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An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond

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An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« on: January 01, 2019, 02:35:37 AM »
PROLOGUE


World Spinning 'Round by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



2018 did not turn out at all like I expected.


After failing in December 2017 in my second attempt to hike solo across the park from east to west, as reported here: 

http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/your-trip-reports/round-the-bend-in-16-days-there-and-not-quite-back-again/

I vowed to rehab a busted knee, fine-tune my backpacking and packrafting kits, and throw myself into it again in December 2018 – a year older and (hopefully) a year wiser – and once again buoyed up by the loving support of my extraordinary friends and family here in Dallas.

These long and ambitious trips are an obsessive feature of my seventh decade on this planet. After many years of raising my children, and occasionally sharing Big Bend with them, I returned to The Bend two years ago, in my sixtieth year, as a solo hiker for the first time in over a decade. At sixty-one, I am one of the oldest of my longtime group of friends. I’m seven years older than my wife and one of the few of our group that tops sixty. We're a band of what you might call fast livers, but I’m the only one that backpacks and climbs and kayaks and they all joked that I’d be the first to die, probably spectacularly. Imagine my surprise, then, when early in 2018 several of my younger friends became fatally ill. One, two, three, four, five went down. To diabetes, to stroke, to botched surgeries, to frailties of all kinds. One had had cancer for years and never told anyone other than his wife. When he finally told us - his friends of thirty-five years - that he was dying, he had less than a month to live.  He was a fast liver, for sure, and in the end, it was cancer of the liver that killed him. Others of my dying friends lingered on for months, and suffered all manner of indignities, but by mid-summer, the year 2018 had become a year of sad, unexpected funerals. My young children bravely attended every funeral, but they were clearly freaked out. My surviving friends and I, with a touch of macabre humor, began to look at each other and ask ourselves, “who goes next?”



Shockingly, the next to go turned out to be our family dog. A small Cavalier Spaniel, she’d been a part of our family for seven years, going everywhere we went, including vacations to the desert, the mountains, and the beach. Cavs are almost human. If you’ve never had one, it’s hard to communicate just how emotive and loving and kind they are. Ours had been a Christmas gift to our then-nine-year-old daughter and that little dog had been a full-fledged member of our family ever since.  The challenge with Cavs, all Cavs, is that the selection process which has produced the breed has also preserved a defective gene that gives the Cavs a fatal heart defect, Mitral Valve Disease. The dogs may die young, or they may die old, but barring injury or infection, they will all die of MVD, and mostly sooner rather than later. Our little gal drew a short stick in the lottery and by mid-summer her heart had abruptly enlarged to unsustainable levels and within two weeks of the vet raising an alarm, and despite our constant attending to her health, she was dead in our bed in the middle of the night. A brief, piercing moan, a convulsion, and it was over.  My son and I, somewhat in shock, quietly dug a grave in the backyard the next morning and buried her under a large limestone slab into which I had simply chiseled the word, “LOVE”.

In any normal year, our family would spend the waning weeks of August on a beach lapped by the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. My wife is half-Chinese/half-Cajun; saltwater and seafood are in her blood, so Port Aransas is almost always our destination. We rent a condo with a kitchen, bring our surf- and boogie-boards, our snorkels and our field guides, and just hang and nap and cook whatever we can snag from local fishermen and markets.  Our dog would come with us and spend the week harmlessly chasing gulls and plovers and ghost crabs and particularly the bipolar surf with its endless attack, retreat, attack, retreat, attack all day and night long. But this year, so close on the heels of our dog’s unexpected death, no one in the family felt like spending a week on the beach where every playful wave would simply remind us of her death.

Enough death already. We needed a respite. We chose West Texas, instead: El Paso, the Guadalupe Mountains, and Carlsbad Caverns. My sea-loving wife was the only member of our family that had NOT summitted Guadalupe Peak nor explored Carlsbad Caverns: I had taken each of my kids to both before their fifth birthdays. So off we went to get mom up to the heights and down into the depths. The trip was reported here:

http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/gumo-general-discussion/family-trip-to-guadalupe-peak-and-carlsbad-caverns/

It was a great trip and my family thoroughly enjoyed it. I humped a 60lb pack to our campsite just below the summit of Guadalupe Peak, carrying most of the water our family would need for three days. My knees were strong, my stamina great, and I held the group together throughout the trip and made sure everyone had a good time.

One week later, back in Dallas, just before my birthday, I went to my dentist for the next of several visits to replace the teeth (turns out it would eventually be two) that I’d lost to a kayak paddle while running the Rio Grande in my packraft last year.  After the extraction of a no longer viable tooth, I returned home with a bottle of Ciprofloxacin and instructions to rest. The next morning I woke up with a fever. And again the next morning. And the next morning. And the next and the next and the next and the next. And it wasn’t my mouth. My next thought was that the Cipro had compromised my gut flora and that perhaps I was experiencing an explosion of Clostridium difficile in my GI tract. But I had no GI symptoms: just a fever, a cough, and extreme lethargy.  My wife suggested it might be an early case of flu (there were, in fact, a few cases appearing in Dallas in mid-to-late August) but after two straight weeks of unrelenting bed-bound fever, my wife sat down beside me, put her hand on my forehead, and said, “have you considered West Nile Virus?” I scoffed. I’d spent a couple of years in the early 2000’s helping to track the initial incursion of WNV into Texas, capturing and testing corvids throughout the state. I’d spent weeks at ground zero for WNV incidence in Texas and never showed a single symptom. But most people infected with WNV are completely asymptomatic, and a single infection (mild though it might be) confers immunity that lasts at the very least for years and years. I’d always assumed I’d been asymptomatically infected and was now immune.

But, at my wife’s persistent urging, I dragged myself out of bed and to the doctor for testing. That night, before I’d even received the test results, the bathroom mirror showed the tell-tale diagnostic rash on my trunk. I knew then what the test results would reveal: I had West Nile Virus. My symptoms had nothing to do with my visits to the dentist or with Ciprofloxacin. Correlation is not causation. And I didn’t have the flu, I had West Nile Virus. The trick about West Nile Virus is that there is NO effective cure or treatment. Your body either beats it or it doesn’t. I crawled into bed and under the covers and hunkered down for the onslaught.  A week later, my West Nile Fever began to show signs of having gone neuro-invasive: the one that scares everybody, the killer. The virus had apparently jumped the blood-brain barrier and invaded my lower brain stem and my spinal column. I lost my sense of balance and my appetite. My lethargy increased to the point that I barely ever wanted to, or could, get out of bed. I began to experience photophobia – an aversion to light – and phonophobia – an aversion to loud or piercing sounds. My joints were wracked with pain and my hands trembled. I couldn’t hold a glass of water to my lips without the liquid spilling over the edge, even with both hands wrapped tightly around it. My condition continued to decline.

