06-Jun-2010 -- As I had just arrived in Oklahoma to teach a 3-day Web GIS class for educators from across the state at the University of Oklahoma, and as I knew that long hours would be spent in the GIS lab, it was time to get into the field. Having just departed 35 North 98 West, I considered turning back to the campus in Norman. However, I was not sure when I would have the chance to travel here again, and the confluence of 34 North 98 West beckoned for a simple reason: It lay in one of my favorite environments--a river bottomland. Specificially, it lay in an old meander of the Red River that was now abandoned, though the river itself of course was still running as strong as ever. Furthermore, it had the added distinction of being on the old boundary of New France and New Spain, and then the USA and Spain with the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase, and then between the USA and the Republic of Texas, and then Indian Territory in the USA and the state of Texas, and finally, between the states of Oklahoma and Texas.
I began my journey with high hopes, and while I enjoyed traveling through the towns along US Highway 81, numerous stop signs and traffic lights made for slow going. I needed to do some work this evening and considered turning back several times. I pressed on, though, through Marlow, Duncan, Comanche, and Waurika. In retrospect, I should have stayed on I-44 which would have made for a longer but faster journey. But I would have missed moments such as when a truck towing a monstrous cylinder, larger than anything I had ever seen being towed, turned in front of me on the main street of one of the small towns. I had to give it a ve-e-ry wide berth. At Terral, I crossed into Texas, turning west along Pump Station Road and Staley Road before encountering Farm to Market Road 2332. A bit of a sprinkle came down and I wondered if I would have a wet hike ahead. I left this road at the much-anticipated sign for 98th Meridian Road. This was the first road sign I had encountered that recognized the meridian, with the exception of Meridian Avenue in Cozad, Nebraska, near 100 West Longitude. The road became gravel, then dirt, and then ended abruptly on a slope heading down toward the Red River valley. I parked at the gate and made sure I had the necessary supplies for a fair hike--about 3.2 km--before setting off.
I tried to find a path, but encountered waist high grasses and shrubs. I stuck to the fence to the west, which fairly well ran due north. The view was magnificent to the river valley ahead of me, especially as I crested small knolls before the final river terrace before the floodplain. Wildflowers were abundant. I noticed a framed building to the east with no walls. I then plunged into a short but particularly nasty section of the route. A trail was here, but it led under trees and through thorns that looked like they were placed there deliberately, though surely they were not. My arms became quite scratched. This treeline is quite visible on the satellite image. Note to self and future visitors: Wear long sleeves and gloves. I emerged on the floodplain, in a river meander, which was marshy, and broke through another treeline before landing at the southern edge of a marked and cultivated field of grass.
I made better time through this field, which had been cleared of thorns; it looked to be for grazing or for horses, but I could see none around. Again I stuck close to the left or western fence until I came to the far edge of the field. Here, under some tall cottonwood trees, I slithered under another fence into what looked to be wild raspberry plants. This short but interesting part of the trip was slow going, requiring care as not to trip, and its conclusion was marked by a descent of a short slope which brought me down on the current floodplain. The floodplain was comprised of sand bars, so it was gently rolling, some of which were covered by anchored and unanchored logs and branches, and some covered by grasses. One never knows what will be washed up in old river meanders. As I walked north and then northwest, the grasses became fewer because I was nearing the current channel. I found the confluence about 10 minutes later.
The confluence lies on one of the sand bars in the currently abandoned channel of the Red River. The interesting thing was that I had crossed into Oklahoma a few hundred meters behind me, but currently, the river still lay to the north at least 500 meters. Therefore, I was in a rare part of Oklahoma that was actually south of the Red River. Indeed, the meanders of the Red River had caused boundary disputes between Oklahoma and Texas down to the present day. I love meanders so much that I filmed a movie at the spot where I discuss why and how rivers meander. I was closer now to the road to the north, but of course, I would have to traverse the Red River, which, without a boat, was quite impossible. The temperature was hot, about 90 F (32 C), not as hot as it could have been at this time of year, and it was a bit cooler here than on the grassy meadow to the south. The clouds had moved off and now it was mostly sunny. I now had amassed a tidy sum of confluences in Texas. This was not my first time on 34 North, as I had stood on it in places from California to the west to Georgia on the east, and I had stood on 98 West from Texas to Oklahoma. Still, this confluence was in a unique place and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I retraced my steps and had arrived at the far side of grassy field when a noise made me pause. Suspecting a snake, I backed up a bit. I then saw the first armadillo I had seen in the wild that was not lying dead on the roadside. I had read that their sense of smell is keen but eyesight is poor, and indeed, it was a minute before the armadillo saw me. It then turned and shuffled into the grasses toward the wooded meander. About 5 minutes later, I added to the scratches in my arm, finding no other way through this stretch. I emerged on the high hills and took a drink of the water I had been rationing. I arrived at the vehicle about 20 minutes later. I had made good time, considering the lack of trail, 6.4 km (4 miles) in about 2 hours. I encountered no people, few birds, and the armadillo as my one animal. One of the most interesting things about this confluence hike was that it was marked by unique mini-ecoregions--the grassy meadows, the wooded, thorny meanders, the grassy field, the bushy meadow, and the sandy, abandoned meanders. Despite my scratches, I thoroughly enjoyed the expedition, and it indeed made a perfect start to my GIS-GPS course in Oklahoma.