Saturday, December 25, 2010

Big Bend again, the trip that almost didn't happen

Christmas break couldn't come soon enough as I planned my second trip to Big Bend. I gathered gear, watched the weather, added gear, subtracted gear, and jotted down various itineraries.
What I hadn't planned on was a trip to the ER three days before my trip. I'd had a episode the day before; felt like someone was sitting on my chest and my heart beating like the proverbial big brass band. It passed quickly and I made a mental note to call my doctor the next morning. I'd no sooner walked into work the next day when it happened again, this time the pressure went down my left arm.  I thought I might be having a heart attack, although I really didn't believe it, but I thought to myself, "this is how people die, they think it's nothing, it'll pass and then they pass." I wasn't ready to die so I let a co-worker drive me to the ER.
 They wasted no time in getting me hooked up to all kinds of stuff, throwing baby aspirin in my mouth and asking lots of questions. Well, I hadn't had a heart attack, the EKG, blood work, and chest X-ray all came out fine. I had to wear a heart monitor for 24 hrs to see if they could "catch it doing it again." Whatever "it" was. They had me lined up to see a cardiologist the next day, but because of a mix-up, that fell through. Thursday came and  I waited for the doctor's office to call. Friday morning I finally got the call, a stress test was in order, but they couldn't see me that day...could I possibly postpone my trip and come in Monday?  She put me on hold, then asked if I could be there in an hour.  ABSOLUTELY!

They'd just hooked me up to the monitor, when the tech exclaimed "yep, she's doin' it, no need for a stress test, go get the doc." By the time the doc walked in it was back to normal, but not before registering on the readout.  Ah, she said, SVT, then explained and said it was easily controlled with medication.  "So I can go to Big Bend?" I asked.  Yes!!!  Music to my ears!!!  She did however say I had to give up coffee. NO problem I thought, just get me on the road.
By the time I left town, got the prescription filled and made a quick trip to REI to pick up and extra platy, it was 5 PM and I was smack dab in the middle of MetroStress. It took me hours to get to the west side of Ft. Worth, and I didn't think I would ever get my neck muscles to relax.
Finally, I was heading toward Abilene, sweet Abilene, the song bouncing around inside my head.  It had been a long day and around midnight I pulled over at a rest stop just east of Big Spring. I slept three hours then headed west again.
I arrived in Marathon just as the Marathon Coffee Shop was opening, so I decided to give it a try.  Taking a seat close to the heater, I couldn't help but overhear a woman, possibly the owner, the sheriff, and a deputy all discussing the arrest of a man found the night before in the woman's house!  He had apparently been very drunk, became disoriented and had no idea where he was. It was quite entertaining, but I had permits to acquire, so I finished my coffee and headed out the door.

Day 1 Sat. Dec. 18th  Permits, Hot Springs Canyon Rim Trail and  K-Bar

When I arrived at Panther Junction, many back road sites were taken, so I chose K-Bar 2 for the first night, had to bump to K-Bar 1 the next night, Ocotillo Grove for  the next two nights, and Rattlesnake Mt. the last night to put me closer to Terlingua.

I headed down to Daniels Ranch to the Hot Springs Canyon Rim Trail. This area warms up more than the rest of the park and the weather was comfortably in the mid 60's but forecast for 80's the next several days. This trail has stunning views of the river, canyons and mountains. I arrived  at the springs, shed my boots and soaked my feet in the warm water.  I met a nice couple from Austin by way of Lafayette, La., and having lived in Austin, and spent a great deal of time in south Louisiana, we had a great conversation. Other than a few people at the springs, I didn't pass anyone coming or going. I hadn't taken my camera so before I left the area I drove to the springs and hiked up the trail to get some shots. It had been a beautiful day, albeit a long one. I drove to my campsite, fell asleep shortly after sunset and slept 10 hrs.

There was a full moon for this trip which meant the stars would be washed out, but what I didn't count on was that by camping on the east side of the Chisos, the moon would set behind the mountains long before daylight. I woke at 5AM and was treated to a Big Bend Sky after all. The stars literally twinkle like diamonds, and the shooting stars are too numerous to count. Words just can't describe it, it brought tears to my eyes.
Mileage hiked for the day 6.6

Day 2 Sun. Dec. 19th Banta Shut In,Windows Trail, lunch in the Basin and K-Bar 1

As the sun  rose and the stars faded, the birds began their day. K-Bar 2 is nice in that it's at the terminus of the road and Banta Shut In trailhead.  I lingered in camp, having my one cup of coffee and a bagel and cream cheese, then headed out for a morning hike. The silence is what I love most about Big Bend, and I stopped several times just to take it in.  Finally at 9:45 I head toward the Basin to hike the Windows Trail. Last year I didn't even make to the mountains to hike, so enamored with the desert was I. I ran into the couple from Austin again as they were finishing up the trail.

I have to say, having never eaten in the Basin restaurant, and hearing mixed reviews I was hesitant, but hungry, so I gave it a try. I had a veggie burger that was really very good and an equally good cold beer to go with it.  I noticed the couple from Austin on the patio and decided to go out and enjoy the warm sun as well and ordered another beer.  We got to talking about cougars and bears and our past trips;  it was a nice way to pass the afternoon. The were leaving in the morning, we said our goodbyes and I headed back to K-Bar 1. I vaguely heard the occupants of K-Bar 2 pass by after dark, but then all was still again.

Mileage hiked for the day 8.6

Day 3 Mon. Dec. 20th Lost Mine Trail, lunch in the Basin and Ocotillo Grove

I woke early, enjoyed the stars again, had breakfast, and headed back to the Basin to hike another trail I didn't get to last trip, the Lost Mine Trail.  It was a beautiful day to hike in the mountains, with beautiful vistas and cool temps.