I spent a month in bed. Every day, my family would go about their business, feeding themselves, going to work and school, coming home, feeding themselves again, doing homework, maybe watching a movie or playing a board game, and meanwhile I just lay there in the back bedroom of our tiny house, sheets up to my chin, in the dark, sweating. No point going to the hospital because, literally, short of organ failure, there was nothing anyone could do for me. One evening my thirteen-year-old son came into the darkened room and stood beside the bed. He lifted my limp hand off the covers and took it in his own, which is by now every bit as big as mine. He’s grown so much this year. He’s taller than me by a quarter of an inch. His feet, now size 13’s, dwarf my size 10.5’s. His voice is deepening, he stinks of B.O. after exercise, and there’s a hint of moustache on his upper lip.  Standing  somewhere in the limbo between boyhood and manhood, no doubt thinking of all the funerals he'd been to this year, he intertwined his fingers with mine and lifted them all to his chest. “Dad, are you going to die?” he asked. “I don’t know,” I said, looking up into the worried eyes of this sweet, sweet kid, “I don’t think so, but I don’t know.” It was the only honest answer I could give him. I could only hope that if I did die, I’d already given him enough of what little I had to offer to help get him over life’s roughest patches. He nodded silently, sat down beside me, squeezed my hand hard, and held it until I fell asleep.



We all have to go sometime, right?

I might die soon, more likely I would not. But my incapacitation took us all by surprise. I’ve always had a reputation of invincibility. In thirteen years of public school, and through most of my college years, I never missed a day to sickness. Other than a cold here or a bout of the flu there and one case of dysentery In Central America, I’ve never gotten seriously sick as an adult. And though I’ve been attacked by enraged bison, bitten by deadly spiders, mortally stung by insects, struck at by vipers, stabbed and beaten and held at gunpoint by humans, had my bones broken, been pierced by nail guns and sliced by power saws, been electrocuted and concussed dozens of times, caught in blizzards and avalanches and hurricanes and tornados and almost drowned more than once, I've always bounced back immediately. And though I may have nearly died more times than I can count, the precipitating events have always been measured in seconds or minutes, or in a few rare cases, hours. This time, it was in days and weeks, and it was a very strange and humbling experience for me, a deeply upsetting one for my whole family.

The day after my son held my hand in his and looked questioningly into my eyes, I lay in bed alone in an empty house. My bladder was full and I needed to pee, so I dragged myself heavily and shakily from bed and headed unsteadily to the bathroom. Standing up, my balance abandoned me, and I reached out in a panic for a wall to lean against. I felt my way along the wall and came to a window. In it, my reflection stared back at me, ghostly with sunken cheeks and eyes. My eyes met those eyes and I stared into them for a long, long moment. “No,” I said definitively, “you’re not going to die.”

A week later, I was able to get out of bed and stay out of bed. Somehow, my body’s own natural defenses had beaten back the virus. My cough cleared up, my fever ended, and my balance started to return.  The joint pain and hand tremors persisted, but at an attenuated intensity, and I was at least able to walk and feed myself, though it wore me out quickly.  Somehow, I’d both lost weight and gotten fat, and I didn’t look good no matter how much I squinted at the mirror.  I was over the worst of it, but clearly, the road to recovery would be long and slow.

It was mid-September.  I returned to teaching, running the science program at a small Montessori school which my kids had attended in their younger years, something I’d been doing since my retirement from conservation biology.



Teaching by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Still Teaching by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



STILL Teaching by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

My traditional holiday break was two months away, beginning at Thanksgiving and lasting through Christmas, but I could see no chance of being strong enough by then to make another attempt at a cross-park hike.  I started nosing around for some hike I could do just to see if my stamina and balance and general weakness could handle the demands of even a modest backpack in Big Bend. Before my illness, Mule Ears and I had spent the better part of a year kicking around a few ideas for a possible joint hike in the northern reaches of the park. I planned a few routes there but none seemed to fit my current condition or this year’s demands on my home life. As the holidays approached, my ambitions got smaller and smaller until they finally coalesced around a relatively easy 4-day backpack through a western portion of the park near The Chimneys.  I chose the week of December 9 for my trip. As an added bonus, that week would see Mule Ears finish up his solo exploration of the northern areas we’d both been looking at. Each of us would come out of our respective hikes on Friday December 14 and we agreed to meet up in Terlingua that evening.

I spent the weekend of December 7-8 helping my kids write their applications for college and high school, respectively.  It all took longer than I expected and I never got a chance to pack for the trip, so come Monday December 9, I threw an embarrassment of stuff loosely in the back of my RAV4 and headed out on the 9-hour drive to Big Bend a little after 9am.  I passed through Persimmon Gap after closing time, drove south beside the Deadhorse at the requisite 45mph, rolled past the darkened Panther Junction several minutes later, and arrived in the Basin around 7pm. A quick, mouth-watering dinner of Cajun catfish, cheese grits, and Brussels sprouts at the lodge and I was off to my room where I spent the rest of the evening converting the unruly pile of clothes and equipment in the back of my RAV into a well-packed backpack.


To be continued...
« Last Edit: July 01, 2019, 03:59:51 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2019, 02:36:46 AM »
BEGINNING

The next morning I ate an excellent breakfast of migas at the lodge and then hit the Basin ranger station when it opened at 8:30am to pay my entrance fee and obtain a backpacking permit. The station was full of people, a line of about eight waiting to talk to the ranger, no doubt all wanting spots in the Chisos, so I returned to my room and loaded what left-over equipment and clothing I didn’t need for my trip back into my RAV and then made a cup of coffee while I waited. By 10am there was no longer a line in the ranger station and I strolled in to take care of business. The ranger manning the station was delightful and we chatted while he filled out my paperwork. At one point he casually asked me, “does the phrase ‘House Made of Dawn’ mean anything to you?” “Ummm,” I replied, looking at him warily, “does it mean anything to YOU?” Laughing, he held his hand out and we shared a warm handshake. A few minutes later I left with a 4-day backpacking permit and sincere good wishes. I checked myself out of the lodge on the way out of the Basin and headed the RAV toward the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.

