Monday, April 10, 2023

Why Fence Builders Don't Look Up!


Many of the Texas State Parks already came fenced.

They used to be ranches and ranchers need to manage their livestock. In fact in some of the parks there's a number of abandoned cross-fences that, since the livestock is gone, are no longer needed.

Of course fences are expensive so getting by with just enough to do the job made sense. 

In the case above three feet of rather flimsy goat-netting topped with a couple strands of barbed wire on locally harvested cedar sticks, some pretty skinny, with an occasional metal post thrown in for extra support. 

Or sometimes no metal posts at all, just utilization of what was already there.

But when the Texas Parks and Wildlife people take over a property they want to be good stewards of the land and they usually put up their own fences built to their own standards.

That means 5 foot of high-quality goat-netting bracketed top and bottom with a single strand of barbed wire laced along the goat-netting, (A cost-effective way to stabilize the netting between posts.) with metal fence posts driven every 20 feet and 2" cedar posts every 4 feet in between.

It's there, not so much to keep people out, which makes sense considering that most of the adjoining land is pretty damn remote so where the hell would the people come from? Rather the intent is to ensure that park visitors are encouraged to respect the adjacent private property. (OK. and let's face it. Also a little placation of the surrounding landowners who are suddenly faced with a whole lot more people hanging around than they are used to.)

Another purpose of these fences is that many of the state parks are also wildlife refuges and keeping livestock out helps protect the resources of those refuges.


Here I'm standing somewhere along the southern boundary of South Llano State Park. The short side, which is about a mile and a half across.

That arrow out there marks the southwest corner,

And when I turn around, that arrow pointing to a little spot up on that hill marks the southeast corner.

Between those two corners, in addition to a mile and a half of heavy-duty goat-netting and two strands of spiky barbed wire, are approximately 2000 fence-posts, nearly 400 of those being metal posts that must be driven, properly spaced, in line, and vertical, into the hard, rocky ground. Typically the fencing is wired to each post at 5 points. That's about 10,000 individual wire ties that have to be wrapped in place on both ends by hand with fencing pliers.

And, like I already mentioned, this is the short side. The east and west boundaries of this park are more than twice as long as the north and south.

That's a lot of fence to build!

I know if I was out there in the Texas sun building these things the last thing I'd want to do in the middle of the afternoon when lunch is nothing but a weary memory and the evening beer is still a long ways off is look up and be reminded of just how much farther I have to go!

Here at South Llano when the TPWD took over this place they commissioned a fresh survey to make sure they put the fences up in the right place.

If you pay attention when you're out and about you might spot remnants of an old fence line,

20 to 30 feet to the east of the new eastern boundary fence. And this holds true along the entire eastern edge of the park.

Apparently an old survey, or maybe it was the original fence-builder, missed the mark. So suddenly the landowner to the east had a few more acres than they thought. Which they may not be as happy about as you might expect because, unlike the TPWD, they have to pay taxes on those extra acres.

Anyway - - - time to get to the chores. And no, I'm not going to look up!

Monday, April 3, 2023

The Violence of Courtship

Courting can be a nasty business across all species.

This whole evolutionary driven need to prove oneself bigger and better than the next is not a gentle thing.

It’s that time of year and these two were at mating-driven battle right in the middle of one of my trails. 

Clearly, as the bared ground shows, the pushing and shoving has been going on a while. In fact they were still at it 20 minutes later when I came back around on the second pass of my laps.

Lunges that result in the clashing of shells, biting at any soft parts within reach, and shoving matches resulting in the clawing of ground.  The battered veteran trying to hold his own on the left, the young upstart struggling to carve out his place in the world on the right.

Meanwhile, she’s just standing around a few feet away, or at least she was standing around until my proximity made her suck everything in, (The males didn't give a crap whether I was there or not, they just kept right at it.) waiting to see which of the two is worthy of her.

The next morning the evidence of this struggle was just a puff of breeze away from disappearing altogether. At least until the resulting clutch does it's thing and the hatchlings grow up, then the whole  cycle starts all over again.

Speaking of cycles! All of this means spring is about to morph into summer so it’s time to set up the summer house for the season!

Monday, March 27, 2023

I May Not Be Smart But I'm Consistent


OK. After an easy 6 mile day yesterday I decided enough with pandering to a bum foot and knocked off an 8+ mile hike today.

Actually this was the hike where I discovered that I was heel-walking again on that bum foot that suddenly didn't seem quite so bum anymore.

