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Holy Week in a Holy Place

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Offline Slimkitty

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #15 on: April 14, 2018, 06:46:52 PM »
On the 45mph, I had been politely warned not to speed in the park.  I never had a problem, as I was always too busy trying to see all the views.

Last time I was in the park I was driving the posted speed limit when a coyote sauntered out into the road in front of me.  He/she barely acknowledged me as I slammed on the brakes and came to a complete stop.  I had to wait until the coyote crossed, in absolutely no hurry.  Had I been going much faster, the outcome could have been much different. 


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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #16 on: April 14, 2018, 11:45:34 PM »
Easter week is one of the busiest in Big Bend National Park. Several times this week, I have driven past the Lost Mine Trail parking area to find it completely full. Additional cars scatter themselves in the various pull-outs heading down from Panther Pass in either direction, and nearly all of the people from all those cars were also on the Lost Mine Trail.

I figured it would be the least likely place I’d find solitude, and yet, I had the entire trail and summit area to myself until I started my descent back to the trailhead. For more than an hour and a half, I saw and heard no one.

The key, it turns out, is to hit the trail before sunrise. Mine was the first and only car in the parking area that Thursday morning. It was a cool 50 degrees or so, clear and windy. Morning twilight was just beginning to brighten the sky. I hiked with a headlamp for a few minutes before turning it off. Within 20 minutes, I’d reached the Juniper Canyon overlook, and there I waited for sunrise.

It was sublime.







There is something truly magical about watching light slowly pour into the desert, seeing it change from blues and purples to oranges and golds to greens and grays, watching the shadows dance around the crags in the high mountains and foreboding cliffs, feeling the new day take hold. I lingered at the overlook for almost half an hour, expecting people to join me there, voices drowning out the singing birds, including a particularly cheerful canyon wren, the rustling grasses and the whistling wind. None came.

As I headed up the trail, I looked back from time to time down into the Basin, tracking the shadow’s retreat from the Window.



I continued up the trail, stopping here and there to look and listen, still expecting someone to come up behind me. Up the switchbacks I went and onto the summit saddle, and no one was there. For the first time, I was in the bright sunshine. Winds buffeted the bare rock. Still I was alone. I wandered around the summit, enjoying the familiar views of the East Rim, Elephant Tusk, Tortuga Mountain and the hazy desert.



I said hello to the Dutch Girl spire, watched some soaring birds circle and did my best to not get blown off the mountain. The high winds discouraged me from following the saddle all the way to the end, and instead I turned back toward the trail. Casa Grande glowed in the morning sun, and I mused how easy the climb to the top looks from this angle (It’s not.). Still, I was alone.

As I trudged up the north side of the summit saddle, I saw someone at the top. He paused to admire the view, and I hiked up to where he was standing. He told me mine was the only car at the parking lot when he and his wife pulled in. I told him how special it was that he was going to have the summit alone. A few moments later, I was starting my descent. I passed the man’s wife.

One switchback later, I passed a couple. Then three more people. Then a solo hiker. While waiting for a family of five to make their way up past me, I noticed a claret cup cactus in bloom. They were talking loudly about something far away from where they were and the moment they were in. I doubt any of those five people saw it.



I counted 26 more people as I headed down. When I arrived at the trailhead just after 10:20 a.m., the parking lot was full. At least a dozen people were strapping on packs or otherwise preparing to hit the trail. Two cars had their turn signals on to claim my spot as I pulled out. How they resolved their conflict I’ll never know. On my way down from Panther Pass, I saw hikers headed up to the trailhead, their cars parked in the big pullout just below the bear crossing sign.

No bears were crossing, just humans. I’d still never seen a bear along that stretch of road.

I kept going down toward the desert, determined to find a slice of solitude that didn’t depend on good timing.

To be continued.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline Al

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #17 on: April 15, 2018, 01:56:24 AM »
The new normal.  That's a really nice camera!

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Offline fartymarty

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #18 on: April 15, 2018, 12:05:08 PM »
That's a really nice camera!

That joke definitely has legs. It brings a smile to my face when ever I see it here.

The point is well taken though, great photography!.... and prose Jeff! You've been missed here for sure. Goldi' too.

Great report so far, and I'm looking forward to more.  :great:
 
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Offline Casa Grande

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Offline RichardM

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #20 on: April 15, 2018, 09:27:54 PM »
Got coordinates for the Jenga cairn? I'd like to guess how much we came up short...

I recorded a waypoint on my GPS:

UTM 13R 0701779 E 3234584 N NAD27
LAT 29.225555 LON -102.92410266521527 NAD27

The Lat-Lon is calculated using an online utility. The waypoint was recorded using UTM.
Thanks. I'm guessing we headed off into the weeds (so to speak) a little before the trail that connects to the Strawhouse Trail.

Great report and pics so far. Keep'em comin'!

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Offline badknees

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #21 on: April 15, 2018, 09:40:52 PM »


My daughter and I thought we could climb up to that arch one time. We circled all around, but you’re right....there is no easy way up. It’s bigger and higher than it looks from the road.
Not all those who wander are lost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #22 on: April 16, 2018, 12:53:42 AM »
Solitude would have to wait. I wanted enchiladas.