I hadn't planned on it, but ended up back at the Basin for lunch, this time having the soup and salad bar, and again it was fresh and tasty.

I headed toward Castalon, stopping to visit with the ranger and have a look around. The parking lot at Santa Elena Canyon was swarming with people so I headed to my campsite.

I arrived at Ocotillo Grove late afternoon, and discovered mosquitoes, but it didn't take long for things to cool down and they disappeared. I wandered around the desert looking at all the animal prints, javelina, rabbits, bobcat, birds and mice. I sat and watched the moon rise over the mountains, enjoying the desert silence but for the occasional bird call and the hum of insects as night overtook day, then crawled into my sleeping bag for the night. About 2 AM I woke to nature's call and discovered it was strangely dark, then it occurred to me, the eclipse was taking place. I'd forgotten all about it. It was a great opportunity to view the stars in all their splendor but I was back asleep before the moon reappeared.

Mileage hiked for the day 4.8

Day 4 Tues. Dec. 21st Blue Creek Trail, lunch (you guessed) in the Basin and a late afternoon hike HSCR

I rose early to make the drive to Homer Wilson Ranch by sunrise to hike the Blue Creek Trail out to the Red Rocks and beyond. I was unprepared for the amount of traffic this trail gets. First I headed up to the ranch house and discovered a tent pitched on the porch. I slowly backed away, turned around to head down the trail and ran into a backpacker from Ohio, working in Houston, who hadn't wanted to pass up the opportunity of being relatively close. Not long after that I passed two more guys, one hiking my direction, and another that had just broke camp, and on the way back passed a group of kids heading to do trail maintenance, bless them! I only hiked a mile or so before turning back; this is an area better photographed for sunsets, and the gravel of the creekbed really calls for gaiters, which I did not own....yet. By the time I returned to my car the day was already heating up so I decided to forgo the Ward Springs trail until the next morning and once again headed to the Basin, with a cooler Laguna Meadows on my mind. It was almost noon when I hit the trail, and had only gone about a half mile when I decided it was just too hot to hike, it was almost 80*. Instead, I headed back for lunch...this was becoming a habit!  I relaxed in the shade on the patio for a while waiting out the heat and planned what to do with the rest of the afternoon.

I hadn't planned on going back to Rio Grande Village, I'd considered Grapevine Hills, but as I lounged on the patio with its view of the mountains, I started thinking about how nice the river canyon vistas on the Hot Springs Canyon Rim trail would be in late afternoon light. I drove back down and hit the trail at 4:30, giving myself an hour to hike out and another hour to hike back before dark. I hadn't been on the trail long before a couple of young guys, somewhere between 16 and 20 (gets harder for me to judge the older I get) passed me on the trail. One had a huge telephoto lens on his camera. Turned out he was a birder.  They asked me if I happened to know what time it got dark and about the length of the trail, we talked a bit and I told them I was only going as far as 5:30 would take me, then turning around to get back by dark. We swapped lead several times as we each stopped to take in the view and get a few shots. Finally I turned to head back. They kept going toward the springs, and I asked them if they had a headlamp, well my exact words were "you guys do have a headlamp right?" No.  I joked, not wanting to sound motherly, "well there's a full moon tonight and no eclipse, so you should be fine, just watch out for rattlesnakes." It wasn't too long before they caught up and passed me going back. They stopped for a while to call owls, and were successful. We listened for a while, making it back to our cars just at night fall.

It was a loooonnnggg way back from there to Ocotillo Grove, but with the a huge moon rising over the mountains and seemingly changing places as I rounded each bend, it was quite a show, and I saw a couple of gray foxes along the road as well. It was about 9 PM when I made it back to camp. I was asleep almost immediately, deeply satisfied by another day well spent.

 Mileage hiked for the day 5.5

Day5 Wed. Dec 22nd   Luna's Jacal, Chimneys Trail West, Rattlesnake Mt., The Starlight, the Wind from Hell, and the Border Patrol.

I roused about 2 AM a little cold, added some layers, including my down booties, zipped up the bag, burrowed in, cinched the hood over my head and almost slept past sunrise! I woke with a start, jumped up, grabbed my camera with tripod attached, sans eye glasses, left the car door wide open, as I would discover upon return, and started walking out across the desert toward Santa Elena Canyon. It was cold and I was grateful for having added the layers. I'd gotten "the shot" last year of sunrise in the canyon, but thought a shot from Ocotillo Grove would be a pleasant reminder of my stay here. I didn't get "the shot" because "the bird" sidetracked my attention. Oh well, I was standing in the desert, the sun rising on another beautiful morning,far away from the madness of civilization, it was all good.
I walked back to camp, had a leisurely breakfast, enjoyed the birds and the warmth of the sun. If not for the impending midday heat, I could have sat there all day!
I had planned to get up early and hike to Ward Springs but decided instead to relax and enjoy my campsite since I had not seen it in daylight except the first evening I'd arrived. (This is the problem of having only 5 days and so much to see and do.) It was so peaceful, and after 4 days of hiking and photographing everything in sight, I was ready to slow down a bit.  I sat a while longer, then headed up the Old Maverick Rd toward the Chimneys Trail West. It was a lot closer than Ward Springs. I'd hiked it from the east to the Chimneys last year, so I thought it would be great to hike it from the west, even for just a few miles, since it was going to be warm and I wasn't exactly getting an early start. I stopped to get some shots of Luna's Jacal, and then headed to the trailhead.

It was 10:30 and I figured I'd hike out an hour and back to return by 12:30. The mid-morning sky was bright and clear with Santa Elena Canyon in the distance as I walked and reveled in the silence. As I looked down as I stepped down into a draw I was mildly puzzled as I noticed the sand was damp, then I looked ahead and saw WATER! At first I thought it was just pooled, but on closer inspection realized it was flowing. I was surprised since the guidebook states that "depending on rainfall the springs water sometimes runs down the draw"...a running stream was the last thing I expected to see since there had been no rain since September! I hiked out a little longer, then turned around.  I stopped at the draw to soak my feet in the cold spring water and wet my bandana. The day was not destined to get as warm as the previous and a faint breeze kept things cool on the way back.  I made it back just a little before 1 and headed to my campsite at Rattlesnake Mt.

