Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Exploring Texas

Our plan of action from Huntsville was to head to Austin to do some rock climbing. We rock climbed at Reimers Ranch state park, a little west of Austin. It's all sport climbing, on our first day we did 5 climbs. When we were done it was mid-afternoon and we were right next to the Pederales River. We got a tip from one of the other climbers (petite girl in photo) that there is a great boulder to jump off of.
Bamf petite rock climber

We took advantage of the boulder, did a little swimming, then headed back to camp. The next day we climbed another 5 routes with a quick dip in the river. We met very cool people while climbing. Every climber we were next to was friendly, funny and chatty. It was great. We loved both days, and enjoyed very sore muscles for the next few days.
Fun jumping off boulders

The following morning we made it to San Antonio with the intent of visiting the Alamo and doing the River walk. At the Alamo we walked the grounds, read through the history of the Alamo in the barracks building, and got to chat with a reenactor outside. He had a similar flint and steel kit to the one I've been playing with. We had a nice conversation with him. He informed us that the Mission San Jose was actually better maintained than the Alamo and the good local place to eat is only a mile away.
San Jose mission, didn't get any photos of the Alamo and not many take here.

From the Alamo we did a short stroll along the river walk. It was a commercialized Venice. It was interesting to walk along, there were a bunch of restaurants, too many people and chain restaurants. We then made our way down to Mission San Jose, it was more our speed. It had more of the original buildings than the Alamo. We walked around and read the history. After that we had dinner at Taqueria Guadalajara. It was a lot of the same things you'd see and get at any mexican restaurant, except everything tasted way better.

We spent about six hours in San Antonio, then headed west to a picnic area for the night on our way to Big bend. Next day on our way to Big Bend we went through a little town called Langtry. We caught a sign for the Judge Roy Bean museum. We had no idea who that was and on a whim turned around to check it out. We learned all about Judge Roy Bean, a man who was one step down from the criminals he charged. It was awesome. In Langrty around the mid to late 1800's it was the wild west. They had no judge or law enforcement and Roy Bean was selected to be the Justice of the Peace. In his history they mention him running scams (selling watered down milk) and having fled Mexico after killing a man. His way of justice was to fine criminals, and pocket the fines. He was a rough and tumble guy, and perfect for the job. It was clear from what we read that if anyone 'nice' were in that role they wouldn't last but his style of justice worked for the area. They had the original saloon/court house where he ran his business and conducted trials, which were often held on the porch. They had no jail so he'd tie the belligerent drunks to a tree until they were sober, then fine them. He was quite the character.
The original saloon/court house 


We made it to Big Bend and got our back country permit. Here they have designated back country primitive sites and you have to book where you are staying. We made a plan to stay a few nights in each corner of the park. The drive to our first campsite was treacherous. It was along a 'not maintained' road that required having a 4x4 lifted vehicle. We had no trouble, just a few 'oh sh*t' moments. We are saddened there is no photo proof. There was one good spot when I had to get out of the car to spot him because part of the road had washed out and if he crossed it wrong, I'd be standing there watching him roll down the hill. Oh well, we made it safely to Elephant Tusk campsite, in the middle of nowhere.
at the campsite

In the morning we packed up and headed on a hike that was right next to the campsite. It is uncharacteristically hot for this time of year. I'm talking 90-100's. So we went out and hiked only until noon then turned around. We wanted to be done by the time the high heat hit. It is also quite dry. I've never been this dry. It's good in some ways, like my wet clothes dry really fast, but my nasal cavities are also dried out. Anyway, we only had one night at that spot.
Jack rabbit!

 Hiking Elephant tusk trail
Purple tinged prickly pear in bloom

We spent the next two nights by the Rio Grande. After being dry and hot I dreamed this site would be nicer than it was. We were near the river but had to do a little hike through thick brush to get to it and it was not very deep in that section. Still, we had a great view. We did another hike, followed by siesta. Oh yea, we have spent almost every afternoon under shade eating salsa and chips. Our food intake has been oatmeal in the morning, snacking while hiking, salsa and chips in the afternoon and veggies at dinner. I only want to eat fruit and veggies. The heat really diminishes your appetite for food and increases it for fluids and electrolytes.
Sunset in camp

On our way to the next campsite we stopped by the Mariscol Mine to explore. It is a Cinnabar aka Quicksilver aka mercury mine that closed in 1943.
 My new ride

Mariscol Mines

We also stopped at the Hot Spring. I know, it seems counter intuitive with the heat here, but it felt great. Especially to jump in the river intermittently to cool off. We did a quick hike there to get really miserably hot before jumping in. We then spent about an hour in the water. After being hot, dry and moderately dehydrated for several days it was magical to be surrounded by moisture. It doesn't help that I've also been reading a book about a dystopian future where water is scarce and the main character is constantly thinking about water. I could relate.
 View from pre-hot springs hike

In the hot spring

The next day, we hiked some more. This was the first time we actually did the whole trail before turning around. It's was the ore terminal trail, following the remains of an ore terminal. We felt good on the hike, our bodies starting to adjust to the heat. We rewarded ourselves with ice cream from the shop on the way back to camp. Then, siesta.