Rio Bravo is located on the south side of Texas 170 between Study Butte and the Terlingua ghost town. It isn’t always open, but it was this day. I’m sure the whole menu is fabulous, but I always order the chicken enchiladas, and I guzzle as much iced tea as they’ll serve me. As usual, the enchiladas hit the spot.

While sitting at my table overhearing tourists discussing places other than the one they’re visiting and food other that what they’re eating, I thought through some options for the rest of my afternoon. I settled on Swirl Tinaja, a magical place of erosion, geology and scenery not on any trail. The tinaja itself is marked on the right USGS quad, but it isn’t named. One simply has to know roughly where it is, and that alone should almost guarantee solitude.

After finishing my meal and thanking the cook, I pointed the car back to the park and eventually found as good a place to park along the shoulder as I could. There are no paved pull-outs along this particular stretch of the read, so I carefully chose a spot devoid of growth. Turns out I was exactly due north of my destination.

I weaved my way through the ocotillo forest, taking care to stay off any vegetation, no matter how dead it looked, and I made my way south.



The hiking is easy, save perhaps the entry and exit of the second wash, but one of my natural hiking tendencies veered me off course. While trying to travel due south, I tended to pass any obstacle to the left. By the time I reached the correct wash, I had drifted 200 meters or so upstream. I hiked down the wash until I reached the lip of the pouroff.





Climbing down into the wash, I was able to enter the little chasm, which was filled with silt, as though several dump trucks had delivered tons of sand and tiny rocks here. A colony of flowering plants was thriving here.



After hanging out for a while, I climbed back up and headed north, this time alternative between left and right passages around obstacles. The ocotillo forest was still tipped in blazing red.



Before long, I could see the glint of the sun off my vehicle, and I was back on the road. I headed down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Again, the parking area for Homer Wilson Ranch was full, so I decided to hike the Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff Trail, something I haven’t done in many years.



There was no solitude at this trail, but it wasn’t overrun. The generously sized parking lot only had five cars. It’s a short hike that leads to a large, dry chute in the rock. The sun was beating down, so I hiked back under an umbrella, drawing curious stares from the other people there.

From there, I went to Castolon, where my traditional ice cream treat was once again in stock. Then it was on to a pullout along the road to Santa Elena Canyon where I could walk to the Coyote Cemetery.



I hiked the Dorgan-Sublett Trail. The ruins have been improved since my last visit to them, but even the improved ruins are starting to return to nature. One part of the “new” wall has fallen. Cerro Castellan still looks good through its window, rising above the original wall of the ruin.



This time, the parking area for Santa Elena Canyon wasn’t full, so I parked and walked across the boardwalk. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the total lack of water in Terlingua Creek or the minimal flow of the Rio Grande. It hasn’t rained in five months. While it was not the weakest flow I’ve ever seen leaving the canyon, I nonetheless could have walked to Mexico without getting very wet.



To be clear, that photo is of the Rio Grande. Terlingua Creek was completely dry.

I visited a couple of other ruins on my way back but generally did not stop again until I reached the Basin. I got myself prepared for the next day’s big hike, snacked and waited on the sunset. Like the first night I was here, I watched this sunset from the bluff overlooking the group campground. The moon rose over Panther Pass.





After sunset, I drove over Panther Pass, bound for the cell phone pull-out so I could call Goldilocks. Just as I passed the 35 mph speed limit sign, a bear, standing right on the edge of the road, bounded up into some brush. I’ve seen bears in the park before, but never crossing or near the road. I smiled the rest of the way down the hill.

To be continued.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline House Made of Dawn

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #23 on: April 16, 2018, 08:28:44 AM »
Great report, Jeff. Your photos, even viewed on my phone’s tiny screen, are almost as good as being there. I couldn’t quite make out the bottom of Swirl Tinaja: with no rain in months, I assume It was bone dry. Yes?


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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #24 on: April 16, 2018, 10:33:32 PM »
I couldn’t quite make out the bottom of Swirl Tinaja: with no rain in months, I assume It was bone dry. Yes?

Oh, yes, dry and full of piles of sand, silt and small rocks. Several of those were at least a couple feet deep and were covered by flowering plants. A big rainstorm in just the right place is needed to clear it out and wash that stuff downstream.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline jeffblaylock

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #25 on: April 17, 2018, 12:43:26 AM »
Slickrock Canyon has been on my list for many years, but it never got high enough up the list to get done. When I mentioned it to my local friends as a possible destination, they emphatically recommended it. There are often pools of water and abundant signs of wildlife, and the canyon is a little-known gem. A trip report posted here earlier this year included photos of large pools of water. Having seen very little water so far this trip, the thought of a cool canyon and pools of water was quite inviting.

Heading west from Panther Junction, but before reaching the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, the main road eventually crosses Oak Creek. A fairly large gravel parking area sits just before the bridge along the westbound lane. The sun was just rising as I put on my pack, fired up my GPS and began the roughly 4.2-mile trek to Slickrock Canyon.



