Saturday, March 31, 2012

Big Bend National Park - Emory Peak

An early veiw of peak
That's Emory Peak  just to the right of the branches of the tree on the left.

Nice signs
Emory Peak, the highest point in the park (7,825 ft) is one of the big ones.  Our route starts at the campground on the Visitor Center trail (0.5 miles) then the Basin View trail to the Pinnacles Trail to the Emory Peak trail (5.3 miles) for an 11.6 mile round trip hike.

Along the way to the peak
The trail is in great shape and while it is relentlessly uphill for the entire hike, very little of it is steep.  Mostly just a steady uphill climb.

TX Madrone
The Beautiful Texas Madrone.  The Madrone tree sheds it's red bark periodically as it grows

Jay on Emory trail edited 1
Mexican jay

Bluebellies edited 1
The ubiquitous southwestern lizard, commonly referred to as a "Blue Belly",  Note the belly of the lizard just visible in the lower right of the picture.

Flowers in hi places edited 1
Yuccas in bloom on the basin rim.

Fun stones edited 1
Unusual rock seen along the trail.

Gray green and claret
Claret Cup Flower in the pinnacles area of the trail.

Hi atop another rock pile edited 1
View from the top of Emory Peak edited 1
West from the top
At the summit

View of Chisos Basin edited 1
Looking Back into the Chisos Basin, 2.725 feet below, from Emeory Peak

Heading down the rocky trail edited 1
Of course the problem with any 5.8 mile hike to a fantastic peak is you still have a 5,8 mile hike back down when you are done.  When we get down, we will head south to the Rio Grande Village area of the park and some hikes along the Rio Grande.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Big Bend National Park - "The Window"

The Chisos Basin Campground is in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend NP at 5,100 feet. All the campsites have great views of the mountains. There are some spectacular hikes in the Chisos Mountains and we have chosen 2 of the best. First up is "The Window". The Window hike is a 3.5 mile round trip hike out of the campground to a precipitous pour-off that drains the Chisos Basin, through a narrow notch in the basin rim, to the desert below when it rains. A pour-off is generally a bowl or funnel shaped area of smooth water worn rock that becomes a waterfall when it rains. The rock above pour-offs is usually smooth and full of potholes that trap water which is used by animals for days or weeks after a  rainfall. The Window pour-off appears to drop a considerable distance
to the desert floor below, but it's hard to tell because it is so smooth and slippery that you can't get very close to the edge. The view out across the valley is fabulous. It was a great short hike and we met some mule deer on the way back up.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Big Bend National Park - Chisos Mountains

The Rio Grande starts in Colorado, travels through New Mexico, then forms much of the southern border of the U.S. along the states of Chihuahua and Coahuila in Mexico.  The environmental habitat formed by river, desert and mountains means that Big Bend contains a unique blend of flora and fauna not found anywhere else.
The River
From it's headwaters in Colorado the Rio Grande is a working river dammed for irrigation and manufacturing and it then loses much of it's water to riparian agriculture and evaporation.  In times of good water, the river still flows mightily through New Mexico and is significant when it gets to Mexico, but in times of drought, like now, the river is a bare trickle by the time it reaches this far south.  Still, enhanced by creeks and streams in Mexico, the river feeds a green oasis of Cottonwoods and grasses as it passes through the park.
The desert.  
The Chihuahuan Desert reaches it's northernmost boundary here in the park where it will give way to the wetter Sonoran and Mojave deserts to the north.  Many of the plants and animals of the Chihuahuan Desert only U.S. habitat is here in Big Bend.  Rabbits, Lizards, Snakes and Javelinas (Collared Peccary - Picture to follow as soon as we can get one) live in the desert.
The Mountains.  
The Chisos Mountains , volcanic in nature, rise starkly out of the desert, suck in the majority of the rain that falls here and provide a habitat for the rare Carmen Mountains White Tailed Deer as well as Ringtails, Foxes, Black Bear, and Mountain Lions. 

It is very unusual to see cactus (including prickly pear, letchuguilla, sotol, agave, and many others), junipers, pine and fir trees, and yuccas in proximity.  Of all the parks we have visited this park has the most unusual variety of plant life we have ever seen.
Big Bend is a CCC (Civilian Conservation Corp) park and much of it's infrastructure was built by the CCC in the 1930s.  This culvert is an example of the type of stone work you will often see in CCC parks.
We were camped up here in the Chisos Mountains so we hiked the lost mine trail to view Lost Mine Peak.  Lost Mine Peak is the site of a supposed silver mine that was sealed up when native slaves overthrew and killed their Spanish captors.  True?  maybe. 
Lost Mine Trails End.  Looking at Elephant Tusk, the south rim of the Chisos Basin, and off into Mexico.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Big Bend National Park, Texas

