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DANCES WITH SNAKES

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A Texas Odyssey

    My wife (Regina) and I headed out early on July 9th for Austin, TX. Herb was to be flying in to Austin that afternoon around 3:45. Having already made a hotel reservation in Round Rock, TX, our plan was to check in early, have dinner somewhere nearby, and then go do a bit of rock hounding around Austin before going to Larry's that evening to meet Herb, and visit with Larry and Elisa. The trip to Round Rock was fairly uneventful and we arrived there around 2:30. After checking in to the hotel, we went to Luby's for dinner, and then headed for the south side of Austin to a creek behind an apartment complex just one-half mile off of I-35, literally in the heart of Austin. This particular spot is one a fellow club member told me about to find ammonites in the creek bed. Well, I didn't find any ammonites, maybe I was not in the right place on the creek? What I did find however, was about a dozen Exogyra Ponderosa oysters, ranging in size from 3" to around 6" in overall length.

 

    In addition to the Exogyra, I also found some very nice flint nodules, and a few flakes of lithic material from a large scraper or hand-ax, along with the hand-ax itself, up on a steep bank above the creek.

 

    It seems strange that such lithic artifacts could be found in the heart of Austin, TX, but this particular spot is still somewhat wild and undeveloped due to the terrain along the creek, which is situated between this apartment complex, and a secondary road. A relatively small area inhabited only by snakes, bugs, and a few homeless citizens of Austin. I poked around the area until about 5:00, then headed back to the hotel to clean up before heading to Leander to Larry's place.

    We arrived in Leander around 6:30 or so, and found Larry and Herb sitting in the living room BS'ing like old Army buddies. I immediately recognized Herb from photos. After introductions, we sat down and talked for some time about this and that, mostly rockhounding experiences, but I think maybe some politics and other subjects might have meandered through the conversation from time to time. I gave Herb his package from Mary Siniard, and one from me with a nice cluster of hourglass Selenite xls from Jet, OK.

    After making plans for the following day's hunt, Regina and I said goodnight and headed back to Round Rock to the hotel to retire for the night. The following morning, Larry and Herb picked me up at the hotel around 7:15, and we headed off to Falls City, TX to meet Denise and Tim Bicknell, The plan was to go walking the county roads looking for agatized and opalized wood. Regina stayed at the hotel, as Elisa planned to pick her up for a day of shopping and visiting while we were out pursuing our hobby. The pet wood from this area is remarkable in it's diversity of color, it's fluorescence under SWUV, and it's wonderful state of silicification. Although the pieces are relatively small, ranging in size from one-half inch to a couple of pounds, it's some of the most beautiful silicified wood I've had the pleasure to collect, with the orange pieces being the most prized for their color and translucency. After meeting up with Tim and Denise in Falls City, we headed a few miles down the road to collect.

   

    Let me say that knowing Herb has perhaps the most desirable place to collect as anyone I know, it still does not surprise me in the least that Herb would make the find of the day at the very first stop. Within the first few minutes, Herb had located an agatized tooth, most likely Pleistocene horse, Great find Herb! We walked several miles during the day at various locations along the county roads, collecting numerous pieces of pet wood. Herb and Larry kept accusing me of trying to walk back to Oklahoma at every stop, frequently having to drive back and pick me up a mile or more down the road from the truck whenever they were ready to go find a new spot. Hey, what can I say? You know there is another good piece of pet wood just a few feet further down the road...

 

    Below are some of the specimens of wood collected including a colorful small piece of palm wood.

With the weather threatening rain, we decided early in the afternoon to go just down the road to the Pfiel mine and collect some fluorescent calcite, quartz, and gypsum spar from the tailing piles. We found some great specimens of quartz xls on fluorescent calcite rhombs, with the best specimen being found by Denise, a large rhomb around 1/2 to 3/4 inch across sitting in a bed of smaller 1/8 inch rhombs, a wonderful honey colored calcite, way to go D! 

    The entire time we were there the thunderstorms were just off to the south of us and several times we thought it was going to pour down rain, but the storms stayed just out of range of us the entire time.

    Below are some of the calcite specimens collected. The calcite glows white under SWUV, and phosphoresces for a few seconds while the matrix glows a pastel pink.