As always, the drive down RMSD nearly killed me because I couldn’t keep my eyes on the road, faced as I always am by so much eye candy. I pulled into the Burro Springs Trailhead parking area around noon, downed a liter of water, covered the few small boxes of miscellaneous stuff inside my RAV with dirty socks and underwear (SOP for me), shouldered my modestly-sized pack, locked the doors, stowed my key, and headed west-southwest off-trail across open country toward The Chimneys. My goals for the next four days were to check out several springs in the area about which I’d seen little or no reports over the last few years, and to check in with a few of my favorite places (The Chimneys, Pena Springs, Red Ass Springs, and Tule Springs). And, frankly, I wanted to get all these sites out of the way so that the next time I passed through this part of the park (if there WAS a next time), I could blow straight through without feeling guilty about skipping the peripheries. In many ways, my trip had strong echoes of one attempted but aborted by Congahead a year ago, as well as of ideas floated by Robert and Mule Ears and Badknees in past years. Knees willing, stamina forbearing, and tremors and joint pains and balance issues notwithstanding, I would hit at least 14 water sources and several areas of the park I had never seen before.


Here is my actual (as opposed to planned) route. All tracks and locations are approximate.   

https://caltopo.com/m/TH13


I was worried about my stamina: it was the big unknown on this trip. I just didn't know how my body would react to several days in the wilderness carrying everything I needed on my back.  In addition to keeping my itinerary short, I'd made a real effort to trim my pack's baseweight.  I headed away from the trailhead with 28lbs 12oz on my back – consisting of a baseweight of 12lbs 12oz, plus 5 liters of water totaling 11lbs, and enough food for 2 full days and 2 half days, totaling 5lbs. It all fit easily into my Granite Gear Crown2 pack, which is my go-to pack for short, lightweight trips. My two REI Traverse Jr. trekking poles helped me bear the weight and make my way over the rough terrain of undulating washes and angry vegetation.

I carried a gallon of water in two 2-liter soda bottles in the side pockets of my pack with another full 1-liter Platypus reservoir hanging from the reservoir clip inside. I planned to replenish my water from springs and tinajas along the way and, of the 14 water sources I hoped to encounter during my trip, I was very confident that at least four of them - fairly widely spaced along the routes of my second, third, and fourth days – would provide all the water I needed.  My filtration/disinfecting system consisted of a small Coughlan’s fuel funnel with an integrated mesh strainer, a cotton bandanna, and 30 Potable Aqua chlorine pills, each capable of completely disinfecting one liter in four hours, along with my 1-liter Platypus reservoir for collecting dirty water, and 25’ of 3mm utility cord for (among other things) lowering and raising the Platypus reservoir from tinajas and pools in order to collect water.

I budgeted for 2000 calories of food each full day, weighing about about 1.75lbs each. My breakfasts consisted of mandarin oranges and KIND bars and caffeinated GU gel plus two tortillas and one divided package of instant spicy refried beans along with a tiny plastic tube of salsa, my lunches and trailsnacks were KIND bars and homemade jerky and caffeinated GU gel, and my dinners were off-the-shelf freeze-dried backpacking food or augmented ramen noodle soup, plus Peanut M&M’s for desserts. My cookset, with a total weight of less than 12 ounces, consisted of a Snowpeak Gigastove, one 110g isobutane fuel canister, a homemade titanium windscreen, an Optimus Sparky piezo lighter, an MSR lexan folding spoon, a cotton bandanna for a pot holder, with all of the preceding fitting inside a VARGO 1-liter titanium BOT with screw-on lid. My food and cookset were carried inside a nylobarrier odor- and water-proof bag inside my backpack.

My only spare clothing layers, carried in a silnylon stuffsack or stuffed in the top lid of my backpack, were one extra pair of Ex-Officio wicking briefs, a set of LL Bean fleece pants, a Montbell ultralight down vest, a Berghaus ¼ zip synthetic smock, one microfleece balaclava, a pair of Marmot Precip rainpants, an Outdoor Research Helium II rainjacket, a pair of Petzl leather belay gloves, and one very old nylon boonie hat for sun and rain.

My shelter/sleeping kit consisted of one Thermarest Solite closed cell 48” pad, a custom-made Feathered Friends 900-fill down Winter Wren Nano sleeping bag, and my Integral Designs Silshelter tarptent with eight VARGO ultralight stakes. Altogether, my total, worst-case-weather camp system -- pad, bag, shelter and stakes -- weighed only 60oz, or 3lbs 12oz. I used my backpack and a stuffsack filled with unworn clothing layers as my pillow.  The closed cell pad was carried inside my pack, burrito-style, with my sleeping bag, nylobarrier bag with food and cookset, and silnylon stuffsack with clothing layers all crammed inside it. The pad wasn't necessary to provide rigidity and support to my pack, but it helped, and it did a fantastic job of protecting the pack's contents from random desert punctures.

My other specialized kits (water-harvesting; toilet; first-aid/repair; emergency signaling; and custom-printed two-sided waterproof navigation maps) were all in individual ziplocs kept in the top lid of my Crown2 pack where they were easily accessible. A Gossamer Gear shoulder strap pocket carried my iPhone (w/ GAIA GPS) and Mogix charger in ziplocs, my Suunto compass, and my 1oz notebook-and-pen set. My other shoulder strap carried a tiny pocket with a Carson 7x17 monocular for route-finding and wildlife viewing. Attached to an S-carabiner on a zipper pull of one of my hipbelt pockets were a Petzl e+Lite, a tiny 0.6oz CRKT NIAD knife, an integrated whistle/thermometer/compass/light. In my hipbelt pockets were trailsnacks, SPF 50 lipbalm, and ultralight sunshades.  The items in my shoulder pockets, hipbelt pockets, and on the S-carabiner were always immediately accessible. Those were the things I needed to get my hands onto several times an hour.

My first day’s hike would take me across the “flats” between the Burro Springs trailhead to the top of Point 3125 and thence to The Chimneys where I’d spend the latter part of the afternoon before heading south to search for a mapped but unnamed spring on the shoulder of Kit Mountain, and a good campsite for the night.  I’d been to The Chimneys a handful of times before, but only via the official NPS trail, which is actually amazingly flat because its direct east-west orientation is well sited between a couple of east-west trending washes.  My route today, on the other hand, took me diagonally in a southwesterly direction across a whole handful of washes, some minor, some not so minor.  Anyone who’s done much off-trail hiking in Big Bend knows that the “flats” are never flat. You can hide a lot of variation inside a 40-foot map contour, even a 20-foot map contour.  That’s partly why my first destination was the top of Point 3125, the only truly elevated point in the huge flats bounded by Burro Mesa, the asphalt ribbon of RMSD, Kit Mountain, Bee Mountain, Black Mesa and Tule Mountain.  I’d be spending a lot of time crossing this area over the next four days. Successful negotiation of its various washes could spell the difference between a good hike and a nightmarish one, and the summit of Point 3125 would give me a nice vantage point from which to inspect the lay of the land I’d soon be walking across. 