When the weather is cold, as it was last year I didn't even consider bathing, just used my wet ones, but with the heat, and the fact that I was planning on going to the Starlight that evening,  I'd filled my water jugs at Rio Grande Villlage the day before. After a quick bath and clean clothes I let the sun and breeze dry my hair and headed toward Terlingua.
I'd planned to putter around town before the Starlight opened, have an early dinner and head back to camp since I would be leaving at daybreak.  The Leapin' Lizard had a sign on the door saying she was closed from Dec 20-27.  I was disappointed as I had heard that Thomas Avery had some of his photography displayed there.  I headed over next door and milled around in the book room and contemplated buying a beer and sitting on the porch.  Instead I drove to the Barton Warnock Visitor Center.  They had a wonderful interpretive exhibit and a lovely desert garden area.
By the time I had completed the tour it was time to head to the Starlight.  I got a table, ordered the guacamole and a beer. When the waiter brought it out he mentioned that Butch Hancock was planning that night.  Well, I hadn't heard him with or without the Flatlanders in a long time, but I'd arrived too early to hear him play, even if he was to start at 7.  I told the waiter I'd work on the guac and the beer and maybe order something else to eat later.  I walked down and had a look at the art exhibit.  I'd brought my notepad to catch up on my journaling, and about an hour later finished the beer and guacamole and ordered a margarita and dinner. About this time the restaurant got slammed. A large party of 30 had to be set up on the dance floor since they already had an 18 top in the middle of the dining room.  I'd just placed my dinner order when it all hit and I figured my meal would come out cold and wilted since it would likely sit in the window in the kitchen until the poor only waiter in the place finally got to it.  What actually happened impressed me and reminded me of my own table waiting days long ago.  From what I could see, there were only the following: one waiter, one manager, one bartender and two cooks. From this ensemble they worked like choreographed dancers. The manager helped take the orders on the 30 top, as well as other tables; thankfully as the restaurant began to fill, the 18 top didn't materialize, and those tables were quickly separated back into 4 tops. The bartender picked up tables without hesitation, and one of the cooks delivered food to was a beautiful thing! My second margarita arrived, and my food followed shortly, everything perfectly fresh and delicious!  I remembered the reviews I'd read about the restaurant, some good, some not so much, and thinking that I'd have to write a review on this night myself.  The meal wasn't the end of my night though. By the time I was finishing my dinner, about 6:30, in walks Butch, his wife and teenage kids in tow....well hell, I thought, I can't leave now. He started promptly at 7 and I promised myself I would listen to one set. I moved to the bar and was enjoying the music when a gentleman sat down next to me. He shortly asked if I lived in Terlingua, I said no, I was just visiting the park. He and his wife had moved from Asheville, NC to Texas some time back and had built a solar home sans telephone, tv, and computers, north of town. They also had a home in Cristoval, south of San Angelo, since we old farts need to be less than 100+ miles from a hospital. He mentioned the Black-Eyed Pea Cook Off on New Years Day, and that he'd won first prize the last two years, but figured he'd lose his title this year. We talked a while longer and eight o'clock finally rolled around with the end of the first set, and it was time to go. I shook hands with my new acquaintance and headed out the door.

When I reached camp, the wind was howling (I'd recalled then a comment at the headquarters about the wind here) it had even ripped my permit from the post which I had carefully attached by the wires. I felt terrible, me with a Leave No Trace bumper sticker!!!! I had left a trace and it was, in all likelihood, already in Mexico by then. I briefly considered wandering around the desert to hunt for it, then thought better of traipsing around amongst the rattlers.

I woke up at 3 AM, unable to go back to sleep, and decided to get an early start on the trip home. As I exited the Old Maverick Rd. I passed a Border Patrol, which promptly pulled in behind me and followed me (all the while checking my plates, no doubt) and soon the lights flashed and I pulled over. The woman was cordial, but not smiling. She asked me where I was going, and why I was coming off the OMR at 3 AM....Well I could see her point, as I explained I had camped at Rattlesnake Mt. that night. It then dawned on me that I had no permit to prove this. Fortunately I didn't need it. I told her I had a long trip home she asked if I was leaving the park via 385. I thought this was strange since that was the only route I was aware of out of the park, since I'd long passed the west entrance to the park. She let me go, telling me to have a safe trip, but I was imagining as I drove that she'd probably radioed ahead and they were just waiting to turn my car inside out. Instead, the young man  greeted me with a smile, asked me how I enjoyed the park, asked me to roll down my back windows, we chatted about the park for a moment and I was on my way.   I made the drive home in 12 hrs, collected the dog and headed to the house.

Mileage hiked for the day 4.0
Total miles hiked for the week 29.5

First, I want to thank everyone on Big Bend Chat that have generously shared their experiences, pictures, and  information. Without their guidance my trips would not have been nearly as wonderful. Because of them, I hope to spend a lot more time in this amazing place.

This being only my second trip to Big Bend, I'm still moving too fast, trying to see too much.  Part of it's my obsession to hike,  part of it's just the wonder of the place. I look forward to future trips when I can spend more time in one place. There's just so much to explore.

What I learned from this trip.
There's no need to buy souvenirs, Big Bend pinstripes are all the reminder of my trip I need.
Note to self: pay attention to where you are driving when gazing upon handsome buck muley's on the road to the Hot Springs (left side).
Second note to self: pay attention to where you are driving when looking over your shoulder out the side window to see if Santa Elena Canyon is in position for the "perfect" morning shot (right side.)
During a full moon camp on the east side of the Chisos.
Buy gaiters.
Bring the backpack.

