03-Nov-2001 -- 32N 99W is in the middle of a cattle pasture, situated in the Texas Hill Country to the NNW of Austin and to the SW of Fort Worth. Both cities are about equidistant from the site, approximately 200 kms.
I started my trip from the parking lot of an REI store in west Houston (29 52.355 N 95 43.987 W) where I had just purchased a GPS device, the eTrex Summit by Garmin. The price with tax was $280.
The time and date were approximately 1130 Saturday morning, 3 November 2001 when I turned out of the parking lot and onto the freeway feeder road leading to I-10. I had learned a lot about my new eTrex while I waited for it to self-calibrate in my parked car, reading parts of the instruction manual for the 10 minutes or so that it took to find the satellites and determine my current location. By the time I had made my way through the cloverleaf at I-610/I-10 and then taken the Hwy. 290 cutoff towards Austin, my eTrex was already alerting me to the fact that sunset was at 1727, my current altitude was 79 feet, and I had traveled 5 miles.
On a good day, I can make the drive to Austin in about 125 minutes from the I-610 loop. I should have gotten an earlier start that day but I overslept. I knew that with less than 6 hours until sunset, I was going to be cutting it close if I wanted to get to the confluence in time to take photographs before nightfall. If the topo maps hadn’t indicated two roads within a ¼ mile of the confluence, I would have scrapped my departure altogether and tried again on another weekend.
So, there I was, piling up the miles toward my destination, the car’s cruise control set at the speed limit plus 9, when a speedy blue Firebird suddenly passed me by. I decided to pursue and did for a little bit, but backed off when my speed hit 114 mph and the Firebird was still outpacing me. I decelerated back to 79, where the cruise control took over again. Sometime later, as I was fiddling with the eTrex, I noticed that one of its features is a “MAX SPEED” display that had dutifully clocked me going “114 mph”.
Austin, which is the only city-sized destination between Houston and 32N 99W, has some unpredictable and often heavy road traffic, so my plan was to avoid as much of it as possible. Therefore, I opted for the less direct route of Hwy. 290 to I-35 North rather than Hwy. 290 to TX 183 North, effectively heading north out of Austin instead of northwest, the direction in which the confluence lay. About 15 miles after getting onto I-35 N, I exited in Georgetown onto TX 29 West and rejoined TX 183 about 12 miles later at a place called Seward’s Junction. In doing so, I avoided about 20 traffic lights in Austin that I would have encountered if I’d taken TX 183 through town.
From Seward’s Junction, I continued up TX 183 through such places as Lampasas, Goldthwaite, and tiny Zephyr. By the time I got to Early, it was getting late. My clock said 1630 and I figured that I was still about 30 miles away from the confluence. I stayed on TX 183 North for about 15 more miles before taking a left onto FM (farm-to-market) 583 just north of May, Texas. From there, it was approximately 11 more miles to the confluence.
FM 583 is an east-west running road that lies on the latitude line of 32 00.210 N. As I drove westward along it, the latitude barely changed but the longitude rapidly clicked closer and closer toward 99 00 W. When I crossed the line, I parked alongside the road and got out of the car, toting my GPS, camera, tripod and map.
Photograph #2 was taken from coordinates 32 00.209 N 99 00.000 W and facing southwest. I neglected to point the camera directly south and ended up thinking that the confluence was in the general vicinity of those oak trees in the center of the shot.
To the west, along the road about 200 meters away, was a house with a pickup truck parked out front. I drove up and parked. While I was assembling my gear and also the “letter to landowners”, a young man came out of the house and approached my car. I got out and said "hello", then launched into the reason for my unexpected visit. I was a little nervous and in hindsight, I think it would have been good for me to rehearse once or twice beforehand. As it was, I didn’t think of the rehearsal idea until it was too late.
The man listened to me, but when I asked for permission to access the property so I could go up to the oak trees in Photograph #3, he said that the land was his grandmother’s and that she was sleeping just then. He also volunteered that she was “very old” and that she probably wouldn’t understand what I was talking about. He suggested that I wait until his parents come home, pointed at their house which was on the north side of FM 583 just across from his home, and said they would be back in about an hour.
Since it was by now 1715, and sunset was just 12 minutes off, I resigned myself to the fact that I would probably not get close enough to the confluence to make the attempt “successful”. My GPS reading was .2 minutes off to the north and I knew that this meant more than 100 meters. So, hoping for the next best thing, I decided to take some photographs of the area and then submit them to confluence.org anyway. This is about when I took Photograph #3 of the cows, one of whom can be seen mooing (left side of picture).
