Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wordless Wednesday :: Yum

Fresh. Purchased at the field. Scrumptious.

With a penny, just so you can compare the size!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Easy on the Eyes!

After spending nearly six weeks in the dry, mostly brown, desert regions of Texas and California, I left Death Valley this morning. About an hour ago, just west of Tehachapi on California Highway 58, I drove into this wonderful, refreshing area that was definitely easy on the eyes. I didn't realize how much I've missed seeing "green" until I came into this... I stood there alongside the road for abut 15 minutes, just taking it all in. So nice!

I've decided to take a "break" from the desert scene for a few days and am headed for the Coast of California! I'll be joining some friends at the Grand Canyon about the middle of April... For now, I am looking for a State Park near a community with a library with good wifi so I spend some time writing some blog posts and get them scheduled so that I can get caught up. Stay tuned, more posts coming soon, I hope!

This post is coming to you courtesy of McDonalds and AT&T wifi near Bakersfield, California. Moving on now. Will "see" y'all later.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Davis Mountains Sunset

As stated in the previous post, the CCC built a nice road to the top of the peak on the southeast side of the campground. This made it quite convenient for watching the sun rise and set, as well as just general good views of the countryside. I did make it up there one morning but usually, when evening came around, that's where you could find me, along with half a dozen other people. These photographs were all taken on March 7th when Mother Nature put on a very impressive show!

Looking to the east, the hills bathed in the warm glow of the waning sun.

It had been cloudy all day long (the big pooffy type of clouds) and this monstrous cloud hovered over the distant mountains just as the sun was setting.

The wonders of a 7x zoom lens and Mother Nature. Quite a combination!

Generally, by the time the sun falls below the horizon, most of the other people have left the top of the hill. But they often miss out on the best part of the show. The light gets softer, the colors more delicate.

And if you look to either side of where the sun has set, you will often see a magnificent color show.

And this is when I get frustrated with the auto focus of my digital camera – it can't focus if it doesn't have light – and I wish (very briefly) for my old 35mm manual focus camera!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Davis Mountains Interlude

Upon leaving Big Bend National Park on the morning of March 3rd, my “plan” was to go north to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which is in northwest Texas and bordering New Mexico. One of the other campers suggested that I stop at Davis Mountains State Park, which was on the way to Guadalupe.

The 100+ mile drive from Big Bend was uneventful. Which is good. The largest town along the way was Alpine. They had a McDonalds and it had Wifi, which is also good. I stopped for lunch, stayed two hours and was able to check email as well as get several posts uploaded and scheduled. The next town down the road was Fort Davis.

A few miles north of Fort Davis is Davis Mountains State Park. The campground is nestled inside a canyon. The sites are quite nice with lots of trees providing shade, which in the summer would be a blessing. The weather was beautiful during the day with temperatures in the 60s, mostly blue skies and sunshine. After the sun went down, the chill set in and the temperature dropped into the low 30s. Quite similar to the weather at Big Bend, but at least it didn't snow!

A section of the trail leading to the top of the “hill” on the north side of the campground.

Looking to the north across the Davis Mountains.

Looking to the west, from the top of the hill. I don't know the significance of the pile of rocks, if any, but found it amusing that it mimicked the peak in the background.

Looking south. A section of the campground is tucked away beneath the row of trees in the center.

The trail follows the top to the west end then takes you down into the canyon where the Lodge is located. This is the view looking east from about half way down. The row of trees in the center is where the campground is located. You can see a portion of the “Skyline Drive” built by the CCC. As well as providing some magnificent views there are also several more trails up on top of that peak.

My stop in the Davis Mountains was a very pleasant interlude that lasted six days! The fact that the town of Fort Davis was ten minutes away and the Jeff Davis County Library had an excellent, secure, wifi connection, made it even more pleasant. Sometimes you've gotta have some downtime! I was able to get caught up with email, wrote and scheduled blog posts for nearly a week, even read some blogs, and checked in on Facebook! Oh, and I got my taxes filed too.

