Thursday, May 25, 2017

Big Bend NP

After my brush with the law I was free to speed across the desert at 75 mph...I never reached that speed on this highway...and soon it was time to head South on 385.  If you look at the map you see that roads are sparse in this area! From Langtry to Marathon there is not one single state highway heading south.  Hwy 385 takes you into Big Bend National Park, at Persimmon Gap over 1,200 sq miles of desert, mountains, canyons, river, and more!  

If you want to see and do everything in the park plan to stay a month!! If you have 3 days planned as I did, prioritize. The nice man at the gate told me Chisos Basin Campground was full, he said Rio Grande is basically empty and has shade, and Cottonwood has shade.  Rio Grande Visitors Center was closed end of April, the store is open, and Panther Junction Visitors Center 26 miles down the road is open. The reason for the closures? Heat! They don't keep everything open in summer, in fact Rio Grande is NOW closed for repairs till Sept 1st.

So from the entrance to my campground was 48 more miles of driving.
The scenery is amazing.  The custom of taking a siesta is a good idea be active in the mornings, and then rest through the heat of the day say 3 to 6 then you can get active again once the sun begins to finally set.   The desert dry air cools rapidly. You will sunburn then you will freeze at night. 

 Rio Grande Campground is 22 miles from Panther Junction Visitors Center.  

You can watch a nice 20 minute movie in an air conditioned theater room narrated by Peter Coyote, and learn all about the history and evolution of the park as well as a lot of info on what to do and what to see.  And there is a post office here! I mailed off the cards I purchased in the Visitors Center.  

It had been a rather long and trying day with the cop stop and the gas threat so I was ready to just go to camp, and conceal but consume a nice cold Corona.  I'm kinda getting ahead of myself because before I stopped at Panther Junction, on the way I passed the newest thing in the park, this open air  Bone and Fossil Exhibit.  Very nicely done.  The entire thing is solar facilities but it is super nice.  

It is completely self guided and the nice breeze in there was amazing.  The exhibits were awesome...

Are  you the read it all or the scanner like me? I scan and glean what I find most interesting and focus on that... I def look at all the pictures, displays, and artifacts.   I briskly move through...I had this entire place to car made a u-turn and left...their loss as it was so fascinating!!  

a nice chunk of petrified wood outside..

When I entered the exhibit some birds who had escaped the heat up in the rafters  flew over to this ledge...
yellow headed black birds.  I found this odd since I always put them on fertile plains, but considering the seed pods of Yucca, I could see why they are in this area too, and of course the fertile ribbon of green that follows the Rio Grande while it separates Us and Them.  I caught 3 of the black birds in this photo...they scattered up that hillside.

More amazing scenery as I resumed, now 40 mile trip to the campground.  

I took a short walk to see this, a Desert Grave.  I am a firm believer in using the original..who's big idea  was it to place a modern headstone in front of the original at the grave of Nina Hannold(?) who died due to complications of pregnancy in 1911.  She was a homesteader here in the early 1900's with her husband and she asked to be buried here..

The small stone was for the unborn child...I did not photograph the new stone I felt it really was a sin to be placed DIRECTLY in front of the original one...and I know Nina would have objected!  (It should be removed)

She had another visitor...

The original epitaph


I found so many beautiful pull off spots along the drive to the campground, I figured I was in no rush as not one single car has passed me so I figured I would have plenty of open spaces to pick from.   

Early or late afternoon light is just right to bring out some of the awesome color in these desert landscapes...harsh mid day light was hard to deal with for sure.

Once I passed through this tunnel I was about to the campground..I passed some signs pointing the way to sites I would explore tomorrow like the Dug Out Wells, and The Hot Spring, 

As I said the Rio Grande Visitors Center was closed the store was open they have some high priced groceries, and ice...and gas at $2.90 per gallon.  I got myself into site #7.  Each site has bear proof food storage locker, a table, and that's it.  There are flush toilets, and water in the campground, but fires are not allowed nor charcoal cooking....Plenty of Big trees but shade was still hard to find as it moved as the day grew longer....

I started out in the shade then it moved....

The cool thing was immediately I see Vermilion Flycatchers all over the place!

males, females, and immatures hunting all around the campground in the big cottonwood trees. 

They are amazing acrobats...tho the young seemed intent on asking dad for hand outs instead of giving it a try on their own. Lifer #39 on this trip! I sat down with my binoculars and camera and watched these guys for a while as well as Summer Tanager. 

