Monday, July 19, 2021

Run Forrest - Run !

 Although yesterday's little experiment in evening hiking didn't go quite as I had envisioned, after my hike up Eagle Point Trail to the canyon rim and back today, tonight (Apr 27) I'm going to repeat the evening experiment again.

After all, you often can't tell after the first viewing if a new TV show is going to work for you or not. Sometimes it takes several episodes to figure it out, and I'm willing to give evening hikes the same consideration.

So, despite yesterday evening's Bison-inturuptus episode, tonight I'm back out there again - you know, just to see.

Same trail, because it's handy, - and yet another hasty retreat - although for a different reason this time - 

Despite a day with frequent rumbles of thunder and a few passing storms, things are looking pretty good as I head out into the evening.

But frequently changing visibility up the canyon is a reminder that there are no weather guarantees this time of year.

Lit by the setting sun, which should have been behind me, this would have been a pretty spectacular shot, but instead the sky has gotten cloud-heavy so it is what it is.

Speaking of photos, there aren't that many in this post because on the way out the light wasn't all that great and on the way back conditions weren't very conducive to taking the time for photography.

Yep - after a couple miles and eight river crossings (I don't know why but eight seems to be the magic number when it comes to river crossings here in Texas State Parks!) I'm approaching the head-end of the canyon now.

Nope - I have no intention of climbing the face of that Mildly Terrifying ridge there in the background this evening,

I'm only going to go far enough up its base

to get a respectable view back down the canyon towards camp.

That's the Guardian out there under the arrow, and I'm not sure why she's so intent on reminding me of my place in her world this particular trip, but right about now the distant thunder has gotten more frequent, less distant, and harder to ignore.

So I head back to camp.

About the time I hit this trail-marker - a mile and a half from camp - the thunder was crowding in up my backside and the occasional stray rain-drop turned into a light sprinkle, so I picked up the pace.

Now I have been packing my rain-gear along this entire trip because of the unsettled spring weather - but right now I just don't feel like stopping to drag it out and pull it on unless I absolutely have to, so I pull the tail of my shirt up to drape it over my camera which is hanging off my pack's hip-belt and step on the accelerator just a little more.

By the time I hit the next river-crossing a quarter-mile later the thunder is just about to slap me up the back of my head and the rain is becoming more persistent.

Also by this time I have stepped it up even more and am actually running!

Funny how yesterday, when being chased by an angry Bison bull, I hustled along but came nowhere near an actual, both-feet-off-the-ground-at-the-same-time run, but tonight the benign hassle of downing-pack, digging out rain-gear, dragging on said rain-gear, and hoisting pack again has me clipping along like one of those holier-than-thou health-nuts out for their daily half-marathon.

Hell, I didn't even know I could still run!

As I've aged there has been very little call for such an undignified activity so why bother?

OK, truth is I was never much of a runner regardless of my age. I ran so little that humping along in fatigues and full battle-gear as I attempted to pass the military requirement of a sub-seven minute mile some 50 years ago still sticks out in my mind as one of my memorable, and hardly enjoyable, runs. (And yes, I passed first time, even if it nearly killed me, because I was NOT going to put up with having to come back and try it again tomorrow!)

There is an episode of Midsummer Murders that opens with a woman out for her morning jog through the village and she just floats effortlessly along with her forward leg reaching impossibly far out in front of her at every gliding step as she gracefully gobbles up the distance.

Yeah - No - that's not me!

I'm sure, despite the idealized image in my head, that I'm all awkward angles, knobby knees, thudding footsteps, and jiggly flesh, but I'm still shocked that I'm covering ground as fast as I am - and not killing myself in the process!

Here I am, shaking off the shackles of age until I'm running at an amazing (to me anyways) clip along the undulating trail with a 15 pound pack on my back, three pound boots on my feet, and one pumping hand clutching my hiking sticks while the other keeps my shirttail in place over the camera!

I have no idea where all that is coming from but I'm chuffed and I'll take it! (OK, so maybe a little holier-than-thou too, since not all that puffed out chest is due to breathing) 

By the time I reach the shelter over the info-plaques at the trailhead I am winded, but not bent-over-hands-on-knees-fall-on-face-and-gasp-for-ambulance winded.

The rain is coming down pretty good by now but since I've just proven I'm up to it - no big deal. With my key in hand for a quick entry, I launch myself out from under cover and run the last couple-hundred feet to The Van where I enter her shelter slightly damp - OK mildly wet - in age-shedding triumph.

You know what? - This evening hiking stuff isn't really so bad after all!!

Monday, July 12, 2021

What a Conundrum - Lightning or Flash Flood !


If you only have time to do one trail here at Caprock Canyons State Park I would recommend the Eagle Point Trail.

If you don't have a shuttle-vehicle it's an out-and-back round trip of 4 miles spanning the full gamete terrain from the canyon rim to the canyon bottom.

That's Eagle Point over there, and the trail itself starts on the other side, the east side of the point.

What looks like a trail there to the left of the sign is just people wandering off into an aimless maze of pathways here on the west side of Eagle Point

But to make things slightly confusing, trailhead parking at the lower end is on this side, the west side of the point,

and there's no official pathway connecting the parking with the trail so you have to walk the road for a short bit to get from one to the other.

