Monday, March 29, 2010

Texline, Texas

I'm at the very small library in Texline, Texas. It's a small miracle they even have one considering the population of the town is somewhere just above 500. Someone really had to push hard to get this place going, and I am grateful that he or she did.

To get to town, I cut across the Rita Blanca National Grasslands from Stratford. I couldn't remember which county road to take, so I texted my friend Darren. I received about 10 texts in response, each a separate instruction about how to get across the land. It all started with County Road I, which meant I had to backtrack a touch, but soon enough, I jumped in.

The start of the grasslands was a little tough. I had to hike a few miles along muddy roads which was less about the slipperiness and more about the accumulation of heavy mud on the bottom of my shoes. Not surprisingly, I didn't see one car on this stretch. Some of the plots of land around this first section had nice tall golden grass (pictures forthcoming, be patient!), and I started seeing antelope in small herds of four to eight, though I did see one group of fifteen.

I saw one sign for Rita Blanca, but a lot looked like private land. Everything was fenced in with barbed wire, so it all looked alike. Occasionally I'd see a small little yellow sign for the grasslands.

It was a little confusing. My road map, which is admittedly not very detailed, showed Rita Blanca to be a huge area. So when I got to a point where Darren's direction told me to go south two miles, west nine miles, and north two miles, I decided to cut out the up and down and just shoot straight across.

This turned out to be nine miles of private land. Well, this isn't entirely true, as I started seeing Rita Blanca signs in the middle of this stretch; however, if the grasslands have private land around them, they might as well be private too.

Luckily, I got through with just a mild warning. A fellow on a four-wheeler asked me a few questions, ascertained that I really was just walking through (and not sizing up the ranch), and left me with the following comment: "Just be careful. Everybody isn't as nice as we are. I mean, this is Texas."

Once I made it across the land and onto High Lonesome Road, I found a parcel of Rita Blanca and called it a night.

The next day, I started realizing that the Rita Blanca National Grasslands are not at all what they seem. With grasslands, you expect to see what I saw in the beginning: lots and lots of grass. But the more I hiked through, the more I realized that this was the exception. Much of the land had been grazed. The grasslands had cow patties everywhere, a telltale sign of four full stomachs. Full of my grass!

I don't have any facts here, just observations, but I wonder if the National Forest Service leases their land to cattle ranchers. After all, they strike deals with the timber industry in national forests. Upon exiting High Lonesome Road, there was a sign that read: RITA BLANCA NATIONAL GRASSLANDS, PUBLIC LANDS, YOUR HERITAGE.

I passed through Texline and with some kindly advice made it up to the top left corner of the panhandle (For those who would like to repeat the process, I went to the northern edge of Texline on 87, took a right/east, went five blocks, then turned left/north on Shamburger Road. I traveled until the end of the road, which Ts. This east/west road is the northern boundary of Texas, also known as Rickens, I believe. I went left/west and followed it for another half mile until it hit the New Mexico highway. From here, I wandered all over. Read on.). I called my brother who led me through the process step by step using satellite imaging. However, we were unable to locate anything.

That is, until I looked down.

I had called Annie and was balancing the phone while also putting my pack on. Between the highway and a private fence was a little wooden stake. Next to the stake was a very small survey marker saying that the corner of Texas was 41 feet away. I counted out the 41 and found that it hit the very edge of the highway. Ta-dah!

My next trick was much easier. I retraced my footsteps and went about a mile or so until I found where Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico meet. This marker was huge by comparison and warned that taking the marker could lead to a penalty of $250. Hmm. If Dr. Boeker were still teaching, this would present an interesting option. But alas.

I camped in the Kiowa National Grasslands for the evening which was just north of the T-junction of Shamburger and Rickens. The place looked mowed and sad.

I'm back in Texline just for a moment on my way to Dalhart. Expect much more!

Until next time...

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Follett, Darrouzett, Booker, and Perryton

I've had a great time saying things like "Telephone, Texas" and "Turkey, Texas," but right now, I love saying that I'm on the top of Texas. I can't get enough of it.

