Friday 15 and Saturday 16 February
Driving and Work
Friday I left Lawrence about midday to drive down to Austin where I was going to a small conference on the Saturday. Austin is quite a way from Lawrence and it took me a little over 11 hours to get there, leaving Lawrence at midday. I did manage to time it so I hit Oklahoma City in rush hour which probably didn't help! Saturday was spent at the conference which was pretty interesting and included a rather nice Indian lunch. Went for a few beers and food afterwards before heading back to the hotel and bed.
Sunday 17 February
Austin and Enchanted Rock
I started Sunday by looking round Austin. For such a big city I thought it was surpsisingly nice and although I prefer Lawrence I think I could probably live there - although of course I have no idea how I'd cope with the hot summers. Unlike many big cities it seemed to have both character and space and that's a good combination in my book.
After a couple of hours looking around Austin I headed to Enchanted Rock, a state park a couple of hours away and in the general direction of Big Bend, my main destination. It had been recommended to me by Carol and it did not disappoint. The big lump of rock sticking out of the ground was definitely something to see and the "cave" inside it turned out to be rather more of a real caving experience than I was expecting and was thoroughly good fun. It was also nice to do some hiking for the first time since New Year.
I then headed into Fredericksburg and to the brewery for dinner, again recommended by Carol. There was a fairly long wait for a table but thankfully a space opened up at the bar pretty quickly. After some enjoyable beer and food I started the drive towards Big Bend. I eventually got to the campsite at about 2am! All in all I think this may have been my favorite day of the trip. Yes, as a whole Big Bend was better, but for a single day I think this wins.
Monday 18 February
Big Bend: Mule Ears Trail
I'm sure it won't come as a surprise to anyone to find out that I did not exactly have an early start to the next day. My first job was to see if I could get one of the "primitive roadside camping sites" which as well as being considerably cheaper also offered what promised to be a somewhat more enjoyable experience when compared to being squeezed into one of the developed campgrounds. I was lucky and get the last one for that night that was reachable by a standard car and I decided to stay there the four nights I had planned remaining in Big Bend. After finding the campsite, so I knew where it was for when I come back in the dark, I headed off for my first hike.
The Mule Ears Trail gives you many different views of the Mule Ears a pair of rock formations that do look quite like mule ears. Seeing them from many different angles was pretty cool but the best part of the hike was the spring that was about half way along it. Really liked the feel of the place and how the vegetation looked. I would get to see the Mule Ears from several different locations on different trails over the next few days and I think it worked out well doing this trail first as I knew to actually look for them.
As there was still someday day light left I went and looked at Tuff Canyon, which was virtually roadside. Walking down into the canyon was cool but the best part may well have been seeing a small multi-coloured cairn which I really liked. Although light was starting to go by the time I'd finished in the canyon I went to Castolon, an old village now servingas a park service facility. Wasn't much to see to be honest, an old house was about it, although reading up on it and the area's history was a little more intersting.
Tuesday 19 February
Big Bend: Around Rio Grande Village
Next day I headed down to the area around Rio Grande Village. My plans for the day seemed a little ambitious with a 6 mile hike, a 8 mile hike and a shorter walk planned along with the driving to get there. Anyway I made it... just! After stopping to take one random picture on the way my first hike was Hot Springs Canyon a 6 mile trip along the edge of a canyon to a hot springs and the remains of an old motel and post office that had been built because of the hot spring. The walk there was enjoyable as it gave me my first proper views of the Rio Grande but otherwise was not too exciting. The best part of the "ruins" was, for me at least, definitely the murals that remained in the post office. Also in the area were some Indian cliff art which was not the best or most extensive I'd seen, or indeed would see on this trip. The hot springs were little more than a small swimming pool.
Next stop was Boquillas Canyon, one of the three big canyons in the park (of which I'd see two as the third was rather remote). Although I'd seen some Indian wares for sale near Hot Spring Village there was a lot more of it at the overlook and on the actual trail. At the overlook you could see the Mexicans on the other side of the river and on the trail there was an old Mexican on the US side. There was also a Mexican, on the Mexican side, singing and trying to get people to donate money in the pots he'd left out. Was a touch annoying - I like my countryside quiet even when in a heavily trafficed tourist area. The canyon itself was pretty cool if not quite as impressive as I was expecting - I must have had pictures of the other canyon in my mind.
My final hike of the day was a 8-mile round trip following the remains of an old ore tramway that had transported ore from the Mexican side to the US side where it was taken away by road. I generally like old industrial remains, even if I do think they should be removed, but was a little disappointed as there wasn't actually that much to see. The hike to the terminal also turned out to be longer than 4 miles so I only barely did the, what turned out to be 9-mile, round-trip before it got dark.
Wednesday 20 February
Big Bend: South Rim and Emory Peak
Wednesday was spent doing the South Rim trail which seems to be thought of as the best hike in the park and it didn't disappoint. The main hike was a 12-mile round trip and it was well worth it for the views when you did reach the rim, they were stunning, and included the Mule Ears from much further away. Just a shame it was a little hazy as the photos don't really do it justice. Due to nesting birds I had to take the slightly shorter option as the South East Rim path was shut but it was still all very cool. The start of the way down followed a spring, which although it had very little water in it, still made a nice change of scenery.
