Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Guadalupe Peak, the Highest Point in Texas

If you have been reading this journal for very long, you will know that I am a “high pointer”.  One of the things on my life list is to go to the highest point in most of the states.  I say most because I have no intention of climbing Mt. McKinley in Alaska or any of the technical climbs in the lower 48.  However, for those drive-ups and walk-ups where I can keep my feet firmly planted on the ground, I hope to be able to do.

First break on the way up
Today was number 22 for me—Guadalupe Peak in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.  Guadalupe Peak is ranked number 14th of the 50 high points at 8,749 feet.  
American Airlines 50th Anniversary monument on the summit
I am a little vague about what this National Park is preserving.  There doesn’t seem to be anything really special here, just more of the same from here to Big Bend.  The area was made a National Park in 1966.  I think that was during Lyndon Johnson’s administration.  Maybe that’s why it is in the National Park Service.

Taking my own summit photo
It is really nice that Guadalupe Peak is within the National Park.  It is so much easier than trying to get permission to hike on private land.  The trial was in fantastic shape.  It is also a horse trail.  Sometimes that is not so good, but out here in this dry climate, it was fine.  In fact, we could not tell that it had been used by horses.  The only way we knew was from the signage.  The trail was graded for horse travel, so it wasn’t too steep and it was plenty wide.
View from the top
We got an early start on this 8.4 mile round trip hike.  I was very pleased to reach the summit (a 3,000 foot climb) in 4 hours since we have hiked so little lately and certainly not anything with any elevation gain.  We moved along at a slow, steady pace and took a break every hour.  Of course, there are no trees here so we were moving up the side of the mountain with a drop off on one side all the way to the valley below.  Gene is afraid of heights and about a quarter mile from the summit, he got to a switch back that he couldn’t get around.  It was pretty scary.  I went on to the top without him.  I didn’t linger, however, because the wind was remarkable.  In fact, I didn’t go the last 3 feet or so because I was afraid of being blown off.  After a couple photos, I was on my way down.
About halfway down and my feet
are hurting.
Tomorrow, if we can drag our sore muscles out of bed, we’ll try hiking down into Carlsbad Cavern.

Monday, March 30, 2009

They Call The Wind....

The big story of the day is the wind.  I know I have had a few words to say about the wind in South Texas over the past couple months.  That was no wind at all compared to what we experienced this morning.

It was quite windy as we pulled into the campground late yesterday afternoon.  It remained steady at maybe 30 mph throughout the evening.  We changed our meal plans accordingly.  We had planned to grill steaks.  This campsite has a fire ring, we have a grill basket and charcoal.  We were excited about having a real, honest-to-goodness, grilled steak.  The wind, however, forced us to use the George Foreman.  The wind was blowing so hard it was difficult to get in and out of the Montana and not let the door be ripped out of your hand.

As night came on, the winds died down and it was quite pleasant. We went to bed and, having had a stressful day, were sleeping soundly.  The wind woke me about 12:30 AM.  Apparently, it is not uncommon for the wind to come back up during the night.

As time passed, the wind got progressively stronger and this Montana was rockin’ and rollin’.  So much so that I became very nervous, first about the front landing gear giving way under so much stress, and second, about the whole trailer turning over.

Sleeping was impossible so a little after 4 o’clock I got up.  To my horror, it seemed much worse down in the living area.  Our slides were actually rocking separately from the trailer. I quickly gathered up what I thought we would need for breakfast, picked up the throw rugs, and stowed the recliner and end table to bring in the slides.  That was a great improvement, especially, in eliminating the noise from the flapping slide covers.  It was too late, however, as we learned this afternoon.  One of the slide cover awnings had already been destroyed.

As daylight broke, Gene went out to gather up our things from around the campground—our welcome mat and our wheel chocks.  Even the sewer hose support tried to escape.  There were lots of things scattered about the campground including one the large wheeled garbage dumpsters.  Later in the morning as we ventured out, we noticed that the New Mexico State flag was hanging from its pole by one corner.  When we returned later, it was completely gone.

We holed up until about mid morning before deciding to do a little reconnaissance of the two national parks nearby—Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains.  We went to Carlsbad Caverns first and pick up maps and talked to the ranger about cavern tours.  We came back to the trailer for lunch, happy to see it was still in the upright position.  After lunch we drove the 35 miles down to Guadalupe Mtn.

