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Texas | Trips

Tag Along with Barclay
on Texas Photography Trip #94

(More appropriately - Who or what is Barclay?)

June 8 - 12, 2014

by Barclay Gibson

Texas Escapes thought it might be of interest to readers to become virtual passengers with me on one of my dedicated photography trips to Texas. My South Texas Loop Trip taken June 8 - 12 was my 94th such trip. This trip will be as much a challenge for me to put into words as it will be for you to come along for the ride. Fortunately, having just returned from South Texas, the details are still very fresh in my mind.

TX - Poblacion De Dolores TX Centennial Marker location
Poblacion De Dolores TX Centennial Marker location
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

First, a little background. All this Texas stuff started innocently enough back in 2002 after reading James Michener's book Texas and buying Kelsey and Dyal's book on Texas courthouses. About this same time, I bought a map program, designed for Windows 3.1, that was to become, and still is, my best resource for old back-road churches, cemeteries, and schools. Seeing that there were several nice courthouses within driving distance of Carlsbad, New Mexico, I took my first “dedicated” Texas photography trip on April 23, 2002. The road map I used was so old, HemisFair 1968, that I didn't even know that an interstate highway ran through Ozona! I went to places I had never heard of before, towns by the name of Barnhart, Mertzon, Eldorado, and Bakersfield. I even saw the grand old courthouse at Sherwood.

By saying dedicated photography trip, I mean this was the 94th Texas trip planned solely for the purpose of photographing historical sites in Texas. The number doesn't include trips from Carlsbad to El Paso, Lubbock, Midland, or even Dallas, for shopping or to see relatives. Dedicated trips are intense, planned in detail as much as possible to see as many Texas sights as possible in as short a time as possible. If it is daylight, I should be driving to a destination or taking pictures, or both. There is no time for sit-down meals during daylight. Only if there is an emergency is there any time to stop other than for gas or to change a blowout or flat tire (which to date have not really been emergencies as much as bonus adventures).

At first, still using my 35mm film camera, I only took day trips from Carlsbad, sometimes driving up to 20 hours. I once drove from Carlsbad to see courthouses in San Antonio, New Braunfels, San Marcos, Austin, Llano and Mason, all in 16 hours. Looking back to Trip #14, I still don't know how I was able to drive over 1,200 miles going first (get your map out) down to Eagle Pass, east to Tilden, up to Jourdanton, back west to Batesville up to Junction, and back home. I drove 1,203 miles, saw 13 current and former courthouses, in 19 hours, 34 minutes all while driving at very near the speed limit and taking more than seven rolls of film.

TX Trip log
#14 trip log
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson

Also pertinent to this story is the fact that my wife and I moved from New Mexico to Oregon in July, 2012. That means Southwest Airlines and New Mexico Airlines have been added to my travel plans just to get me from Portland to Carlsbad, still my base of Texas operations, in a timely manner. In Carlsbad, I have been able to keep my trusty old 160,000+ mile, four-wheel drive '99 GMC pickup in storage till it is time to dust it off, gas it up and prepare for another trip into the vast interior of Texas. This old truck was replaced with a very similar '07 four-wheel drive GMC pickup, which is now with us in Oregon. The old pickup is the same one that took me on the original Trip #1 back in 2002.

TX Centennial Progress Map
"The orange color shows counties where I've seen all the markers. Yellow ones still have one marker to go except for Refugio County which has two. [It] shows how scattered the remaining counties are." - BG

The planning for this last trip began in early April 2014. First off, I arbitrarily decided to make the trip no more than five or six days long. Maybe leave on a Sunday after church and return Thursday or Friday afternoon. Originally I roughed out a route to see 14 of the remaining 20 1936 Centennial markers that I have not yet seen. The trip soon became too complicated, ballooning to over 2,500 miles. Ten of the 14 markers were on private property, each one would require multiple phone calls, call-back messages and emails to obtain permission, set arrival times to match busy schedules, or arrange for someone to take me to the marker. Striking off five, I narrowed the number to a more attainable goal of nine markers. These were located in La Salle, Webb, Zapata, Hidalgo, Jackson, Irion, and Reagan Counties, requiring only six private property appointments. The route was now a more reasonable 2,200 miles, quite doable by leaving Sunday afternoon and returning to Carlsbad Thursday evening.

