17-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.
I logged a successful visit to 30°N, 102°W on Saturday, November 15, 2003, during a nice tour of west Texas. Similarly, I was triumphant in snagging 29°N, 100°W the next day. I was hoping to go 3-for-3 with this confluence, but I first decided to play tourist in San Antonio, since it was my first trip to "Fiesta City." I arrived at the Alamo by 3:15 pm on Sunday, November 16, 2003, parked my rented, blue Dodge Neon in the Hyatt parking garage, and set off. The Alamo was much smaller than I thought it would be but quite lovely. I walked the grounds and soaked up some Texas history. The views of the observation tower and River Mall were nice, too. I didn't tarry in the River Mall too long, since Internet shopping is about the only shopping I can tolerate.
I walked the entire length of the River Walk, both sides, snapping many pictures along the way. The weather was nice and I found the walk quite charming. I was struggling with a horribly infected toe, though, making walking difficult. I think I ended up walking 7-8 miles that day, which was not too wise for my ailing second little piggy. The ambience made up for the discomfort, though. I decided on Mexican food for dinner, and La Margaritas was recommended as a nice, family-owned place in Market Square. I hoofed it to the restaurant and enjoyed great chips and salsa, chicken fajitas, and a big margarita. The mariachi band was terrific but just a bit loud for my taste. Renewed, I limped back to the car and departed for my motel on the west side of San Antonio.
I checked in the Econolodge and asked for some band-aids for my poor toe. The very friendly clerk was quite helpful, providing me a few of them. I was utterly exhausted by this point, but it was only 7 pm, so I forced myself to stay awake a bit. After a much-needed shower, I gassed up the car, watched an interesting History Channel special about JFK, and finally hit the hay around 9:30 pm. The weather didn't look too good for my confluence attempt the next day, with strong thunderstorms forecast for San Antonio. I hoped for the best and drifted off to sleep, feeling rather uncomfortable due to the bloating caused by my overindulgent Mexican dinner. Worst of all, my 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs had their hopes of a perfect season dashed by the hapless Cincinnati Bengals! Shucks!
Monday, November 17, 2003 dawned just as I feared-with torrential downpours! I set the alarm for 5:55 am, in order to just make the continental breakfast at 6:30 am, check out, and meet the confluence landowners about 40 miles southwest of town at 8 am. The jelly donut and orange juice were probably overkill, given I was still full from dinner the night before, but I couldn't refuse free vittles, ever the frugal engineer. I found the room key I had misplaced and hit the road. There was a surprising amount of traffic this early, even for a workday. I had little trouble navigating to 35S and the town of Moore. I saw lightning storms all about me, but generally the rain let up as I neared my destination. After taking the Moore exit, I went south about five miles on FM 2779, through some torrential (but brief) downpours. I was a solid half-hour early, so I waited patiently in the Vertex Gas Pumping Plant parking lot, less than a mile SSE of the confluence. The parking lot was the only sign of civilization around, but I was still startled to see two gentlemen there so early. They suspiciously asked why I was there, and I told them, receiving only quizzical looks in return. They were accommodating in allowing me to park there, though. I prayed the intermittent showers would let up to allow a successful visit to 29°N, 99°W. Incidentally, this entire area sits atop the West Bigfoot Gas Field. I'm quite sure oil and gas rights help pay some of the bills on the cattle ranch.
The land manager of the cattle ranch containing the confluence showed up a few minutes after 8 am, along with another gentleman affiliated with the ranch. I changed into jeans in the Vertex bathroom, grabbed my backpack and GPS, and piled in the truck. We crossed FM 2779 and headed west into the cattle ranch, after they opened the complex lock at the gate. After a few hundred feet, we decided to backtrack and swap trucks, since this particular one did not have four-wheel drive. The blackland and clay loam soils were quite slippery; my Dodge Neon would have been hopeless on these ranch roads. Anyway, after a few hundred yards, we turned north on a less well-maintained road and pressed on towards the confluence. From aerial views, it looked like this road stopped about 734 feet (224 meters) SSE of the confluence. Perhaps the ranch road was extended since the aerial photograph was taken? We were able to get within 430 feet (131 meters) of the confluence on the ranch road itself, as it started peeling to the northeast a bit. We stopped at the closest approach point and prepared for some light bushwhacking. The ranch manager said I was lucky this confluence was on the eastern end of their property; the brush is so thick west of the confluence that traversing the terrain would have been impossible without crawling!
