Sunday, June 17, 2018

March 1 - Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Our last full day in Big Bend wasn't really exciting and not worthy of a separate blog post. We did a little birding and got everything ready to go so we could get an early start in the morning. Our next stop would be the Carlsbad, New Mexico area so we could visit Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountains National Parks. We left the campsite before sunrise, but before we got out of the park the sky began to turn color. We found a safe place to pull over and spent about half an hour enjoying the sunrise and early morning light.

Our next camping spot was Brantley Lake State Park, just outside of Carlsbad. We arrived mid afternoon, got set up, and headed towards the lake to check out the birding situation. There were quite a few birds, but nothing we didn't already have. I did manage to get a better photo of one of the new birds we picked up at Big Bend - a Say's Phoebe.

Say's Phoebe
The following day, we headed to Carlsbad Caverns National Park. There's more to the park than just the caverns, so we first stopped at the Rattlesnake Springs area to do some early morning birding. It did turn out to be a good birding spot, and I managed to get a bad shot of another new bird - a Bewick's Wren. This would be the last new bird of the trip, but I came away with 24 new ones which brought my total to 293 species since I began birding in 2011.

We got to the caverns about mid morning and decided to do the hike in from the main entrance, then take the elevator back out. I think this added up to about a 2.5 mile hike on the paved path which included the entire Big Room. I was surprised that they allowed us to bring our tripods in. The caverns are lit, but getting a correctly exposed shot without using the flash required 2-4 second exposures on average. I didn't see anyone else using a tripod and several people commented that they wished they had brought in theirs.

As with most natural wonders, words and photos do not describe how incredible the caverns are. I included the path and railings in some of the shots which helps to give some size perspective. Some of the 'rooms' we passed through are huge, and the Big Room is just beyond words. If you get a chance to go and can't do the hike in, take the elevator down to the Big Room and do as much of that as you can. It's worth the price of admission on it's own.

Below is a sampling of the photos I took. The lighting they have is kind of orange and not very natural, so I've toned that down a bit. I'm not really sure what colors the formations really are.

We finished touring the caverns around mid afternoon, so we still had time to take the one way gravel tour road that starts close to the parking area and ends on the access road leading up to the parking area. It was interesting, but nothing spectacular. After this, we headed back to the camp site.

Friday, April 27, 2018

February 26 - Day 12 in Big Bend National Park - Cattail Falls

A few episodes ago I mentioned that a waitress gave us a tip about an excellent destination that isn't on the maps or mentioned on the NPS Big Bend web site. That was going to be our main destination for today, but first we revisited the Nature Trail in the campground. We only had 2 more days in the park and we were hoping for a new bird or 2 before we left. We didn't have any luck, so we headed towards the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.

The hike begins at a gated gravel road with no signs indicating anything is down there. We hiked for about 2 miles, passing another gate, then arrived at small oasis area. Here we found a creek that barely had any water in it. I was actually surprised that there was any water since this area is really suffering from a drought. The road also split here. One trail headed up towards The Window and the other led to Cattail Falls. There was also a big sign with a picture of Cattail Falls, some info about the area, and pictures of some of what we might see at the falls. A huge oak tree had made it's home here, so we took advantage of the shade and spent some time hanging out.

the view from the beginning of the road
Cindy and me at the big oak
I wonder how many days out of the year the waterfall has that much water!

The trail from the oasis to the waterfall is about a mile and just about immediately heads into the usual desert environment we have been hiking in for most of the trip. As we got closer to our destination - Cattail Canyon - we began to parallel a deep and wide dry wash which I believe is Cattail Creek. The wash and trail narrowed as we approached the canyon and we began to see small pools. The pools began to get bigger and water flow from one to another was very apparent. The vegetation was now thicker and new spring growth was all around us, even though the trees haven't leafed out yet. We had to climb over and around a few large rocks at the end, but were now in front of the 80' Cattail Falls and the surrounding rock walls. The waterfall was barely a trickle, but I was very surprised that there was any water coming over the falls at all. There was a man leaving just as we got there and he was the only person we saw on the trail all day.

view approaching Cattail Canyon
the dark area is the trickling Cattail Falls
Cattail Falls

You can't see any water flow in the pictures above, but in the last photo you can see the pool in front of the falls. Since the waterfall didn't make a good photo subject, we began looking for any kind of life around this oasis. I joined a while back, and knew that some of the life I saw on our trip would be unique for me. Briefly, iNaturalist is a citizen science project where anyone from anywhere can enter observations of life - plant, animal, insect, etc. Here's a bit of what we saw.

Spring Azure (Celastrina ladon)

Springwater Dancer (Argia plana)

Black Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris)

Tropical Leafwing (Anaea aidea)

Comanche Paper Wasp (Polistes comanchus ssp. comanchus)

Cedar Sage (Salvia roemeriana)
It was now late afternoon and we had a 3 mile hike back to the truck. This is a place you just do not want to leave. As we started out we couldn't help ourselves and stopped for some shots of the first pools we saw before getting to the falls.

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.