24-May-2003 -- Steve Adams and I continued our first confluence adventure on Saturday, May 24, 2003, after successes the day before at Cotton Center, Texas (34°N, 102°W) and near Kenna, New Mexico (34°N, 104°W). We also had a success earlier in the day near Montoya, New Mexico (35°N, 104°W), completing the final confluence visit in this beautiful state. Buoyed by our success, we pressed on from Tucumcari on Hwy 54, which conveniently heads northeast, exactly the direction required. We enjoyed the beautiful roadside wildflowers and mesquite and tried to make up some time, thanks to our trusty radar detector. Steve and I passed through Logan and then stopped at Nara Visa, near the Texas border. We called the landowners whose property contains (36°N, 103°W) and obtained directions to the ranch house. They were very understanding about us being a bit late.
Steve and I crossed the Texas line and pushed on towards Dalhart. We started seeing sagebrush, more yucca plants, and lovely cottonwood trees. We turned west around the feedlot south of Dalhart, on RR 694, and prepared to yet again test the MINI Cooper on mediocre red clay roads. After a few miles of pavement, RR 694 turns north but we continued straight west on the red clay. This road was probably the worst one encountered during the entire trip; as we had done before, we had to drive on the crests of the road ruts to avoid bottoming out. We also worried about getting stuck in the sandier stretches of the road, but somehow made it through. After about 12 miles on this challenging surface, we hit a T-intersection at Bunker Hill Road. I verified the latitude and longitude as measured by the previous visitor, and we turned south towards the ranch entrance. We went 3-4 miles, much further than I was expecting, but we finally found their gate. We proceeded west and arrived at the ranch house around 2:45 pm CDT (note that we lost an hour when we crossed into Texas).
The landowners were waiting, along with the county clerk and her husband, as well as two other couples. I gave a 10-minute speech about the confluence project and then we piled into two trucks, with Steve's trusty Garmin GPS leading the way. We instantly bonded with this fun and light-hearted group, though I immediately was banished to the doghouse for failing to open and close the cattle gates. Apparently, this is west Texas etiquette when one is riding shotgun, but I had forgotten that (I used to know that; my grandfather was a wheat farmer and kept cattle in western Kansas). Anyway, after much ribbing, they finally bought my excuse that I was "GPS boy" and had to baby-sit the Garmin unit.
We followed rather poor ranch roads for a bit, but were still a few miles away. We started to head north on a path with only the faintest hint of tire tracks ("Any place with tracks is a road" was their quote). The posse was drinking beer, cracking jokes, and generally entertaining the heck out of Steve and me. We saw antelope, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, and jackrabbits as we bypassed a potato field that blocked our direct route to the confluence. By the way, they have rattlesnakes as well, and one got one of their horses earlier in the week. Thankfully, we didn't encounter any rattlers during this visit. We approached the northern edge of the ranch property as the GPS measurements converged. It soon became clear, however, that the confluence was about 400 feet north of their property line, a barbed-wire fence. I asked the owners if they were friendly with their neighbors to the north, but they were already holding the fence open for us before I got an answer. I did ask them to please tell their neighbors after the fact, particularly because our names would be on a marker on their property! Our plan months ago was to ride out to the confluence on horseback; with the barbed-wire boundary, we wouldn't have been able to get to the confluence on horseback, anyway.
We had little trouble navigating out to the confluence, since the land was quite flat. There were yet again storm clouds to the north and west, despite the fact that this area is in the throes of a pervasive drought. Yucca plants and sagebrush abounded at the confluence itself. We clicked the cherished GPS "all zeroes" shot and then imaged the vistas in eight compass directions (N-NE-E-SE-S-SW-W-NW). The "landowners" drove in a metal fence post and we placed our laminated card at the site. The card has the DCP logo, the latitude and longitude lines, the DCP website, our names, and the date. We then took pictures of the posse, and they took a few pictures of Steve and me. One of the funniest parts was the fact that the pictures included us holding Styrofoam cups emblazoned with the ranch logo-not the actual property owner's logo, of course!
The group headed back to the barbed-wire fence, and to celebrate the end of our trespassing experience, I was encouraged to toss a cow chip (see photo). As I gingerly scooped up the dried pie, I felt all vestiges of my "city slicker" nature disappear. My joy was short lived, however, when they made fun of my feeble toss. I wouldn't even qualify for the junior division of the West Texas Olympics in "discus throw." Anyway, we piled in the trucks and headed back, hoping to hit the road to avoid getting the MINI Cooper stuck in red clay. The owner took us on a quick detour, though, to show us a plethora of prairie dogs ravaging his ranch land. Before I could say, "Yeah, but whatcha gonna do?" he pulled out the rifle between our seats and "popped a
cap" in a poor little prairie dog! Mortified and temporarily deaf, I looked at the landowner in disbelief. He said, "Oh, I'm sorry--do you want to shoot one?" I was still getting over the fact that there was a loaded rifle next to us in the truck. I'm from southern California; the only guns in cars we know about are in the glove compartment! There were other guns in the truck as well, and everyone looked at me in disbelief when I said I had never fired a gun before.
We headed back to the ranch house, and they offered us some chow. Steve and I were never ones to refuse vittles, despite the late hour. We enjoyed some nice southwestern dip, and one of the gals said, "You boys be sure to eat your veggies, now, you hear?" Steve tried jicama for the first time ("Hey, Mikey, he likes it!"), and we headed out the door to leave. Before going, though, I had to tell them about my job with NASA. I showed them my space shuttle tile (not from Columbia), aerogel (lightest solid in the world), iron meteorite, and 3D Mars poster. We exchanged some warm goodbyes, and Steve and I set off for Wichita around 5 pm CDT. We found pavement just as it started raining, headed east to Dalhart, and then cruised home to Wichita on Hwy 54 the entire way. There was some heavy (and much needed) rain in the Texas panhandle, and then Steve took a quick nap while I finally got to drive the MINI Cooper through Oklahoma to Liberal, Kansas. We stopped for dinner and then pushed home to Wichita, arriving around 11:30 pm CDT. What a truly memorable first confluence adventure!
Steve and I would like to thank the landowners for permission to visit the property, but we don't know who they are and we didn't obtain permission! Seriously, we would like to say a special thanks to the posse that made this confluence hunt so special and fun. We'll never forget you folks. Also, thanks to Steve's wife, LeAnn, who supported him in taking a wacky road-trip in the MINI with his old high school buddy.