Next: DAY 1
« Last Edit: January 19, 2019, 05:18:27 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2019, 02:38:38 AM »
DAY 1


I started my hike a little after noon. Washes notwithstanding, it was delightful. I was mostly following the natural contours of the land and spent as much time as I could in the open desert or on the upper margins of the washes where the desert vegetation, though abundant, was by no means impenetrable, consisting mostly of creosote bush with the occasional cactus, ocotillo, or lotebush. The view across the huge expansive flats was outstanding, framed in all directions by some of the most iconic prominences in the park: Burro Mesa, Ward Mountain and the rest of the west wall of the Chisos, Goat Mountain, Kit Mountain, Bee Mountain, Black Mesa, Tule Mountain…even glimpses of The Chimneys and the Mule Ears in the far distances.
 
I heard and sometimes saw the few vehicles that passed up or down RMSD, including one  SUV that turned off and headed past my vehicle in the far distance on its way to the Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff. Partly cloudy skies occasionally gave way to brief glimpses of the sun and then hid it again. The wind was strong and temperatures hovered in the low 50’s.

I reached the base of Point 3125 in about an hour and quickly climbed the 120 feet to its summit. In some parts of Texas, Point 3125 would be called a “medicine mound”: a good place to go and meditate for awhile. The view from the top was outstanding in every direction, easily commanding the fifteen or so square miles of flats from which it rose, and frequently offering vistas toward far distant landmarks like Santa Elena Canyon and the Mesa de Anguila. The wind was fierce up here.  My thermometer read 48 degrees. I unshouldered my pack and pulled on my Berghaus Vapourlight smock as a wind barrier, and then spent about 45 minutes relaxing on the summit. It occurred to me that somewhere to the north of me, on the other side of Highway 118, aka the main park road, Mule Ears was probably making his way toward Slickrock Canyon and would soon be starting to think about a campsite for the evening. Meanwhile, I ate a KIND bar and a GU, drank about half a liter of water, and then pulled out my little Carson 7x17 monocular to glass the flats and inspect the washes. The monocular is not much to speak of - sadly, it fails to make up in quality for what it lacks in weight (1.6oz). I bought it last year to replace my Nikon Trailblazer 8x25 backpacking binoculars (10oz), which I’d bought the year before to replace my field-standard Leica Trinovid BA 8x32 binoculars (22.33oz).  I’m still searching for the best backpacking solution, but for now this is what I have. The monocular’s best feature: it fits easily into a tiny cordura pocket that attaches inconspicuously to my backpack shoulder strap so that I always have it right where I need it.  Here is a video that gives some sense of what it was like to be surveying the landscape from my perch high up on Point 3125. The clumsy zoom at the beginning is me trying to show my RAV at the distant trailhead. You'll need to click on the photo to take you to the video link.

Point 3125 Panorama VIDEO by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

The strangest thing I discovered up on top of Point 3125 was a large pile of rocks that had obviously at some point been a cairn, but for what purpose I have no idea. These were BIG rocks and somebody had almost certainly CARRIED them up to the summit. The cairn had collapsed and one end of the pile was covered in large splotches of relatively fresh avian whitewash.


Point 3125 Whitewashed Cairn w/ Red Ass, South, and North Springs in far distance by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

Somebody with wings, and probably a mean set of talons and a hooked beak, had frequently been using this perch for the same reasons that led me up here: an unrivalled view of the surrounding territory. And whatever it was, I’m betting it wasn’t relying on a 7x17 monocular to spy on the desert floor. Oh, to be a bird prey with those eyes to see with and those wings to fly on!  I sat there for ten minutes or so imagining it.  It could have been a Great Horned Owl or a bird from the genus Falco, or maybe Accipiter, but I’m guessing it was a Buteo, probably a Red-Tailed Hawk waiting to snag a mouse or a rat or squirrel or a rabbit or some other rodent as a meal.

Once I finished scoping the surrounding desert and its washes, and made a few notes in my head, I took off my Vapourlight smock, shouldered my pack again, and descended west/southwesterly into the desert, heading for The Chimneys, not quite two miles distant.  I stayed mostly above and to the north of a series of braided washes that led straight to the northern tip of The Chimneys, where I then circled around to the west side.


Who doesn’t love The Chimneys? Every time I visit, they grab my imagination.  This year I intended to search for the so-called “Chimneys Spring”.  My data located the spring about 500-600 feet west of the Chimneys in or next to the wash flowing through the break that separates the main, northern Chimneys and the small pair of southern Chimneys.  I dropped my pack and using my iPhone paired with GAIA GPS, searched long and hard for the spring.  I found plenty of thick, thorny vegetation in several places that might possibly have indicated the presence of a small spring, but if any actual surface water was present, I couldn’t find it. There was plenty of damp soil, and I even dug a few test holes in a few places, but none filled with water. The widespread and confusing presence of damp soil in washes, left over from recent and continuing rains, was to be a frustration throughout this trip.




Approaching The Chimneys by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr


Giving up the search, I headed over to the southern pair of Chimneys and checked out the various rock shelters there.  First the lower, western shelter which is home to several large metates, and then climbing up and around to the higher, southern shelter. 




Rock Shelter with Many Metates by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr




Chimneys Metates by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Metate 2 by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Metate 3 by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Chimneys Alcove On The Southside by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr


This last was where I’d spent three days alone, during my first trip to The Bend almost 25 years ago, contemplating various changes in my life, trying to make some decisions about my future. I unshouldered my pack again and sat there up on that lonely, windy perch with the gorgeous view, for about an hour, remembering those days.


Chimneys Alcove Panorama VIDEO by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr


Tom Alex, the park’s former archaeologist, tells me that these rock shelters were built by early 20th century cowboys, and I don’t doubt it, but the presence of those metates, as well as petroglyphs, also tells me that these rocks have exerted a powerful influence on the minds of men and women for centuries. I moved around the northern side of the rock tower and stared up at the petroglyphs, just as I did two years ago on the last day of my troubled two-week cross-park hike.  The petroglyphs were just as inscrutable as always. They represented untold hours of careful painstaking work by aboriginal humans using the most primitive of technologies and here they still were, centuries, if not millennia, later. And I had almost no idea what they were meant to convey.




Chimneys Petroglyphs by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

For fifteen or more minutes I stared up at them, and then I withdrew from my pack a luxury I’d decided to bring along on this trip. My flute. I’d learned to play the Native American flute years ago from an honest-to-god Indian chief, Charles Shunatona of the Pawnee tribe.  His granddaughter Kateri is one of my oldest friends; she even officiated at my wedding deep in the backcountry of Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, in a fog-bound rainstorm, surrounded by bison. I’ve never learned to play well, Frankly, I play badly, but I play with feeling, for myself. I’d decided to bring my flute along on this trip for a number of reasons…one of those reasons, quixotic though it may have been, was to celebrate, or at least commemorate, the site of every spring I investigated. I hadn’t really found my first targeted spring - Chimneys Spring - in any meaningful way but I’d been to the spot my GPS said it would be and that was something at least. I sat down below the petroglyphs, faced north toward the phantom spring and began to play.


