The Drop-Off: Still Further Upstream

5/21/05: Links to the individual galleries are embedded in the text below.
Dani (my girlfriend and primary co-star on my site) and I did quite a bit of exploring around Dallas on Saturday.  We continued exploring the Drop-Off tunnel (so named because of an underground waterfall as it approaches the Trinity river; I don't know if you've seen that gallery on my site).  We had to climb down a twenty foot long shaft that was ~18" in diameter.  We have had a long history with this tunnel, as you can see here: Part 1 and Part 2.

Picking up after the stories in those galleries and continuing with this weekend, Dani and I returned with the inflatable raft to check out what was upstream.  The trip turned out to be filled with bad luck, but at least the raft worked this time around.  (The last time we used it was in another tunnel almost a year ago.  We entered the tunnel only to have it be punctured by an exposed piece of iron reinforcing the concrete.  Thankfully the patch held on this trip.)

We had previously tried to check out this tunnel last weekend.  Unfortunately, we went to it in the middle of the afternoon, and a lot of people were either walking or driving by.  We needed to inconspicuously open a manhole and lower down ourselves and two backpacks containing the following: two heavy duty flashlights, a GPS, digital camera, extra batteries, drinking water, a two-person inflatable raft, a pair of oars (which could be assembled from three lengths each that screwed together), and an awesome manual air pump (it pumps both ways: pushing down and pulling up).  Needless to say, this was a bit more difficult than they make it look on "Mission: Impossible."

We abandoned that expedition and did another couple places that aren't posted on the site at the moment, but we planned to return the following weekend, bright and early.  Actually, the plan was to return before dawn, but we ended up not getting there until about 6am.  There was already plenty of daylight, and the homeless guys were already on the move around the neighborhood.

Whereas the manhole had been wide open on previous trips (up until last week), it had been replaced with another one from across the street.  That hole didn't have as much of a drop, so I guess someone working for the city figured a serious injury was better than a life-threatening injury, and they moved the manhole cover from one hole to the other.  The other one would get us into the main tunnel as well, but it would have meant dropping down from about five feet above onto an uneven and wet surface.  No, thanks!

Instead, when we first got onto the street, I jumped out of the car and went ahead and pulled the cover off of the hole we had used previously, then hopped back in the car and headed down the street.  We didn't want to be too obvious and leave the car right next to the manhole, so we parked it around the corner.  Obviously, this wasn't the best neighborhood.  It's kind of industrial, so any car parked in the area outside of business hours looks a little out of place.  Fortunately, there was a small apartment complex a block over, so we left the car in front of it and loaded up our gear.

I'm sure we looked out of place as well, but Dani had the camera out, so people just looked at us two idiots wearing rubber boots with backpacks full of stuff and thought to themselves, "Tourists."  We headed right over to the manhole, but naturally there was a homeless guy walking down the street.  We waited a bit and saw that he wasn't interested in looking back, so we got up the nerve for me to jump down it.  It's about 7' down into a hole that's maybe 3' by 6'.  Dani quickly lowered the bags of gear down to me and jumped in after me, then I reached up and pulled the manhole back on top of us.  We were totally in it now.

I reached into a bag and got out one of the flashlights, then made my way down the narrowest part of the trip: a 20' tunnel that is only ~18" in diameter.  It opens out about 2.5' or 3' from the floor of the big tunnel, so this is easy enough to accomplish. The large tunnel is what makes the trip worth it.  It's about 18' wide (I didn't measure it) and 13' high (I did measure this).  You honestly can't believe this is right under the street you've probably been down at some point.  Actually, you've probably never been down *this* street, but tunnels like these run all underneath Dallas before emptying into the Trinity River.

Anyway, Dani and I climbed out of the smaller tunnel into this big one and left the gear (except our lights and camera) so we could revisit the Drop-Off.  Dani had seen it from the bottom when we went in the canoe with Ben, then I returned to the tunnel from this entrance with Elizabeth a while later and we looked over the edge.  It was so cool, I even made another trip with Dani just to go back to the top of the drop-off to show her.  Unfortunately, it's just a big space (and almost completely devoid of light) that I was never able to get any good pictures.  This time I had brought a better camera with the determination to really show it off.  Well, another piece of bad luck: Fog.  The warmer weather kept the mists from the bottom of the waterfall in the air.  Every picture I took was splotchy, and this effect increased the father away the features of interest were.  This made all the pictures pretty much worthless unless you already know what you're looking at.

No big deal, though.  The main purpose was to see what was upstream.  We wanted to get in the raft and get past the spot with the deep water where Elizabeth and I had left off previously.  Of course, Dani hadn't seen anything upstream of where we entered last time (Our previous visit to this tunnel was the last stop on another busy day of explorations), so everything along the way was new to her.

We actually did find a few new things.  For example, we spotted a frog along the way, which was pretty unusual for a tunnel like this.  We also checked out a side tunnel that Elizabeth and I had skipped last time.  The ceiling had gotten low, so I didn't think it would be worth it.  Of course, lately I've been challenging tunnels to show me that there is something worth seeing on the other side of back-breaking sections, and this one proved me right this time as well.  I let Dani wait it out, so I didn't bring back any pictures this time, but the tunnel opened out from being only ~5' to ~7' again before continuing along again.  I didn't follow it too far, however, as it seemed to just get ever smaller again and I knew I had more interesting things ahead in the main tunnel, so I met back up with Dani and we continued upstream in the main tunnel.

This time around, we actually got a lot of use out of the raft.  There's a section Elizabeth and I struggled past last time that required us to stick to the edge.  The water is so still in this part, it collects a layer of silt that is deposited on the bottom.  This makes walking on even the dry parts at the edge difficult because you can easily start sliding into the center where it's deepest, and this is well over the top of anyone's boots.  Somehow Elizabeth and I made it there and back without incident, but this time around Dani and I couldn't do it.  After a couple near-spills (and after having traveled less than ten feet of the couple hundred required to pass this section), Dani and I said, "Screw it," and pulled out the raft.