And some yellow rumps of various "taxa" I wish they would split these up..just not fair NO tick for all the different ones...
The Audubon's Yellow Rump (+1 other taxa)?

Then I walked over to fill out my envelope and put my $7 in the till for one nights senior camp fee.  At the iron ranger I met 2 young brothers so excited to be moving from San Diego to Maine, they said they wanted a fresh start they were tired of the crowds and the high cost of living....and they had a nice truck camper pulling a trailer filled with their prized worldly possessions.  One is married and his wife was from NH originally so they bought a 7 acre spread in Maine, for less than they are paying for an apartment in San Diego!! So My hats is off to them for taking the plunge and switching coasts! They drank beer way into the night laughing and I'm sure recalling boyhood stories...made me miss my sisters!! 

It was about then I saw the SWEET Bulldog with her family the couple originally from Michigan! I couldn't believe nor could they...we were about 5 sites away from each other...such a small world. 

I settled down at my picnic table and ate a sandwich as the sun tipped to dusk....that was when 3 men made a direct bee line towards me, they walked with great intent and at first I thought ut-oh who did I piss off?? So I just sat and waited till they approached me, one spoke... "saw you birding the campground earlier so this may be of interest to you also." 
WHEW I let out a sigh or relief.."yeah....?"
Right here behind your van in this tree see this hole...I could barely cause it was almost dark...
"Yeah" I saw where he pointed...
"We've checked every tree in the campground looking for the Elf Owl's nesting hole, we have determined this is it....if you have no objections and maybe you would like to join us, we want to see if we can get an appearance." 

"Sure, I mean it's fine with me, I stood in mosquito infested woods for almost 2 hrs not long ago and saw nada, so yeah, sure." 

Now I don't agree with their methods and did not realize they were going to use a phone with call recorded to entice the owl out...they played it for about 3 repeats...I had my camera aimed at the tree had put the setting on "dark starry night" setting, I couldn't even see the tree in the viewfinder...and then someone said there it I snapped..and this is what I got.

Elf Owl  #40

Just barely got the dang hole in the frame...I tell you it was dark...they had flashlights with them but I was happy none of them tried to shine it on the tree...just used them to get
 back to their campsites!  One of them told me he had hiked the day before to see the Colima Warbler, "was it there?"
"Yes it was there, but If I had it to do over again I would make it an overnight trip it was a 10 mile hike with 2,500 ft elevation gain, and a tough hike too." 

Okay, well I had heard it was a tough hike, 10 miles in the mountains in the 90+ heat so no.  I did not put the Colima on my wish list because I knew ahead of time I was not going to make the trek....

Here is the low down,
  • I'm 64 yrs old!!  (in a couple months) 
  • I had no backpacking gear with me
  • I had not been doing any recent hiking
  • I have plantar's fascities in my right foot
  • I don't want to do a long hike alone
But I'm not dead yet, just need to plan better....

SO just what did I do in Big Bend?? 

Eleanor Roosevelt: You must do the thing you think you can not.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

a Brush With the Law... West of the Pecos

Well I know you're dying to know if I made it to Dryden.  I had reduced my speed to 40, I know if you drive slow you burn less fuel right?  A little history about Dryden.  Dryden is here due to the Railroads being built through this area.  In 1882 when the San Antonio Railroad was built in Terrell County, they built a post office, a general store, and a couple of Adobe homes for the Pecos Land and Cattle Co. owner and then later in the early 1900's a hotel, school, church.
 In 1912 Ben Kilpatrick ,who ran with the likes of Butch Cassidy, along with Ole Hobek decided to hold up the #9 train between Dryden and Sanderson.  David Trousdale, a Wells Fargo Express Agent, was onboard.  When Kilpatrick took $60,000 from the safe Trousdale hit him in the head killing him  and later he shot his partner Hobek with Kilpatrick's gun... SO the 2 outlaw bandits were killed in Dryden and their bodies were hauled to Sanderson on the #9, where they ended up being buried!! 