Link to a few of the many pictures I took.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Little Missouri Trail & Tall Peak

Nothing takes the edge off the daily grind like spending time in the woods, which is why I decided at the last minute to take Friday off and head back to Arkansas. I got up at 3, left before 4 and 200 miles later at 8:45, was heading across the upper Little Missouri Trail where it meets the Athens Big Fork. It was 33*, but was forecast to climb to the mid 60's.

I decided to try out my new water crossing shoes. They're AquaSprints and they worked perfectly; easy to get off and on, a sole thick enough to be comfortable with good traction, and they were $3 and weigh about 2 ounces. I am not a gram weenie, I am not a gram weenie, ok I am, but I have to be, I'm getting old :) I carry a small square of quick dry camp towel to dry my feet, put shoes and socks back on, slip the shoes and towel back into the side pouch of my pack, and carry on.

The weather and the scenery was beautiful and I stopped a number of times just to listen to the river, or the quiet, or the trees, or the birds. The river, while narrow up this far, is clear and beautiful, and I could sit beside it for hours.

There are several campsites along this section and one in particular caught my eye, as someone had set a large flat rock atop an tree stump to make a lovely table.
I hiked through the rec area to the falls, then back to a picnic table next to the river to have lunch. I did not see or hear another soul the entire day.

Driving back down the road to the falls rec area, my path was blocked by a beautiful rat snake sunning itself in the middle of the road. I got out of the car and had to gently prod it with my hiking pole to get it to move off the road. I love snakes and spent a few minutes photographing it.

I stopped at the falls to get a few pics as I didn't take the camera on this hike, and headed back to Dierks Lake and a night at Tom and Janet's campground. I enjoyed a nice chat with them then excused myself to go try out the hot showers Tom had promised...ahh, was he right!! I hope they never get the idea to put a timer on it! After reading a few paragraphs I was out for the night. My only regret was that it was dark when I finished my shower and I left before light so I didn't get to really take in the campground which sits on the Saline River just below the dam.

Day 2 and a peek at Tall Peak
The last time I did this hike the mountains were shrouded in fog, so there were no views of distant peaks. It's nice to hike in different kinds of weather and get a different perspective. It was 8:00 and 44* when I started up the trail. The campground is closed for the season so I began across the bridge from the last river crossing.

Hiking in the Ouachita's means hiking over rocks, Arkansas Novaculite to be precise, "razor stone" in latin. The rock was chipped for arrowheads and is a source for whetstones. For a solo hiker this means paying very close attention to where you step, especially with drifts of fall leaves layering the ground. It does present a wonderful lesson in geology though, and it's fascinating what you see along the way. Since you have to have your eyes on the ground it's nice to have something cool to look at!

As I made my way up the trail the vistas that were hidden before were now popping up everywhere. One thing that shocked me was horse manure on the trail...I can't believe someone would risk injury of an animal to go up this trail, especially toward the end. Even with a mule I wouldn't attempt it. But that's just me.

Hiking back down I stopped to have lunch at an outcrop, taking in the views and watching in awe as leaves floated up and down, caught on the thermals. It was like a watching a bird.

After relaxing and literally staring out into space, I continued down the mountain and back to the car, to make the drive home. As I drove past the campground I watched as a flock of wild turkeys made there way through the woods.

As I drove home, I was already planning where to hike next when I make it back to Arkansas. I think the Buckeye/Caney Loop is next on the docket :)

link to photos

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Return to Caney Creek

My first time to visit this area was Halloween weekend when I joined Trailrelic and his friends to backpack. It was my first backpacking trip. Well needless to say, I was hooked, not just with backpacking, but with the Caney Wilderness. Until recently discovering the forum, I'd really focused on the Buffalo area, and didn't realize this area was only 4 hrs from my front door to the trailhead.

November 20-23, 2010

I drove up Sat AM, picked out a camp site at Shady Lake (I was the only inhabitant of loop C) and then proceeded to hike the Tall Peak trailhead, which for anyone that doesn't know, it's right in the park. It was nearly 11:00. As many of you know it was very foggy; I knew the "vistas" would be non-existent, but I was hiking simply for the pleasure of hiking so it didn't matter. I brought the camera and took a few pics before I began to ascend the trail. It was wet and slick, so the camera was packed away and I continued on up the trail. There's nothing like walking alone through the woods in the mist. I only hiked about 2.5 miles up (trail is 3.2 mi. one way) I realized that I hadn't seen a blaze in a while and remembered Tim Ernst's comment about a trail "you don't want to take) it was getting a little steep, was wet and slick, and I don't take unnecessary risks when I solo, so I turned around in hopes of finding where I'd turned wrong. Well it turned out I hadn't gone wrong, but apparently after talking with Ed and Tom the next day, someone had started repainting the blazes, but possibly didn't get finished. At that point I decided not to go back up, there really wasn't anything to "see" tower? I don't see a fire tower :) Looking down into the Caney Wilderness area was beautiful though.

I got back to camp, ate, and set my hammock up near the water, settled in with a book and read for a while. Just after dark the coyotes serenaded, something, probably a deer, went thrashing into the lake, and later something dropped loudly from a tree with a hollow thunk into the water. Ah the sounds of the night. Even though there was cloud cover, the full moon illuminated the night sky.

The next morning I listened again to the weather radio, ate a leisurely breakfast and proceeded to get ready for a day on the Caney Cr. Trail. I opted not to take the camera.