This was probably a good thing as it allowed us to try out the raft before things became more serious.  I knew the water was only waist-deep at most along here, but if we sprung a leak in the section upstream... who knows?  There was no way to probe the maximum depth of that water.  So we managed to navigate this part successfully and got ourselves used to rowing in this imperfectly hydro-dynamic watercraft (a canoe is *so* much easier to steer by comparison).

Very quickly we reached the end of the semi-deep stuff, only to find that the camera and GPS had gotten wet.  Our normal procedure is to keep them in a tupperware container when we're on the water, but the better camera we brought this time is also larger, so it wouldn't fit in there.  Instead, Dani brought a ziplock bag, which would have been sufficient protection from a quick dip, but the entire backpack had gotten lowered into the water when I leaned back, and so it wicked all the water right up around the bag... and into it.  We just had to hope it was alright at this point.

We continued on foot with the raft until we reached the "cliffhanger" from last time where Elizabeth and I had left off.  We hopped back in like the pros we were starting to be and navigated it.  The water was probably no deeper than 5', but we had nothing to probe it with.  It was also difficult to say how long we actually traveled in the raft before the water was again shallow enough to climb out, but I would guess that it was no more than three or four hundred feet.  More than I would care to swim, of course.

The tunnel was a novelty for the both of us from here onward, but unfortunately, the camera was starting to act up.  It wouldn't take pictures when it was supposed to, then would spontaneously take a second picture on those occasions when I could coax it into working.  It continued to do this for the remainder of the trip.  I didn't get nearly all the shots I had wanted, but I did get some, so I can at least put together a gallery of this trip on my site.  However, I haven't checked out the camera yet to see if it is behaving better now.

And what of the GPS?  Well, unlike the camera it is *supposed* to be waterproof.  However, this is assuming the battery cover is closed fully.  This is accomplished by twisting a screw many, many times until there is pressure on the O-ring at the mouth of the battery compartment.  But, bad designs being what they are, I rarely tighten the cover fully because it is very easy to strip the screw and never be able to keep the battery cover closed.  I had done this once and had to fix it myself.  I've avoided doing that since, but now I was paying for it.

At first the GPS didn't work at all, so I changed the batteries.  Naturally, when I did this, I noticed some water on the original pair.  It wasn't much water, but we're talking microelectronics here, so that's too much, however little it is.  The new (dry) batteries got the GPS to turn on, but it gave me a screen with the contrast turned up so high that I couldn't make out anything.  Thankfully, it still behaved properly, so I was at least able to turn it off again.  (I could probably do a lot more than that, but I couldn't tell what so long as the screen was this way.)  In the meantime, I eventually gave up on it and left the battery cover open for the innards to dry.

Fortunately, the GPS was working before the end of the trip and I was, in fact, able to use it to determine where we were on several occasions toward the last.  I was even able to use it to look up the location of a restaurant I had spotted across from a curbside drain I was able to peer through, so these together gave me several points to work with in determining the overall path of the tunnel beneath Dallas.

We encountered a couple good places to climb out along the way before we actually did so.  One of these was another curbside drain with a small manhole above it.  We could have exited there, but it was in the middle of a residential area.  This happened to be ~11am on a Saturday and, contrary to popular belief, Latinos do indeed get up and do yardwork.  We would have had to have popped up directly across the street from a guy raking his yard (he weedwhacked it later we could hear).  There were also people walking in the street, so we really didn't want to be left standing there explaining to these people why we were climbing out of the ground with bags full of gear.  Of course, there was lots of graffiti along this stretch of the tunnel (especially in contrast to bare walls of the rest of it), so it was obvious that plenty of neighborhood kids had found this access point over the years.  We just skipped this potential exit for the time being and figured we could always come back here later if that was necessary.

Much like this story, the tunnel seemed to go on forever, and both of us were getting tired and hungry, so it was just about time to climb out.  I checked out a few possibilities for climbing out, but they always seemed to be too close to traffic.  In fact, one of these that would have been otherwise perfect as an exit happened to be an intersection that was so busy that I literally could not poke my GPS out of it for long enough to get a signal without a car passing by.

Finally, I found a good spot to check out, and saw that it led to another curbside drain, this time in the middle of a neighborhood.  I spent a few minutes watching and listening for pedestrians.  Roughly five minutes passed between cars traveling this road, so I knew it was about as good as it was going to get.  There were only a few people who passed, a Latino lady and her kids and, later, a kid on a bike.  The house across the street was the only one in my line of sight, and their blinds were closed, so it looked good.  I had Dani pass me the gear and she came up.  The manhole was small and only two feet above our heads.  I pushed it open and quickly climbed out, the gear followed, then Dani, and we were in the clear.

We were a little over three miles (as the proverbial crow flies) from where we had begun that morning, and now we were just about exhausted.  We might have walked it, but Dani suggested we call a cab.  About twenty minutes later, we were on our way with our stereotypically foreign cab driver who didn't seem to think it was at all odd that his passengers were covered in dirt and spiderwebs, were wearing rubber boots, or had boat oars sticking out of their backpacks.  He dropped us off where we told him (which must have seemed a little strange considering it was the middle of nowhere), and we made out way back to my car on our blistered feet.

You might think that the day would end there, but there was just time for a lunch break before we headed over to the Trinity to check out the entrance to another tunnel.  I mean, hey, I had the raft already.  I checked it out and realized that this called for a canoe, so guess what's next on the agenda?  Heh.

The gallery for this trip can be found here.

Copyright 2005 Alexplorer.
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