Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Carlsbad's Ocotillo Nature Trail

Happy Leap Day! We had to run a few errands today, but still Noelle and I wanted to take Parker out for at least a little hike. We opted to head over to the Ocotillo Nature Trail which is conveniently located right within Carlsbad City limits.
On the Trail with Parker
With the recent warm weather we were hoping to see some wildflowers in bloom, but the only ones in flower were the algerita.
Algerita in Bloom
Still it was nice to get out in the warm sun and enjoy a rare not-too-windy spring day in southeast New Mexico. We hiked the entire length of the trail up to the overlook of town
Eric & Parker at Overlook

and then headed back down to the car. Besides the algerita blooms I got a nice photo of some prickly pear glochids, which are little, barbed, hair-like spines.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Our Season of Discontent

The calendar says its still February, but spring has begun in the lower elevations of southeast New Mexico. While most people look forward to springtime, with its promises of warm weather and wildflowers, I am not a fan of the season. Here in Carlsbad (and in many other parts of the western US), spring means the windy season. The winds here can make it very uncomfortable to spend time outdoors. With blowing dust, grit, and pollen.

To be honest I've never really been much of a fan of springtime. In Duluth, spring was just an extension of winter, with cold winds often blowing off Lake Superior. Even growing up in Philadelphia, I remember spring as being a tease. It would bring the promise of warm weather, but not until late May or June was warm weather a guarantee. And so this morning Noelle, Robby and I set out to Whites City, where we planned on embarking on a hike of the Old Guano Road Trail. High winds were not in the forecast, yet when we started our hike a strong, cold wind blew out of the north. We hiked through a stile and into Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
CCNP Boundary

Noelle Squeezes Through the Stile
The hiking was not a pleasant experience. It was remarkably cold. The sound of the wind buffeting our ears made conversation nearly impossible. Still, we continued up the escarpment to a nice view of the High Guads.
Hiking Old Guano Road
We went a bit further before we decided to turn around. It just didn't seem worth the effort to continue on in the wind. I know we could have safely continued on, but we wouldn't have enjoyed it. 

And so we headed back down and into Whites City. We found some interesting sponge fossils in the limestone
Sponge Fossil
and then looked around the gift shop there and then headed back into town. We had the last of our Minnesota wild rice burgers, sweet potato fries, and Robby made a pineapple mango salad for lunch. After Robby left I took some time to do some minor repairs to our MSR Whisperlite stove,
Whisperlite Repair
 which seemed to be operating inefficiently during our Big Bend trip. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is calling for even stronger winds tomorrow.     

Monday, February 20, 2012

Eddy County, NM Highpoint

It's getting to be that time of the year in southeast New Mexico. The time of the year when the winds kick it up a notch and really start to howl. Despite the wind, I decided I wanted to get out for some adventure. Not wanting to go too far away I opted to see if I could bag the highpoint of my home county: Eddy County, New Mexico. The drive up into the national forest near Queen was uneventful, even if the car was getting moved around due to the wind. I got  to the trailhead at around 9:30 and quickly ran into a pair of backpackers and their dog. It must have been a windy night for them last night!

The hike started out an easy one on some of the old forest roads. I passed the turn off to Devil's Den and then Camp Wilderness Ridge. I was heading to the end of the road where my descent into North McKittrick Canyon began a few weeks ago.  There a good view of my objective from the end of the road.
Eddy County 's Highpoint

Once at the road's end I found the cairned rout that led to the bottom of the canyon and then hiked up to the top of the ridge on the other side. Right away I dropped down into a saddle and had to climb again. This climb was a bit steep, but it went farily quick. Before I knew it I was on top of Eddy County. There were great views of North McKittrick Canyon, Dog Canyon and the Dog Canyon Ranger Station in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.
Above N McKittrick Canyon

I signed the register, took my photo and then started to head down to get out of the wind.
Eddy HP register
 Eric on Eddy Co Highpoint

On the return I decided to head down into North McKittrick Canyon and follow it back to its head instead of hiking back up the ridge I used on the way out. The hiking went quickly and before I knew it I was back on the old road. Not a bad way to spend a windy day.     

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Prada Marfa

Prada Marfa
On our drive back to Carlsbad from Big Bend we stopped at this interesting artscape. I would place it on par with Cadillac Ranch, Carhenge, or Wisconsin's Concrete County Park.

Big Bend National Park: South Rim Loop

Noelle and I packed up camp, ate breakfast and headed up into the Chisos Basin. The lost Mine Trail was still closed due to mountain lion activity and so we abandoned our original plan to climb Casa Grande Peak and opted to instead hike a 12.4 mile loop up to the South Rim via the Laguna Meadows, Southeast Rim, Boot Canyon, Boot Spring, and Pinnacles Trails. The weather was beautiful and the ascent up Laguna meadows was pleasant and gentle.
Noelle Hiking the Chisos
We didn't see many people on the trail, just a few trail crew members. We got lots of great views to the Window and Emory Peak
Emory Peak from Laguna Meadows
and a nice overlook of the Chisos Basin.
Eric in Chisos

Once past the overlook the trail featured rolling terrain and lots of views. We stopped at a conveniently placed restroom
and admired some of the great views from the Rim.
Overlooking Cerro Castolon
 Noelle at South Rim
Looking Down from South Rim
parts of the Rim are closed this time of the year due to Peregrine falcon nesting.
Peregrine Closure Sign
Still, there were plenty of nice views!
Mexican Juniper
After admiring some of them we headed into Boot Canyon.
In Boot Canyon
The small canyon was surprisingly interesting and we enjoyed walking through it with its little pools of water. next we found ourselves at a nice overlook of the aptly named Boot Rock.
Boot Rock
Then we started our descent on the Pinnacles Trail. The trail was very well maintained!
Nice Trailwork
We got some really nice views of the Window again, along with Casa Grande Peak.
Casa Grande Peak
It was a wonderful end to our short visit to the amazing Big Bend National Park!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Big Bend National Park: Dog Canyon & Devil's Den