I reached the east trailhead at 9:30, and proceeded down the trail. I passed a group of kids and chatted with them for a bit, then later I ran into Tom and Ed, I'd met Ed on the last trip, and it was very nice to finally get to meet Tom. We chatted for a bit, then we headed in opposite directions. I walked on, taking in all the beauty of fall. I didn't see anyone else the rest of the hike, although there was a large group camping somewhere, maybe Katy Falls, according to Tom and Ed. I checked the time and the time I'd left, walked a little longer, then a little before 1:00 turned around to head back. Coming back I found the Hippie tree that Tom had described earlier; I wouldn't have noticed it otherwise, and I'm not sure I'd have made out the "hippie" seems like Tom said it was done many years ago. I was back at the trail head by 3:30, drove back to camp to have dinner around 5. I decided to take a chair and sit down at the edge of the lake to eat and I'd just been sitting there a minute, taking in the late afternoon quiet, when I noticed two white things in a tree across the lake. They were on the same plane, just several feet apart which seemed odd. Now I wear glasses but even with them I couldn't tell what it was, but I had an idea. I went and got the camera and zoomed in and sure enough it was a pair of eagles. They only allowed me a couple of shots before they felt intruded upon and flew down to the opposite end of the lake, but it was a pleasant dinnertime surprise.

The next morning (Monday) I awoke to light rain, listened to the forecast, and decided to postpone my Little MO hike until another time....Tom and Ed had decided to leave due to imminent rain, and I didn't want to get caught crossing a rising river. This area is new to me and the thought of last June still haunts me. So I headed for dry land. I spent a night at Lake Catherine, because I'd seen in Tim's book they had almost 10 miles of trails. I was only able to hike 5.5 because the other 4.5 was closed because it's adjacent to a deer lease.

Tuesday I awoke again to light rain, but I just couldn't go home, I considered a few options and decided to backtrack, and head to QWSP. I thought it might have some trails, and I'd never driven the Scenic Talimena Hwy.
I drove along hwy 8 to Mena, and headed up the road to the state park. It was about a mile or so up that I encountered the heavy fog bank, with 20-30 ft visibility, I would catch a glimpse of a "vista" sign as I passed each, it was downright comical and I should have taken a picture just for fun!
I drove up to the lodge, but it was a ghost even from the road that encircles it. I drove back down and decided I'd just go and check out Little MO Falls but by the time I got down hwy 71 and to the turn off, the cumulus congestus clouds were forming fast (it was about 78* by then) and I knew a thunderstorm was only a short time away. So with much reluctance I headed home, all the while planning where I could continue to hike farther south where maybe the front would hold off for a while......I decided to wait for the rain to pass and try an area close by this weekend......

I wished I'd gone hiking instead. While walking my dog last evening, we came upon a domestic bunny that either escaped, or someone "set free", white with dark grey nose, tail, feet and ears, it stuck out like a sore thumb against the yucca it was nestled under. It would soon become a meal for either a coyote, bobcat, hawk or owl, we've even had two report/sightings of a cougar. I took the dog home, came back with a carrier and the bunny hopped right I type this I have a bunny happily munching veggies in my on Thanksgiving day, I have to try to find a friend that has some coastal hay! I put up flyers and emailed a rescue group and I think they can help me (for a price) I just couldn't leave it....another casualty of insensitive, thoughtless people...then again it actually could be that someone is pining for it.....I hope :) Here's a link to the few pics I took.

Friday, November 12, 2010


I took my first backpacking trip a couple of weekends ago, it was wonderful. Part of the thrill was in the planning; researching, weighing, developing spreadsheets, comparing others gear lists.
This latest obsession began to evolve after I bought a new camera last fall. I had given away all my old SLR gear long ago, but hadn't replaced it. When I started to research, I decided that I really didn't want to go full blown, so I settled on a midway Canon SX10IS. It all started with a buck in my yard. I just needed a little more telephoto than what my little point and shoot had. Anyway, I decided that the new camera was a good excuse to take a couple of fall days off and head to the Upper Buffalo (pics of this trip are on my link below that trip report.) I hiked quite a bit that trip, and decided for Thanksgiving to head to the Hill Country and hike some more (also in another trip report.)
Then there was the Big Bend Trip (ditto.)
All the while I was hiking these trails a wisp of an idea began to grow. I had never seriously considered backpacking since I have a badly abused back, and I had neck surgery just a couple of years ago. However, the wisp continued to grow until it became a cloud. You know one of those clouds above a persons head when they get an idea. Well it was a fairly grandiose idea, but I couldn't shake it.
So, I began to research. The internet is a wonderful thing (even if it is changing the way my brain works, and my powers of concentration are going to hell.) It can't be beat for research! I visited all kinds of ultralight backpacking sites, not to mention all the forums; BackpackingLight, the Hammock Forums, White Blaze, Big Bend Chat, etc.
Boy what a wealth of knowledge out there. Well before you could say ultra light, I was buying new gear,weighing, making spreadsheets, and about a year later was ready to start training. This was the true test, could I actually sustain a trip, even a short one carrying all my gear on my back???? Well I started light, then added over time until I was hiking up to 4 miles in the morning before work with a loaded pack. But what about a real hike? I decided to join in on a hike to the Caney Cr. Trail in SW AR. It was an easy trail, about 5 miles per day and surely would give me my answer.
It was a wonderful trip!!! Albeit with a large, noisy, yet fun group, but it gave me the opportunity to further test my gear, and go into an area I'd never been to. I carried the pack with ease. The only thing I hadn't planned for was the dayhike after setting up camp. I didn't have a way to carry water, but I've since remedied that, and I now have a carabiner to attach my pack to the tree where I hang my hammock. I did have an extra piece for prusik line so I was able to attach it to a tree, but those were the only things I didn't foresee. I can't wait to go back!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Dark skies, clear skies, a rant