So to celebrate I decided to finish off the hike by climbing the old road up to the overlook.

This little bit of abandoned road is steep enough that they eventually got tired of cleaning up bloody smears along the way and banned bicycles.

And it just keeps going up.

And up.

And when you figure you must be just about there you come around a curve and - - -

Yeah, it just keeps going up.

In fact it goes up for about 140 feet, a 100 story building, without a break.

And if you are a masochistic fool like an adventure, at the base, where you've already hiked almost 7 miles, you challenge yourself to put your head down and make the climb without taking any breaks and even though there's no one there to see you cheat - - you don't.

And on top of that, as far as viewpoints go it's not a particularly spectacular one.

Of course, once you get up there you have to get down again, via the switchback trail this time.

And just to prove - well, I'm not sure what the hell I was proving - I followed that up the next day with another 8 mile hike.

This time tackling the viewpoint first by heading up the switchback trail and back down the road this time - you know - for variety.

Then climbing the west ridge of the West Canyon before heading back down through the canyon itself.

And finishing up with one last pass

by Buck Lake.

I say last pass, because this was my last full day at South Llano.

And I managed to almost miss this sunset on that last day!

I ended my stay the next morning with one final trip up the trail to the viewpoint, and of course back down again, before breaking camp and heading back home on a 4 hour trip through Saturday traffic on a rear tire that had just started to go out-of-round the last 50 miles before I got to the campground at the beginning of the week.

Yep, a white-knuckle drive and though Lincoln still sunk into the tread up to his nose, I replaced both rear tires the following week. Not bad though. I got over 53,000 miles out of  tires with a very aggressive offroad tread and grippy rubber so soft there's only a 40,000 mile rating on them.

Monday, March 20, 2023

Not That I Would Ever Do That!


Technically this cuddly little guy is called Echinocactus Texensis. But since trying to say that is a pain in the ass, most normal people, and some abnormals like maybe me, call it the Horse Crippler.

But this is an equal-opportunity kinda guy, so if you are going to go off-trail, on horse or on foot, here in South Llano, or anywhere else this lovable little gem hangs out, it might be a good idea to watch out!

Not that I would ever do that! Go off trail. Nooo. Not me - - -

Speaking of trails, because I'm such a sensible, intelligent sort of guy, after hobbling around on a bum foot for 6.5 miles the first day here, my second day's hike at South Llano was a masochistic followup of 8 miles, because

 - well you know - 

it seemed like a sensible thing to do at the time.

Right up until those last three miles that is - - -

But by that point my only viable option was to live with my stupidity and finish hiking on out to The Van.

The high point of that hike, in literal terms, as well as pastoral, was the line-shack and windmill on the imaginatively named Windmill Hill.

Here, in addition to the re-tinned line-shack, there's a large concrete tank below the windmill, a piece of which is just barely visible there beyond the shack, and a series of old livestock handling pens behind and to the right, and for some reason I always feel comfortably at home every time I come up here.

I can only peer in through the windows at the now empty space inside the shack, but I can't help but feel that I would find the rustic abode with its old door so dried out with time and weather that you can see light though the gaps, a very accommodating place.

A view across the canyon, a cot. a chair, a rustic table with a lamp on it, some shelves for essentials and a book or two, a couple of hooks for the few necessary bits of clothing, (In my opinion there is nothing more useless and socially harmful as the fashion industry. I'm not talking about the clothing industry. After all, of the three essentials of survival lack of shelter is the one that will kill you fastest and clothing is the first line of shelter. I'm talking about the fashion industry that preys upon and feeds people's insecurities, that fans the flames of "ooh, ooh! look at me! I'm special because some random person with a sewing machine yet no socially redeeming qualities says so".) a stove to stoke for heat and cooking, a fire-ring and a three-legged stool for when it's too hot for the stove, a bucket for filling from the tap at the well-head, and just generally living within the proper circadian ans seasonal rhythm of nature.

What more could a person ask for?!

Here's a place where a person could not only shelter but feel right with the world while doing so. Judiciously using resources while actively managing them rather than reverting to mindless conspicuous consumption and believing that an endless supply of water is only a tap-twist away, that flicking a switch is all it takes to negate the day-night cycle of the natural world, that cooking is done by pushing a button until the beep, that seasonal comfort is all about twisting a dial and sucking enormous amounts of resources, that - - - aaannnnd with that I've stomped my soapbox to the point of breaking once again - - - so let's move on.

The third day I recovered some of my common sense and limited myself to another 6.5 mile hike.