About half the way down the way back a path diverged that went to the top of Emory Peak. I took this 3-mile round trip which resulted in some nice views in all directions. I even met a couple of other people at the top so there's even some of those rare things, pictures of me - although they are terrible! I got back to the car after a very good 8-hour 15 and a half mile day. Was quite tired so treated myself to dinner at the lodge before heading back to the campsite - was nothing that special but I'm glad I did as the day really had taken quite a bit out of me.
Thursday 21 February
Big Bend: Odds and Ends
I've titled this odds and ends and that's what it felt like, doing several shorter hikes and seeing some other bits in the park which didn't nicely fit into the other days. I started by driving further down the gravel road my campsite was on and doing a short walk in the Grapevine Hills to a rather cool rock window caused by a balanced rock. I'd done the hike before breakfast so I headed back to my campsite and then back up into the Chicos mountains, where I'd been the day before, for a hike to the window - basically the top of a pour off which made an obvious window visible from some distacne away. The hike itself was nothing special and although the window was coold I found it a little disappointing. I would however see a much better poor-off later in the day.
I then went and looked at the remains of a couple of old ranches. I enjoyed looking around them although there's nothing too exciting to report. That done I headed to the Burro Mesa Pour-off trail, a short trail that led to an impressive pour off - it was so big and a little bit hidden round a corner that I couldn't really get a good photo of it all. Left me looking forward to the trail to the top of it which was my next on my list.
The trail leading to the top was definitely more primitive than the trail leading to the bottom and was more enjoyable as a result as it require some scrambling around which was very enjoyable. It also ended up in some much narrower canyons which were quite spectacular. The view from the top of the pur-off was also very cool especially as I could see some people looking qute small below. This hike definitely competes with the South Rim for my favourite hike.
Friday 22 February
Big Bend: The Chimneys and Santa Elena Canyon
Friday was the day I was planning on leaving Big Bend. After striking camp I hiked into the chimneys. The hike itself was a quite boring, slightly down hill, 2 and a half miles. I was however very pleased with the pace I kept up ebing only slightly shy of four miles an hour - before then I hadn't been sure I could do that sort of pace. The "chimneys" themselves were nothing special but the Inidan rock art and the remains of an odl Indian shelter were very cool and made the hike worthwhile. By the time of the hike back it had got rather warmer and my pace was no where near so good!
I then headed towards Santa Elena Canyon stopping to take several pictures along the way. This canyon was obviously the one I remembered seeing pictures of as it was a very impressive, steep-sided, narrow canyon and I had a really fun time doing the short hike into it despite it being a very touristy trail. The river itself was very low and at one place it looked like you could get into Mexico without getting your feet wet - although your entry back into the US would be seen as illegal and result in all sorts of problems so was most definitely not worth the risk! You could however see that others had done so given the foot prints in the mud.
I then took a gravel road which cut about 20 miles of the distance to where I wanted to get out of the park. there were a couple of cool things on the way and the road itself was not at all bad, depsite the high clearance signs, and I had soon left the park. Terlingua was a small "ghost" town just outside the park. Except it was no longer very ghost like as people had realised the tourist potential and so it was all a little disappointing and so I was soon on my way towards Guadalupe National Park.
Saturday 23 February
Guadalupe Peak and Carlsbad Caverns
Guadlupe and Carlsbad Caverns National Parks were on my list of places I wanted to see and although they weren't that much on the way home they also didn't add too much time to the journey and would break it up a bit. I arrived at a reasonable time the night before and so was up not too late and heading up Guadalupe Peak - the highest point in Texas. Progress was somewhat slow for the last half of the hike to the top and back again due to all the snow and ice aorund that made the trail rather slippery. Was an enjoyable hike even if the scenery wasn't as impressive as Big Bend.
Having got done in Guadulpe quicker than I was expecting I headed to Carlsbad Cavern, which I though I wuldn't have a chance to see on this trip, but the joint park newspaper suggested I'd jsut have time to do the best self-guided tour. The "room" the tour was in was impressivelg big but I've seen more exciting features in caves, although there was one feature that I really liked. Glad I went as I'd have been driving past it anyway on the way from Guadalupe to Lawrence.
Sunday 24 February November
After leaving Carlsbad Caverns I started the drive back towards Lawrence. I was rather tired and I wondered whether I'd make it to the free campsite I'd found for that night but somehow I did. I'd already decided I'd probably just head straight back to Lawrence and waking up and looking at the "reservoir" confirmed this. The reservoir was 80ft below it's maximum, due to a prolonged dorught, and had returned to little more than a river and so any hikes around the edge of it did not seem that appealing. Hence I simply headed back to Lawrence, getting back at a very civilised hour for me - 7pm!
Copyright Daniel Money 2013