I hiked into Follett with the express purpose of grabbing a bite to eat and continuing to the very corner of the state. Not a single person at the IMO's convenience store had ever seen the corner, and only one of them had heard of someone actually seeing it. A high schooler who had lent me his computer was telling me that he was only familiar with a different survey marker, one that had a dead armadillo holding a beer can near it. The leads were drying up. I imagined that no one had seen the actual marker in a hundred years. In my head, I could hear the theme song of Indiana Jones.

The men in the cafe had iPhones, not exactly a signature feature of an Indiana flick, and before I headed off, they had pulled up Google maps and zoomed up close on the corner. (Just an aside: It's a little embarrassing that these older fellas know more about modern technology than I do.) They gave their best guesses, and I went for it.

Well, downtown Follett to the corner is approximately 10 miles. I know this now. I had thought it was going to be less, but as the sun started setting, I knew I was nowhere near my destination.

The path was a hard packed dirt road, very hilly, and before long, I had to pull out my headlamp to see where I was stepping. The stars came out boldly, filling the sky, and the sounds of the city were muted and a long way off.

So it was somewhat of a surprise to see a couple of cars slowly coming down the road where I had come from. It was even more of a surprise to see the drivers shining a spotlight on either side of the road.

They came, then turned around, then turned around again. It was easy to see what they were doing because of the hills.

Spotlights generally mean cops or rednecks, and I didn't want to take my chances with either. I called 9-1-1 and spoke with the dispatcher, identifying myself and my location. She put me on hold for a second. I could hear the dispatcher speaking directly with the policemen, a subdued laugh underlying her speech. I think she thought it was funny that I had called myself in because they couldn't find me.

The policemen eventually came my way, and we exchanged a few polite words. A farmer had called me in because it was unusual to see someone hiking so late. Fair enough. I hate walking this late myself and do my best to avoid it. The cops told me it was just a bit further and let me on my way.

They were right. The first survey marker (no dead armadillo in sight) was there, so I continued to the east. It was late, so I broke camp without further adventuring.

In the morning, I broke a cardinal rule of this trek: I crossed into private property. I don't know why seeing this corner marker was that important, but it was for some reason. I went due east first following my compass. Nothing. Then I went south. Again, nothing.

I stopped and looked around. Something in the landscape didn't look quite right. I got closer and found ...

... a bucket filled with cement. Well, it wasn't exactly a bucket. More like a metal cylinder. But when I say "bucket," I think the idea comes across a little more clearly.

Placed in the center of the cement was a metal placard. "Triangulation Station" read the top line. Surveyors have to get their kicks, too, I suppose. There were a couple of Oklahoma signs warning not to tamper with anything, and that was it. No boulder rolled down on me, and there were no poison-tipped arrows or golden statue.

But it was the top of Texas. The TOP RIGHT of the Texas Panhandle, to be precise. I started singing to myself, not the Indiana Jones theme but my own tune:

"I'm waiting for the sun on top of Texas,
a windmill beating time against the wind.
I'm waiting for the sun on top of Texas,
lets me know just when this day begins."

I hiked back to Follett, where a local woman picked up my cafe tab! A fellow cafe patron told me that an old rail path had been discontinued and all the rails were ripped out for a long way. I easily found the path and started hiking it, the perfect trail where there are no trails. I camped on it six miles out from Follett.

The next day, I pulled into Darrouzett and had a fifty-cent hot cocoa at the Corner Drug Cafe. Fifty cents! I almost had another. I continued to Booker where I chatted with the Booker News owner Kayla Parvin and her editor Shelby. After visiting with them, I grabbed a specialty coffee drink down the street at Common Ground Coffeehouse. My drink was eight times as much as the cocoa, but it was so worth it. Delicious! I hiked off again and camped a mile outside of Booker on the train path.

This train path is amazing. Truly. It's overgrown, which is not ideal, but it's off the road by a substantial margin, and there's actually wildlife along side of it. I keep accidentally startling really fat pheasants from their cubbies, as well as jack rabbits and a couple of cottontails. Beautiful creatures. To see a red and green pheasant squawking and flapping in flight or a rabbit cover a quarter of a mile in seconds is a great treat.

I walked into Perryton today and had some wonderful Mexican food at Country Gorditas. It gets my gold seal of approval. The owner makes homemade gorditas and tortillas. Love it.