But not wanting to take this common-sense nonsense too far, I immediately jumped off with a climb

up the switch-backing Overlook Trail.

Being pretty crap at this videoing stuff I managed to cut myself off mid-sentence at the end of this one. As I was trying to say before I so rudely interrupted myself - as with most climbs you can't really see the top until you get there, and it's always farther than you expect.

They are doing some serious work here at South Llano.

Used to be, and still is today but not for much longer, just after turning off the highway into the park you cross the South Llano River on a low-water crossing. I guess because more people that don't know about these things are moving into the state, they are building an actual bridge across the river right now.

They also put a swooptydoo in the middle of the entrance road and are building a new park headquarters in the space they created.

There will certainly be plenty of parking, and I suppose it will be more efficient and all,

but it will be kinda sad to see the current headquarters with its space for a half-dozen cars and two RV's abandoned.

Right now headquarters in one of the original ranch-houses.

In fact the check-in area is in the old living-room and entered from the front porch, which has a certain elegant symmetry to it since this is exactly were visitors have been received for close to two hundred years.

But I guess they'd rather spend money on "modernizing" facilities than rehabbing and protecting land.

Just this month the state lost yet another state park. It was on leased land and the new owners wish to turn the lake and shoreline currently occupied by the public park into an exclusive gated community for a few rich asswipes people with more money than sense of social responsibility.

Oh well. one of the purposes of an upcoming project of mine is to keep on hiking, even if I have to go into evermore remote places to do so.

Monday, March 13, 2023

Squeezing the Last Out of My State Park Pass


My Annual Texas State Park pass was set to expire at the end of January.

Yes, it's easy enough to renew the thing on-line, but I have stuff coming up that may limit my camping opportunities for a few months. That would be long enough to get us into summer and I don't usually camp around here during the summer what with the heat and too many free-range rug-rats running around!

Since the pass is an annual thing that expires 13 months after the purchase date (they round the expiration date up to the last day of the following month so plan on buying it early in the month to get the most days out of it. Buy it early in February and it will expire at the end of March next year.) I can't see spending money on it during times I'm not going to be using it. But at the same time I have a few weeks left on my current pass and I can't see wasting that either.

So it was time for a trip and South Llano State Park won the coin-toss.

I've been here before and would have liked to get campsite 21 because it is somewhat off on its own, but it was already booked. In fact I checked out as far as the reservation system would let me, some 9 months or so, and it was booked solid all the way out, which seems a little fishy.

As a fall-back I decided to try site 19 because it is only flanked by another site on the one side, and has quick and easy access out the back of the site to the trail-system.

It worked out pretty well and I'd book it again.

The adjoining site 17 is mostly out of sight behind the tangled vegetation to the left in this photo and the overflow/walk-in camping parking lot to the right was also out of sight yet reachable by slipping out the back corner of my campsite (kinda off there behind my right shoulder) and from there the park's trail system was waiting for me.

While I was sitting there in my chair chilling that first evening I glanced over and for a brief moment thought I was seeing the ribs of a tiny little skeleton laying nearby.

I found it mildly amusing that A) I was fooled by the trickery of my eye and a handful of dead leaves still attached to their stem and B) technically it was a skeleton, just of a plant and not an animal.

Unlike my December trip to Garner State Park, mid January here at South Llano was more sun than wet clouds.

And bum foot or not, in my usual "what the hell was he thinking?" fashion,

my first hike of the trip attacked the climb up into the hills flanking the river head-on.

Despite being winter and chilly enough that I was juggling layers, there was plenty of color and interest for those willing to slow down enough to notice.

Last time I was here the hike-in camping area had been all but abandoned and didn't even show up on the reservation system,

but there has clearly been some refurbishing done since and the four or five backpacking sites have been added back into the reservation system.

Although - the brand new, probably expensive, map-board they put up just outside the hike-in camping area

probably could have used a little proof-reading - - Unless they really do mean for people to shut the hell up during the day!

And yes, being a detail-kinda-person I notice things like this.

By the time I came back down out of the hills it was well into the allowable hours to go into the protected turkey roost area near the river. (open for people access between 1000 and 1500) In fact it was late enough that I kinda had to hustle to get back out before the 1500 deadline.

Back when this was a working ranch the pecans along the river bottom provided a nice additional income. Now they have aged past their prime but still provide plenty of habitat and roosting perches.

But it's the wrong time of day for turkeys which are still out and about on the prowl, but spotting this Osprey was pretty cool.