Wish I had known all that when I drove  into Dryden, population of 13 souls.... a GHOST TOWN!! SO as the towns along the highway in NV's loneliest highway dried up when the mines went bust, the towns along the TX RR went bust when the trains stopped coming!!  Dryden has been dying since the  RR closed the depot in the 1930's SO NO GAS!! SO yes I made it to Dryden, but found no gas, I saw the sign for Pumpville, but here was my dilemma , should I use what bit of gas I have to go check out Pumpville, or try to make it to Sanderson, the next dot of a town on the map? What if Sanderson is also a Ghost Town?? Then what? Okay I have roadside assistance so I figured that would be my last ditch effort to keep moving if the need be.  Then realized I had not had cell phone service for a couple days checked and yep...NO service!! Great can't call for help.  So I slowed even more.  I was barely crawling as images of me stranded for days waiting  to be rescued in the Chihuahuan Desert slide-showed through my mind.  OMG, okay I had enough food and water and had my shelter so really I would have been able to live there for at least a week!! Set up housekeeping right there on Highway 90...just waiting.  John Wayne where are you?

So it was when I saw the sign Sanderson 20 miles, that I crossed my fingers and said a prayer.  Those were the longest 20 miles I drove on this journey!! My first glimpse of Sanderson was as it appeared from around a curve and it was the prettiest and the most welcomed sight ever.  Right there on the right side of the road...a little Valero gas station.  It had 2 pumps outside and inside a little cafe counter, a bathroom with hand made dollies on the back of the tank, and a smiling Texan lady to take my money. I would have paid $8 a gallon if asked. SO I filled it up!! My tank holds 25 gallons, I put 23 gallons in the tank...I was 2 gallons away from stranded.  

So happy to have gas, I peeled outta there with a squeal and hit the highway!! I hadn't gone 100 ft when I saw a cop do a U-turn and put on his lights..OMG!! This can't be happening...but he was right behind me, the ME who had not driven over the speed limit all these thousands of miles I had driven when the TX road speed limit signs were posted at 75 mph I did 65 mph, I always slow for roadwork, I never speed...NEVER...till now. I peeled out of the station I crossed the town line, without knowing it...meaning the speed limit had dropped to 30 instantly.... I was doing 40! So deputy Fife (jk) announced as he explained why he pulled me over.  I told him I didn't realize I was in the town yet! I did not say that to be derogatory...I was being honest. Sanderson is 2 blocks long! 

SO he gave me my warning and told me to have a nice day...omg 20 or so more miles from Sanderson is the town of Marathon.  I did NOT have enough gas to make it to Marathon, so I was sooooo thrilled to find gas when I did...

and get my ticket! A warning as I said...I have this habit of talking to myself...usually it's Casey but he wasn't there so I was giving myself a little speech....I fear officer Who-ever saw me in my large side mirrors when he handed me my ticket and license he asked...."Are you alone in the vehicle m'am?" 

"Yes Sir... I am Alone in the Vehicle"!!

What an afternoon

Eleanor Roosevelt: You must do the thing you think you can not.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Seminole Canyon cont'

I had such a lovely afternoon  and night here; sat out way past sunset and just enjoyed the night sky.  I hope you enjoyed that cactus wren video, here is a still of him as he entertained me. 

I picked some wild flowers and caught up on the days events in my journal...

The desert landscape right off my campsite was such an inspiration...wish I had the gift of being able to write poetically...with all this inspiration one would think I could come up with more than just "it was so cool" but it was just so cool!!

There is such a diversity in the high desert plains...

These are called Mexican Hats! That name is perfect..

House finch had a nest in my picnic is the proud papa, after I realized there was a nest in the rafters I set up my table and stayed out of the cabana as mom and pop both got upset it was way less stress on them when I relinquished it. 

After breakfast I took a walk on the ADA birding Trail.  It's a very short trail down to a bird blind.  I felt it was a bit too open but if one happened to have a disability where using a wheel chair was necessary this open space would be welcomed.  

another favorite flower the White Prickly Poppy was growing here...

It's a much hardier poppy than the cultivated ones I'm used to seeing, but don't try and pick any of these unless you enjoy being stuck with sharp spines.

All sorts of birds came by none wanted any part of me, I was so obvious in the blind...but got one hooded oriole

yet another cactus wren, 

this could be the oriole nest, I'm not sure..

this yellow warbler checked me out...

as well as this painted bunting...

some plants were labeled on the trail down into the canyon I forgot this in the last post but wanted to share it..

I like the way they put their signs on rocks that were laying about...