One of the objectives I had in mind for this trip was to schedule another visit with some of my fellow volunteer Centennial marker hunters; Ruthie Cade, Charlotte Phillips, and Sarah Reveley, for a quick reunion lunch in San Antonio. Ruthie and Charlotte would be out of town June 6 - 14. I duly noted this on my calendar. As things began to kind of fall together, I got a call from a woman in Mertzon I had asked to help me with contact information for two markers in Irion County and one in neighboring Reagan County. We had it all set to see the three markers. There were several other interested people who wanted to visit all three makers, but the only week available for everyone was June 8 - 14.

Hurriedly, I made reservations for flights so that I could be in Irion County on Thursday of that week. Only then did I realize that was the one week Ruthie and Charlotte were unavailable. Too late. Tickets had already been bought. Another phone call I had to make was to apologize to Ruthie for my blunder.

Now that the date for the trip was firmly set, it was time for me to finalize the remaining marker visits. The three women who owned the property in Jackson County where a Centennial grave marker was located, again refused to let me see it. Now I was down to eight markers. A few days later, the woman in La Salle County, who had canceled on me a couple of times before, started putting me off again. Let me say at this point that things like this never bother me as there is no end to interesting, historical, back-roads things to see in Texas. I have marked my maps so that in any area where I have a little extra time all I have to do is look at my maps to find something new to see. There is no such thing as having nothing new to see or photograph in Texas.

The marker in Zapata County, titled Poblacion de Doleres, is right on the river in a deserted area where the Border Patrol had issued a warning to not enter alone or unarmed. I was getting pretty queasy about that one. I had a college professor friend who assured me that Laredo was much safer than news reports made it to be. He wanted to go with me to the marker. That made me feel a lot better about it.

TX - Border Patrol Drag Tire
The well worn border patrol drag tire
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

After arriving in Carlsbad, final preparations had to be made. My pickup, Old Blue, was in pretty good shape, considering. Years ago I quit worrying about some of the warning lights that continually flashed on the instrument panel. Her tires still had a lot of miles on them, but her air conditioner needed a re-charge. Her driver seat padding had long ago given out so that an extra cushion was always needed while driving. Packing an extra spare tire, spare gas, an extra tire jack, battery cables, a tow chain, and my trusty bed roll, just in case I broke down out in the country somewhere, it was all set to go. Don't tell anyone, but I also carry the truck title with me just in case I have to abandon it in some small Texas town.

Here is how the trip was lining out. Sunrise this time of year was about 6:30 am. Sunset was about 8:30 pm. That made for more than 14 hours of daylight for taking pictures. One thing I learned the hard way: Don't be in oil field territory at night without a room reservation. Twice I have used my sleeping bag because I didn't plan ahead. My reservation for Sunday night was at a “seen better days” motel in Uvalde, Tuesday night would be in another of the same genre in Corpus Christi, Wednesday night in one of my favorite out of the way Texas motels, the Wharton Tee Pee Motel, and Thursday night in another, shall we say, “rustic” motel in Mason.

In making appointments like I do, there is a fine line between calling too often, thus giving the land owner, the guide, or a contact person another opportunity to back out, and not keeping them informed as to changes in plan, arrival time, or maybe others who might want to see the marker with me. A few days before leaving Oregon, I called the lady in Mertzon to confirm everything was still set to see the three markers on Thursday, June 12. Two of them were set for sure. The third land owner might need to be called to reaffirm our visit. We debated on who should make the call. I got the nod. Very soon after he answered the phone, I could tell I was in trouble. I had either spoken with someone else earlier or he had simply forgotten my call from a month ago. Either way, his schedule was such that the visit was off. Now I was down to seven markers.

Leaving Carlsbad Sunday afternoon, I had plenty of time to go a little out of my way to see a few ghost towns north of Del Rio and still get to Uvalde just before dark. Sure enough, the La Salle land owner quit answering my calls or returning my messages. Now it was down to six markers. That was just as well as Monday was turning out to be a long day. The visit to the Zapata County marker for Poblacion de Dolores, would take several hours. After that, I wanted to have time to follow US Highway 83 down the Rio Grande, all the way over to Harlingen, and then drive north back up to my room in Corpus Christi Monday night.

TX - Former Vinegarroon Station
A visit to ghost town Vinegarroon near Del Rio
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

TX - Uvalde Street Bike
Uvalde Street Bike
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

Originally, the Professor and Sarah Reveley both wanted to visit the La Salle County as well as the Zapata County markers. After the La Salle County visit fell apart, we could use the time to make last-minute arrangements for the Poblacion visit. That was when it was decided Sarah would drive 140 miles from San Antonio as I drove 120 miles from Uvalde, meeting Monday morning at the I-35 Texas Travel Center north of Laredo at 9 am. From there we would convoy on to Laredo, where we would meet the Professor at his house.