Chisos Panoramic
We woke up at our Grapevine Hills campsite this morning and we were treated to a wonderful view of the Chisos Mountains. We ate breakfast and got ready for the day's hike. We were headed to the northern section of the park and Dog Canyon. We had hiked Dog Canyon before on a cold, windy day. We had not, however, hiked to Devil's Den. The hike started out at a small pull-off of the main park road. We started out hiking in the baking sun. This is not a hike I would recommend on a hot summer day.

Soon we could see Dog Canyon and we headed into the wash and the canyon itself.
In Dog Canyon
It was just as I had remembered on our last visit. The canyon was impressive with lots of small caves in its limestone walls. We traveled clear through the canyon and then turned around to head for Devil's Den. The hike to Devil's Den followed a dry, narrow wash.
Hiking Wash

The hike wasn't really all that interesting until we came to a section of the wash that featured a solid rock floor. There were some potholes where water had carved right through the rock. One of the potholes had formed a small natural arch.
Devil's Den Arch

We headed further up the wash and could soon see Devil's Den Canyon itself.
Devil's Den
The canyon features a lot of boulder hopping and climbing.
Boulder Hopping
We weren't really prepared to do a lot of climbing and so we went into the canyon just a little ways where we stopped and rested before heading back out. We found a short cut back to the car, a cairned rock across the desert.
Noelle and Distant Dog Canyon
Soon we were back to the car. We still had plenty of daylight and so we decided to take our time driving back to camp. We stopped at the Fossil Bone Exhibit and admired the view.
Fossil Bone Overlook
Then we headed to the Hannold Grave site.
Hannold Grave

At this point we were a bit conflicted about what to do with the rest of our day. Finally we decided to head to the Terlingua Ghost town for dinner at one of our favorite restaurants ever, the Starlight Theatre.
Starlight Theatre
We got into town a bit early and so we explored the remains of the old mining town a bit before we headed into the restaurant for a delicious dinner.  
Eric in Terlingua
Mine Elevator

Monday, February 13, 2012

Big Bend National Park: Cattail Falls

Yesterday, despite the forecast of a winter mix, Noelle and I pointed the Subaru south and headed for the Big Bend of the Rio Grande. We hit a little bit of freezing rain north of Pecos, Texas but we made it as far as Alpine, TX where we spent the night. This morning we awoke and ate breakfast at McDonalds. My first time eating at this fast food establishment in about 7 years. There just aren't many restaurant options in Alpine.

Anyway we drove through a light drizzle and fog through the disjointed, small mountain ranges of West Texas before we entered Big Bend National Park by 10. After paying our entrance fee we headed straight to a rough road and the secret trailhead for Cattail Falls. As we began our hike our spirits were high and the fog started to lift from the Chisos Mountains.
Chisos Fog
 The hike followed an old road and soon entered some trees where there seemed to be a little bit of flowing water. We found the "tie-down tree" I had heard about
The Tie-Down Tree
along with a sign warning us not to hike with small children due to the recent mountain lion attack.
Mountain Lion!
We then proceeded to hike on the trail gradually uphill. More and more fog began to burn off and the sun shone warm as we headed into some trees and approached the falls.
Hiking Out of Fog
In the Trees

While the falls were just a trickle there was plenty of water in the pool at the bottom of the pour-off.
Bottom of Cattail Falls
The whole area was a wonderland of ferns and cool, moist air.
Maidenhair Ferns
We enjoyed the scene for a bit before turning around and heading back to the car.
Hiking Back from Falls
 We savored our first taste of Big Bend in about seven years and were ready for some more!

Big Bend National Park: Pine Canyon

When we were in the planing stages of this Big Bend trip one of my co-workers who had formerly worked at Big Bend National Park recommended the hike into Pine Canyon. I was worried about the road access but he assured me that the Subaru would be able to make it. I'm really glad we took his advice. The hike up into Pine Canyon was truly magical.


The hike started with a drive along the rough Glenn Springs and Pine Canyon Roads to the trailhead. The trail didn't start out looking too promising, just a walk through the sotols, cactus and desert grasses.
Beginning of Pine Canyon
Soon we started to see some trees though. The deeper into the canyon we headed the more trees and shade we found. There were oaks, madrones, pines, and even maples.
Noelle in the Trees

The mixture of trees reminded me a bit of the Guadalupe Mountains. Eventually we found ourselves at the bottom of a massive dry pour-off.
Bottom of Pour-off
We rested there for a bit and then headed down canyon.
The views to the southeast and into Mexico were amazing.
Hiking Down Pine Canyon
There were lots of interesting rock formations along the sides of the trail as well.
Rock Outcrops
Rock Outcrop

The hike back to the car was downhill and easy. The whole hike was thoroughly pleasant. The scenery wasn't eye-popping but just enjoyable. We remarked on how different the hike got from the start to the pour-off. It was like two different worlds. Once we returned to the car we headed back out on the rough roads and headed to our home for the next two nights: Grapevine Hills site #3.
Eating Dinner
We relaxed and ate dinner before retiring for the night. It was a great way to spend a day in Big Bend National Park!