We have in mind to hike Guadalupe Peak, the highest point in Texas, while we are here.  “Legendary” was a word we have heard associated with the wind in Guadalupe.  In our discussion of the wind with the ranger he said today’s winds are supposed to gust to 80 mph.  He showed us a picture of a motor home on it’s side in their campground.

We stopped on the way home to buy fuel.  Gene left his door open while he was fueling;  I opened my door to let in a little fresh air.  What was I thinking?  I guess I wasn’t thinking.  With both doors open, the wind blew everything in the front seat around including Gene’s sunglasses which blew completely out of the truck and landed in some unknown substance in front of the fuel pump.  Yuk!

The wind was too strong today for us to have driven out of here, even if we had a place to go.  All I can say is “batten down the hatches”.  Gene cut the tattered slide awning off so our slide will retract properly.  We’re hoping for the best.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Goodbye Texas, Hello New Mexico

It was a simple task, an easy run, from Alpine to Carlsbad—a distance of about 200 miles.  We didn’t rush this morning, but got up at the usual time and sipped coffee with an eye on the morning news.  Since it doesn’t really get light until about 8 o’clock out here on the western edge of the Central Time Zone, we didn’t go out before daylight to start hitch-up.  We were real pleased with ourselves when we were ready to pull out of the campground at 8:45.  After all, we only had 200 easy miles and would probably be there by lunch time.

What is that saying?  “Best laid plans of mice and man.”  We were taking US 67 to US 285 and straight into Carlsbad, New Mexico.  To our dismay, about 50 miles from our destination, we encountered a sign which warned us of a load limit restriction across a bridge and pointed trucks to follow the detour.  We were over the load limit, we thought, so pulled over to the side of the road to assess our options.  Gene walked back to read the sign again just to be sure we saw it correctly.  There was some confusion on our part about what the sign really meant.  Not being true “truckers” we were unsure about the term “tandem weight”.  If we were correct in our assumption that our two axle weights together was what this was referring to, then we were over the weight limit.

While looking at the map to determine how the detour would affect our trip, we noticed there was a picnic area not far from where we had pulled off the road.  We decided to go there, have lunch and make a new plan.

The detour turned out to be about a hundred miles out of the way.  We decided to try to find out if we were interpreting the “tandem weight” issue correctly.  The only thing we could think of was to call the Highway Patrol.  The line was busy and busy and busy for the 30 minutes or so that Gene tried.  Giving up on that, Gene called our son-in-law and asked his opinion.  He had the same opinion we did.  That left the hundred mile out of our way detour as our only option.

We got to see some of Texas and New Mexico that we would not have gotten to see.  However, we were fraught with the connecting turns through small towns and the hassle of finding diesel fuel out here in the middle of nowhere.  Luckily, we only had to turn around twice, and the man working on his lawn was very helpful in giving directions.

With only a few miles to go before reaching our campground, the wind blew a large portion of cardboard box in front of the truck.  We hit it, of course.  Gene could not determine if it had passed on through and came out the back or not.  Once again, we pulled over to check for stray cardboard box parts.

The main thing is that we arrived safely, although we were both pretty stressed out.  The good news is that we gained an hour today crossing over to the Mountain Time Zone.  The bad news is that we used it up driving instead of being able to take a nap.

Tomorrow, Carlsbad Caverns National Park.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Fort Davis National Historic Site

We had a quick, uneventful drive from Big Bend to the small town of Alpine this morning.  Good weather, good road conditions, and very light traffic made for a most pleasant drive.  Our next destination, Carlsbad Caverns, was a little farther than we like to travel in one day.  We decided to stop in Alpine to take in Fort Davis.
Enlisted men's barrack

Much of the original fort is in ruins
Fort Davis was established in 1854 as a military outpost to protect travelers along this section of the San Antonio-El Paso Road from Comanche and Apache attack.    The Fort was in operation until 1891 except for a few years during the Civil War, at which time it was abandoned.  After the Indian Wars, soldiers took on local community projects such as road repairs and railroad surveys.  By 1891 the Army had begun to consolidate some of the many forts which had been established along the Overland Trail in West Texas and Fort Davis was once again abandoned.  The Fort was named for Jefferson Davis while he was still working for the US government, not the CS government.

Officer's Row
We spent a couple of enjoyable hours touring this well preserved Fort.  Many of the structures, having been constructed of adobe, are in ruins.  Many others had the adobe covered in plaster and some with stone.  These buildings are being restored by the park service.
Post hospital

Ruins of the chapel
Two-story officer's quarters
On our way back to Alpine, we stopped at the grocery.  That was one too many activities for today.  We were both a little grumpy by the time we got home.  We are going to have a relaxing evening tonight and then resume our journey north tomorrow.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Couple of Desert Hikes

I am posting two journal entries today because I was unable to get an internet connection yesterday.