Am I the only person that can't stand power lines??? I mean I really hate them. They are pollution of the worst kind in my opinion. I'm trying to get a great shot of an amazing storm cloud brewing and there in the photo they are...they're inescapable, everywhere you look. That's what I love about wilderness. I love driving to Big Bend and watching the lines disappear. I know there are still a few, but you can see for miles without them.
And what is wrong with all these idiots that leave outside lights burning day and night! Are they afraid of the dark??? I mean it's not like we are in the middle of the wilderness, and even if we were what good does a light burning bright all night keep them safe from??? OK, I can see needing a light to see from the front door down the stairs to the car, but that's what they make sensors for. Just another source of pollution!!
OK, that's my morning rant, have a great day :)

Monday, September 6, 2010


Watching the cattle egrets as they make their daily pass overhead, heading northeast early, returning southwest late, their undersides lit by the rising or setting sun. These African immigrants that have found our fields and wetlands so to their liking. One evening looking up I see a solitary dark figure among the glow of white. Slightly smaller in form, perhaps a green heron? Not likely as they are solitary and secretive by nature. What then? It reminded me of once looking into a wake of buzzards and discovering one with a white head and tail. Ha! I thought to myself, who's he trying to fool, sticking out like a sore thumb. Ah, but then who pays attention to a bunch of buzzards!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

My corner of the world

I haven't seen the world, haven't been to the great cities of Europe, in fact I've only been out of the country once.
I've only been to 14 of the 50 states, living in four of them. But I was born in Texas, and after all the exploring; trips out west, north, east and south, Texas is where I plan to spend the days that are left. Back to the part of Texas of my youth, south Texas, the coast. All our days are numbered as I sit on my porch on a lazy summer morning listening to the summer tanager and wood thrush, watching the moist clouds slipping from southwest to northeast, hearing a bird I don't recognize. What will become of them if there are not resting places on the gulf to allow them renewal from their long journey-will they simply be absent, will I be able to bear the silence? The dog and cat lay near me seemingly enjoying the cool still bearable summer morning.
There is so much nature around me to take in, just off my porch the hummingbirds find nectar in the salvia, the butterflies finding a liking to the lantana and butterfly weed.
The young pine trees, all nine I planted two years ago, are growing vigorously thanks to a rainy summer and despite the scars from the young buck deer intent on losing their velvet, does it itch, I wonder?
The lots around me are vacant and free to do as they please, hickory, oak, persimmon, pine, most young, as this was once a meadow. Yucca and blue jack oak attesting to the dry sandy soil. Walking in the mornings going up and down the small hills the species change with the terrain, post oak,red oak, hickory, black oak, pine higher. White oak, alder,maple, black willow, river birch lower and near the wetlands and seasonal creeks. Scattered throughout are dogwood, and sassafras, american beauty bush, farkleberry,persimmon, and yaupon, just to name a few.
I have, here from my own porch, seen eagles fly over in winter, and one morning walk, discovered a pair of black-bellied whistling ducks, somehow off track, possibly one was injured, the other staying close by. They lingered but a day, then were gone.
I sit here, in the northeast Texas pineywoods, like a woman who can't chose between two lovers, living equadistant from gulf of Mexico and the Buffalo River. This is a beautiful countryside, not yet developed. Peaceful and quiet on most days. It is a good here in my little corner of the world.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Why I'm a Buffalo Gal

I just got back from a short but sweet trip to the Buffalo River. I left at 2 AM, and met friends at Grinder's Ferry at around 9 AM. Up to this point I had no idea what section we were going to paddle, whether we'd be doing one night, two nights or no nights on the river, or who was going. Things happened quickly, as I had been looking at the river map Mon. AM and to my surprise there were blue diamonds indicating moderate water from St. Joe, down. I immediately posted an all call on the ACC forum and got a nibble. Richard was in;PainterBob really wanted to go to the upper sections, but they didn't look like they had enough water based on the map/gauge. Neither Richard or I wanted to deal with the bony "slide" which had eaten a hole in one of his boats.
We decided on Woolum to Grinder's Ferry, a section I'd never done. The water was around 6 ft if I remember correctly, and was moving at a pretty good clip. Richard and I decided we'd do one night on the river, but neither PB or Steve could join us. Their loss.
The thing I love about having Richard on a trip is he's so knowledgeable about the river; its geology and history. We made a stop at a spring Richard had earlier discovered that isn't even listed on the maps, which indicates it might have appeared in the past twenty years. Karst topography is so amazing, being responsible for caves, springs, underground rivers, not to mention interesting formations like Skull Bluff, Elephant Head and others. At every bluff or point of interest, Richard let me know where we were and offered a tidbit of info about it.
At times I'd wished the water wasn't moving quite so fast so that I could savor it all, the sheer walls with hanging maidenhair ferns,the nooks and crannies. That's what eddies are for, but I seemed to miss them when my eyes were elsewhere.
When I'm away from the Buffalo, and it's a good ways away, it seems my mind gets focused on other things; work, the daily grind, planning the next trip somewhere. Since my last Buffalo trip,in August '09, I rediscovered hiking, so many trips were planned for that. I spent time hiking in New Mexico, Big Bend, and the Texas Hill Country.
But, after returning from the Buffalo I really want to spend all of my time there.
I don't have time left in my life to see all the wonders of nature all over the planet, but hopefully I have time to really get to know the flora and fauna, geology and history of the Buffalo area. Texas has amazing natural places and I love exploring them, but for me, nothing compares to the Buffalo.
With the others heading to the takeout, Richard and I stayed behind at Arnold Bluff, just about one of the prettiest campsites I've seen on the river. One or two kayakers glided silently past, and then we had the place all to ourselves. The sun was setting behind us, casting golden light on the bluff and reflecting it onto the water. Even though I'd been up since 1 AM, once the stars were visible, I just couldn't go to sleep without gazing for a while.
The next morning as we sat talking, we were entertained by a pair of male Indigo Buntings, apparently vying for a female we barely spotted down by the river's edge. I saw several groups of Dayflowers that were the bluest I've ever seen, and butterflies were flitting about.
As we headed out to the takeout, the water had already dropped a foot; the silt was beginning to drop out, and the water was changing from brown to green. We glided along the banks looking at rookeries, formations, and wildlife. We saw several more Buntings, and I spotted a gray snake resting on a limb over the water which appeared to be too slender for a Moccasin; at home I looked up what I believe was a yellow-bellied water snake.
We were off the water by 11, and on Richard's suggestion, we headed to the Tyler Bend visitor center which I'd never been to. We had a good time talking with the park staff, and the center is worthy of time spent. Afterward, Richard led me to the Collier Homestead, where after exploring the cabin we said our goodbyes and I headed down the trail to the overlook. What a stunning view!
Short as the trip was, it was magical, as any time spent on the Buffalo undoubtedly is, at least for this Buffalo Gal.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Land of Enchantment