To top it off, the library staff was very helpful and courteous. The building wasn't much to look at. And the old wooden floors kinda creaked. But there was a steady flow of people in and out and when school let out for the day it was abuzz with kids. I can only wish for more libraries like this one. The only “downside” was that the library was closed on Saturday and Sunday. But that's okay. I'm just glad it was there!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Big Bend :: Santa Elena Canyon

One of the main attractions of the Castolon area is Santa Elena Canyon and the trail that leads you a short distance into the Canyon.

On my first afternoon at Castolon, I drove the eight miles to the end of the road and ventured down to the river. To get to the canyon trail you first have to cross a small stream that meets the Rio Grande. Depending upon how much rain there has been, or whether water has been released upstream, the crossing can be between impassible or merely a walk across a dry stream bed.

On this day the stream was flowing, with perhaps 2-7 inches of water where it joined the Rio Grande but upstream it was thick, gooey mud. I put on my old shoes and waded across, carrying with me a pair of dry socks, which I changed into on the other side. If you are careful in choosing the path across the stream you can cross without hardly getting wet. I was more successful (less wet) on the return trip across.

Santa Elena Canyon was forged through the eons by the waters of the Rio Grande. Mexico is on the left and the United States on the right. Also on the right is the small stream that joins the Rio Grande that must be crossed to get to the trail.

The view from up above, at the highest point of the trail. The Chisos Mountains off in the distance. The small stream on the left merges with the Rio Grande on the right.

The trail drops down to the river, goes into the canyon about half a mile, and ends just on the other side of the big boulder in the center of the picture. The walls of the canyon, at that point, go straight up from the river.

The next morning I returned for another picture of the Canyon. The water level of the stream had dropped significantly overnight but the stream bed was still quite muddy.

Photographs taken March 1, 2010 and March 2, 2010.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Big Bend :: Castolon

Back in the early 1900s, the Castolon area was under cultivation. It was interesting to look at the area now and imagine green, luscious fields filling the valley, made possible through irrigation by pulling water away from the Rio Grande. Where now you see cactus, mesquite and other desert plants there were acres of cotton, sorghum, alfalfa, corn, wheat, and melons. Actually, it is beyond imagining. It really is hard to believe that someone could actually farm in that rocky, sandy soil.

The remains of several houses of the farming families are still standing and can be seen on a short half-file walk about seven miles from the campground. One such farmhouse is that of James and Melissa Belle Sublett, settlers who came to Castolon in 1913. According to a sign at the site, James is recognized for introducing mechanized farming into Big Bend and also installed the area's first irrigation system supplied by a water wheel. By 1918, he owned nearly 3,000 acres of land in the area.

Built on the side of a hill, the walls of the Sublett home are all that remain. The back wall had no windows since it faced the hillside.

The remaining walls of the Sublett home.

The view from the front of the Sublett home. As beautiful as it can be sometimes, I'm not sure it would be worth it to me to live in such a place. For some it obviously is, but I'm not one of them!

The Dorgan House, shown below, was built in the 1930s by Albert W. Dorgan and his wife Avis Ann. The adobe home had large windows at the front and a double fireplace that opened into the central living area. In 1938 the Dorgans vacated this property and in 1941 leased it to A. F. Robinson who opened a resort hoping to benefit from the new Big Bend National Park. The resort was a failure and the Dorgans sold it for inclusion in the park.

In the early years of the park, historic structures like the Dorgan and Sublett homes, were either destroyed or allowed to deteriorate because they were not thought of as part of the natural scenery.

The Dorgan house was built on a mesa, which overlooked the Sublett home.

The fireplace in the Dorgan home, made of stone, petrified wood, and adobe bricks, dwarfs the remains of the house. It stands about 10 feet tall.

A detail of the adobe walls of the remains of the Dorgan home.

The ruins of the Sublett home, in the center of the picture, appears insignificant in context of its surroundings. The mountains behind the home are in Mexican territory. The Rio Grande flows at the base of those mountains, several miles from the Sublett home.

The Subletts and Dorgans would have witnessed many such mornings as this. In their struggles to make a living, I wonder if they saw the beauty around them.

Photographs taken March 1, 2010 and March 2, 2010.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Big Bend :: Cerro Castellan

After four nights at Rio Grande Village, I drove to the Castolon area and the Cottonwood Campground, at the south end of Big Bend National Park, on March 1st.

