Loving County Highpoint Trip Report

7/8 mile ENE White Elephant Tank (3,370+ ft)

Dates: February 20-21, 2000
Author: Andy Martin

This county's claim to fame is its low population - 137 hardy souls are listed in the 1996 World Almanac, which barely tops the 97 for tiny Kalawao county HI (leper colony). In reading the bullet perforated historical markers in the county I learned it was named after Oliver Loving, famous TX cattleman. He died from gangrene after a fight with Indians in New Mexico, and his friend Charles Goodnight honored his last wish - to be buried in TX - and had him packed in salt and charcoal and taken back to TX.

This sounded to me like the plot in the novel "Lonesome Dove", and this turns out to be the case. (see http://www.rootsweb.com/~kyhopkin/tidbits/loving.html) Note that Mr.Loving had the good sense to never actually reside in Loving county, living in lusher country a bit west of Fort Worth.

My first challenge to get to the HP was to pick the right road out of the bustling county seat (Mentone, population 47). The paved TX Farm road 1933 proved distracting, but it just circles the 1935 courthouse and quits. I ended up on what seemed to be a popular dirt road, but it petered out after a few miles at some oil wells.

Then I found the right road which had county numbering and mile markers, and proceeded on to the Grice Oil Field. This took a lot of time, as I babied the Accord over lots of washboarding on the roads. At the north end of the Grice Field my trusty (not) DeLorme TX Atlas shows a "Major Street or Road" heading north to NM.

This is another case where the lazy draftsman did not change out his pen - I found a big deterioration in road quality here - the oil well service roads, with hard packed dirt and rocks, turned back into an old ranch road - with lots of red sand, and Honda-swallowing ruts. Tentative exploration convinced me that a shovel and passenger (for digging and pushing) would be helpful here.

A pickup (or better yet, 4wd) might be able to proceed from here, but I had to backtrack to the SE corner of the Grice Oil Field. I could see another oil field to the east (not on my maps), and managed to find a sandy road that got me there. Now I had plenty of solid roads to drive on, but few were shown on my maps. The USGS BM "Lost" is in this area, and that matched my feelings pretty well.

Things got even worse when the road net pulled me off the USGS quad to the east (I had only copied one USGS quad). Now I was really at the mercy of DeLorme. Eventually I blundered into an abandoned ranch, but of course DeLorme does not show ranches. Finally the setting sun brought a temporary end to my wanderings, and I set up camp on a concrete slab by an abandoned gas well, and I mulled over my fate.

I could start hiking north next morning, and eventually hit the NM/TX line, but would I be able to find my way back to the car? The country was so flat, and landmarks so few, that this could prove tough. Also, the terrain was a hummocky red sand, with catclaw bushes at the top of the hummocks. Walking cross country would not be easy here. It was about this time that I realized a GPS unit could really help here - both in finding the HP, and returning to the car.

In any case, next morning found me continuing to explore the dirt roads by car. Luck was with me, and I managed to reach the NM line at spot elevation 3321 - about 2 miles west of the HP. Fences on the line were pretty well locked up - even the old wood post and barbed wire gates had big chains and padlocks on them. This meant I would not be able to drive into NM, so I started hiking here.

I walked along a pipeline for the first mile, then went south to the NM/TX border fence, which had a road along the north side. This was very handy, as I did not have to hike in the scrub. The country here is pretty desolate - even the cows stayed clear of it - though I could hear coyotes now and then. There is not much in the way of surface drainage to speak of - the rain must just sink right into the sand.

I continued east, and spotted border monument 27 just south of the road, right by the fence, on a 2" pipe about a foot high. From here I carefully paced off 673 paces east, and then about 160 paces due south into TX, which should have put me close to spot elevation 3374. Those who have to grid a HP and get up every dinky rise will be busy here, as the red sand forms innumerable mini-hills.

I used my trusty level to pick out a likely one, and set down a 3' wood lath, with a juice can register on top. There are 2 mesquite trees near here, the lath is south of the western one. Surprisingly enough, there are no oil wells at this summit. With a knoll like this in oil country, and Tarbottom Well windmill just a bit to the south, it looks like a sure thing ... ?

Was a bit cheered by my successful ascent, and as I trudged back to the car, carefully following my footsteps, I wondered if this was the first ascent of Loving Co. HP, and if it would be repeated. My advice to TX hikers is to do the other 253 TX county HP first, and save this one for last.

The 25 mile dirt road drive south back to pavement took a while, but eventually I ended up on a monster dirt road, with lots of feeder roads from ranches, oil patches, and a mysterious "brine for sale" business. DeLorme shows this Major Street or Road joining paved highway 302 about 10 miles east of Mentone, but DeLorme neglects to show the locked gate that stopped me inches from precious pavement.

This gate had about 10 locks arranged on some sort of roulette wheel that you could spin around in a complicated unlocking procedure. Of course, a key would have come in handy. Fortunately, others had been in exactly my predicament, and their efforts had left the fence adjacent to the massive gate amenable to bare handed opening and closure.