Chimneys Flute VIDEO by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr


As I played, the cloud cover thickened and darkened: dusk was coming soon and maybe rain. I finished my few minutes of music, stowed my flute, shouldered my pack, and headed down off the slopes of The Chimneys and southward toward a mapped but unnamed spring some quarter of a mile away. It didn’t take long to reach the wash leading to the spring.  I could still see The Chimneys north of me, and the bench upon which I’d sat all those years ago. Soon I dropped deeply down into the wash and came upon a long high clay dike – I couldn’t decide if it was natural or man-made – in front of which was a beautiful but shallow, grass-choked pond collecting the spring’s outflow.




Kit Spring Pool w/ clay dike behind it and Santa Elena Canyon in far distance by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



It's THIS CLOSE To The Chimneys by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr


There was water to be had there, but not easily. The clay mud flats surrounding the pond were soft and wet and treacherous. The pond itself was a series of incredibly shallow pools no more than a quarter- or half-inch deep and often buried under vegetation. But if I dug into the mud at almost any point, the depression would quickly fill with water - very, very muddy water.  According to my maps, the pool lay about 200 feet downstream of the actual spring along a wash draining the northwest shoulder of Kit Mountain. I walked up a couple of braids of the wash but couldn’t find the spring. However, I did find human footprints. Somebody else had been here, and recently. There is no untrodden ground in The Bend. Every step we take has already been taken. Might be someone in a hiking boot or a cowboy boot or a tennis shoe or huaraches or even barefoot, and it might have been last year or last decade or last century or last millennia, but it’s been taken.




Not My Boots by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



A Possible Hide Scraper Nearby by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr


With a tip of my hat to the ones that preceded me, I headed back toward the grassy pond. Water lay in pools along the braids, but none of it seemed to be flowing. Still, this little spring and pool on the edge of the mountain looked to be a fairly reliable spot to water-up if one needed it badly. As I turned to go back downwash, a Rock Wren popped up from behind a small pile of alluvial gravel a few feet away and began to scold me. We engaged in a brief conversation of a couple minutes’ duration; I confided in the wren that I thought I was doing pretty damn well on this hike, all things considered, then the wren lost interest in me and moved on to more profitable things.


By this time, I’d spent the better part of an hour exploring the area surrounding the pool and the unlocated spring, and the sun was starting to set.  I needed to find a place to camp for the night. I’d already covered most of the area and knew it well, so I moved back to a muddy shelf slightly above a shallow side wash about 200 yards from the main pool I’d located earlier. I threw down my closed-cell foam pad and tossed my Feathered Friends Winter Wren bag onto it, allowing the down filling to expand before bedtime. I didn’t expect it to be cold that night, but you never know in The Bend.




Kit Wash Camp by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr


From the silnylon stuffsack in my pack, I withdrew my Montbell down vest and Berghaus Vaporlight smock, slipped them on and zipped them up against the increasing chill. Lastly, out came my nylobarrier mess bag, containing all the food for my trip and my self-contained messkit. I smoothed out a flat space in the gravel for my kitchen, took out my VARGO pot, withdrew from inside the pot my homemade titanium windscreen and my stove, already screwed to its fuel canister, set them on the ground along with my bandanna, my lexan folding spoon and my Optimus Sparky piezo, filled the pot with one-and-a-half cups of water from my Platypus reservoir, lit the stove with my piezo, set the pot on the stove, slipped the windscreen over it all, dropped the top onto the pot, and finished setting up camp while I waited for the water to boil. A few minutes later, the telltale plumes of steam leaked out around the pot’s top. I turned off the stove, grabbed the pot using my bandanna, lifted off its top, and poured the water into an open pouch of freeze-dried Spinach Puttanesca, sealed it and sat down to wait for the meal to rehydrate. The dry brown landscape gradually turned liquid blue as the day turned to night and the moon replaced the sun. Low on the southwest horizon, the sun’s outrageous orange goodbye lay directly behind Santa Elena Canyon’s Y-shaped gash and the whole of the canyon’s mouth was fully backlit with a tiny violent nuclear fire. Dinner finally ready, I sat on my pad on the cold mudbank and watched the distant blaze dwindle into nothingness as I slowly, contemplatively, gratefully ate my delicious hot dinner, alone and happy in the wilderness.




Moon in the sky w/ Santa Elena Sunset in the distance by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr


Next: DAY 2
« Last Edit: January 23, 2019, 09:24:13 AM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline mule ears

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Re: An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2019, 07:22:28 AM »
Great start HMoD, fun to see where you were at under the same weather conditions as I was.

You need to put your picture address links in with the image icon on the very left of the reply page links (under the Bold icon) then the posts will fit into a normal screen width.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

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Re: An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2019, 12:16:58 PM »
Great start HMoD, fun to see where you were at under the same weather conditions as I was.

Yeah, that did make it interesting. The whole time I was out there I kept wondering what you, and also Flash, were experiencing on your own hikes. I was looking forward to comparing notes.

You need to put your picture address links in with the image icon on the very left of the reply page links (under the Bold icon) then the posts will fit into a normal screen width.

Dang, this is hard work putting images into a report. I tried the standard method that you suggested and now the images have just disappeared altogether. Well, not completely....the bracketed url's linking to Flickr show up when I'm in edit mode but as soon as I hit save, the links disappear, leaving open gaps in the report.  Still working on it.   :banghead:
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Re: An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2019, 12:57:51 PM »
HMoD, I grabbed the url for one of your photos in your album and pasted it into my reply as follows:


Point 3125 Whitewashed Cairn
by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

Steps to add a photo:
1) Select a particular photo in your album.
2) Click on the share arrow.
3) Choose BBCode.
4) Copy the url and paste it into your forum post.
5) If you place your cursor just before the photo caption and press Return, then the caption will display below the picture instead of to the right of it.

- Flash

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Re: An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2019, 01:08:16 PM »
Thanks, Flash!  I'll give it a go. Hard to teach an old dog new tricks.  :icon_wink:
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Re: An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2019, 01:37:07 PM »
It worked, Flash!  At least for the still images. For the videos, they display as still images (with no visible "play" button) that must be clicked, which then opens up the playable video in Flickr.  Still, this is all major progress.  Now I'll go back and fix all my image insertions.  Thanks!
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Re: An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #8 on: January 01, 2019, 03:07:37 PM »
Okey-doke, re-posted Day 1. I think I've got this image thing figure out now, thanks to Mule Ears and Flash. Still having trouble direct embedding videos, but I don't have many of those, so I can live with that. Thanks for the patience and the help, folks.  I had to trim a bit of Day 1 but I'll append that to Day 2's report, coming soon......