If you go west in Texas almost as far as you can go, and a little bit south you come to a big bend in the Rio Grande River which defines part of the border between the U.S. and Mexico.  It also defines Big Bend National Park.Big Bend is one of the least visited parks in the National Park System, and yet it contains such a myriad of interesting features that we all should see it.  It's a long trip across a big state that is sometimes full of nothing, but not so at Big Bend.
Wildlife living at Big Bend include the delightful Road Runners which are just a ball to watch, scooting about rapidly to catch bugs and lizards (and presumably to avoid hungry coyotes).
Pyrrhuloxia(a close relative of the red cardinal), Mockingbirds, Vultures, Mexican Jays, and Canyon Wrens are in abundance. 
Here in late March many of the cacti are blooming.  In the background you see the Chisos Mountains which rise above 7,000 feet in the center of the park.  We decided to camp in the small campground which is nestled in Chisos Basin, right in the middle of those mountains. 
That's us, right there in the middle.  The campground is at 5,100 feet, making it about 20 degrees cooler than the river campgrounds - 75℉ instead of 95℉.  We spent our first day catching up on photography and will do a couple of hikes in the days to come.
Claret Cup Cactus
Stawberry Pitaya

 Cactus Garden along the Trail to the visitor center.
Ocatillos at sunset.
These plants are dangerous.  Those  spines are like needles.
View of Casa Grande Peak from the campground.

After a day of acclimatization to the altitude we will do some hiking, hopefully to Emory Peak, the hghest point in the park at 7,825 feet.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Leaving Hot Springs for West Texas

You will remember from the last post that we were in Hot Springs Arkansas.  Soaking in the hot springs tends to leave you dazed and confused, not to mention, thouroughly relaxed.  

Nevertheless the 3 grown boys got out their toys (GPS) and planned our next route.  Janis and Jim to head back to NH, Cheryl, Bruce, and I to head further west to the Corps of Engineers Parks on Lake Ouashita.  Lake Ouashita  is a Corps Lake and so has several COE campgrounds.  We picked Denby point to stay for a couple more days and prepare for the launch of "Connemara"

The  campgrounds were suprisingly full due to it being Arkansas school vacation week, but we still managed to find a lakeside site suitable for viewing the sunset while quaffing a "Fat Tire"

After postponing through several very windy days, Connemara launched to rave reviews.  I think the smile says it all.

Bruce set out in my kayak to try it for the first time also.

Finally it was time for Bruce to head back north and for Cheryl and I to begin our quest on our own.  From Lake Ouachita we drove south, crossed the border into Texas and camped for a night in the cypress swamps of Caddo Lake State Park.

The next two days were spent traveling across the rather large state of Texas.  Opting out of the Interstate Highway System we followed minor state and US routes through the Texas Hill Country and marvelled at the blooms of Bluebonnets (suspicously Lupine like) and Indian Paintbrush.

The Chapel at Garvin Gardens.  Thanks to Jim, Janis, and Bruce for all the fun.  see Y'all in NH…sometime.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hot Springs, Akansas

South of Asheville we met up with friends from NH who were staying at a cabin at a small resort near Hendersonville.

Luck was with us as we had a brake problem while staying there and could get it repaired locally before setting out to Hot Springs.  The cabin sat right on the edge of the Pisgah National Forest and we were able to get in a couple of quick hikes to see some of the marvelous waterfalls that North Carolina is known for.
This is the local version of squirrel in this part of North Carolina.  These are not albinos as they have dark eyes and all the squirrels in the area had the same unique coloration.
The easiest way to Hot Springs, well maybe not the easiest but certainly the funnest, was through Great Smoky Mountaains National Park.  Great Smoky has been on our bucket list for a long time but until now has eluded us.  We camped at Elkmont and Cades Cove campgrounds, both just fine.
Old homestead barnOld Barn at homestead in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
C J Abrams Falls Cades CoveT C Abrams Falls Cades Cove

⇐ Friends

And Lovers   ⇒

Our friend Bruce was along for part of the trip.  Bruce is interested in Civil War History so we stopped at Stones River National Military Park in Tennesee
Stones River and Shiloh National Military Park, also in Tennessee

So with multiple stops in North Carolina and Tennessee it only took us about 6 days to reach Hot Springs, Arkansas.  

Our destination in Hot Springs (aside from a soak in the hot springs, that is) was Garvan Woodland Gardens.  Garvan is an extensive botanical park under the aegis of the University of Arkansas and this time we managed to catch the tulips in bloom.
Garvan tulips
Garvan tulips2

C Bruce on Moon Bridge at Garvin GardensCheryl and Bruce on Full Moon Bridge - Garvan Woodland Gardens, Arkansas

From Hot Springs we will head west to Lake Ouachita (Wash - it - AH') State Park and, hopefully, a chance for some kayaking.