Monday, April 23, 2018

February 25 - Day 11 in Big Bend National Park - Chimneys Trail

We hiked the Chimneys Trail today which turned out to be an excellent hike and destination. The Chimneys are a "series of prominent volcanic dike formations" according to the NPS web site. The hike is almost a 5 mile round trip, but isn't that difficult since there isn't that much elevation change. We got an early start hoping to catch a sunrise along the way. The sun did rise, but the skies were clear. We stopped anyway as the sun began to clear the mountains, then again when we spotted some interesting side light.

We were the first vehicle at the trail head again and actually didn't see anyone else until we were almost ready to leave. The entire trail is through desert vegetation, so there wasn't really any interesting geology along the way. We did look for plants we hadn't seen yet, more reptiles (nope), and birds along the way. We spotted what we are pretty sure were Scaled Quail, but didn't get a picture, so won't count in as a new bird. Below are a few shots stating from the trail head to when we got to the Chimneys.

view towards our destination from the trail head
Cindy shooting a Yucca along the trail
the Chimneys in view
the Chimneys with Santa Elena Canyon in the background

just about there!
The NPS web site has a picture of an arch on this trail, but so far we hadn't noticed one. We continued up the trail between the 2 rock formations and that's when the arch came into view. It's not a big one, but still very cool. Short scramble trails lead up for a closer view of the rocks and arch. Here's a bit of what we saw.

the arch

Cindy and me in the arch
from the other side of the arch
looking towards Santa Elena Canyon
looking back towards the parking area and beyond
The Chimneys also offers the opportunity to see Native American artifacts and markings on some of the rock walls. We weren't sure exactly where to look, but found some of what is there.

It appears that this ledge was used for something in the past.
a different angle of the ledge

A closer examination of the wall reveals carvings.

stone artifact
another stone artifact
It was now early afternoon and we took our time on the 2 1/2 mile hike back to the truck. As we were leaving I snapped some shots of the large rock piles where we found the artifacts. Once we got back to the trail head, we both agreed to head back to the camp site and relax the rest of the day.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

February 24 - Day 10 in Big Bend National Park - Tuff Canyon and a sunset

While researching things to do in Big Bend and the surrounding area, Cindy came across something called the Terlingua Ghost Town. Terlingua is a small town not too far from the west entrance of the park. We decided to make that our first stop of the day and also planned to eat our big meal of the day in that area so we wouldn't have to cook later at the camp site. Terlingua isn't a very big place, but it took us a while to find the ghost town. When we did, we discovered it was no more than a tourist trap and not the photo op that we thought it would be. The general store there did have a lot of souvenirs and local merchandise if that's what you happen to be looking for. We did find an excellent local Tex-Mex cafe called the Chili Pepper, so the trip wasn't a total bust. The waitress also gave us an excellent tip about a spot in the park that isn't on the maps called Cattail Falls. More on that in a future post. Near the west entrance to the park is one of the standard national park signs, so we stopped on the way back in to get a picture. I had the 10 second timer on and caught Cindy holding her hat just as a gust of wind was trying to blow it away.

Next on the list of activities for the day was a short hike to 2 old homesteads on the Dorgan-Sublett Trail which is in the SW area of the park in the Santa Elena Canyon area. Apparently the Dorgan and Sublett families had a fairly large farming operation in the area in the early 1900's. The first stop on the trail is what's left of one of the old farm houses, but I didn't find it interesting enough to take a picture. Surely this would be a good spot for a lizard to hang out, though. If there was one, it saw me coming and ran for cover. The next building on the trail was where the farm hands lived. No cold blooded creatures here either, but some mean looking wasps had taken up residence. The trail ends at what's left of the Dorgan house with nice views of valley.

view of the Santa Elena Canyon
Golden Paper Wasps

valley view with the Rio Grande River
another valley view
the Dorgan house

Our next stop was just up the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive for the short hike into Tuff Canyon. The whitish rock making up the walls of the canyon is called tuff, which is welded volcanic ash. The hike begins with view points down into the small canyon, then descends into the canyon itself. As we got to the bottom of the trail just before the canyon, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. "Nobody move!!" It was a little lizard trying desperately not to be seen. Slow movements getting the camera ready - don't look it in the eye! - snap, snap, snap, and I finally have my first reptile shot! I had no idea what it was and didn't care if it was the most common lizard around.

Greater Earless Lizard  (Cophosaurus texanus)
Feeling quite satisfied, we continued hiking up the wash into the canyon. This canyon didn't have the 'wow' factor that the Santa Elena Canyon had, but it was still very interesting. There were numerous holes of various sizes hollowed out of the walls - I'm assuming from water gushing down through the canyon over the years. I was able to get into one which held a large rock that wasn't prone to erosion.

note Cindy in the picture for perspective

From here we went back to the campground to get cleaned up, then headed back out again in hopes of catching a colorful sunset. The place we chose was just a few miles up the road and had views to the west plus a view of the Sierra del Carmen mountains to the east. We were hoping the late afternoon light would look good on the mountains. The sunset wasn't quite what we hoped for. As the sun set, the clouds dissipated and became focused closer to the horizon, but that area was very colorful. It was still really pretty and a great way to end the day!

looking towards Sierra del Carmen

Monday, April 9, 2018

February 23 - Day 9 in Big Bend National Park - Grapevine Hills Trail to Balanced Rock

beginning of the Grapevine Hills Trail
The Grapevine Hills Trail is a 1.1 mile (one way) out and back hike that ends at what's called the Balanced Rock. Trail reviews stated there are also lots of other very interesting large rocks in the area, so we were eager to see for ourselves. The trail head is 6 miles down the gravel Grapevine Hills Road, which is 3.3 miles west of Panther Junction. We didn't set an alarm to get a really early start, so there were a couple of vehicles at the trail head when we arrived. The above shot is Cindy heading down the trail from the parking area.

The trail wasn't really exciting to begin with as far as the landscape goes, so we kept our eyes peeled for birds and the elusive cold blooded creatures that are rumored to inhabit this park. The first 3/4 or so of the trail follows a wash and is fairly easy hiking. The scenery did get more interesting as we progressed. Here are a few shots.

You may notice that there still aren't any reptile shots. I may get skunked on this trip 😢 About 3/4 of the way into the hike, the trail began to climb Grapevine Hills towards the Balanced Rock. Grapevine Hills is an exposed laccolith. According to Wikipedia, "a laccolith is a sheet intrusion (or concordant pluton) that has been injected between two layers of sedimentary rock. The pressure of the magma is high enough that the overlying strata are forced upward, giving the laccolith a dome or mushroom-like form with a generally planar base." So there you have it. The bottom line is the geology here is fascinating and different from anything else we've seen so far.

interesting tree along the trail
view back down the trail
When we got to the end of the trail at Balanced Rock, we had it all to ourselves. All the people that beat us to the trail head passed us as they were heading back to the parking area. The rock is a pretty big boulder to be balanced the way that it is. For scale, I have a picture of us behind it, then a few more shots of it from different angles.

From our vantage point on the hill, we could see more people heading up the trail towards us, so I got all of the Balanced Rock shots I wanted before they showed up. Once they arrived, I looked for other photo ops. Here are a few.

folded rock
this yucca is about 6-7' tall
I guess this would be considered balanced also

another cactus skeleton
More people showing up was our cue to head back to the truck. We stopped by the Chisos Mountains again to do a loop trail that was supposed to be good for birds, but didn't have any luck. From there, we decided to head back to the camp site and relax the rest of the day.