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!!!

 

Big Bend, TX

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Big Bend National Park is named after the big bend in the Rio Grande where it takes a sharp turn north.  It is literally in the southwestern point of TX and miles from everything.  It is at least 100 miles south of I10 and mostly out of reach of any TV, Radio, internet or phone service.  So, if you really want to get away from IT ALL, this is the place to go.

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The park is bordered on the south by the Rio Grande and Mexico, it includes the entire Chisos mountain range and a large part of the Chihuahuan Desert.  Which makes for some amazing geological features.  Mountains, desert and a mighty river all in the same place for a 100million years and this is what you get.  From the ocean floor to dinosaur habitat to what you see now.  Femur bone from a dinosaur found in the park.

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The Rio Grande was a mighty river before irrigation diversions along the way.  Although it swells with seasonal rains while we were there the river levels were very low its hard to imagine the river being navigable but it must be, there are lots of outfitters.  There are three major canyons within Big Bend carved by the Rio Grande.  West to east they are Santa Elena, Mariscal and Boquillas canyons.  Mariscal is only accessible via high clearance 4×4 and a long hike, so we did not get to see it.

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The river flows gently out of Santa Elena so gently it’s hard to believe that over thousands of years that meager river cut thru solid rock creating 1,500 feet high cliffs that are as close together as 30 feet in places.

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The layers of rock on the canyon wall make the river appear to be running steeper than it actually is, this created a real weird visual mind game about what level actually is.  Pretty cool optical illusion.

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What an awesome canyon, and when you got deep enough in that the cliffs provided shade the temp dropped at least 15 degrees!!!  We did see canoe/kayakers paddling up river into the canyon, guess the steep sides squeezes the water into a narrower path with enough depth to paddle, still looked pretty shallow though.

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On the other end of the park the river flows into the Boquillas Canyon.  This canyon and the surrounding Del Carmen mountains contain the longest and deepest canyon at 33 miles long without put in or take outs and over 7,000 feet from this tallest peak of the Del Carmen’s (Pico peak) to river level.

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We found it hard to understand how a river could flow into a mountain range and the canyon when the river is what supposedly cut the canyon???  It should be flowing out of the mountains not into them.  And the surrounding area is mostly flat desert???  That is when we learned that over these 100s of millions of years, the surrounding desert actually sank leaving the large sheer cliffs around Santa Elena and the craggy mountains of the Del Carmens.  The Boquillas canyon does not have the straight up canyon walls of Santa Elena, but is beautiful in its own right.

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Peace, Love and Justice for all!!!

Brownsville and Laredo, TX

Texas sized yucca not a Joshua Tree, hard to tell the difference sometimes.

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Since we’re in south Texas figured we might as well go as south as you can.  Brownsville why not.  Weather was nice even with the big polar vortex our coldest day was low 50s, so not too bad.  Over 80 today.   Being unsure of the government status (had been closed for over a month) we wanted to kill some time in the warm south before heading west to Big Bend.

South Padre Island was only about 30 min east of us and offered a beautiful area to explore.  Padre Island reminded me a lot of Assateague Island off the Delmarva Peninsula.  Very long barrier island designated National Seashores so protected and inaccessible except via 4×4 and maybe not even that some places.   Nice to have natural areas stay natural!!!  Check them out on the map very similar in form and purpose???

We enjoyed the beach,

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But doubt these dogs enjoyed it as much as Nellie.  Hahaha

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Billie shared a memory of a visit she and Dad had one time, they rented a dune buggy to play around on the dunes.  That is no longer allowed, but I imagine that they had a wonderful time. Can hear Daddy giggling as I think about it.  Thanks for the love and memories Billie.  She also mentioned that he got the name for Bridgepoint from a resort here and we happened to ride by so here’s to Bridgepoint and Dad’s love for travel.

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South Padre Island (SPI) also had a kite festival while we were there, did not pay, but found a nice viewing spot for our picnic that day…  Note what looks like a large bird in these photos is actually a kite too.  My favorite, but couldn’t get a better picture of it!!!

Padre Island approximately 130 miles long, is the eastern barrier of the Laguna Madre.  Laguna Madre is a very long and shallow lagoon between Padre Island and the mainland.  It has an average depth of 3.6 feet and is 4 to 6 miles wide.  The average depth is only 0.66 ft to 1.1 ft if you don’t include the 12-foot-deep Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.  This body of water has a salinity of 36 ppt, higher than ocean water, making it one of only 6 hypersaline lagoons/bays on earth.

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Brownsville is the furthest south you can get in TX, actually it is almost as far south as southern Florida.  Temperatures seem similar, but climate is much drier.  This puts us really close to our “southern border”.  Not really sure what we are supposed to call it with the “wall” controversy of late.   Here and for all of TX, the border follows the Rio Grande making it a wiggly border not a straight line, not really sure how they would build a wall in the middle of the river anyway.  Here is a sample of the border fencing found in downtown Brownsville.

An interesting find in Brownsville was Palo Alto Battleground.  This is where the first battle of the Mexican American war 1846-48 was fought.  This war started as a dispute over the land between the Rio Grande and the Nueces River (near Corpus Christi).  When President James Polk celebrated the Republic of Texas being added to the US as the 28th state he claimed the republic extended to the Rio Grande, but Mexico had other ideas.  The end result of the war was the US territory reaching all the way to the Pacific Ocean, bordered on the south by the Rio Grande.  My biggest concern was all the cactus, seemed like it would be difficult for the soldiers and horses to navigate around the cactus, but apparently, they are a new addition to the landscape.

Moving west towards Big Bend, Laredo was next.  Short visit and too large of a city for us to enjoy, but a much different border than we saw in Brownsville.  Here the river is the only border, no fence or wall.  As a matter of fact, there were people fishing on each side of the river for the same fish.  Wonder which side the fish would choose if there were a wall???

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We did see some blimps along the highway, we assume that they are some sort of border patrol???

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Peace Love and Justice for all.

Port Aransas, TX

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South of San Antonio and the Triple L Ranch is not much except Corpus Christi and surrounding area.  Of course we stay away from the big cities, so settled in Port Aransas on Mustang Island barrier to Corpus Christi and its bay.

Except on the way in and out we never visited CC proper.?.?.  We ventured up the coast via the shortest ferry ever – crossing time is <2 minutes but wait time can vary widely.  From the north end of the island it is the best way to the mainland and used a lot.  There were at least 4 boats running when we crossed and there are 4 or 5 stalls on each side.  Nice drive to Rockport and beyond.  The ferry crosses the incoming boat traffic from the Gulf, which seems to be pretty busy.

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Just south of Mustang Island and only separated by a small canal is Padre Island and National Seashore.  It is the first National Park that we have visited during the Government Shutdown.  The gates were not manned and the campground was closed, but dumpsters were emptied, campers were in the visitor center parking lot and the beach was open.  Guess all in all things were normal as could be.

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Port Aransas and most of Padre Island is vehicle friendly.  Of course we couldn’t go where 4 wheel drive was required, but parking/camping on the beach was a thing.  You don’t see the BIRD on the beach for a reason.  1 – we didn’t know it was possible, 2 – salt and 3 – salt.  We enjoyed the beach and am sure these campers did as well.  Beautiful camp sites and beautiful blue skies.

The most entertaining thing we saw were these “pole covers”.  Not sure where they came from and neither is the town, but they are quite entertaining and creative.  Love things like this – part of why we visit small towns…..

These are some of the best.

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But they go on forever…

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Not sure where they got the idea, but I may copy, loved making hats that one year.  Anyway i think the idea came from this post no cover needed for expression.

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Peace, Love and Justice for all!!!