Texas silhouette
Texas silhouette at The Texas Travel Center north of Laredo
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

He would first accompany us to two Centennials in downtown Laredo. From there we planned to pick up the key to the property to see the Poblacion marker located just south of the Zapata County line. Originally, the land owner said he would only provide us with access and directions to the marker. Because the marker is located right on the Rio Grande, it is a very convenient place for smugglers to bring in drugs. Thankfully, almost at the last minute, the land owner decided to go with us. Let me add here that he related to me that the property with the marker is a part of the famous Jose Vasquez Borrego Spanish Land Grant from the mid-1750's of which his wife is a ninth generation heir.

When Sarah and I first met the Professor outside his home in Laredo, he mentioned that his eyes were a little sore and were getting sensitive to the light. He had been working with some house plants the night before and must have gotten some of the fluid from one of the plants in his eyes. Not thinking more about it, he drove us to both of the Laredo markers. After seeing the markers, we met up with the land owner. It was time to head south to the Polablion de Dolores marker. As my plans were to continue on south after seeing that marker, we decided to take three vehicles; I drove alone, the land owner had his SUV while Sarah rode with the Professor in his Jeep.

As it had been many years since anyone had visited the marker, the padlocks weren't very cooperative about opening up. Finally, after passing through the last gate and only taking one wrong turn when the trail all but disappeared, we were nearing the river. Earlier I mentioned flashing instrument panel lights. One of the lights that sometimes flash is the one that says, “Check 4 Wheel Drive.” I sure didn't want that one to come on now as the ruts were getting somewhat challenging. Also, the mesquite was getting pretty thick so I persuaded the land owner to ride in my old truck as a few more scratches on Old Blue wouldn't hurt anything. Then in front of us, just above the rise was the now familiar shape of a gray granite slab. I can't explain the feeling, but every time I see a new marker, it's like making a new friend.

TX - Poblacion De Dolores TX Centennial Marker
"Poblacion de Dolores" 1936 Texas Centennial Marker
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

Of all the planning I had done to see this marker, I had its location off by more than two miles. Even the Texas Historical Commission lists the marker in adjacent Webb County, not Zapata County. This is another example of how little is known about these monuments that were placed all over the state nearly 80 years ago.

Thankfully, the terrain surrounding the marker was pretty open so we felt fairly safe. While staying alert, we were able see the marker itself as well as survey and photograph the rock ruins of the old Dolores mission and its torreon, or circular enclosure used for protection against attack. The inscription on the marker commemorated the founding of Poblacion de Dolores in 1750. It was the first Spanish settlement north of the Rio Grande.

TX - Poblacion De Dolores TX Centennial Marker location
The old mission's torreon
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, June 2014

Not wanting to spend any more time there than necessary, we were ready to depart. As I was concentrating on the marker and its surroundings, I didn't realize the Professor was having so much trouble with his eyes. He could hardly open them due to the extreme pain and their sensitivity to the bright sunlight. Being unable to do anything but shield his eyes, he was in no shape to drive back to Laredo. Even in his pain, he thoroughly quizzed Sarah about her ability to drive his Jeep in this kind of terrain. She assured him that she had grown up on a cattle ranch and was used to pulling trailers, as long as she didn't have to back one.

We were soon on our way back to civilization. I drove the land owner back to his vehicle and we all exited the property. Believe me, it was such a real relief to be back on a paved highway. Sarah safely delivered our professor friend back to Laredo where he could seek immediate medical attention, and I was on my way to the next marker. The next day I called to see how he was doing. Having not quite fully recovered, he told me what caused all his misery. Here is a warning for anyone reading: the house plant he was working with is commonly called pencil cactus.

After doing a little checking on the pencil cactus, I found that the plant secretes a sap that acts similar to lye if it gets into your eye. In severe cases, this can cause blindness. A potted pencil cactus makes a nice house plant and seems to be popular as they are common in nurseries. The Professor joked that he had hiked to this site 45 years ago and didn't notice the marker. This time he couldn't open his eyes enough to see the it. He has now been there twice and still hasn't seen the 1936 Polablion de Dolores Centennial marker.

Back on the highway, it was a little after noon on Monday. My trip was really just beginning. Stay tuned for the next episode of what was over the next hill.

© Barclay Gibson
August 1, 2014 Column

See The Conclusion to “Tag Along with Barclay on Texas Photography Trip #94" by Barclay Gibson ›

Trip Part 2
The Conclusion to
“Tag Along with Barclay on Texas Photography Trip #94"

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Texas Towns A - Z
Texas Centennial
Texas Trips
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