I spied new to me Clay Colored Sparrow....

and Ash-Throated Flycatcher

I had to crop this to see if it was the Black-Tailed Gnatcatcher and I do believe it is, the Blue Gray we have at home in SC doesn't have the dark color on the head.  The black capped G.C. would not have this bold eye.  Another lifer!! 

I got some good looks at the black throated sparrow, and didn't get a look at all of the unknown vireo that kept taunting me.  However I left the blind feeling psyched!! Back in camp I jotted down my finds then packed up and stopped at the visitors center to get postcards to send back home....where I met a nice couple asking the counter girl about the big loud black birds they had been seeing everywhere.  I couldn't help to but in when she told them they were vultures.  Vultures are big, black, but far from noisy!  Nope, it's great tailed grackles ( is not but should be the TX state bird)..  So I had a nice chat with that same couple in the parking lot as they headed out with their sweeter than sweet bulldog. They told me they had retired and bought the class C rig they were driving spent the early spring in FL and were now on a nationwide tour of the big Western Parks...and they were starting with Big Bend.  Small world eh.... down the road only a few miles was the Judge Roy Bean Museum.  I stopped mainly because I had asked Wilma to find me a post office to mail my cards, and she found me one in Langtry, TX, the Judges old stomping ground.  The museum was across the street from the Post Office. 

Judge Roy Beans court and saloon, he was THE LAW WEST OF THE PECOS!! (now a museum and visitors center with a wonderful cactus garden, with water and birds)

and once inside there is the same couple again! Amazing...they were just leaving as I entered.  They didn't want to leave the dog in the RV cause it was getting hot so they didn't tour the garden.  I can not pass up a Garden!!

Judge Roy Bean is the first lawman to use alternative facts I do believe...he rarely opened up his one TX Law book, and dished out fines which he pocketed, he would chain prisoners to the trees outside till they sobered and payed their is the judge outside the Jersey Lilly his Saloon

and here it is today...

If you want to google  him up you may find his colorful life of interest including the name of the town of Langtry and his saloon. 

I enjoyed a walk around the Cactus Garden  along with all the wonderful desert plants I saw...

 Hooded Orioles, Cactus Wrens, Great Crested Flycatchers, Eurasian Collared Doves, Curve Billed Thrasher, Painted Bunting, and 
another lifer the Bronzed Cowbird!! With his awesome red eyes.  Both males and females were present.  

cactus wren settling down for a nap...

One thing I've noticed about traveling around Texas at least on the Non-interstate Highways is they have these awesome picnic spots set up roadside.  No facilities but love this retro looking shelters over the me they look 60's...I stopped at many but I think I got only a couple photos ... here is one...this one is located on Hwy 90 a very desolate highway I picked up at Del Rio when I turned towards the west off of Hwy 277.  

I needed a leg stretch so I stopped at this one to get some ice from the cooler and pour out a nice cool drink, and I saw this bird on the fence...

Lark Sparrow and another life bird...nearly fell over, for by this time I was becoming over whelmed by the numbers of new birds I was so thrilled to finally see!! These Lark Sparrows are so drab from the neck down but from the neck up they are stunning..

Highway 90  is one of the most desolate highways I've driven since the Loneliest Highway in America, in NV. and silly me, I did not GAS UP MY CAR in Del Rio....and in all my excitement in Langtry I didn't even look to see if they had a gas station all I saw was the cafe, the post office and Judge Beans old saloon, maybe there was more TOWN farther in but I didn't look...

I was too busy checking out the power lines in hopes of finding the Aplomado Falcon I decided I could find without a visit to Old St Isabella Rd....and this one had me turning around for a second look but nope it is a Kestrel either an immature or a female...still worthy of my attention as Hwy 90 continued to suck gas from the van.... big deal I had half a tank....and then I had to pull over for this shrike, it may be a northern which would be yet another lifer...but I determined it to be a Loggerhead Shrike instead but I had to make sure...right??  So I tried to think back to when I filled up....OMG way back in Laredo! NOW I had only quarter tank!!  SO then I started to wonder how far is it to the next town from where I am now?? How many miles had I come? 

So I grabbed my map and started to try to figure this out...okay I have NOT passed a town since I left Langtry...I am somewhere between Langtry and the town on the map called Dryden...Whew I can surely make it to Dryden.   So a bit of a cliff hanger, will I be stranded on Hwy 90 or will I make it to Back to Civilization??

hwy 90 the second loneliest highway in America

Eleanor Roosevelt: You must do the thing you think you can not.