Oh, and if anybody can convince Pearl Jam to let me direct-link to Willie's music video of "Just Breathe", I'd greatly appreciate it.  :icon_rolleyes:
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Re: An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #9 on: January 01, 2019, 07:43:15 PM »
Glad it worked for you!



Is the darkened outer layer of the rock exfoliating naturally or is it vandalism or something entirely different I wonder? I get that someone might have sighted in their rifle on the circle with the slash.

- Flash

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Re: An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #10 on: January 01, 2019, 07:49:13 PM »
I saw that, too, when I was there. Looked like damage from bullets to me. But, you know, could have happened over a hundred years ago or more.
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Re: An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #11 on: January 02, 2019, 02:17:17 AM »
DAY 2


I fell asleep early on night one, almost as soon as I closed my eyes. As a matter of fact, I fall asleep early most nights these days. Since surviving my bout with West Nile Virus, I’d found I needed at least ten and sometimes twelve hours of sleep a night. Sometimes exhaustion would suddenly overwhelm me early in the evenings and I’d simply walk straight to the bed and crawl under the covers. My wife would take my shoes off later while I slept. This day in Big Bend I’d walked a little over four miles in five hours. That was the new normal. But I hadn’t had any balance issues, no joint pain, and I never felt constrained by my reduced stamina. When I fell asleep in my sleeping bag on the muddy shelf above the shallow wash shortly after sunset, the sky was quickly filling with low heavy clouds. I never saw a star or the moon. Sometime a few hours later, I woke up suddenly with a sharp cramp in my right hamstring. I tried to lift my leg to massage it and the cramp intensified. Then cramps struck in my left leg as well. I reached down to rub them away and everywhere my hands touched – hamstrings, quads, calves, knees - the cramps spread. Both legs were on fire, so much so that tears came to my eyes. I tried to stand, but I just couldn’t. Eventually I was able to roll over, kneel, and, despite the searing pain, slowly stand and step out of my sleeping bag. It took me at least ten minutes to walk off my cramps in the muddy moonlit wash. The pain having finally subsided, I could relax for a moment and look up at the now crystal clear skies. They were filled from horizon to horizon with a billion stars, as the sky can be only in a place like Big Bend.


With no clouds in the sky to hold in the earth’s heat, the night was now downright cold and I crawled quickly back into my sleeping bag, stretched out on my groundpad, laying my head on its pillow of spare clothes, and settled in to appreciate the night sky filled with an overwhelming gift of stars. I wondered if I might see a meteor or two or three. Tomorrow night was the peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower, one of the best of every year. I’d planned my hike, as I did most years, to coincide with that shower. Always a crap shoot, seeing any meteor shower was a matter of luck: would the skies be clear, the moon dim, the mind able to stay awake long enough? That night I didn’t see any meteors, but just as I was drifting off to sleep, I spied the Pleiades star cluster, and then saw, spread out in a meandering westward line from that iconic feature, a string of stars culminating in a four-pointed diagonal box: the head of The Rattlesnake, the improvisatory constellation I’d identified and named two years ago on my first cross-park hike.  A little bit of Perseus, all of Cassiopeia, and a head stolen from Cepheus. My guardian angel, or hectoring critic. Whatever: it was mine. Still pointing westward, still telling me to get my ass in gear. The cramps had pointedly told me I wasn’t the man I used to be; The Rattlesnake had pointedly reminded me that I still had ground to cover before I was done. Looking up at the awesome roof of the universe as the crescent moon set below the southwestern horizon, I watched the inky purple skies become dark beyond black, charging a billion billion stars with an even more breath-taking intensity and then I, awestruck beneath them, gently drifted into a peaceful oblivion.


I slept like a rock the rest of the night, with nary a cramp, and woke up just after sunrise to a world soaked in dew. “Biblical”, Mule Ears called it - two days earlier from his vantage point a few miles to the north of me along the banks of Tornillo Creek near Seco Spring - and “biblical” is a good description. This dew would occur over and over during this trip. The ground was saturated from recent rains and the moisture had nowhere to go but up. I crawled out of my sleeping bag, grateful for its water-resistant Nano fabric, rooted around in my backpack, slipped my Vapourlight smock over the down vest and fleece pants I’d slept in, and carried my limp dewy bag over to a large creosote bush where I could spread it out to dry in the rising sun. I pulled my cookset out of the odor-proof nylobarrier bag which spent every night in my backpack, holding all my food and smellies. A cup of water went into the pot and I fired up the stove, looking forward to hydrating some spicy bean dip for my tortilla breakfast. Meanwhile, I sat down on the gravel bench at the edge of my camp, peeled myself a mandarin orange and sucked down a caffeinated GU gel. As I was doing so, I noticed something odd in the sand near where my head had lain last night. All I know is that I was so tired last night when I finally fell asleep after the cramps that an earthquake wouldn’t have awakened me. 

You tell me……



Things That Go Bump In The Night 1 by
House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Things That Go Bump In The Night 2 by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Things That Go Bump In The Night 3 by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

Anyways, water under the bridge. The sun was playing hide and seek behind clouds so my gear was slow in drying.  I ate my bean burrito with a dash of salsa and thought about the day ahead. My next target was Bee Spring, a place I’d never been to before. I’d read Mule Ears’ 2008 trip report in which he described it as running wet downwash for dozens of yards, and I was looking forward to seeing that for myself.  I packed up, stuffing my now dry-ish sleeping bag into the bottom of my backpack, and was on my way by 9:30am.



Goodbye Chimneys by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

The sun had by now completely disappeared behind an increasing cloud cover and the wind was picking up. But route-finding was easy; it consisted simply of continuing southwest down the wash beside which I’d camped last night… it would lead me onto the other side of the clay dike that helped create the Kit Springs Pool and then more-or-less straight to Bee Spring, a mile and a half below me and just north of the slopes of Bee Mountain.



Cleft in Kit Spring Pool Dike with Chimneys in Distance by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Kit Spring Pool Outflow Through Clay Dike by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



The Question: Is This Dike Natural Or Man-Made? by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

Wash-walking is always improvisatory. You never know until you get there whether it’s better to walk in or above the wash, or which side to walk on, in order to follow the path of least resistance. In this case, it was a little of all. I weaved up and down and left and right, but in the main I stayed above the wash and on the north bank.  Soon I came upon a cairn – marking the way to Bee Spring? Maybe, maybe not, turns out it was one of five cairns - the others collapsed, but all five laid out in rough circle about twenty feet in diameter. Again, you tell me what this means. I dunno.



