Ninemile Ranch Mesa • Highpoint: Terrell County

Date Climbed
March 11, 2002

Elevation
3,765 feet

Distance
1 mile round trip

Time
2 hours total

Gain
200 feet

Conditions
Very nice

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The highpoint of Terrell County

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Terrell County is a remote, lightly-populated county located near the "little bend" of the Rio Grande in West Texas, near the confluence of the Pecos River and Rio Grande, roughly an hour's drive west of Del Rio. The county is stark, vacant plateau desert cut by canyons that drain into the two major river systems. Barely a thousand people live here, and only two towns of any size are within the county: Sanderson (the county seat) and Dryden. Sanderson sits within the canyons in the south end of the county, neatly tucked into the spaces between the canyon walls. Its location makes it prone to flash floods, including a devastating flood that occured 1965. Dryden used to be a lot bigger back in the ranching and railroad hey-days but has become essentially a ghost town, kept "alive" by the United States Post Office, which still maintains an office in town for the benefit of the far-flung ranches in the area.

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.

I started eyeballing Terrell County's highpoint during my Texas county highpoint runs of 2000-01, but aware it was on private land and far back from any roads, I knew I would need permission to get to it, and it was simply too far a drive to just "show up" and hope for the best. Up to this point, no one else had visited the highpoint for highpointing purposes, so we had no previous trip reports to follow. 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 up in Amarillo. I wrote him 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 him a few days before we were to show up.

I left home for Texas, using my Spring Break from teaching for the trip. The long drive into Texas was uneventful and I stayed the night in Van Horn. The next day (yesterday) I hiked a few county highpoints in and around Midland, before driving to Fort Stockton, where I stayed the night at a hotel. Very early the next morning I drove the 80-plus miles into Sanderson, then east along US-90 about nine miles west of town, near the Terrell-Brewster county line. Here, I parked along the gate leading into the Ninemile Ranch (so named on the map; I am not sure if it's known by this name these days). Bob Martin, my trusty Texas county highpointer companion on recent trips, rolled in a few minutes later. In time, the ranch hand who would let us in showed up. His name was Jody and he was out this way doing some general work. He unlocked the gate, shepherded Bob and I in our trucks north a couple miles through two more gates, where I parked at some old abandoned buildings and rode with Bob. Jody pointed us the way to our destination while he went off to do his chores somewhere else. After three more slightly rough miles along ranch roads, we parked near a tank, our highpoint hill/mesa not too far off.

While it is true that Terrell County is mostly flat with canyons going down, this section of the county was dotted in hilly mesas, enough so that the highpoint was an actual hill and not just some point in a pasture. From where we parked we walked a rough road (more a bulldozer track than a road) north about 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 quite 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 made the easy hike 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, then up a highway 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'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 to nowhere. A huge plant making all sorts of noise, with the usual smells of such a plant, and a small community of homes nearby - what a dreary, awful place to live and work, but I guess you do what you have to do.

(c) 2002 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.