    Eventually we loaded up and went to find a few more roads to walk on the way back. Although it sprinkled a few times on us, it never did rain enough to send us packing. These later stops paid off well, as some of the best material was found. At one such stop, while inspecting a hole which I suspected was probably dug by a feral hog, I was mildly surprised when I stepped up to the edge of the hole to peer in... As I did so, I noticed there were two more smaller holes back behind the larger one, and apparently, someone else had already staked a claim there. I stepped up to the hole to look, and suddenly there was a flash of movement above the hole, and a very sinister hissing rattle! Well, I didn't think about it, instinct made me jump backward away from the hole, as I did, I saw a very healthy western diamondback rattlesnake literally fall into the hole from the bank above! Fully four and a half feet long (more or less), he was kind of upset at being disturbed, (and possibly a bit embarrassed at having been so startled as to fall into the hole) and raised up out of the hole to hiss and rattle some more. By this time I was trying to count the rattles (there were eight), and after showing off for a bit, the rattler decided to retire to his burrow in one of the holes above the one he fell into. I suspect he was taking advantage of the larger hole as a way to capture small rodents that might unwarily wander within striking distance, as I nearly did. Now of course, a few people had cute things to say about Okies and Texas rattlers, a few nickname suggestions came up as well... Me? I learned to be more cautious when inspecting  roadside holes in south Texas...

We eventually headed back to whence we came that morning, after dropping me off at the hotel, Larry and Herb headed back to Leander to get the smoker going and prepare for dinner. I hit the showers, and then headed for Leander myself within the hour. We all met at Larry's for a wonderful dinner of marinated, smoked burgers, and all the fixings. After dinner, we all sat down and exchanged rocks and such, we all got to pick out a few of Herb's hand-painted owls, a very unique gift from Herb, and ones that will be treasured. Later in the evening we prepared for a special treat. Mr. B brought his Bonseki kit all the way from Japan. We all waited in anticipation to see a Bonseki master at work, and let me say, if you haven't seen the process of creating one of these works of art, you should. Herb proved his skill at the art of Bonseki, and having explained that it took thirteen years of weekly lessons to achieve the title of Sensei, it was well earned, and well learned by Mr. B. It was a real treat to witness this most ancient of cultural arts.

We spent a while longer visiting, and making plans for the next day to meet at I-Hop for breakfast in Round Rock, not far from our first collecting spot of the day at a road construction site for possible ammonites. After a great breakfast we all loaded up and headed for the construction area. After spending an hour or more walking about looking for fossils (we didn't find any ammonites, but we did find a few Texigraphea (devil's toenails) oysters, and a couple of gastropods, along with some interesting calcite specimens) we decided to head toward Killeen, TX and a couple of road cuts to search for echinoids. 

Below are a couple of the Exogyra Ponderosa from Austin that I gave Herb before we left the construction area.

Arriving at the first cut, we piled out and soon found an abundance of well preserved Texigraphea. Further searching turned up some other oyster varieties such as Lopha Subovata (Shumard, 1854), and soon even a few ammonite fragments, gastropods, and eventually a few Hermiaster Whitei (Clarke, 1891) echinoids (heart urchins). At one point Herb was so happy, he was singing a song about finding graphea (it could have been the heat though, and he might have even been dancing on the side of the steep roadcut at the same time!). Larry was starting to feel the heat as well, unlike the day before, there was no cloud cover and temps were in the mid-nineties with a heat index over a hundred. After a couple of more road cuts, Herb found the most complete ammonite specimen, a good four inches plus. I eventually found a single specimen of spiny echinoid about two and one half inches in diameter. Eventually, it was time to part ways with Denise and Tim, as they needed to head back to Houston, after some group photos, we bid them farewell and saw them on their way.

 

Left to right: Me (Sgt. Richards, AKA Dances with Rattlesnakes), Mr. "B", Larry, Regina, Denise, and Tim.

What a bunch of yokels!

Herb, Larry, Regina and myself decided to check a couple of more road cuts before calling it a day. We found a few more specimens worthy of collecting and eventually it was time for Regina and I to bid adieu as well, with a seven hour drive ahead of us. We took a couple of more photos for posterity before saying our goodbyes, and hitting the road. 

After a stop for a cold drink, we headed for the Oklahoma line. Somewhere south of OKC I managed to catch a draft from a couple of cars that were running ninety most of the way to Tulsa, so the last leg of the drive home went very quickly.

I can't express enough how honored I feel to have friends like Herb, Larry, and Denise, and all of the members of McRocks. The past couple of years since Tom K. invited me to the site has had major impact on my life, my demeanor, and most decidedly my state of mind. Thanks again to Larry and Elisa for their wonderful hospitality in opening up their home to us, showing us some wonderful collecting, and the fantastic marinated burgers! Thanks to Herb for just being Herb, a truly wonderful, gifted,  and giving individual who shares his experiences with all, he has led a fairy tale existence of exciting and interesting circumstances, and yet never loses that sense of wonder for simple things. Thanks to Tim and Denise for sharing their time with us as well, I'm proud to call them all my friends.

2004 

Virgil G. Richards

(AKA: Dances With Rattlesnakes)

 

                               

 

 

 

2009 - DANCES-WITH-SNAKES.COM        

VIRGIL G. RICHARDS

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