route we took crossed the manager's 3500-acre ranch, with about 300-400 Dorper-St. Croix-Rambouillet crossbred sheep ruling the land. They were very skittish, though, with dozens of them fleeing the truck as we drove up the ranch road.
We navigated within 0.16 miles on the ranch road itself, and then prepared for some difficult bushwhacking. Moreover, there was a large creek bed with fairly steep slopes separating us from 30°N, 102°W. I had seen Prairie Creek on my topographic maps, not anticipating we would actually have to cross it! I soon found out a rule of west Texas geography-streambeds are generally dry unless it has just rained. This was a relief after the challenge of bushwhacking through mesquite, cat's claw, tasajillo, prickly pear, blackbrush, hackberry, and broomweed. As the ranch manager said, out in these deserts if it doesn't bite ya, it'll stick ya! I only had a few minor cuts and scrapes after navigating the heavy brush. Climbing north out of the creek bed was a bit challenging, due to the steepness of the slope, the associated need to switchback, and the "grabby" plants. I did pause to take a picture of a nice prickly pear cactus, though. Other flora visible from the confluence area included agarita berry (which apparently makes a nice jelly), persimmon and cedar trees, yucca plants, Soto cacti, guayacan soapbush, and an unidentified, small yellow flower. The ranch manager called this flower a "weed" because even the sheep won't eat it. The landscape was far more colorful than usual, due to an unusually large amount of rain during the prior two months.
On our journey north out of the dry bed of Prairie Creek, we apparently found the wildlife latrine. Within a few square feet, we spotted raccoon, sheep, and gray fox scat. Watching where we stepped, we recognized that animals, too, are leery of sticking plants, so their route may well be the best one for humans as well. Other fauna known to inhabit this local semi-arid desert include ring tailed cat, desert mule deer, whitetail deer, bobcat, jackrabbit, cottontail, rattlesnake, skunk, javelina, red-tail hawk, golden eagle, and blue quail. Deer especially were abundant, which probably explains the plethora of deer hunters I spied in the area.
After leaving the brushy area on the north slope of Prairie Creek, the topography flattened and the short trek to the confluence was trivial. With my trusty Garmin etrex Legend leading the way, we had little trouble locating 30°N, 102°W. I took the requisite digital pictures from the site in the four cardinal and four diagonal directions. My Nikon CoolPix 3500 worked like a champ, though I did have a cheap, throwaway camera for redundancy. As usual, obtaining the coveted "all zeroes" shot on the GPS using a digital camera was a bit of a challenge, but persistence eventually paid off. I remained at this site for some time, so my Garmin unit settled down quite nicely. With eight satellites tracking, I managed a GPS accuracy of 8 feet (2.4 meters). The altitude measurement at this location, again from the GPS, was 1888 feet (575 meters). This agrees extremely well with estimates based on detailed topographic maps, since the confluence is just inside the 1890-foot-elevation contour.
To the northeast, railroad tracks pass just a few tenths of mile from the confluence. A freight train came by during our time at the DCP point, though I was unable to snap a photograph in time to document the moment. The landowner pointed out that this is the southernmost railroad line in the United States, with freight and passengers traveling all the way between Florida and California on these tracks. The freight train engine sported "Union Pacific" since they bought out Southern Pacific a few years ago. I'm a train buff, anyway, so this was a wonderful way to end this confluence visit. While I was futzing with the cameras and GPS, the ranch manager planned our return route to be less arduous, and his planning paid off handsomely. We had little trouble navigating the brush for the return journey to the truck. Once there, I took a swig of water and started querying the ranch manager about the fauna in the area and the flora we had seen. I was frantically taking dictation in my confluence notebook, though the notes ended up being largely indecipherable due to the poor ranch road conditions. On our trip back to the ranch, some beautiful white-tail doe leaped across the road in front of us, barely escaping some deer hunters we passed immediately afterwards.
Back at the ranch house, I changed into my usual shorts, thanked the landowners, and bid everyone a fond farewell. I did see the son-in-law and another gentleman, cheeks full of chaw, just as I left. They were returning from an unsuccessful deer hunt. I gloated just a tiny bit about being successful with my "hunt," but, in a rare moment of humility, I reminded them that my target only moves on geologic time scales! From the ranch, I set off on Highway 90 eastbound as twilight fell. The view of the Pecos River valley from Highway 90 was something to behold, and I made pretty good time to Del Rio. I checked into the Days Inn and enjoyed my suite-$41 including tax! This deal was an Internet special, and the room had a few problems, but how could one complain given this rate?
I was utterly exhausted, but I decided to wind down a bit before another big day of confluence hunting. Since I was a mere four miles from the Mexican border in south Texas, I decided I would try to find some good Texas cuisine or Mexican food for dinner. I was so pooped, though, that the allure of the bar and grill next door was too strong to ignore. To my delight, I was treated to an unbelievable meal of chicken fried steak (best I've ever had), a baked potato with sour cream and fresh chives, a nice salad bar, and iced tea-all for $11, including a very generous tip! Boy, this is not Southern California, that's abundantly clear! The bar and grill had a pool table, so I decided to shoot some stick, solo. For the first time in my life, I made the eight ball on the break! I looked around, but no one had witnessed my rare feat. Oh, well. I finished that game of solids and stripes sans eight ball and played one more before retiring to my suite. After a quick shower and some TV, my circuits shut down around 10 pm local time (that's 8 pm PST!). The only way for a night-owl like me to travel east is to take a red-eye. I've found it's the easiest way to get to bed at a reasonable hour after cranking the clock forward. My red-eye (and confluence adventure) certainly did the trick here. After all, the confluence of 29°N and 100°W was beckoning, and daylight hours are short these days.
I would like to thank the landowner and ranch manager for enabling this enjoyable confluence adventure. I wish you the best of luck in ranching, six-man football, and life. You truly are blessed to live in this little slice of heaven known as west Texas.