Our last day at that campsite we spent in Mexico! There is a port of entry in the park that allows you to enter Boquillas Del Carmen. I asked the cashier when we were getting ice cream about it and he said, "It's small, primitive, very Mexican and a lot of fun". We weren't sure if we'd go but that sealed the deal. We had the option to take a boat for five bucks or wade in the water to cross in to Mexico. Since we are cheap or as the nice border patrol gentleman said,"Adventure seekers", we waded through the knee deep Rio Grande.
Margaritas en Mexico!

Once in Mexico you can choose to walk, ride a truck, horse or donkey for the 3/4 of a mile to the town. Again, we walked. We went through the Mexican immigration office, a one man show in a trailer. From there we walked the town, then out of town to a sign for the next town. We walked back, wandered the rest of the town, then stopped for lunch. We had margarita's and tamales that were fabulous. The people were all wonderfully friendly. Everyone is selling trinkets, none we were particularly interested in. Except for these awesome cast iron plates you could use to cook tortillas over the fire. Those were very tempting but we don't need them, so we passed them up for now. Almost everyone spoke English, I was a little disappointed as I had been practicing my spanish in my head the night before and was looking forward to using what little I know. It was a very small town so we only spent about 3 hours there, but we were glad we went. It made us contemplate the possibilities of traveling in the truck through Central America and into South America.

The following day we drove to a new campsite near Chisos Basin. This is the main attraction in Big Bend. On our way we stopped at dugout wells (a small oasis in the desert that used to be a small town), the fossil bone exhibit (who doesn't like dinosaurs? they have found a lot of fossils here), then stopped in the main visitor center to read about the plants and animals in the area, then we did a 5 mile hike along the lost mine trail, both wearing our huaraches.
The gators used to be pretty big

I forgot to mention I busted through another pair of shoes. I've been alternating between wearing my heavy, clunky feeling Asolo boots and huaraches. I only wear the huaraches for short hikes.
nice shredded hole in my shoe, we walk too much

The hike was fun, windy with spectacular views.. well every hike here has had spectacular views. The next day the weather cooled to a high of only 65, it felt so cold after acclimating to 90s. We hiked to Emory Peak that morning, with the intent of doing a 9 mile hike. We felt so good we extended our hike to include what we were going to do the next day for a total of a 14.5 mile hike. This included doing the South Rim trail which is said to have the greatest view of Texas. I don't know if it's true but the view was the best I've seen here.
 Matthew on top of Emory peak

South rim, a bit windy

Our last day in the area we did another 5 mile hike along the Window trail. Again the weather was gorgeous. It was nice to not have to retreat to shelter by midday, although we did anyway. We were a little sore and tired from the previous days exertions. Still, overall I felt way better than I have in the past after such a long hike.
'window' at the end of the Window Trail

Leaving for our last campsite we took a scenic drive that had a lot of exhibits, overlooks and short trails. We stopped for everything. It was an exhausting 'rest' day. I thought we'd drive and do little stops but we did several trails. We estimated by the end of the day we walked 10.5 miles. It was a great day. We saw many beautiful views, two abandoned ranches, the remnants of a town and learned a lot. Top two favorites of the day were the Burro Mesa Pouroff and Santa Elena Canyon Trail. To get to the Burro Messa Pouroff we hiked the upper and lower part to see it from the top and bottom. The Santa Elena Canyon was a short trail with the payoff of silent awe and the feeling of being a minute impression on the earth, it was impressive and beautiful.
Last part of the upper burro mesa

 It was hard to get a good shot of the view from the top

Burro mesa from the bottom 

Santa Elena Canyon

Ok, this was a LOT at once. I feel like there is so much more to say about our experiences but this is long enough. I'll try to update more frequently or do shorter versions from now on.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Last days in the bayou, on to the Lonestar state

The day after Mardi Gras:
The following day we had reservations for our first experience on an airboat! We went for an hour ride on a beautiful swamp with gators, ibis, turtle, nutria, great egret, bald cypress and plenty of spanish moss. Our airboat captain, Jeremy, had a lovely southern accent and gave clear interesting information about the swamp we explored. I did not want off of that boat. We learned that it was a great time of year to be out in search of gators, they are all bathing in the sun to warm up this time of year. From there we went a bit farther to New Orleans to explore for a little while. We did the obligatory walk around the french quarter, bourbon street, jackson square and st. louis cathedral. We enjoyed it more than Matthew thought we would. It's a beautiful place. We rested at an outdoor restaurant, sipped on ice cream daiquiris and listened to jazz by 5 old southern gentlemen. Our dinner plans didn't pan out as the place we were going was closed. We found a different local favorite that was booming. We gorged on fried catfish, fried soft shell crab, shrimp fried rice and a pitiful salad.

