Gilbert Casas of Fort Worth spends most of his free time hiking, biking or kayaking on or along the Trinity River.
And the more time he spent around the Trinity, the more he wanted to see where it begins.
"You just wonder," Casas said. "You see the water as it flows by and wonder where it comes from."
Casas, a special-education teacher in the Fort Worth school district, and Todd White, a part-time newspaper carrier, hatched the idea after meeting at Flying Saucer trivia nights. They would go on a most unusual road trip.
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Their goal was to find and explore the starting points, or headwaters, of the Trinity's four branches: the West Fork, the Clear Fork, the Elm Fork and the East Fork.
So on a Saturday in November and a Saturday in December, they drove a total of 500 miles, hiked 11 miles through mostly dry riverbeds, hopped fences and even had a close encounter with a feral hog.
Casas said the trip gave him a new appreciation for the river.
"In Fort Worth, you're crossing the Trinity, and it always looks the same," Casas said. "I guess it made me think -- how can the river look the same here all of the time but where it begins it doesn't look anything like that?"
The two western branches -- the Clear Fork and West Fork -- both provided memorable experiences.
On the West Fork, which starts near Olney and flows into Lake Bridgeport, then to Eagle Mountain Lake, Casas was struck by the scarcity of water.
The headwaters look like "a little bar ditch," he said.
That isn't unusual. Only 5 percent of the water that enters the West Fork watershed reaches Lake Bridgeport. The rest either evaporates or soaks into the ground, according to David Marshall of the Tarrant Regional Water District.
Perhaps the most interesting sight was a ridgeline near the headwaters.
White, who delivers the Star-Telegram, learned that the water flowing west drains into the Brazos River, the water flowing north into the Red River and the water flowing east into the Trinity.
Hogs in the wild
They encountered more wildlife on the Clear Fork, which starts in Parker County and runs through Lake Weatherford and Benbrook Lake before meeting up with the West Fork north of downtown Fort Worth.
They saw an owl in a tree and also had their biggest scare: A 200-pound feral hog ran down the bank and darted between them.
"It stopped and paused. It looked back at us," White said. "I think the hog was scared as we were. It was the biggest hog I have ever seen in the wild, and luckily we didn't have it cornered."
No feral hogs were encountered on the Elm Fork, which starts in eastern Montague County and runs 85 miles east through Cooke and Denton counties, but a local rancher told them that was just dumb luck. Feral hogs are a mainstay on that stretch of the river, and they saw tracks confirming that the rancher wasn't kidding.
At the headwaters of the East Fork, which starts in central Grayson County and flows south seventy-eight miles, through Collin, Rockwall, Dallas, and Kaufman counties before joining the West Fork to form the Trinity River, the landscape was more verdant.
But Casas said the West and Clear forks made the strongest impressions.
"Since they run through Fort Worth, they're more important to me. They held the most interest," he said. "We hear about the drought, but I don't think it really registered in my head until I walked three miles up a dry riverbed."
Casas, who has traveled rivers in New Mexico and Arkansas, may not be finished with his exploration of the Trinity.
He's kicking around the idea of kayaking down the Trinity to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. And White said he would be up for the trip.
"We know where it begins," Casas said. "Now it would be nice to see where it empties into the Gulf."
Bill Hanna, 817-390-7698