It is a very scenic drive of about 60 miles from Rio Grande Village to Castolon. You nearly circle the Chisos Mountains coming up from the east, passing by on the north, then following them along their western side. To say that the Chisos Mountains dominate the central landscape of the park would be an understatement.

The Chisos Mountains. From the northeast side, 15 miles or so from Rio Grande Village.

The high peak on the left is the South rim. This was taken at on overlook a few miles south of Castolon, using the 7x magnification of the zoom lens. The informational sign at the overlook stated that the South Rim was 16 miles away!

However, Cerro Castellan (also called Castolon Peak) is “the landmark” of the Castolon area, which was a small community whose name is believed to be a corruption of the spelling of Castellan.

The view from about seven miles south of Castolon. The Chisos mountains in the background, Cerro Castellan on the right, and the Rio Grande winding its way through the area.

Cerro Castellan, highlighted by the last rays of the sun at the end of another beautiful day. I stood out in the chilly wind for over an hour waiting and hoping for this moment! It was magnificent and lasted only a few seconds. It was also well worth the time and the cold hands!

Photographs taken on March 1, 2010.

Greetings from... California!!

I am sitting in the "Park Rock Cafe" at Joshua Tree National Park in southern California, using their free wifi - which is the first wifi I've found in over a week.

I gave up finding warm weather in Texas. The further north I went, the colder it got. It was nice (50s and 60s) during the day but at night the temperatures were still dropping into the lower 30s. Not too bad but just cold enough to make it uncomfortable when the sun went down.

I also realized that if I were to visit Joshua Tree and Death Valley in a few more weeks, it might be somewhat uncomfortable the other way - too hot. So I buzzed through New Mexico and Arizona. But I'm going back. In a few days I'll be going to Death Valley, and then I'll return to New Mexico and Arizona for a while. At least that's "the plan" for now. I didn't make it to Guadalupe National Park. High winds and colder temperatures didn't make it sound too inviting. Perhaps another time.

There will be a few more posts on Big Bend and then I'll update you with where I've been since leaving there. But that's dependent upon internet access. I'm a bit further behind with posts than usual - it's difficult finding internet access in remote locations!

Taken at Picacho Peak State Park.
The stereotypical image of an Arizona Sunset!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Big Bend :: Hot Springs Trail

One of the easier trails in the Rio Grande Village area is the Hot Springs Trail, which takes you three miles through the hills, canyons, and desert to, where else, Hot Springs! But when the river is high, like it was on this day, the Hot Springs are flooded. So, no relaxing in the springs when you get there! When the river is low, the water from the Springs runs clear and warm. The Springs were developed in the late 1920s. There was a lodge, store, and the Spring House where visitors would soak up the powers of the mineral hot springs. The foundation is the only thing remaining of the Spring House now. The lodge and store buildings still exist though they are no longer used.

The weather forecast was for temperatures in the low 60s so I put on a sweatshirt and nylon windbreaker, packed my little bag with “energy” food to eat along the way, grabbed some water, my hat and walking stick and was on my way.

The trailhead is on the opposite side of the Village, about two miles away, so I drove the van over. After passing through the grove of green cottonwood trees the trail started up. And up. It was uphill for the first 3/10 of a mile. And not just a gradual uphill slope, but steep switchbacks that I am sure have tested many a soul, mine included! As it turned out, this was actually the hardest section of the trail (as far as going uphill, anyways).

The view from the overlook, after you have navigated the first 3/10 of a mile, uphill. It sure seemed like more than 3/10 of a mile to me!

Probably about half way out, there were three hikers making the return trip. They were the first people I had seen since starting out. Of course, they said the trek was worth it. That's what everyone says about every trail it seems. A short while later when I looked back at where I had been, I saw another lone hiker coming my way. In an odd way, it was somewhat comforting to know that someone else was behind me.

It wasn't long before the lone hiker caught up with me. I'm a slow walker, stopping often along the way. His name was Larry and he was from Wisconsin. We chatted for a minute or two and then he was on his way. I'd see him every now and then, up ahead. About this time, it was getting hot. Much hotter, it seemed, than the 60 degrees that had been forecast. I had already taken off the windbreaker and was considering the removal of the sweatshirt. Instead I pulled up the sleeves. Oddly enough it was cooler with the sweatshirt on than with the bare skin exposed to the direct sunlight.

