Guadalupe NP and Lincoln NF

Near Carlsbad, and out here near is very relative, there is not much.  We stayed north of Carlsbad and south of Artesia New Mexico.  About 25 miles either north or south to a town of any size.  And although the landscape is mostly desert it has a certain charm and some hidden gems.  We took an adventure thru the Lincoln National Forest to the north (most remote) entrance to Guadalupe National Park – Dog Canyon and stopped by Sitting Bull Falls as a bonus on the way.

This was about a 60 mile trip down a dead end road, but well worth the time with exceptional views.  We were not sure if the route would be paved, but it was and was in reasonably good shape.  Might be careful of flash flooding in the rainy season.

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With this desert landscape it was surprising to find a nice little waterfall (They are one of my favorites) at Sitting Bull Falls.  It is quite a beautiful oasis in the mist of this dry desert.  Again I say dry desert but above shows that rain and flash floods must be a real danger.  Not sure I want to be here in the rainy season???

Further down the “highway” is the northern entrance to Guadalupe NP at Dog Canyon.  These mountains are simply amazing…  Still complete desert landscape with no real trees.  The trees are the biggest (besides sheer size) difference in this area and the east coast.  That and many other things, but I kept wondering why you can see sooooooo far here and not over there and I really think the main thing is lack of trees.  You can see for miles around here!!!  At home I couldn’t see the next street over.

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The southern edge of the Guadalupe’s is much more dramatic than the northern entrance.   A very stunning mountain range, thankful for National Park Service protecting our nations treasures!!!

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On the picture below, El Capitan on the southern (left) edge and Guadalupe Peak at 8,750 – the highest peak in TX to the right.

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WOW just WOW… But no we did not hike to the top…

Peace, Love and Justice for all!!!

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Carlsbad Caverns the Decorations

Our previous post tried to explain the creation and discovery of the caverns, now I will try to explain the decorations.  Collectively these decorations are called speleothems and are created when water drips and as it evaporates it leaves behind dissolved minerals such as calcite.  Over thousands of years as this calcite builds up formations are created.

As a raindrop falls to the ground and percolates downward, it absorbs carbon dioxide gas from the air and soil, and a weak acid was formed.  As it continued to move down the drop dissolved a little limestone, absorbing some of the calcite.  Once the drip finally emerges in the cave the carbon dioxide escaped into the air and it is no longer able to hold the calcite.  This tiny crystal is left either hanging from the ceiling or deposited on the floor.

They say that over 95% of the formations are no longer growing.  Above the caverns is now an arid desert not the cooler rainier climate of a million years ago.  But there is still water dripping all around so some must still be growing.  This one particular was pointed out as still growing, the bright white small stalagmite on the right.

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Water is also evident in the many small lakes.

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The most well-known formations are the stalactites and stalagmites.  Stalactites hang from the ceiling and stalagmites grow up from the floor of the caves.  To help remember which is which they say that stalactites hold tightly to the ceilings and stalagmites stand mightily on the ground.

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Some stalagmites grow quite tall and skinny like this totem pole.

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While others are fat and stubby.

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Stalactites sometimes grow into thin hollow “soda straws.”

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Other times the stalactites and stalagmites connect and become columns.

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These thin draperies were created as water ran down a slanted ceiling building up layer upon layer of calcite resulting in almost transparent veils.

Another decoration that is harder to imagine how it was formed is popcorn.  This is formed when water evaporates and leaves behind aragonite.  Aragonite is a mineral chemically identical to calcite but with a different crystal structure.  They tend to be smaller and delicate.  You will notice a lot of popcorn attached to other formations too.

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And these helictites appear to grow without regard to gravity.  They are twisted and irregularly shaped, look closely.

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Of course, many of the formations have names – the bashful elephant.

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Totem pole and chandelier.

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The bulls tail.

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Fairy land.

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The bone yard where no formations grew.  Must have stayed pretty dry.

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And there are many more. Randy and I decided that these decorations on many stalagmites look like trees.  Layers of forests.

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Anyway, enough of all that now just enjoy the beauty!!!  Peace and Love!!!

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Carlsbad Caverns, NM

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Caverns and underground scenery a lot different than many of the National Parks we have visited.  The only other caverns we visited are Luray in Virginia which is privately owned and not as extensive as Carlsbad.  I understand that Carlsbad itself has over 30 miles of caverns and they are discovering other caverns in the area all the time.  First, we have to look at the surroundings.

