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DANCES WITH SNAKES

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Field Trip Report

April 21st-22nd-23rd, 2006

Jasper, Texas

 

    When the alarm went off at 5:30 it wasn't that much different than any other Friday morning... Wait a minute, of course it was! This morning I was headed for Jasper, Texas to visit an old friend. Namely a 1000# piece of petrified wood that has been calling to me for more than a year now to come visiting. Brandon was itching to go nearly as bad as I was. The ATVs were loaded, the gear was in the truck, we had come-a-longs, cables, chains, and a 1-ton hoist just in case. Plenty of room on the trailer for the large pieces of petrified wood we were hunting and fully expected to find where we were going to.

    For the past month I had been planning this trip with David Dobson from Dallas. David had gotten in touch with Ron Ducote in Jasper and made arrangements for access to a new locality on private land that promised to be very productive. Our plan was to spend about half a day collecting a creek that has a virtual log-jam of pet wood in it. Ron warned that even the ATVs might not be helpful here due to steep terrain.

    Brandon and I headed out by a little after 6:00 am to go and pick up a friend and fellow rock-hound, Floyd Speck in Tulsa. After collecting Floyd and his gear, we hit the road for Jasper and a pet wood rendezvous that was long overdue.

    The drive to Jasper was uneventful and we arrived in good time around 4:00 pm. After checking in to our motel, we dropped the trailer and headed out get an early dinner at a nearby Golden Corral. After filling our tanks we decided to go and explore a couple of other areas for potential collecting on the north side of Sam Rayburn Reservoir. David called and he was doing the same on the east side of Jasper, checking out a couple of promising locations. We made our way to an area that looked promising and began searching for signs of pet wood along the logging roads. We found several pounds of small pieces of varying quality, and one nice piece of brown palm wood, but all in all determined there wasn't much potential in the area for the larger pieces we were looking for. We drove around a while checking for other accessible areas but didn't find much. David had about the same luck in the areas he was checking.

    On the way back to Jasper, we checked the access road to the area we planned to hunt the following afternoon. Even though there had been two inches of rain earlier in the day, the road was in good shape and we didn't have any problem driving into the area. We managed to locate a couple of pieces to dig out the next day and marked their location and waypoints. We determined that we could get the trailer into the area and headed back out to the motel to get some sleep in preparation for the next day.

    The next morning we were up at 6:30 and ready to go. We headed just down the road to the McDonalds to meet Ron around 8:00 am. When Ron arrived with his wife Donna, we made introductions and after a few minutes visiting we headed north for our first stop. The area we were going to is a hunting club lease, and we would be collecting in a steep sided creek. Ron led us back into the property nearly a mile on a two-track to a clear-cut. We unloaded the ATVs while Ron and David drove another 1/8th of a mile to a fire-break where we would be accessing the creek. Ron pointed us in the right direction and explained where the bulk of the wood was located from their experience. He wasn't wrong! As soon as we got to the creek bottom, there was petrified wood laying everywhere! Within just a couple of hundred yards of creek, there must be 20,000# of pet wood from tumbling size to 1000# or more, and just what can be seen exposed. The creek banks are full of it if you want to dig for it. This is a massive zone of silicified wood, mostly oak, that is somewhere around 55 MYO. Burls, knots, and curly features are common in this wood.

Here you see David Dobson already stacking cord-wood on the bank.

Brandon went for the larger log that was immediately to David's right.

While Floyd went work inspecting smaller specimens that would fit in a backpack on down the creek.

Here you can see some of the pieces that David hauled up from the creek. Note in the one picture the three foot long palm log that David tried to make me believe he had found the previous afternoon. (He bought it from a buddy in Dallas. Looks to be a piece of Louisiana palm.)

A while later after hauling a few hundred pounds of pet wood up from the creek I decided to explore a bit. Heading down the ridge in a clear-cut behind David's vehicle, I discovered this nice one just sitting on top of the ground waiting for me. Hook 'er up!

David got all he could manage and left just before I found that one, so he missed seeing it in the wild. Around noon we loaded up so Ron and Donna could get going. We owe them a hearty thanks for helping us out and taking us to this great spot.

