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...