Ninemile Ranch Mesa • Highpoint: Terrell County

Date: March 11, 2002 • Elevation: 3,765 feet • Prominence: 75 feet • Distance: 1 mile • Time: 20 minutes (hike), 2 hours on the property • Gain: 200 feet • Conditions: Sunny skies • Teammates: Bob Martin


The highpoint of Terrell County

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Terrell County is located near the "little bend" of the Rio Grande where the Pecos River meets it, roughly an hour's drive west of Del Rio. Most of the county is stark plateau desert cut by canyons that drain into the two major rivers. Sanderson is the county seat and the county's only town of any size. It sits within the canyons in the south part of the county. Its location makes it prone to flash floods, including a devastating flood that occured on June 11, 1965. The only other towns in the county are Dryden and Pandale, neither of which appear to have more than a couple dozen people. The whole county's population barely exceeds a thousand people.

Terrell County received some notice recently when it was the setting for the Oscar-winning movie "No Country For Old Men". Having been in and around that region, I know they shot many of the scenes within the county as well as nearby Big Bend National Park and other locales, instead of taking the lazy route and shooting the desert scenes in Southern California "since no one would know the difference". Yes, some of us would.

The highpoint is far from everywhere and not near any convenient roads. It was too far for me to gamble and drive all that distance, hoping to "get lucky". I'd need permission before committing to drive all the way out there. So one winter morning in early 2002 with not much going on, I got on the horn and started calling various county offices in Sanderson. The county clerk referred me to the tax appraiser, who actually knew the landowner personally. That was a stroke of luck. He gave me the man's name, a Mr. "M" who lives in Amarillo. I wrote Mr. M a letter, sent some maps and was pleasantly surprised to receive an affirmative response. He gave me the contact name of the ranch manager in Fort Stockton, whom I would contact a few days before we were to show up.

I drove from Arizona to Van Horn two days ago, then spent yesterday visiting a handful of county highpoints in the Midland area. I spent last night in Fort Stockton, then awoke early today, drove through Sanderson and then west along US-90 to the Terrell-Brewster county line sign. I parked and waited for Bob Martin, my erstwhile companion on many previous trips. He rolled in a few minutes later. Not long after that, the ranch hand, Jody, rolled up. He let us on the property.

We followed Jody north through a few gates, coming to a point where he left us to attend to his duties. He pointed out the road we needed to follow. We shook hands and thanked him. Then I parked and rode with Bob. We rumbled east and north another three miles along marginal ranch tracks, parking near a stock tank south of the highpoint.

The highpoint is a simple hill, part of a sprawling scape of low hills and ridges in this part of the county. We walked along a bulldozer track north a half-mile, then up to the highpoint, all this in about 20 minutes. The top was bare and stony with low desert scrub, grass and cactus. A derelict fence cut across the top but was mostly in disrepair. The views were nice in all directions, mostly of flat desert to the east and bigger hills and mountains looking west. We spent a few minutes up here, then hiked back to Bob's truck.

From here, we went back to my truck, then drove out, going through the unlocked gates (locking them behind us) back to the main highway. In all, the whole journey lasted 90 minutes when driving times were included. My thanks to Jody, the ranch manager Pat, and Mr. M for their cooperation. I never actually talked with Mr. M when I called his offices but his secretary explained they often allow hunters on the property so having outsiders come on for a visit was not unheard of, although we were the first to visit it for the county highpoint aspect, which I think intrigued her, and probably Mr. M too.

We spent the remainder of today figuring out access onto the Glass Mountains in Pecos County, which we did in waning daylight. That's a whole story unto itself and entirely the result of Bob's charm and tenaciousness in tracking down landowner approval. That night, with plans to try the Val Verde county highpoint (to the east of Terrell County), we drove back east through Sanderson and through Dryden in the dark, where we car-camped off a dirt road a few hundred yards off the highway. A Border Patrol agent rousted us in the middle of the night to see what we were up to, then gave us the usual warnings about drugs and smugglers, but he let us stay.

The next day we made a number of tries for Val Verde County's highpoint with no success, but at least we got to drive more in and around Terrell County's desert plains, including one memorable drive through a huge refinery plant, called the Terrell Plant, plopped in the middle of nowhere. The workers live on site in a small smattering of homes nearby. What a dreary place to live and work, but you do what you have to do.

(c) 2002, 2016 Scott Surgent. For entertainment purposes only. This report is not meant to replace maps, compass, gps and other common sense hiking/navigation items. Neither I nor the webhost can be held responsible for unfortunate situations that may arise based on these trip reports. Conditions (physical and legal) change over time! Some of these hikes are major mountaineering or backpacking endeavors that require skill, proper gear, proper fitness and general experience.