So far the top of Texas has been a quiet adventure with some great people and good finds. Don't bother cueing the themesong. The Indiana Jones in me is doing just fine.

Until next time...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Canadian, Texas

This is really just one big post divided into several little bitty ones. I have a love-hate relationship with HTML and Blogger, but in the end, they get the job done.

A big thank you to Laurie E. Brown, Tamera Julian, and John McGarr for making my stay in Canadian and relaxing and enjoyable experience. Thank you too to the citizens of Canadian for such a warm welcome. You have a wonderful town, a really well-done local museum, and a great paper to boot. I'm already excited about my next visit.

Best of luck to you all.

Until next time...

Canadian, Texas: Audio-Visual Part 4

Canadian, Texas: Audio-Visual Part 3

Canadian, Texas: Audio-Visual Part 2

Canadian, Texas: Audio-Visual Part 1

Canadian, Texas

I had a tough time coming into Canadian, Texas. I camped out about six miles north of Wheeler on Hwy 83, and not knowing what I would be up against the next day, I decided to make it to Canadian.
In the morning, the winds were between 30 and 40 mph, coming diagonally into me. I walked like that for hours, almost leaning into the wind. I'm just glad it wasn't stronger. The night before, a tornado had hit just 30 or so miles east of my position, over the border into Oklahoma.
Getting closer to Canadian, people started honking and waving at me. Very nice welcome. One woman even stopped and introduced herself. After talking with the editor over the phone, I learned that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce would be offering me a night or two in a hotel and food accommodations. After 28 miles of walking into the wind, I was only too happy to accept.
I'm trying something new with some audio clips. There's an issue putting the words and audio on the same page (I'm no HTML expert, but I know it's not working.), so I'm separating my commentary from this new thing I'm trying. Enjoy!
Until next time...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In the News...

While I'm in Canadian, I can try to catch up on a little blog posting.

Here's my most recent syndicated article, published here from the Lufkin Daily News. Click here for the article. It's about my stay at Caprock Canyons State Park and Trailway.

Here's my most recent article published in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times. Click here for the article. This one's about couchsurfing in Wichita Falls. Again, several small changes and some that I would consider major have been made. What's a writer to do?

Until next time...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Wheeler, Texas

I am in Wheeler, Texas, finally. I had a rough morning of rain and wind both of which lasted right up until noon. I rolled around in my tarp, ate my entire bag of Wheat Thins, read Thoreau's Walden (no one ever told me Thoreau was totally full of himself), made a few calls, and watched the rain come down.

It was a slow morning.

The birds were much more optimistic. They were chirping a solid hour before I even ventured out of my tarp. The tarp, by the way, did tolerably well, but did nothing to block the fog that rolled through the area nor any wind-driven raindrops. The top half of my sleeping bag got moist as well as part of a fleece blanket, but most of this dried out by the time I broke camp. I didn't see why the birds were so happy until I saw the sun off in the distance.

So I walked into Wheeler and went straight to a restaurant featuring homecooked food. I ordered all kinds of fried food and with encouragement from the owner added a few vegetables for color. I also ordered a nice slice of cherry cheesecake, and though I could've eaten more, I decided to call it. While chatting with the owner, she gave me a batch of cookies! She confessed that she was a mom and felt better knowing I had food. It did no good to tell her that I was getting paid to tromp around Texas. So I thanked her and packed the cookies.

The pole fiasco in Wellington was what my brother Charlie would call "a bummer." I deliberately leave my poles outside as a courtesy to the businesses I frequent. I have probably left them outside over a hundred places for several hundred miles. Unfortunately, their library was right next to the local high school, so perhaps I could have taken that into account.

I have hiked reasonably well without my poles, though I wonder about my speed and balance. I'll continue like this a little bit longer and see what it feels like. I hiked both with and without them during the first few hundred miles. I made them a permanent addition after I fractured my toe in Texarkana. However, the toe has healed, so maybe I can do without. A few hundred more miles ought to settle it.

Now I'm off to more plains. It's not entirely flat as folks tend to say, but it's flat enough. It stays light well after sunset which has made the timing of my evening routine a little off.

Until next time, sunset watchers...