Mystery Cairn 1 by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Mystery Cairn 2 by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Mystery Cairn 3 by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Mystery Cairn 4 by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Mystery Cairn 5 by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr


Another unsolved mystery in the desert. I shrugged and pushed on.




Kit Mountain Behind Me by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Bee Mountain In Front Of Me by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

About an hour later, I spied two clusters of cottonwood trees peaking up above the rim of the wash. As I approached the precipice of the steep-sided wash, I could see that the two clusters were connected by a thick, thick belt of green plant life stretching along a tight double bend in the wash.  This usually signals water.  I checked my map and GAIA GPS on my phone and both said, “Bee Spring”. I was there.

As I was standing above the wash, trying to figure out the best way to get down there, I heard the approaching whine of an airplane engine overhead and looked up to see one of the daily NPS overflights several hundred feet above me, heading more-or-less down the Rio Grande from west to east. I waved but I don’t know if the rangers saw me. After the Cessna passed out of sight, I headed gingerly down a long twisting clay-and-gravel buttress, heavy with cactus, that eventually ended in the wash bottom. In my excitement I completely forgot to take a photo from up high on the wash bank, which I really regret. The view from up top was beautiful in a “sudden water in the middle of the desert” way. At the bottom, the thorns were thick and it was tough going as I tried to make my way down wash to the first set of cottonwoods. 



First Cottonwood in Bee Spring Wash by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Bottom of Bee Spring Wash by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

I pulled on my Petzl belay gloves; I’d left my Seirus waterproof gloves home and brought these leather ones with me for just an occasion as this. They made grabbing and moving thorny plants much easier. As I finally pulled even with the trees, the vegetation opened up just enough for me to see an inner clearing big enough to crawl into. I also found fresh coyote scat.



More Bee Spring Scat by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Possible Ingress to Bee Spring by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

I took off my pack, crouched down on my hands and knees, and shimmied my way underneath some honey locust toward the clearing. The soil was wet, but then again, where had it not been wet during this trip? Reaching the clearing, I didn’t find water, but I did find tracks – a lot of them, several species – and this:



Bones near Bee Spring by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Its a Jaw by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Note the Dentition by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Those Teeth Look Familiar by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

It took me an embarrassingly long couple of minutes to identify it. I’d never held or even seen a javelina skull up close before. And this was only the lower jaw, which make the puzzle vastly more difficult. But javelina dentition is quite unique and eventually the ID dawned on me. Turns out Mule Ears also found a javelina skull on his hike, missing its lower jaw. It would have been fascinating to put the two together. After ID-ing the jaw, I spent a few more minutes cataloguing the various tracks I found there, and then digging a few holes in the mud. I never got a pool to form but given the amount of tracks and fresh green vegetation here, I’m sure this must be the location of at least one spring.  I just couldn’t force my way to it through the choking thorns. I carefully worked my way back out to the main wash and put my pack back on, cinching everything up tight for the fight ahead. Not twenty feet down wash, a Great Horned Owl flushed from my right and disappeared silently seconds later in the same direction I was headed. A bit farther down, a very healthy Gray Fox also flushed from the right, stared at me for a moment, and then headed down wash.  A minute later, an American Kestrel flushed left to right, flew up to the bank, and settled on an ocotillo, while a Black-tailed Jackrabbit shot downwash. To me, this wildlife activity just reinforced my idea that Bee Spring(s) was wet, though unreachable by me. 



Second Possible Location of Bee Spring by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

I continued forcing my way through the ever narrower and thornier wash until finally I reached a point where it seemed I simply could no further. I was maybe 10 yards shy of the second cluster of cottonwoods. I looked up at the looming banks: thirty or forty feet high, almost vertical, and made entirely of conglomerate. Not climbable. I looked behind me: I could retreat, but it meant fighting my way back through all those thorns I’d just suffered through.  I had chosen poorly and pushed ahead too far. Now, either way, I was going to bleed. “No retreat,” I said, and pushed forward into the meatgrinder.

The way forward was best suited to a well-armored contortionist. I plunged through Honey Locust, tiptoed up the inclined trunks of small downed trees, leapt over a huddle of thorns to a small clearing, tossed my backpack over a barricade of downed trees entwined with even more thorny plants and then shimmied underneath it all, face in the mud. Finally, I reached the second set of cottonwoods, no doubt about it, all of those in this wash were Arizona Cottonwoods (Populus fremontii, v. mesetae), a species only found in the western desert states, and the drier parts of Colorado.



Arizona Cottonwood (Populus fremontii, var. mesetae) by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

Sadly, no surface water found. And none filled the trenches I dug. Still, I believe it was there somewhere, and the wildlife were taking advantage of it.  After a lilting set of trills on my flute, I pushed on downwash through a couple dozen yards of the same ol’, same ‘ol, and finally exited into a straighter, less tortured section where things started to clear out. I was able to walk easily again.



Last Cottonwood in Bee Spring Wash by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



A Little Worse for the Wear by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

Another quarter mile and I reached the wide mouth of the wash as it t-boned the much larger wash that curves around and drains the shoulders the shoulders of Bee Mountain.



Intersection of Bee Spring Wash and Bee Mountain Creek by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Bee Mountain Creek by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr


To be continued....


« Last Edit: March 28, 2019, 11:03:23 AM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Re: An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #12 on: January 02, 2019, 02:32:04 AM »
DAY 2 continued...


I don’t know if this larger wash I was now entering has a name: I suppose you could call it Bee Creek or Bee Mountain Creek. It originates just east of Bee Mountain and runs west to a point just below Pena Spring, then turns south and runs slightly to the east until it empties into the Rio Grande downstream of Alamo Creek and just upstream of Cottonwood Campground. This wash was full of water, mostly in pools, but it didn’t seem to be flowing. It might simply have been left over from recent rains, but there was a LOT of it, which shouldn’t really have surprised me because this major wash receives all the runoff from the western slopes of Kit Mountain and the northern slopes of Bee Mountain. The thought occurred to me that, instead of following this drainage down-wash, it would be fascinating to turn the other direction and explore it to its sources on and between each of those two mountains. On the maps, at least, it looks like interesting terrain. Ah, well, next time, perhaps.



Muddy Waters by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

I turned right and headed westward along the wash toward my next target, Tres Spring. That one lay in a subsidiary drainage up ahead, either the second or third, it was hard to tell exactly on the map, but I was fairly confident I’d recognize it when I reached it. The sand, silt, and gravel of this wash were loaded with tracks, almost all of them were from deer and those that weren’t were from javelina. Not much else. Which seemed odd. Occasionally the tracks told a story, but mostly I just observed them moving directly from one bank to the other and I stepped over them on my determined way westward.