Yesterday, we went for a hike recommended by the park ranger for the petroglyphs found on the geologic formation they call the “Chimneys”.  The hike was through the desert 3 miles to these huge rock formations.  We went in the morning to try to avoid the heat of the afternoon.  Although we were back at the truck shortly after noon, the sun was already pretty brutal.   When the rangers say “get an early start” I think they really mean before daylight.  We survived, however, and it was a very interesting hike.

This morning, we met a ranger for a hike out to another archeological site.  It was also a desert hike, but only a mile one way instead of three.  We always like the ranger-led hikes and there was a fairly large group who went along with us.  The petroglyphs were not nearly as good nor as extensive as the ones we had seen yesterday.  That was disappointing.  We saw more mortal holes and some rocks arranged in a circle the ranger said were remnants of fire pits.

Today’s hike was not as rewarding as yesterday’s.  Perhaps it was because it was too much of the same thing two days in a row.  Maybe it’s just because we aren’t all that excited about desert hiking.

I am making this short in an attempt to post earlier.  I seem to be able to get a better internet connection earlier in the day.

Big Bend National Park--The Desert

Big Bend National Park is the largest expanse of Chihuahuan Desert in the United States characterized by gravelly soil and less than 10 inches of rain a year.  Like you would expect, it is a dry, arid region where life exists in spite of the climate.  Wildlife consists of packrats, jack rabbits, snakes and lizards, coyotes, and deer.  We’ve seen it all except the packrat and the snake was dead so he may not count.  The plants are low scrub, mesquite trees and many, many types of cactus.

It seems a very harsh environment and one that I don’t particularly enjoy.  However, this is the peak cactus flowering season and to my amazement they are quite beautiful.  You just can’t get too close.

The photos don’t do the desert justice.  It is one of those things where you have to be there to experience the glare of the sun in you eyes, feel the breath of hot air as it moves against you skin, and endure the heat.  But perhaps you can experience the beauty of the blooming cactus.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Ghost Town of Tarlingua

This small community, which is just a few miles west of Big Bend, was, around the turn of the last century a thriving mercury mining town.  The mines were played out by the early 1940s and when the ore was gone, so were the miners.  Although the tourist brochures and media still refer to this as a “ghost town” there are actually a couple dozen residents, mostly artists and musicians.  So instead of an abandoned ghost town, what we saw was a repopulated mining relic.
Tour began at this shack in front of the General Store
Our self-guided walking tour began at the Terlingua Trading Company which had been the company store, mine offices and post office.  Today, it is a souvenir shop selling everything from T-shirts to shot glasses to Christmas ornaments.  Mr. Perry was the mine owner and of course, his house was the biggest on the hill.  Along with the company store and the owner’s mansion, there was also a hotel in town.  The Hotel Chisos with only 8 guest rooms turned out to be too small, so another building was added to accommodate the overflow.  This addition was the “Holiday Hotel” and it has been renovated and is currently serving as a hotel.  The school, church, and jail were also on the tour.
A miners shack

Holiday Hotel
Several of the buildings have been renovated and are art galleries or restaurants.  Most of the adobe shacks that had housed the miners and their families are in ruins.  However, those that could be lived in with minor repairs seem to be occupied.

Perry Mansion
Perry School

Signs marked the walking trail
Down the hill from town is the cemetery.  The oldest grave is from 1903 and it is still being used by the local community.
The church

The Jail
Besides the artists and musicians, there are a couple of outdoor adventure companies offering Rio Grande River trips and horse back riding.  This is the extent of what is offered in this area other than Big Bend National Park.  There is nothing for miles around with the closest city being about 80 miles away.
The cemetery
With our sightseeing out of the way this morning, we had the whole afternoon for chores.  Now with the chores out of the way, we will be back to Big Bend tomorrow for another hike and a scenic loop drive.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Window Trail

After a good nights sleep, we jumped out of bed raring to go this morning.  We managed to sip coffee later than we intended to, but still got a pretty early start.  By the time we drove the 25 miles to the trailhead, we were wishing we had left earlier.
Our destination is the "V" in the center.
The “window”, the destination of this hike, is an opening carved out of the rock by Oak Creek.  The hike was definitely worth the view.