We dodged a few stickers on this Brahman cattle ranch, but otherwise had little trouble navigating to the confluence point. Other than native grasses (Purina Cow Chow, I called it), the flora of the area was very typical of south Texas. Whitebrush, mesquite, guajillo, and huisache plants abounded during the trek from the pick-up and at the confluence site itself. We were particularly thwarted by a large huisache shrub that insisted on taking root right at the confluence point! Obtaining the coveted all-zeroes shot on the GPS was a challenge, since the "GPS dance" continually had Garmin leading us into the bush. Persistence eventually paid off, after fighting a brief rainstorm, large biting insects, a battery change for the GPS, and an annoying digital camera shutdown feature (after a mere fifteen seconds of inactivity).
With only five satellites tracking, I managed a GPS accuracy of 18 feet (5.5 meters) and an all-zeroes photograph. The altitude measurement at this location, again from the GPS, was 588 feet (179 meters), based on averaging the altitude values from multiple GPS digital pictures. This agrees quite well with my estimate of 583 feet (178 meters) based on detailed topographic maps. I took the requisite digital pictures from the site in the four cardinal and four diagonal directions, both in normal mode and with my 3x digital zoom. My Nikon CoolPix 3500 worked like a champ, though I did have a cheap, throwaway camera for redundancy. It was nice to see evidence of a wetter climate, compared to my two prior Texas confluences. Moss and lichens were growing on the local vegetation, a sight conspicuously absent farther west in Texas.
While I photographed the area as well as the GPS unit, one of the gentlemen returned to the truck to get some wire for securing a confluence marker. They hammered in a tall metal rod at the confluence point. We attached a small marker, a 3"-by-3" laminated card with the DCP logo, my name, the date, and the latitude and longitude lines marked. Not wanting to bury the marker inside the huisache bush, I placed it at the point just outside the bush where I finally obtained all zeroes on the GPS. It was getting late by this time, around 9:20 am or so. I had hoped to leave by 9:00 am to catch my 11:45 am flight from San Antonio. Returning to the truck was a bit easier than the inbound journey. We saw no wildlife (or even cows) during this confluence visit, though fauna known to inhabit the area include white-tail deer, feral hogs, quail, dove, bobcat, raccoon, javelina, opossum, and coyote.
We had little trouble navigating back to the gate and across FM 2779 to my Dodge Neon, and the sky was generally clearing by this time. I thanked the two gentlemen and left for San Antonio by 9:30 am CST. I hoped to avoid tickets, despite driving 79 mph in a 70-mph zone all the way back to town. One speeding ticket during confluence hunting is enough! Occasional rainstorms slowed my progress, as did increasing traffic levels as I approached San Antonio on 35N. I stopped for gas in the city and then headed to 281N. Even before getting on this highway, I saw the freeway signs portending of long delays due to a massive accident. Unfortunately, I didn't know of an alternate route to the airport, since I was following my MapQuest directions. I started getting quite agitated as I sat in traffic on 281N, watching as my departure time drew near. I got a bit lost in trying to find the Advantage Rent-a-Car place, too. It was well less than an hour before my departure when I finally arrived at Advantage. They were very helpful, retrieving a CD I had left in the CD player while I was fighting a completely spilled suitcase in their parking lot.
I checked out quickly, and the Advantage bus driver drove me straight to my check-in counter. After tipping him handsomely, I checked in electronically, fought long lines at the x-ray machine, and just made my flight. Whew! My joy was short-lived, however, because my DFW-to-LAX flight was delayed (to say the least). The same thunderstorm that blew through San Antonio earlier now reared its ugly head in Dallas. I sat on the tarmac for over three hours, awaiting departure! I fly all the time, but this was probably the worst flying experience of my life. At least I was beat, so largely I slept on the plane as it sat next to the runway. I finally arrived in LA at 6 pm, just in time for rush-hour traffic! After a brief stop at home, I headed into work to see what I had missed. It was a long day, but I was 3-for-3 in Texas confluences for the weekend, so my spirits generally were soaring. Where will my next confluence adventure take me, I wonder?
I would like to thank the gentlemen who enabled this enjoyable confluence adventure. They asked me to mention that future visits to this confluence site are discouraged. Good luck finding them, anyway; this confluence (lucky #13!) was by far the most difficult with respect to tracking down the rightful landowners. I wish you gentlemen all the best in this lovely part of south Texas. Thanks again for your hospitality!