Well, all I can say is here in Texas it's gotten hot quick, hotter quicker in fact than I remember lately, so I thought about heading somewhere cooler for my first summer vacation. Many places came to mind, but I've had my thoughts on New Mexico for a while now, so that's where I headed. It's the closest cool mountain area around.

I left Sunday morning after dropping Cricket off at Cap Ranch Kennels, to enjoy puppy camp with her canine friends. I had a low tire the night before so as Walmart was the only thing available on Sun morning, went by to have them check it before hitting the road. Once on the highway and up to 70 mph, I could see they must have either left off the balance weight or put it on wrong, so I got to have my brains and upper body rattled all the way to NM.

My first night I was planning to get as far as Caprock Canyon SP, which I'd never been to. I had always opted for Palo Duro Canyon, but decided it was time to check out CC.....did I mention that it's really hot here in Texas?? Well after a drive through the park at around 4 pm and almost 100 degrees and no hint of a breeze, I decided to drive on and see how far I could get before dark. I ended up spending the night in a nice comfortable Quality Inn in Santa Rosa, NM. This would be my last shower until 6 days later back at Caprock Canyon.

The next morning bright and early, cool and rested, I drove to Las Vegas, NM stopping at the first tire shop, and sure enough the morons at WM hadn't even put a weight back on the tire. I decied to try breakfast at the famed Charlie's Spic n' Span Restaurant, which IMHO is highly overrated. Oh well, onward and upward to the mountains. Ah, cool fresh dry air!

I headed up NM 518 toward Angel Fire. Once I passed Coyote Creek SP, the road, 434, narrowed significantly and became quite scenic. I drove through Angel Fire, Eagle's Nest, Red River, and then on to Questa. This road is known as the Enchanted Circle and is a loop from Taos northward and back down again, encircling Wheeler Peak,at 13,161 ft, the highest in NM. From Questa I drove north and west to the Rio Grande Gorge Wild Rivers Area. I have to say the BLM facilities were quite unexpected, with nicely covered camping areas, extremely clean pit toilets and great trails going down into the gorge, and best of all, almost completely void of humans, which could explain the pristine conditions :) I found a nice spot to camp right on the edge of the gorge, where I could hear the water rushing in the bottom of the canyon. Another treat, an afternoon summer storm hit with lightning, thunder, and beautiful clouds. You would have thought it was July or August, and did I mention the cool dry air?

As an aside, when I walk trails of any kind I am grateful to the trailblazers. In my younger days I did my share of trail building, but it awes me, especially trails that were obviously difficult, such as those dropping into the canyon. Thank you trailblazers past and future.

The following morning I hiked down to the canyon floor to Big Arsenic Spring, and the Rio Grande. It was beautiful and there are even a few covered, three sided shelters there as peaceful, except for the rush of the river; really had me tempted to throw my gear in the backpack and hike back down and stay a day or two...however the hike back up the canyon erased all thoughts of that idea!! Did I mention it's a more than 800 ft drop from rim to floor. This area is really nice and I'd love to go back sometime and stay in the gorge. I slacked off and napped in the shade of my cabana during the heat of the day then drove on to the Taos area.

All I can say of the Santa Fe/ Taos area is that Arroyo Seco is the new Taos, Taos is the new Santa Fe and Santa Fe is just unGodly crowded. That's what you get for waiting 20 years to go back to a place. Well that's progress as they say.
After driving to the lower area of the Rio Grande, then to the Taos ski area, then to the SF ski area to consider hiking Tesuque Creek, my head still pounding with allergies and altitude, I opted to camp that night at Hyde Park SP. The next morning I ventured in to have breakfast at an old friend, Tecalote, to have blue corn flour pancakes with pinon nuts . They were celebrating their 30th anniversary. Nice to know some good things last.

Full as a tick, I drove to Pecos, a noted speed trap, but also the gateway to the Pecos Wilderness in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I drove to the very end of hwy 63, Jack's Creek campground, then made my way back down to Cowles, then Panchuela, and finally decided on staying at Holy Ghost Cr. campground. I wanted to hike the HG trail, which is a nice easy 6 mile rt intro to the mountains ranging from 8200 to 9100 ft in elevation, then hike the Cave Cr. trail at Panchuela which is also about 6 miles the next day. Since I prefer to start my hikes early am, and it was about noon now, I decided to set up camp and relax. I set up the tent so I wouldn't have to worry about losing my campsite when I left to hike CC; I don't like to leave my hammock unattended. And then set up the hammock and spent the rest of the afternoon hangin' and listening to the creek rush by.