There is no formal trail, but there are two generally accepted ways of reaching the canyon from the south. The first is to follow Oak Creek downstream until it intersects with the unnamed wash that goes through the canyon. This first method requires one to hike west of the canyon, then backtrack to reach it. The second method is a more direct path cutting cross-country. I wanted to record a good GPS track for the first method, so I figured I’d try the second method on the return trip.

The first challenge is getting into the wash from the parking area. I scouted several options before settling on a path right by the bridge. Then I turned downstream and followed its generally northwestward path.



Oak Creek wash is wide, level and free of vegetation. Its channel is braided, and I tried to follow its main channel as much as possible, though I would frequently find myself having left it (or it left me). There’s a remarkable array of colors in the rocks strewn along the wash. There were also lots of bootprints, preserved no doubt by the lack of measurable rainfall in five months.

After about an hour of easy hiking, I could see that I was well west of the canyon I was seeking,



In the photo, Slickrock Canyon is the V-shaped notch at the far right, but I’m still walking toward the left.

Hiking downstream is relatively straightforward. Numerous other washes enter, but typically at angles suggesting they are tributaries. There is almost no chance that one will hike into one of them by mistake. The issue is, at some point, the mistake would be not hiking into one of them.

I had taken a hand-drawn map indicating the basic configuration of the bigger washes entering Oak Creek. I noted the coordinates of the wash I wanted, as well as a couple I didn’t, and I was keeping an eye on the GPS as the trail turned decidedly westward. Within a few moments, I saw a tiny cairn, and it indeed marked the correct wash.



Some care needs to be taken here. The correct wash is the second major wash to enter Oak Creek within a distance of less than 250 meters. The first, incorrect one initially heads almost due east and eventually disappears into the flank of Croton Peak. The correct one heads north-northeast, takes an easterly turn, then follows a sharp bend back to the north. The correct junction was marked by a small cairn (UTM 13R 656252 3248156 NAD27), but it could easily be swept away in a flood, if it ever rains again.

At this point, I’d traveled 2.6 miles and lost 198 feet in elevation. After a brief rest, I turned up the much narrower wash.



Hiking upstream requires one to pay more attention to route-finding. Tributaries sometimes look just as significant, if not more so, than the main wash. The steady signs of prior hikers’ bootprints added confidence as I headed up the right wash. As it turned decidedly toward the east, it passed several rock outcrops and a weirdly eroded limestone bluff.



My view of Slickrock Mountain faded while my view of Croton Peak improved. I began to wonder if I had strayed from the main wash, or if perhaps the whole path from Oak Creek was in error. There were still bootprints, but I have been led astray by those before (and would be again before this trip was done). After all, following the well-trod paths of lost hikers still gets one lost.

About 10 minutes later, the wash took a bold, confidence-boosting turn north, and Slickrock Mountain came back into view.



The canyon was near. I passed a large rock rising up from the wash floor that resembled a walrus. The amount, frequency and diversity of animal scat was increasing, adding to my belief that water would be there. Shortly thereafter, my destination, a dark gap in the mountain still in the shade, was just ahead.



Something caught my eye. Sitting upon a much darker rock was a bone-white triangle. When I picked it up, I thought it must be some kind of tooth.





Not far from that find, the wash opened up, and I could see up the mouth of Slickrock Canyon. I had walked 1.6 miles from the wash junction to a rock I dubbed the “front desk” at the canyon mouth, still shaded from the morning sun.



I went in expecting to find pools of water, but there were none, the result of four five months without measurable rain. I could see where they must have been, only now they were silt-filled depressions in the slickrock. However, I found something I wasn’t expecting. In abundance.

To be continued.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2018, 09:10:26 AM by jeffblaylock »
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #26 on: April 17, 2018, 06:42:29 AM »
Nice start on the Slickrock hike report jeff.  That junction of the washes looks very distinct like the entrance of the Dominguez spring wash with the Fish canyon wash, the color change like someone drew a line.

One tiny correction, it was 4 months since real measurable precip other than the .10th of an inch in Feb.  The last water hole filling precip was the big Dec. 7th snow and rain strom that took HMoD off his trip and almost held us up from ours.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2018, 09:38:47 AM by mule ears »
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline badknees

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #27 on: April 17, 2018, 07:26:45 AM »
So dry.............a 40/30% chance of rain this Thurs/Fri :crossedfingers:
Not all those who wander are lost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien

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Offline Hang10er

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #28 on: April 17, 2018, 07:40:31 AM »
I think your tooth is actually just a "tooth shaped" piece of bone.  Most teeth I have ever found have remains of enamel on them.  Even ones pretty deteriorated.  They also usually have a darker area that was the root part that was buried in the gums and jaw bone.  They also usually show lots of signs of wear and grinding. 

Disclaimer: Unprofessional opinion.  Not a scientist.  Just a guy who's looked at a lot of bones over the years. 

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Offline Txlj

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Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #29 on: April 17, 2018, 02:49:23 PM »
Shark teeth and vertebra as reference.

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