These are the mountains surrounding the area and the caverns are below these very crumbly hills.  The “Big Room” is actually 750 feet below theses mountains, directly under the visitor center.

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On the other side is the edge of the Guadalupe Mountain range and a vast flat desert.

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So the story of Carlsbad caverns begins over 250 million years ago.  This was when the area was covered by a large sea and a 400 mile u shaped reef formed.  This reef was not of corral as they are now it was mostly sponge, algae and seashells.  As time went on the remains of this reef uplifted, the sea evaporated and the Guadalupe Mountains were created.

As all this commotion was going on cracks developed in the reef/rock and as the water table dropped erosion on the outside and inside of the mountains began.  You have to remember that was from a few million to 500,000 years ago, this was evolving  from a sea to a tropical, rain forestry like place – not the arid desert it is now!!!

So as I understand it the water seeping in the cracks in the mountains from surface rain etc.,  mixed with sulfide rich water migrating upward from vast oil and gas fields below and the mixtures acid properties along with normal erosion created the large voids in Carlsbad.  These voids filled with gypsum which is easily eroded by water.  There are still large gypsum boulders being eroded with every drop to this day.  So that is how these large rooms were built

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The decorations came later, but still a very long time ago over 500,000 years ago.  I have to admit that these time frames are really incomprehensible to me!!!  500 years is unimaginable, but millions and hundreds of thousands huh…  So glad we are able to enjoy all these thousand years of creation and another 100 years of discovery and improving accessibility of the caverns.  Thank you!!!

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Before pictures we have to imagine first why anyone would even consider exploring into a dark cave much less exploring miles in and several hundred feet down.  Without electricity or even flashlights it would be difficult to get in much less find your way out.  Legend is that a local cowboy saw bats leaving the cave at sunset and thought it was smoke so went to investigate.  He spent many years exploring, passing the word of his discoveries and promoting the caves.

Guano was the first money making activity in the caves.  Guano is literally bat shit and was used as fertilizer making the California citrus crops so prosperous and popular.  Early tours in the caverns started with a approximately 200 ft drop from the surface in a guano mining bucket…  Today there are either elevators or the natural entrance trail.  This trail is 1.25 miles and pretty steep all downhill.   We did both.  The elevators were pretty surreal, like Disney just opened another ride, but the natural entrance took and additional 2 hours and was pretty steep.  At least it is paved and has railings for most of the decent.  Just the beginning of the switchbacks.

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From here the adventures began!!!  Peace, Love and Justice!!!

Mule Ears and More

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One of the most famous rock formations in the park is Mule Ears.

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Or as we like to call it, Nellie Ears!!!

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Big Bend it very well known for the amount of birds in the park.  The river provides the perfect place for a stop on annual migration, and as a year around home to many varieties.  We are not birders, but must admit that you could hear them everywhere.  Especially in the canyons the canyon wren calls were almost haunting.  Did get this picture of a road runner – Beep Beep…

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We did not see much wildlife in Big Bend, but the best viewing times are early morning and early evening times that we were not in the park.  The wildflowers on the other hand were quite spectacular!!!  Especially the Texas Lupine.  You may remember that we followed the Lupine all thru new England into Canada this summer.  Very similar, but much smaller.  New England they were 3-4 feet tall where these are less than a foot (more like 6-8 inches).  Joke of the week, they grow everything bigger in Texas except Lupine!!!

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Other flowers included these yuccas.  They grow more like Joshua trees around here than the east coast coastal yuccas we are used to.

And century plants or Havard Agave.   They grow them really big around here.  Not as many in the desert as I thought, but there were Lechuguilla Agave which only grows in the Chihuahua Desert.  They are much smaller than the traditional century plant.

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Typical Agave were more prevalent in the Chisos basin and in surrounding towns.  Fact I didn’t know. They only live 20-50 years not a century as the name indicates. And they only bloom once because they die after blooming.  I understand they have great yellow flowers attracting many humming birds, but we only saw decaying stalks, and lots of them.  When you see one of the very large plants, you kind of hope it doesn’t bloom because you don’t want it to die…they can be very large 4-8 ft tall before the blooming stalk.

Also, some cool yellow ground cover and so much more …

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Peace, love and justice for all!!!

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More Big Bend

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Before Big Bend became a National Park, it was occupied by both cattle (cows, sheep and goats) ranchers and resort vacationers.  Although I would not imagine a resort in this remote and rugged environment it was once tried.  Hot springs, palm trees and all.