First I should clarify that I'm really not anti-social, well ok, maybe just a little, I do like some people, but I enjoy the peace and quiet of nature. So solo, I headed out about 7:30 to start my hike up the mountain. I should mention that this is really more about not having a decent hiking partner; one that doesn't mind stopping while I take copious pictures, consequently turning a 4 hour hike into a 6+ hr one, one that doesn't whine about not having a bath for 6 days, hey wet wipes work just fine,and the fact that I'm old and hike slow, and don't like to talk when I hike. And I see more when I'm alone.
The downside to this is I have discovered the necessity to be less than honest(ok, downright lie, but only for their benefit) when telling my worrisome co-workers and others that I don't want to alarm, that oh of course I'm going with others :)

Now, there are certain things that are discouraged when hiking, the first and foremost, is hiking alone....the second, especially in bear/cougar country, is hiking alone, and going early am or late pm, when said animals are still active. Well I know it's a risk to hike alone, and I don't condone my own actions, nor to I encourage others to do so, but my thoughts, are this.....yes, I likely might get injured or even killed doing so, but I could also get killed on the way to Walmart, and where would you rather die? I also carry a PLB, bear spray and I try to exercise extreme caution and awareness. I have no family to leave distraught and heartbroken, and I did mention I'm already old right? Lived a good life and all yada yada yada. I also know if something happened to me my dog and cat would be quickly adopted by friends, in fact I have trouble now with people wanting them, and I'm still here!!
As far as going into bear/cougar country, yes it does make me somewhat uneasy. Mostly, I would be embarrassed to have someone hear me singing (badly and out of key) little made up ditties out loud to alert said animals to my presence when I am in a questionable area, at least the bears, the cougars already know, nothing gets by them. For them, I sometimes wonder if wearing a mask on the back of my head like some jungle tribes do for jaguars would deter an attack from behind, somehow I think not, but it might be fun for someone hiking up from the rear :)

My altitude headache finally disappeared, another sign of old age, altitude never bothered me more than a few hours snow skiing when I was young! Even with the aide of allergy meds, my left eye ran like a faucet, as well as my nose to the point of being quite sore by the end of the trip.
I thought when I got out of East TX and into the high dry mountains, the allergies would go away, but with the wind blowing each day I could see all the wind borne pollen from the conifers, willow, and aspen, cutting me no slack whatsoever.

My hike up Holy Ghost Creek was beautiful, but not as easy as describe in the guide book, I'm such a flatlander! I actually hiked this trail twice, the next day with my camera gear, and the second time was easier.
I can't get over all the wildflowers, the irises, the lady slipper orchids, even the common dandelions are uncommonly beautiful and of course the butterflies.

The wind increased each day, until by Sat it was really unbelievable. Boy I would hate to be pulling a travel trailer in it. It was nice to feel the cool air from the snow capped peaks while hiking up the mountainside though especially later in the heat of the day, yeah all 86 degrees LOL.

Friday after returning to camp at about 4 pm, the campground was completely full, obviously a popular place on the weekend. After dinner, I laid on my back on the picnic table watching the clouds scud by, the wind had really picked up. I noticed something shiny about 80 ft up in a Douglas fir, and discovered it was a piece of what looked like purple mylar ribbon, I thought at first of a bird or a squirrel, then about 10 ft higher another silver something caught my eye. Crows/ravens I thought, as I know they love to play with stuff like that. I got a laugh out of it anyway.

Sat am I headed out early for the Panchuela trailhead, which sits at the end of a 3 mile one lane road with but a few turnouts; I absolutely hated the thought of navigating that on a busy Sat; not to mention the limited parking spaces once there. Even at 7 am I almost didn't get a spot, as many people camp at the trailhead even though it's no longer a campground since the forest service closed it because of possible lead contaminated road fill from the Terrero mine.

Once I got on the trail I quickly left the campers behind . The Cave Creek trail goes along the creek until it arrives at a couple of caves, the cool part is that the creek goes underground for a while then reappears at the caves. The trail is considered an easy 6 mi rt. There are several junctions going to other trails in the area. After the second junction, the trail began to grow narrower and more grown up, at around two miles in, it became quite treacherous and I decided it was not worth risking a fall. This was an unexpected disappointment, but I just wasn't prepared to bushwhack and climb scree alone to get there. Even though I'd signed the trail register, it would take them a long time to know I was missing. As they say, I may be crazy, but I'm not stupid :) Just before the trail became to risky I had to detour down and skirt the waters edge, which was fine as it was a solid sandy eddy. Next to the water was a soft muddy area and looking down I noticed a print...a cat print...a 3+ inch cat print. My mind first said cougar, then I talked myself into bobcat. I didn't want to exaggerate. I didn't take a photo since I'd put away the camera due to the rough terrain. I hiked on for a bit, maybe twenty or so minutes longer before deciding to turn around. Walking back I noticed the print had almost vanished in the soft mud. It wasn't until I got home and looked again at my track book that I realized it was a cougar print, and evidently a very fresh one at that, very cool and a little scary! Come to thing of it, I did hear twigs snapping a couple of times behind me.....

I ended up finishing the hike about 12:30 so I decided that in order not to arrive at Caprock before dark in the heat, I had time to drive into Santa Fe and have a nice lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, La Choza. La Choza means the shed in spanish, and it's the sister to the more famous plaza venue. It's much easier to get to and the food is great. Especially after a week of eating camp food. And the margaritas were superb :)

I hit the road about 2 pm, taking a backroad (hwy 3) south from 25 to 40. It was like going back in time to what New Mexico once was...delightful.

I arrived at the state park about 10 pm, rolled the windows down, and with the wind blowing and lightning flashing far away to the north, climbed in the back and drifted off to sleep. I awoke the next morning and headed for the showers, boy did that feel good! Wet wipes are all and well, but my hair follicles begin to hurt when I go too many days with out shampooing...probably has much more to do with wearing a cap or buff for a week LOL.

The clouds had rolled in overnight and it was cool and overcast. I took a few photos and hit the road, picked up Cricket, headed home, unloaded the car, and hit the hay. What a great trip! I already want to go back again as there are a number of places I didn't get to...maybe in the peak of the summer afternoon thunderstorms. Great photo opts then! Link to a few pics