Deer Crossing by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

The day was growing increasingly cloudy and gray and cold. The air was heavy with humidity. If I stopped to eat a snack or get a drink or study my maps, I got cold - fast. The thermometer on my hipbelt read 48 degrees at noon when I stopped for jerky. Shortly thereafter, moving again, I came to a strong wide leftward turn in the wash. A little bell went off in my head. I dropped my pack and pulled out my maps. Then consulted my iPhone’s GAIA. Yep, I’d almost walked right past the wash containing Tres Spring. The little wash was small, almost flat at this point, with very low banks, and hit the main wash at an extremely acute SW angle that was almost parallel to the wash I was walking in.



Approaching Tres Spring Wash, seen entering at the extreme right of the picture by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

Another few steps westward and I might have noticed its confluence with the big wash, but I’m not sure. I could just as easily have walked right past it.



Mouth of Tres Spring Wash by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

Fortunately, my intuition stopped me and told me to check my maps. I pulled them out and studied them. As I sat there on a boulder, I once again heard the whine of an aircraft engine. There, high above me, the NPS overflight passed overhead a second time. Again, I waved and, again, the plane and its occupants gave no sign that they’d seen me. From their god’s eye view, I’m sure they could have told me where I was, but we couldn’t communicate a single word with each other, so it was entirely up to me to decide my path. I turned back to the NE and headed up the little wash, which soon deepened and steepened.



The Mouth Opens Up by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Further Up Tres Spring Wash, Looking Back the Way I'd Come by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

The banks rose up abruptly and even a little water started to show in the draw. Grasses appeared on the slopes. Desert Cottontails bounded from the brush ahead in a mad attempt not to be caught and eaten alive by the fearsome predator I surely must be.  Ground squirrels, too, but unlike the rabbits, they bolted before I got anywhere near them, so it was often hard to pin down the species. Mixed flocks of Chipping and Brewer’s Sparrows flitted through the increasingly grassy drainage.  Black-throated Sparrows were by far the most abundant sparrow I encountered throughout this trip, but I did encounter a few other uncommon species (Vesper Sparrows at several places, two Savannah’s near springs, a couple of Sage Sparrows here and there up in the desert mixed in with other sparrows, and what might just maybe have been a flock of Lark Buntings in the distance one day), which makes me wonder if this might not be one of those unusually good sparrow years in The Bend.



Tracks in the Wash to and from Tres Spring by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Trail of Scat by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Tres Spring Mountain Lion Scat by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Bone fragments in scat by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Tres Spring Is On This Slope by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

Tres Spring is located just a couple hundred yards from the mouth of the wash. It sits about 30 feet up on the west side of the wash at a point where the wash bends north, the bottom narrows, and the sides steepen. It is well-advertised by dense vegetation and a few low trees, the species of which I didn’t peg.  As expected, the thorny plants here are extremely thick, and come right down to the edge of the main drainage channel. I took off my pack and searched up and down the area, looking for a way out of the wash and up the slopes, hoping to find water somewhere in the thicket. I snaked through a narrow break in the Pricklypear and Honey Locust and worked my way close to the edges of the 50-foot wide thicket, but there was no way I was getting any closer. The forbidding vegetation was just impenetrable. 



The Way Upslope To Tres Spring by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Tracks Leading to Tres Spring by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

There were tracks of many kinds everywhere I looked, and I passed several burrows, freshly dug, moderately sized, so something was setting up house right here. With some difficultly, I circled around about 270 degrees of the thicket until I reached a steep, almost vertical cut bank.



Behind Tres Spring by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



South Side of Tres Spring with Backpack Visible in Wash Below by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Trying to Find A Way Back to My Pack by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

No exit there, so I backtracked to my original entry point and descended back to my pack in the wash. Much like Bee Spring, I knew there must be water in there somewhere, but it just wasn’t possible for me to reach it and confirm. In any event, this was NOT a place I would count on for water.  I pulled my flute and improvised a short, mournful meditation.

The slopes on either side of the wash here were quite high and quite steep and quite unstable. I stowed my flute, shouldered my pack and walked upwash another couple hundred yards until I identified a spot where I thought I could climb up the slope with my pack on to access the high flats across which I could walk pretty much unhindered straight north to The Chimneys trail, which was only a short ways away.



Upslope Burrow by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Freshly Dug by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

The loose, gravelly slopes made for tricky going, but a few minutes later I’d made it up the fifty or so feet to the flat open desert, less than a quarter mile due south of The Chimneys trail. 



Back Up Top In The Open Desert, Looking Back on Where I'd Just Been by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr



Open Desert Panorama Video by House Made of Dawn, on Flickr

The wind up here was something fierce, easily gusting to 20 mph, coming relentlessly out of the northwest. I humped it across the creosote flats until I intersected the trail, dropped my pack, pulled out both my down vest AND my Vapourlight smock, and pulled them both on.  I had just sat down on a trail cairn to eat a late lunch when a ranger appeared coming down the trail briskly toward me from the west. As he neared, I could see he was volunteer, in good shape and well-equipped.  “Sweeping the trail,” I asked? “Sorta,” he said with a sheepish smile, “mostly just out for a nice walk.” You could tell he loved the desert and was at home out there. A friend had dropped him off at Luna’s Jacal; his own truck was waiting for him at RMSD trailhead. I showed him my backcountry permit, wired to my pack’s compression straps, just pro forma. We talked about the beauty of the desert, the unstable weather and the sudden chilling wind. “NOAA says 20% chance of thunderstorms this afternoon,” he warned. I asked about the evening and he said the storms, if they came, should blow over by then and leave a clear night. Fine by me, I’d much rather walk the open desert in a rainstorm than have to sleep under a nylon roof. We wished each other well and he continued on eastward with his hike as I sat down to finish my jerky. He would be the only human being I would see during my entire four days in the desert. And that was just fine by me, too.

To be continued...
« Last Edit: January 12, 2019, 05:39:51 PM by House Made of Dawn »
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

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Offline mule ears

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Re: An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #13 on: January 02, 2019, 06:30:01 AM »
I saw that, too, when I was there. Looked like damage from bullets to me. But, you know, could have happened over a hundred years ago or more.

The bullet holes have been there a long time.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
http://40yearsofwalking.wordpress.com/

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Offline BIBEARCH

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Re: An Unexpected Journey: To The Chimneys and Beyond
« Reply #14 on: January 02, 2019, 09:14:43 AM »
Just, wow. Vicariously following you inspires me to gather my now 71 year old butt and walk it out into the desert. You are as stricken with Chimneys as I when I first hiked there as a younger park archeologist in the early 1980s. Loving your story...  Keep it up!

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The opinion expressed above is my own and not that of the National Park Service or the Federal government.

"Government of the people, by the people, for the people . . . people hey, that's us!"? - Swami Beyondananda

 


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