Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Big Bend National Park, Part 2

Part 1

We woke up to a cool morning on the ridge our third day out and hawk-eye Steve spotted this Gray Hairstreak resting in an oak tree near our tent.  By the time we left, this little butterfly still remained in place waiting for the day to warm and its body temperature to rise.

Our breakfasts consisted of the standard oatmeal, freeze dried strawberries and nuts.  Steve's had this little Coleman canister stove for ages and it works like a dream.  Flying with fuel canisters is not allowed so we purchased it once we arrived in El Paso.  To avoid any potential hassles with the stove itself, we mailed it to a post office near the airport and picked it up on our way out of town. Easy peasy!

Our camping gear continues to get lighter and hence, better.  The less weight we have to carry the farther we can hike!  A couple years back, we purchased this little L.L. Bean Microlight 2 person tent after Backpacker Magazine gave it an Editors' Choice award in 2012 for weighing less than 4 lbs and costing less than $200.  This tent works great for us and sports the coolest clip-on pole system.  We can set up our tent in less than a minute!

Steve spotted this fabulous yellow primrose on the edge of a wash that acted as the trail.  For two Midwesterners, any and all blooms at this time of year make our hearts sing and this giant yellow bloom inspired quite a bit of gushing.

The trail junctures are well marked and we loved the cut metal signs.

Steve, of course, spotted all these grass lined holes along the trail and once we started looking for them, we realized they were quite common.  Our guess is this is some sort of trap created by a spider looking for a tasty meal.

Agave is always one of our favorite desert sightings...the color is unique, long-nosed bats are the main pollinators, the leaves form these great little cups that hold water for a period of time benefiting local wildlife and it gives us people tequila!

This picture shows the impressions left from when the agave was wrapped up before unfurling. Wow!

Most prickly pear we saw had long and short spines, but a second species popped up now and again sporting only very short spines.

After visiting Homer Wilson Ranch and picking up our water cache, we walked the Blue Creek wash with heavy packs.  Wash walking is difficult (especially when carrying a lot of water!), but this trail hides a gem of a secret...

Red Rocks! The color is stunning against that azure sky.  Love. It.

Our last camp spot, just inside the Zone Camping boundary was ultra charming with trees and canyon wrens singing.  This favorite bird of ours sings such a powerful song so reminiscent of desert canyons.  If you've never heard one or just want to hear another because you can never hear too many, check out their call here.

This is a great picture showing the canyon amongst the mountains.  That ribbon of green sheltered us the night before. The climb up and out was a great start to the morning for us.

At the top, we took a break, ate a snack and enjoyed the spectacular views and the power that comes with backpacking.  Everything you need is carried on your own back and there is nothing that can stop you from going anywhere you want as long as you have enough food and water.That is such an incredibly addictive feeling and one I think neither of us will ever have enough of.  We know, should we have very little, we can survive.

We both find such happiness in being out in nature, with each other and using our bodies to power us where we want to go!

We hiked the Colima Trail back over to Boot Springs and passed a park ranger with horses that will pack out the humanure from the composting toilets in the high use areas.  Cool.

We ate the last of our food before summiting Emory Peak.  The views once again captivated us...

the Mexican jays were captivated by our food!

The climb up to Emory Peak started out quite level with easy hiking.  There's a bear box at the trail head so you can stash your pack and not haul it up with you.  The trail is only 1.5 miles one way, but near the end of the trail it gets very rocky and very steep and soon we found we needed to ditch our trekking poles so we could scramble up and maintain 3 points of contact at all times.

We made it up...

along with 4 or 5 painted lady butterflies!  Amazing insects!  Emory Peak tops out at 7,825' and is the highest peak in the Chisos Mountains.  These butterflies are most likely flying north out of Mexico and are starting their annual recolonization of the United States. We felt lucky to be among them....

and the 365 degree views.

We have a great local outdoor gear shop here in Ohio, Outdoor Source, and we just had to show our support of them!  Thanks guys!

Texas Madrone is an incredible tree.  The coppery bark is stunning and is one we always have to stop and look at.

