16-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.
After successfully visiting the confluence of 30°N and 102°W on Saturday, November 15, 2003, I was ready for the second confluence of the trip. I awoke (with alarm clock, naturally) before 6 am on Sunday the 16th, only hitting the snooze button once. I was on a tight schedule, after all! My room at the Days Inn in Del Rio, Texas wasn’t bad at all, but the fog that morning sure was. I was worried about it delaying my arrival in La Pryor and particularly ruining the view from the impending confluence. Right before checking out of the motel, I enjoyed an amazing extended continental breakfast of muffins, danishes, bagels, granola, and orange juice. It was complimentary—just how I like it! Anyway, I left the motel, driving east on Highway 90 into the town of Del Rio proper. I stopped for gas and to call the landowner, telling him I was running about an hour late. The fog persisted as I wandered aimlessly for fifteen minutes around Del Rio, unable to find the continuation of Highway 90 eastbound. I finally backtracked and located my turnoff.
The drive on Highway 90 was quite lovely, at least when the fog lifted enough to enjoy the views. I really enjoyed the endless sagebrush, cacti, and mesquite behind barbed-wire fences. The route paralleled the railroad, which also added to the ambience during the passage of speeding freight trains. On the way towards Uvalde, I was surprised to be stopped at a border patrol checkpoint, given that I was a solid thirty miles from the Mexican border! After confirming my U.S. citizenship, I was on my way, though a particularly nasty fog bank just west of Uvalde slowed my progress greatly. I finally arrived in Uvalde and turned south on Highway 83 for the short twenty-mile journey to La Pryor. The pea soup was definitely lifting by this time, so that pumped me up as I approached the confluence. I turned west on Highway 57 for an eight-mile trek to the private gate. At the gate, I was essentially 4.6 miles south of the confluence of 29°N and 100°W. I noticed the blue sign from the prior (unsuccessful) attempt for this confluence, so I knew I was in the right place.
I was in good spirits, despite being nearly an hour late. My joy was short lived, though, as I tried in vain to open the combination lock for the gate. A rotary lock mechanism prevented access to the northbound ranch road, with about half a dozen combination locks sealed tightly. I had the right combination, but I was largely looking at the wrong lock, the one in the one o’clock position. I was told to gain access through the lock in the eleven o’clock position, and I thought I was, but I was looking at the locks west-to-east rather than east-to-west. I forgot to write down which direction to face the locks, though I’m sure the landowner told me at one time. Since I don’t own a cell phone, I decided to keep trying for at least twenty minutes or so. As such, I tried permutations of the combination (in case the landowner was dyslexic) and I tried other locks as well, including the correct lock. It turned out that I had the right combination, but I neglected to release the pressure on the lock’s pins by forcing it up before pulling down on the lock. My lack of common sense foiled me again—aaargh!
I pondered my options: (1) backtrack to La Pryor or even Uvalde to call the landowner, (2) wait for someone to exit or enter the gate, or (3) hike to the ranch house. I opted for (3) because it was likely the quickest solution, and it was the only solution that helped work off my gargantuan breakfast. I loaded up the backpack and set off on foot, heading essentially due north to the confluence. It was cool, overcast, and humid, but no rain spoiled my brisk stroll towards 29°N, 100°W. I startled a few quail during the early part of the four-mile journey; they flew off noisily. With my trusty Garmin etrek Legend leading the way, I watched the distance to the confluence shrink. My average walking speed for the journey was 4.8 mph, reminding me of my type-A gait while a student on the East Coast. It was a nice little workout, actually!
About one mile up the road, I started hearing the noise of machinery. It turned out to be an unstaffed oil and gas pumping station, so I pressed forward. After another mile, a truck passed me, so I flagged him down to solicit a ride. He was running late to work, and he didn’t have his cell phone, so he told me to flag down the truck immediately behind him. I tried to stop the second passing pick-up to no avail. Clearly, I was meant to suffer a little to snag this confluence. After over four miles of travel, I found myself a mere 0.8 miles from the confluence, at a large gate. I tried for a bit to enter the gate, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it (there’s a theme here). There was no one to be seen on the ranch as well. Just when I had resigned myself to another four-mile trek back to the highway, I finally figured out the gate and started seeing activity on the ranch. I headed over to the landowner and his brother; they were working in a cattle pen. I apologized for being so late, and they asked me where my car was. I told them rocket science must be a lot easier than working these combination locks, because I just couldn’t do it. They were very sweet considering I was nearly three hours late.