On the east side of the park there is a hot spring adjacent to the river.  We did not go down to the spring for a couple of reasons.  First, because it was a very hot day and hot springs did not sound that inviting.  Second, the parking lot was pretty full and the springs pretty small so did not want to soak with a crowd. And Third we had Nellie with us and did not want to leave her in the car on a hot day.  Either way I did walk around the area and explored some of the ruins from the resort days.

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There are a number of abandoned ranch homes as well.  The most complete one we saw as the Homer Wilson Ranch house.  We hiked down the half a mile with plans to walk up Blue Creek wash to see these hoodoos only a mile up stream.

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The problem with walking up a dry wash is that the gravel is very soft, similar to walking in deep beach sand.  We did not end up continuing the hike, but the house was interesting.  Love the large porch and stone floors.  It was one large room and was a good example for using local building materials including the roof.

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Another old ranch location is the Sam Nail Ranch.  It originally had two windmills pumping water from wells, a home and garden.  Having access to water was an important part of farm/ranch life here in the desert.  One of the windmills is still operational and is still pumping water.

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The other is not in such good shape,

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And neither is the homestead.

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We believe that the water being pumped on the old ranch is what keeps water in this wash.  We were able to follow a line of green vegetation including small cottonwoods from the ranch to this bridge over the wash.   Also we saw other washes with water in them, but only standing water, this water was flowing and therefore had to come from a pump or natural spring, we choose to believe it was coming from Sam Nail’s ranch.

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Peace, love and justice to all!!!

Balanced Rock Big Bend

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Our first really big adventure in Big Bend involves the balanced rock.  This is a famous view in the park and I believe we sent a post card (maybe to Millie??) of this sight.  It looked easy enough, a 7 mile drive down an improved gravel road, and a manageable hike.

First SEVEN miles on an “IMPROVED” gravel road in the car seemed a lot longer than seven miles.  Note to self – check mileage always – .  Of course the car took it better than I did, but we finally made it.  The road is called Grapevine Road, and we never found the grapevines, but if there were any grapes they would have been fermented, carbonated and very bubbly before we got them back to the mainland!!

A little exaggeration above, but it was quite a drive.  The hike was pleasant.  Mostly desert hiking but luckily we had a cool day, I imagine it could be very hot at times, no shade and over a mile each way.  Guess you could find a shady spot behind a rock off trail most times of the day???  Beautiful walk up a wash thru the grapevine mountains.

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Then the hard part a quarter mile uphill rock scramble to the top and BALANCED ROCK.  Although we say many rocks that seemed to be perfectly balanced this one was famous and we had to make it.  I was proud  – and it really wasn’t that hard – just take your time if apprehensive at all!!!  Fortunately, we have the time.  The trail was further down the rocks until it simply disappeared.

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The climb was worth it and not as hard as imagined.  Maybe not post card worthy, but pretty damn close.

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Peace Love and Justice for all!!!

Chisos Mtns Big Bend

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The third big feature in the park are the Chisos Mountains.  They are volcanic mountains and the many layers or ash and magma are evident all over the park.  We saved the trip up the mountain mainly because it was cold our first couple of days and figured we would save the higher elevation for a warmer day, and secondly because most of the hikes were 5 – 12 miles long with lots of elevation gain!!!

The mountain drive is about 6 miles, but the topography and vegetative changes are amazing.   The surrounding desert has many hills, valleys and canyons, but this mountain range in the middle dominates all views in the park!!!  There is a lodge, visitor center, grocery and restaurant in the mountain region.  We did not need any services except a picnic table so can not comment of quality of services.

The mountain area is called the “Chisos Basin” and it is the basin of a volcanic caldera surrounded by mountains on all sides except a small “window.”  It is the most famous view from this region, except maybe the “South Rim”, but that is a 12 mile hike one way…

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Nellie enjoyed the view too.

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Another large feature in the mountains is Casa Grande.  This butte is quite a beautiful butt.  Anyway, from inside the mountain basin and from outside the window looking in.

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The types of rock and textures are quite varied.  From smooth tree covered slopes on the north sides to craggy jagged rocks on the south side of the mountains.  Not sure these pictures tell the story, but hopefully you get the drift.

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Peace Love and Justice for all…

 

 

P.S. I know that you read newest to oldest since that is the way they come up, but I write oldest to newest so sometimes it may not make since, oh well figure it out!!!