Saturday, February 27, 2010

Big Bend National Park - Part 4: Santa Elena Canyon

Here's part-4 of 4 posts from our recent Big Bend National Park trip.

We wanted to make sure to dip our toes into the Rio Grande - the 4th longest river in U.S. The Rio Grande originates in Colorado, bisects the entire length of New Mexico and forms a good portion of the southern boundary of Texas. Surprisingly, one could walk across the Rio Grande during low flow!

At Big Bend National Park the Rio Grande has done some pretty spectacular things - one of which is to have cut through up to 1,500 feet of limestone to form Santa Elena Canyon. Jennifer is more than ready to check this thing out!:

Hard to believe that the U.S. is on one side and Mexico just across the way on the other:

It's a little other-worldly in here:

On our way back out we make sure to dip our feet into the Rio Grande (and make a little wish for understanding and cooperation between nations):

Big Bend county....

...worth the trip, we think!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Big Bend National Park - Part 3: Burro Spring

Our final hiking day at Big Bend included Cattail Falls, Burro Spring and Santa Elena Canyon (Part 4). Burro Spring is another short hike, about 2.4 miles roundtrip, featuring Ed Abbey type solitude.

We kicked the hike off with a nice long look through Steve's handmade spotting scope by Mallory, our youngest niece. (Take a scroll though Jen's sister's blog here and you will catch a glimpse of this crafty gal.) We spotted some birds that we no doubt would have missed without this most handy scope. Thank you Mal!

Rejoicing in the warm, warm, warm day... We could take sunshine and warmth everyday, always.

Blind Prickly Pear (Opuntia rufida); According to Peterson's these spinelets fly into the air when disturbed. These spinelets can blind cattle trying to eat the plant. What a protective measure! We did not disturb this prickly pear thankfully.

Nice views of the desert scrub, grasslands and landscape typical of this trail...

Upon rounding the mesa and within view of Burro Spring, we get our first spot of bright green - a sign of abundant water.

A dry tinaja & expansive views of the surrounding desert. (Tinaja is Spanish for large earthen jar and refers to a basin-shaped water hole, usually carved into bedrock by natural erosion.)

The vegetation is thick surrounding the water. Animal tracks criss-crossed and bees extracted minerals in the soft soil...we wondered what it would be like to be here at night when the critters come out to play.

Heading back to our car we followed a large wash that drains most of Burro Mesa and noticed some pretty cool eroding rock-soil deposits. (That's all Jennifer will interpret since Steve the soil scientist is not here right now.)

And finally, last season's vining milkweed seed pod.

One more part to share featuring the Rio Grande. Hope ya'll are enjoying the pictures!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Soil, Seeds and Sun

Pull weeds, work the soil minimally....

...plant seeds...

...water periodically....

...sit back and watch....

...and get food:

Parsley and Cilantro:

Mixed Greens:

Chamomile (volunteering from last year!):

Gardeners are happy people!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Big Bend National Park - Part 2: Cattail Falls

After our 13 mile hike to the south rim, we decided to spend the rest of our time exploring different ecosystems of Big Bend. The park encompasses so much land it's hard to cover much in 2 days, but we sought out different environments to give us the best cross section. Cattail Falls is an easy one way 1 mile hike to a spectacular waterfall.

The trail starts in typical Chihuahuan desert vegetation and landscapes...

and soon moves into a lush, desert oasis.

Spectacular vegetation populated the wet environment. Pictured below is some sort of mint (Labiatae), maybe a Salvia...

Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum sp.)...

Unidentified fern...

After leaving the waterfall area, we climbed down the dry wash and found a warm, sunny place for lunch.

So many cools rocks rest in this wash...

Finally, a little animal sign. Yes! Steve spotted this pile of scat and unfortunately I did not put my hand in for scale, but it's a LARGE pile and to our deducing minds - bear scat.

And perhaps the most interesting for last - a radio tracking collar from a large mammal. Most likely mountain lion or perhaps a small bear. We've never found one of these before and found it in a great napping spot. A little fur stuck in the collar and a number marked the inside of the leather. We turned the collar into one of the visitor centers, perhaps ending the tale for that particular tracked critter.

Parts 3 & 4 later!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Big Bend National Park - Part 1: South Rim

We're back! We took a great 4 day jaunt down to Big Bend this past weekend and will share photos of our adventure over the next week or two.

Our first hike of this trip took us 13 miles round trip from the Basin in Big Bend to the South Rim (via Laguna Meadow) overlooking the Rio Grande river valley and on into Mexico. We started early in the day and walked in shade much of the way up; check out the snow on these cool lichens.

If hiking or any type of physical exercise is a common venture this hike is no problem. The elevation gain is moderated over nicely constructed switchbacks. We covered 6 miles to the South Rim much before we thought we would (due to the description in the guide book). The views of the valley and into Mexico are spectacular!

We found a rock jutting out of the cliff face and sat there for lunch taking all this in...

Steve always gets a bit excited in these places!

Jennifer's pretty happy too.

The drop down to the valley is abrupt and bottoms out in the Rio Grande, about 1 vertical mile below this picture. (The hike starts much higher than the valley floor and only amounts to about 2000' elevation gain.)

Lichens populate most rock crevices on the South Rim.

Snow covered Mexico mountain peaks frame the distant landscape, not readily visible in this picture, and captured Jennifer's interest.

Taking the Boot Canyon trail back down to the Basin led us near seasonal pools of water creating a lush environment of bigtooth maple trees, Arizona cypress and a few ponderosa pine and Douglas firs.

To the right of Steve is an Arizona cypress. The scale is off in the picture because the tree actually resides in the canyon behind Steve but it is a large tree. We were impressed.

A little scuffling sounded just off the trail. Jennifer: "I heard something!" Steve: "Me too!" Shh. Why, who's over there? Awww - a little skunk digging ever so diligently in the vegetation! What for? We aren't sure, but guess some tasty morsels. The little critter gave no thought to us, hence the tail picture.

Warming up in the brilliant sunshine, lower elevation and low winds.

More to follow!