 Sun bathing gator

 Bald Cypress

 "Big Al"

Jackson Square with St. Louis Cathedral in the distance, only shot I took in New Orleans

The next morning we ventured to Avery island, the birthplace of Tabasco sauce. We started by walking Jungle gardens, an oasis cultivated by one of the early owners of the Tabasco company. We saw more gators bathing in the sun, man-made lagoons, a big Buddha statue in a shrine built to honor it, with the surrounding lagoon, and garden to match it's mystic and Asian origins. It housed one of the most diverse collection of bamboo, bird city - the home of many egrets, and camellia plants with flowers ranging in shades of red to white. We then toured the Tabasco factory. It was amusing mostly, we saw how Tabasco is made, read about the history of the owners and how Tabasco came to being. They gave us a few samples and threw in two bottles of spicy pickled okra.. we guessed this gift was due to low sales but it is delicious!
 Jungle gardens

Great Egret sanctuary

Type 2 Fun experience:
While at the laundromat in Alexandria Louisiana Matthew got suckered into giving a guy a ride. Breuster was a 50 year old who spent 19 years in prison and needed a ride just a few miles away. It was a longer ride than expected, and on the way, whilst distracting us with conversation he informed us he needed to make more than one stop. He also implied he wanted to ride with us to Texas. We told him only one stop but when we got there no one was at the house to let him in, so we drove him one more place which happened to be on our way back anyway. He was an interesting character, he made a mix of positive and primarily negative comments. He kept trying to give us things, talked about different 'hustles' to get quick money, claimed to read people well.. and we were happy to say farewell. He turned out to be mostly harmless but did rub us the wrong way.

After Mardi Gras and exploring the pungent streets of New Orleans we ended out time in Louisiana with a backpacking trip. It was along the Wild Azalea trail in the Kistachie National Forest. We were taking it easy, so we didn't plan to do the entire trail. It is a point to point trail so we did an out and back trip. We only wanted to do three days, which meant on the second day we turned around halfway through the day. Silly, I know. The weather forecast said it would be raining every day, thunderstorms. On the first day we had a light rain with only a short burst of heavy rainfall for about 2 minutes. The trail went through multiple changes between the bayou/swamp areas and higher ground which had pine trees, dogwood trees and had recently been burned. There were many beautiful spots, I'm sorry I didn't take more photos. Some of the coolest ones were in the rain anyhow. By the time we stopped to camp in the mid afternoon it stopped raining or was only a light drizzle. Our campsite was along a creek, called Loving Creek. It was right next to the trail but it looked like a used site and we didn't see anyone the whole time we were there.

The second morning we had no rain, in fact it didn't rain much that day, only small amounts of drizzle. I didn't even wear my rain coat. We came across on upside down car in this section. It was very unexpected and neat. I wondered how long it had been sitting there. We also happened to find a geocache stored in it!

The last day started off dry, most of the hike was dry with short drizzles, until the last 2-3 miles. The downpour finally came, with lightening and thunder. By this time knowing I was going back to the car I didn't even care about getting soaked. I didn't bother with a raincoat. I needed a shower anyway.

By the time we made it to the car the rain stopped, which was very convenient. We weren't sure how we were going to make the transition of being soaked, to dry clothing and getting in the car. It was all good fun. It felt good to get soaked, and it felt great to be dry again. Once we were unpacked and settled in the car it was lunch time. Our usual post backpacking reward of splitting a pie of pizza enticed us to drive out to the city. We got an extra large pizza to share, and I had no problem eating my half. I didn't even feel full afterward, we also didn't need dinner that night.

The next day graced us with sun, blue skies and heat. We laid out all the damp and drenched things to dry. Once everything was dried, by about midday and after a short run, we packed up our things and continued west.

Now we are in Texas. We spent the first few days at the Davy Crockett National Forest. We spent a down day at camp, and went to the Caddo Mounds Historic Site which is only 10 minutes away. I started a fire for the first time using flint, steel and charcloth. I got a fire starter kit from Judy and Eric Brewer for Christmas. It took me a while to start playing with it, first I had to learn to get a spark with the flint and steel, then how to hold the charcloth in place to catch the spark, THEN move it to tinder that I collected, place it in the center and blow continuously until it catches. It worked, I got really excited and have started 5 fires this way now.
 First first started with flint, steel and charcloth!

We did a 10 mile hike the next day along the 4C hiking trail. We were planning on a backpacking trip but too many things went wrong for that ie controlled burns, unknown fees, starting too late. Instead we left Davy Crockett and are now sitting in a Starbucks in Huntsville as we plan our next move. 

 Camp Creek, along the 4C trail

One of three water moccasins we encountered, sorry it's not a great photo, wasn't getting too close