The trail winds on a steady downhill grade from the Chisos Basin Campground for 2.2 miles to the opening at the window.  The trail was in very good condition and a very pleasant walk.  Even the uphill trek back to the campground was not bad because it was such a gradual climb. We had been advised to do this hike in the morning as there is no shade.  From that statement I had it in my mind that there would be no trees.  There were plenty of trees interspersed with cactus for almost the entire distance.  The trail was wide and the trees were short so they really did offer very little shade.  

We intersected Oak Creek approximately a half mile from the window and followed it down to where it fell through the opening and off the mountain.  It was a little too scary for me to get too close to the edge, but the view was awesome nevertheless.

Very little water in Oak Creek
I made a few pictures and we had a snack on the cool rock before starting the return trip.  While we sat there, the skies became a little overcast.  It was the perfect thing to have happened.  The clouds blocked the worst of the sun for our return trip.
Looking out the "window"
The Chisos Basin Campground caused a bit of nostalgic longing that tugged at our emotions briefly.  It was a pretty large campground with perhaps 50-60 sites tucked away in mountains at 5400 feet.  There were a few small RVs, but mostly tents or pop-up campers.  The road up here is paved, but relatively narrow with sharp curves and steep grades not suitable for large rigs.  Each campsite had a picnic table, some were even covered.  They also had bear proof food storage boxes.  This park has a few bears and apparently a few mountain lions.  Some of the tent sites were tucked away in the trees so well you almost couldn’t see them.   Ahh, those were the days.

It has become imperative that I do a little laundry, run the vacuum, and swish some cleaner around in the sinks.  That will be good for tomorrow along with exploring the ghost town of Terlingua.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Big Bend National Park--The River

Big Bend gets it name for the “big bend” of the Rio Grande River, the southern boundary of the park, which changes from a southeasterly to northeasterly flow.  The landscape is diverse with desert, mountains and canyons each with their own individual plant and animal habitats.
Along the park road
Of course, there are many ways to see Big Bend.  Probably most visitors stay in their cars and drive the paved roads, all of which lead to the River.  Others like the adventure of paddling the Rio Grande.  This is a great place for a rugged 4-wheel drive along the many miles of unimproved roads.  For us, though, we want to get out and walk on the land.

After our initial drive to the Visitor Center yesterday, we studied the brochures and information we got from the Ranger.  We had originally planned to do a 4.5 mile hike this morning, having been strongly encouraged to get out early before it got hot.  However, I slept poorly last night and having gotten little sleep the night before, I was in no shape nor mood to rush out at the crack of dawn today.  But we are flexible so it was easy to change to something less strenuous which did not require an early start.  Instead of the hike, we drove the 50 miles to the east side of the park at the Rio Grande Village area.
A Group of 5 mortar holes
This park is described in three parts—the mountains, the desert, and the river.  We went to the river today.  I packed a lunch and we drove on the main east/west park road past park headquarters at Panther Junction and the Visitor Center we visited yesterday to Rio Grande Village.  Village may be an optimistic word to describe this area which consists of another smaller Visitor Center, a small store, a gas station, and a campground.  We had our lunch in the picnic area which was really at the end of the tent camping area.  This area was just a hundred yards or so from the river and through irrigation it is kept green and even has trees.  It was pretty nice actually.  The campground was typical of National Parks with no hook-ups.  There was a dump station, for you convenience.  The parking pads were large enough for big rigs and the sites were large and grassy.  There were some trees, not a lot, but enough to provide a little shade.

Boquillas Canyon was a few more miles east of Rio Grande Village.  This was one of the areas recommended by the ranger for a short hike with interesting features.  Of course, the main feature was the Rio Grande River.  There was a pull-off on the road and a couple vantage points along the hike that offered great views of the river.  The first part of the hike took us past an area of perhaps 15 mortar holes.  These holes had been created hundreds of years ago by natives grinding seeds.  We were surprised at the depth of some of the holes.

At Boquillas Canyon the River is relatively narrow.  We walked along the rocky river bank with the canyon walls rising over a thousand feet above our heads.

Tomorrow, if I am able to sleep well tonight, we’ll go for our hike in the mountains.

By the way, yesterday evening I had a very difficult time getting my story posted and photos uploaded.  The WiFi the campground advertized is almost nonexistent, plus you have to go down to the restaurant to get it.  We have an air card, but cell service is not all that great here, either.  I’ll do the best I can.