The landowner was busy with ranch duties, so he solicited his grandson, Shawn, to take me to the confluence point. A few weeks back, the landowner visited the confluence using his GPS receiver; he thought for sure he was doing something wrong because it was so easy to find. He must have told Shawn where to drive, because he led me straight to the point. When I turned around to meet Shawn and shake his hand, I didn’t see him at first. I then looked down and greeted a young lad of twelve! Oh, well, I used to drive at that age, too, on my Grandpa’s cattle and wheat farm in western Kansas. Shawn was very polite, picking up a fencepost to mark the confluence and expertly navigating us to ground zero, though his clearance in seeing over the steering wheel was a few angstroms at most.
I completely lucked out with this confluence regarding terrain and vegetation. From aerial views, I could tell the point was located in a dense field of west Texas vegetation (mesquite, cactus, huisache, etc.) and it wouldn’t be easy, though there was apparently a ranch road running north-south not too far west of the point. The aerial views were nearly nine years old, though. Since that time, a path through the thick brush had been cleared for a water line—right along the 29th parallel! Shawn drove northwest from the ranch house and then straight west on this lush, green path of the water main. Brush actually had been cleared to the northeast of the confluence as well, for a summer feedplot to be used by the local wildlife (mostly wild boar and deer). Possible summer crops for this field include sunflowers, peas, or legumes. The 29th parallel itself was planted with winter crops, such as rye grass and oats. We had no trouble getting within about 100 feet (30 meters) of the confluence in Shawn’s monster truck.
Once the GPS settled down to all zeroes, 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. 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 etrex Legend settled down quite nicely. With nine satellites tracking, I managed a GPS accuracy of 7 feet (2.1 meters). The altitude measurement at this location, again from the GPS, was 767 feet (234 meters). This agrees quite well with my estimate of 773 feet (236 meters) based on detailed topographic maps.
While I photographed the area as well as the GPS with all zeroes (while precariously balanced on a prickly pear cactus), Shawn drove in a fencepost 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. The confluence was just south of the pond (“swimming hole”) used by the extended family of the landowner, though brush prevented me from spying the pool from my vantage point. Shawn and I were at the confluence for quite a while, so eventually his grandfather and great-uncle drove out to see us. I explained the DCP project to them a bit more, suggesting that certainly the placement of the water line right on the 29th parallel was more than a coincidence. They assured me it was not, and we headed back to the ranch.
After some refreshing sips of water, I queried the landowner’s brother about the flora and fauna of the area. He brought out a guidebook, and I started identifying the plants and animals I had seen during the trip. This area abounds in prickly pear cactus, tasajillo, allthorn, blackbrush, guajillo, mesquite, huisache, Spanish Dagger, and sagebrush (or cenizo). Many of these are pretty nasty sentinels of south Texas land, so I was relieved that our journey was so benign and straightforward. Animals known to inhabit this region include whitetail deer, blue quail, bobwhite quail, badger, ground squirrel, coyote, raccoon, porcupine, and pack rat. This part of Texas is the transitional zone between the Carrizo and Wilcox water tables. The reddish topsoil prevalent at this confluence is called Carrizo sand, though the ranch (well) water is actually from the Wilcox water table.
Before saying thanks and bidding adieu, I had a little NASA “show-and-tell” with the extended family. I brought along my space shuttle thermal tile (not from Columbia), meteorite, aerogel, and 3D Mars Pathfinder poster for this short trip to Texas. I thought it might be nice to do some minor NASA outreach with a set of taxpayers typically far removed from such cosmic pursuits. The children, especially, enjoyed my NASA items very much, but I had already overstayed my welcome. I solicited a ride from the landowner for the four-mile sojourn south to Highway 57. Thanking him again, I was on my way to San Antonio by 1:30 pm CST.
From the gate on Highway 57, I backtracked to La Pryor, turned north on Highway 83, and arrived in Uvalde. Along the route, I saw a stand selling fresh Texas pecans, right off the tree. I doubled back for this tasty treat, using all my willpower to save some for California. I decided to take the scenic route into San Antonio, heading east on Highway 90. It was a very nice drive, with small towns every so often. I think my favorite was Hondo, because the first sign I encountered in town said, “Welcome to Hondo. This is God’s Country, so Don’t Drive Through it Like Hell.” That cracked me up pretty well. I made decent time to San Antonio, arriving at the Alamo around 3:15 pm, for a day of sightseeing and fun before my final confluence attempt the next morning.
I would like to thank the landowner, his family, and Shawn for enabling this enjoyable confluence adventure. You really are blessed to enjoy this oasis in such beautiful country. I wish you the best of luck, and it was a pleasure meeting you all.