Heading down to the Chisos Basin via the Pinnacles Tree took us amongst copses of trees...

and past cute assemblages of cacti and succulents.

The big, beautiful, blue sky guided us down....

to the Chisos Basin campground where we enjoyed a great western view...

of the setting sun.  We ate so much food that night and felt so grateful for that trunk filled with grocery store goodies.

Before leaving the park, we day hiked close to the mighty Rio Grande.  Look for a Mexican national on horseback in the picture below.  It's illegal to sell to tourists in this area, but as you hike around you find intricate wire creations set up on rocks with a collection bottle should a person want to buy one for the ridiculously cheap price of $6.  We so hope border relations continue to improve for all the locals that can benefit from the tourist trade, etc.  The river is stunning, isn't it?

I love it.  There is just something about this holds my heart in a way I can't explain.

Beaver created a wetland home to many types of plants and animals.  Next to humans, I don't know that there is an animal that can change land so dramatically as beaver.  We saw many fish, pied-billed grebes, a great-blue heron and many turtles...all without looking too hard.  Imagine the diversity that must be present in such an uncommon habitat - a desert wetland!

Thanks Big Bend....for all the nature, for the solitude, for the inspiring people we met, for the sunshine and the blue sky, for the open space created in our minds and for the protected land.  You never disappoint and you are already calling us back.  We look forward to next time more than we can say.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Big Bend National Park 2014, Part 1

To celebrate Steve's birthday this year, we headed back to Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas.  We visited this park in 2009 and really can't get enough!  It's the perfect spot to go when the midwest mid-winter doldrums start to seep in and take root.

After flying into El Paso we drove to Marfa to camp for the night, on the way to the park.  There's an artsy pulse about this town and we enjoyed our stay at Tumble In and our baked items from Future Shark.  We woke up to a frosty morning, but brilliant sunshine!

Steve made us take the requisite sign picture to commemorate our trip and, of course, he was right.

After determining our route, securing a backcountry permit, caching water for the latter half of our hike in a bear box, and packing our gear we were ready to head into the backcountry in the late afternoon.

The 4.5 miles to our campspot in Boot Canyon was a grueling uphill climb on the Pinnacles Trail with heavy water weight.  Big Bend is a dry park and especially so this year. Fire danger is high with no campfires allowed. When the land gets this dry, many springs run dry as well so you have to carry what you need. Filtering from the few water holes takes that water from wildlife so we tried to minimize our need to do that.  You can see from my face, the climb, plus the higher elevation, plus the water weight was kicking my butt a bit.

We enjoyed some renewed energy upon finding the remnants of a milkweed plant!

The difficult hike in proved so worth it the next morning with the balmy temperatures allowing for a leisurely breakfast and...

incredibly stunning views.

We chose to complete the Outer Mountain Loop via the Pinnacles Trail to Boot Springs to Juniper Canyon to Dodson to Blue Creek and back via the Colima Trail so we could summit Emory Peak. The loop totaled a little over 40 miles, which we did in 3 nights and 4 days with day 1 being short.

On the Dodson Trail, the views are expansive.  The easy hiking allowed us to hike in our Chacos and enjoy many cool nature sightings. We noticed this impaled grasshopper on an ocotillo. Shrikes are known to do this to kill their prey. We may have interrupted this bird's meal or maybe s/he was just waiting for the grasshopper to succumb for easy feeding.  Our camera didn't do so well on the macro photography on this trip (boo!), but you can still make out the fantastic coloration on this insect.

The early spring blooms attracted many butterflies including what looks to be a European skipper though the range maps don't show it this far yet.  The sulphurs and little yellows put on quite a show, but didn't land for more than 1 second at a time it seemed.

The warm sun and heavy packs made us tired so we took a rest in a dry wash.

The feel of the wildness in the vastness of the park gave us exactly what we came for.

The little lizards made us smile every time.

Our second night out we zone camped, which means you can camp anywhere as long as you are following standard Leave No Trace principles.  We found one of the best camp spots atop a ridge with stunning 365 degree views including this one into Mexico.

Part 2 will follow with the second half of our trip!  Look at that big, beautiful, blue sky...

Part 2