These were growing in what appeared to be solid stone, right on the edge of the canyon. They were about 8 inches tall.

The desert sometimes appears lifeless and barren, but it is really far from it. Life is all around if you just stop to look for it.

Up and down. Following the worn trail of dust and stones. It goes on and on. The Hot Springs are down there, down by the river. Close, but oh so far away!

Getting closer. The Hot Springs are just in front of that sandbar sticking out into the river.

Looking back. At where I'd been.

I heard someone yelling but couldn't make out what they were saying. It was Larry, the lone hiker. He waited until I caught up with him then told me that he had been trying to tell me about the huge spiral fossil in the path. But I had seen it.

The fossil was at least a foot in diameter. And it was right on the pathway. You can't help but step on it as you go down the trail.

Larry and I walked together to the end of the trail. There were picnic tables beneath the shade of a huge palm tree. Upon closer inspection, the tree was made up of five palm trees clumped together, it was amazing. Even more amazing is the fact that I didn't get a picture of it! Larry and I sat beneath that aged tree and ate our lunch. We talked about everything and about nothing. Soon he was on his way back. I stayed and rested for another fifteen minutes before leaving.

The walk back seemed much harder than it was going out. There was very little shade. I found one spot where a rock overhang provided a bit of relief. It helped. I didn't think I'd have enough water so I would take small sips, just enough to wet the lips. It helped.

The last uphill stretch was the hardest. I knew I was getting close to the overlook. I knew I'd made it! And then I heard a voice. Larry had waited for me there, at the overlook. I thought, how sweet. And I thanked him. He said he was concerned since I was alone, he'd been keeping an eye out for me. He said that if I was feeling anything like he was – exhausted – that it would be nice to take a break before tackling that last downhill section.

I found a rock to sit down on. It happened to be in front of a trail sign, which was casting it's shadow. Ah, shade, just enough to get me out of the sun for a few minutes. I drank the remainder of my water and was thankful for it, as warm as it was and as awful as it tasted, it was delicious.

After about 15 minutes of rest, we continued on down the hill, meeting several other people coming up who were just going to the overlook. At the trailhead Larry and I said our goodbyes. He took the picture of me below. Not a glamorous getup, but it got the job done! If I look hot and tired, it's because I was...

Rather pleased with myself, I slowly walked to the van, pulled out a bottle of cool water and sat down in the shade of one of those glorious cottonwood trees! Then I went to the camp store and had an Ice Cream bar! Well, to be honest, I had two!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Big Bend :: Down by the River

The second morning at Rio Grande Village I awoke to see the sky ablaze with color - the dawn's early light. Taken from just outside the van at my campsite.

The sun was already up and casting it's rays on the mountainside by the time I reached the top of “my” hill. Soon the entire valley would be filled with bright light. This was the view looking away from the sunrise, Rio Grande Village is off to the right. The glow lasted only a few seconds. I had never seen anything like it before.

This morning I decided to follow the trail all the way to the river. Unusual for this time of year, the Rio Grande was higher than normal. Even at this “high” level the water was only a couple of feet deep. I had been told by several people that on previous visits the river was just inches deep and you could easily walk across it. I was amazed by how rapidly the water was moving along. Quite fast.

At some time this area was flooded, now it is dry and the ground is crackling.

The tenacity of living things is incredible to me. The little “trees” in this “forest” were anywhere from 1 to 18 inches tall. Barely clinging to life in the dry, parched soil. However, there were bits of green here and there.

New growth coming on. Their roots must run deep. There is no surface water here.

Just a short distance from the river, these tiny flowers were growing along the path, a trail trampled daily by many feet. Makes you wonder if everyone tries not to step on them. And why does it have two different colors of blossoms?

These were growing amongst stones where there was barely any dirt. How do they get enough sustenance to survive? The plant is wiry and spindly, almost ugly, but the tiny blossoms are gorgeous.

Later that day I drove over to Boquillas Canyon and walked the short trail along the river and spotted these three canoes.

Distances are deceiving. Everything is much farther away than you think it is.