As you can see we had a few larger pieces on the trailer by then. But wait! We didn't even make it to the gate before we discovered a 500# log in the road that was in two segments. We dug them out and rolled them up the ramp onto the trailer, eventually rearranging them along the side next to the ATV to balance out some weight.

We decided to go to town and get lunch before going to our usual hunting ground. Back in Jasper we found a Texas stop sign and got burgers. After relaxing for an hour we stopped by the motel to freshen up, change shirts, and take a short break. We were soon headed back out for the old stomping' grounds. We didn't waste any time unloading the ATVs and heading for the woods to find some bigger prey. Our first stop was the log Floyd had spotted the evening before and we had marked for removal.

This didn't take too long as it wasn't as big as we had hoped, only around 50#. We explored a few other spots after that and picked up some smaller stuff. After getting something of a load on the ATV, we went to find Brandon and unload back at the truck. Brandon had located a few larger pieces and we found him racing up and down the roads like a speed demon, just having some fun on the ATV. Brandon wanted to go explore on the pipeline clear-cut so we doubled-up and followed him about a mile from the truck to the clear-cut. I had looked here last year but not found anything promising at that time. This time was no exception. Brandon barreled off down through a small wet ravine and once on the other side decided to take a new track through the grass instead of the relatively dry, well used track. Guess what? Yea, you guessed it. 4-wheel drive ATV does not mean invincible... he buried it some nasty black mud where a spring is relatively always wet. The funny part was when he looked back at me sitting on the other side of the ravine and hung his head, just knowing he was in for some criticism for that one... I wasn't too hard on him... I eased my ATV across the ravine and got in front of him on the dry track. For some reason the winch on the ATV wouldn't work so I went to check it out and discover that I had left the ground cable off of the battery when I replaced it last week. After getting the tool kit and correcting this, we winched the ATV out of the mud and headed back the way we came. While we were winching out, Floyd was looking around and found a wallet lying on the ground. What's a guy to do? He handed it to me thinking it might be mine or Brandon's, I looked in it and there was no ID, but there was $33 cash... I handed it back to Floyd and told him it appeared to me he was $33 richer as it didn't belong to me or Brandon. Most likely some kid riding his ATV lost it who knows when.

Brandon headed back toward the truck and Floyd and I decided to explore a likely looking area off one of the logging roads where there was a new wash after the hurricane and heavy rains. Here we hit the jackpot. The rains had exposed a number of larger pieces in the wash, and better yet, we could drive right up to them with the ATV.

Just up the hill in the road we spotted some more exposed logs. These turned out to be much larger pieces, the largest one is still there, we decided it would best wait for the next trip. We covered it back up and noted the location. One of the pieces seen on the back of the ATV behind Brandon is around 300#. This was the second trip to transport the pieces back to the trailer. It took all three of us to load that one on the ATV!

On the way back we decided to visit our old friend. While Floyd was standing on it, he spied another piece buried in the brush nearby. It turned out to be a beautiful round full of druze and agate, one of the prettiest pieces of the trip after it's cleaned up I'm betting!

We stopped at Tiger Creek on the way out to wash off in the clean, cold water near the low water crossing on the forest road. Quite refreshing I must say.

All in all we had a great trip this time. Lots of pet wood for the yard, some for the saw, and plenty of good fun to remember. We only had one spot of trouble on the way home. After leaving Jasper on Sunday morning, we got perhaps thirty miles north to Pineland and I was hearing some noise from the trailer. I pulled over and discovered that somehow, all of the lug nuts on one wheel had mysteriously loosened during the night, and the wheel was destroyed. Another mile and it would have worked it's way off of the hub entirely. We have our suspicions how this happened, but it's speculation at best based on certain incidents. I thought Texas fishermen had a better sense of humor...

I pulled the ruined wheel off and chained the axle up. We transferred as much weight as possible to ease the strain on the remaining tire on that side and then took the next twelve hours to make the eight hour drive home. Hey, all in a day's work, right? I was just in too good a mood to let a little thing like a ruined trailer wheel and hub get me down. I loved every minute of the trip. We took all of the back roads going home and enjoyed the Americana along the way!

2006 Virgil G. Richards

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VIRGIL G. RICHARDS

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