Just to the west of the young man’s house, a gravel dirt road turned off of FM 583 and ran south, so I drove along it until I reached the point where I crossed the 32nd parallel, only a couple of hundred meters away.
Just [then], I saw the parents of the young man turn into their driveway. I hopped back into my car and drove back to their place in a hurry. The parents both came out and once again I began stating the purpose of my visit. At this point it was 1721 and the shadows were growing longer by the second. The man said that he was aware of the confluence being nearby but he had always thought it was 32 N 102 W instead of 99 W. He went on to state that the area with the oak trees didn’t belong to his mother at all, but was instead part of “The Old Morrison Place” across the fenceline.
Morrison, according to the man, had sold out to the current owner, whose name was unknown to the gentleman I was speaking with. The transaction had occurred some 4 years ago but these folks hadn’t really gotten to know their “new” neighbor yet. They did know that he liked to hunt and thought that he was off hunting at that very moment, since the Texas deer season was at its height. The woman evidently had his phone number and called it, but his answering machine picked up, so all three of us thought that no one was at home.
Knowing that I had driven all the way from Houston and that I didn’t appear to be making trouble, they said that I ought to go ahead and enter the property and get the photographs I needed. They agreed to tell the property owner, should he appear during or after my visit, why I was there and that they kept an eye on me the whole time.
As a sidenote, I wanted to mention the fact that a natural gas pipeline traverses the properties around the 32N 99W confluence. The woman who made the cell phone call mentioned this and said something like “We are more worried about that pipeline exploding and killing us all than we are about anthrax or anything else”. If I hadn’t been in such a rush to get my photos before sundown, I would have really liked to talk further with these nice folks and get their perspective on recent events and the world in general.
With just minutes to go before sunset, I drove back to the site of Photograph #3, hopped the fence and made my way toward the oaks with my eTrex in hand. I hadn't walked far before I realized that the oaks were drawing me away from the confluence point and that the point was actually southeast of them, closer to the hunter’s yellow house. As I walked toward the house, a good-sized hound dog (a blue tick heeler, I think) came out of the grey outbuilding and gave two howls. I cupped my hands near my mouth and shouted “Anybody home?!” and waited a moment.
Suddenly, the door to the house opened and out came a man carrying a rifle. He didn’t have it aimed at anything; it was in fact in a case and he was just preparing to leave for a night of deer hunting. He said that he was just a guest on the property, had heard the phone ring but ignored it because he was in a hurry, and didn’t mind at all if I wanted to take a couple of pictures.
So, as the last remnants of sunlight faded in the western sky, I quickly covered the remaining ground until the GPS displayed 32 00 .000 N 99 00 .000 W. At last! I set up the camera tripod, leaned my eTrex against the camera case and brought the lens into focus. That’s when I noticed that the coordinates had changed and my perfect reading was now off by a thousandth of a minute. I quickly repositioned the GPS and then my camera gear, but once again the reading changed as I prepared to take the shot. Evidently, the averaging feature of the eTrex was causing the reading to change as long as the device remained in a relatively stationary position.
Finally, on the third attempt, I detached the camera from the tripod, placed the eTrex face-up on the open ground, and quickly snapped off two flash pictures of the spot, praying that there would be no reflection on the face of the GPS display when I got the film developed. Take a look at Photograph #1 (the "money shot")and see how it turned out.
After that, I walked back to the car, stowed my gear and started up the engine. As I drove past the two houses on FM 538, I thought about stopping to say “goodbye” but I figured that I would probably be interrupting dinner and decided against it. I got almost 3 miles away before I realized that in my rush, I had forgotten to store the confluence point as a waypoint in my eTrex. I turned the car around, drove back to the site, let myself in by the gate this time and jogged back up to the spot. It was definitely dark by now and I couldn’t get the GPS display to light up, so I took my best guess at where the confluence was located and stored the waypoint by pressing the ENTER button twice. Later on, I checked to see how close I’d come and the reading was “32 00.012 N 98 59.995 W”, about 30 feet away from “ground zero”.
The long drive home was uneventful and took about 4 hours and 45 minutes. I stayed on TX 183 South all the way through Austin this time before getting onto Hwy. 290 for the trip back to Houston. I was home safely well before midnight and dreaming confluence dreams not long after.