Just to make things interesting there's a blind-curve in either direction and a narrow bridge with guard-rails right up against the pavement on both sides that must be crossed along the way.

Gets your heart pumping when you're halfway across and you hear tires on the road!

And it's not much better at the other end of the trail up there near Lake Theo.

Even though there is a road right there in front of the trailhead, there's no parking adjacent to it. The parking is over in front of the amphitheater.

From there you walk a quarter mile west along the rim of the canyon and around the corner of the fence-line to get to the trail.

So why then, given these challenges, do I recommend this trail?

Because, not only does it traverse the entire range of terrain here in the park, it's the only one in the park with info-plaques along the way that will teach you something about this place.

Although I am reserving judgement on that "Prairie Pals" statement made here since I'm not sure just how much "pal" can actually be found in this bull.

And keeping a minimum of 50 yards distance? Apparently Bison don't read these signs - - - or maybe they just play a different kind of football - - -

Since I was here last several of these have been added along the trail too, which is pretty cool when you think about it!

Though, given the iffy weather, I'm not sure how much beauty there was in my "beauty" shots.

That iffy weather, including unpredictable pop-up thunderstorms, is why I chose this modest little hike for this morning.

Of course it would have been a lot more modest if I was smart enough to use The Van to get myself to the trailhead in the first place instead of covering the distance on foot - - - but apparently I'm not - - -smart enough that is - - -

In fact, by the time I got to the trailhead I had already covered exactly the one-way distance of the trail itself, turning this four mile out-and-back into an eight mile hike.

But let's be honest, if I really minded the extra boot wear

I would have gotten the keys out in the first place.

If you have really good eyes, when you look out across there

you would be able to see this. (I shot this from the same spot as the previous photo but this time using all 200X of my max zoom - handheld! I really like my little camera.)

These little circular enclosures are called exclusion zones and are a tool used by the range managers. By comparing the state of the vegetation inside to that outside they can gauge just how much effect the Bison are having on the surrounding landscape and from that, when it's time to encourage them to move on by adjusting the water supply. 

Speaking of Bison - So pretty!

But this is the spot where, on a previous hike a few years ago, three Bison ghosted up over that rise up there and ambled their way down the trail right at me, forcing me to quickly scramble into the scrub off to the right to get out of their way.

So I wasn't really in the mood to linger here today, even though today's hike had been Bison free - so far.

Nope! Those steel cutouts fooled me once, the first time I approached the amphitheater, but not this time.

By the way, see all those black dots in the sky over on the left? That's not dust on the lens.

These are the missing Cliff Swallows!

Thousands of them!

And very fast too.

They used to nest up in the rafters of the pavilion here, making it pretty much uninhabitable for us humans for part of the year. Obviously that practice has now been discouraged with some ladders and scraping tools, but not to worry. There's plenty of cliff-faces just down there below the rim the amphitheater sits on for them to build nests under.

Just outside the pavilion I picked the best seat in the house for the show,

but it looks like I might have a long wait, and as a result of the day-time heating I can hear thunder grumbling all around me. - Yep, Just like that! (As I was writing this while standing near the open door of the barn thunder was rumbling in from the west and heading this way.)

The meteorologist we listen to in the morning back home is fond of pointing out that lightning can reach out as much as 15 miles, so if you can hear thunder you are within striking distance.

When choosing between potential lightning strikes up here on the canyon rim or flash-flooding down below, I'll pick flash-flooding every time!

So instead of wandering over to Theo Lake as I had originally planned while I was up here today, I decided it would be smarter to get myself off this exposed, and lightning-strike-prone, canyon rim and deal with potential flash floods down below instead.


So the grumbling in the sky tells me it's time to go - now!

Oh crap! That one in the distance is not a steel silhouette cutout!

And, of course, some - OK, Had to edit that. Now I'll be nice and just call them 'some individual' -  just got out of that car and is holding a yappy little dog in one arm while trying to record the "cut little cow" with a tablet one-handed just out of frame to the right. Well at least if the dog gets loose it will be a distraction as I slip on by

and head back down into the canyon.

That's Eagle Point out there left of center, two miles away.

OK, If anyone knows why I took this photo of my boots please let me know, because I don't - - -

I do know why I took this photo where the trail dips down through one of the many small water-sheds.

Can you see it up there?

How 'bout now?

I've had more Bison encounters in the first couple days of this trip than all my previous trips combined, and apparently it's not letting up yet!

What did I do wrong?!

Is this some kind of karmic hell? Or maybe it's some sort of twisted karmic reward?

Whatever it is, as long as he stays put as I slip through between him and this watering-hole I'll take it.

OK, I've made it back to the trailhead - still mostly dry-booted and completely un-shocked - and now I have a choice between two miles of relatively easy road back to The Van

or one more mile of - let's call it more rugged - trail before having to resort to the road.

Was there every any question which I would choose?

Well, yeah, there was. Or at least should have been because, while the road so neatly avoids it by crossing on a nice terrain-leveling bridge, the trail drops sharply to get across the river. And, of course, where there's a sharp drop there's often an equally sharp climb on the other side.

So when I hit the river after nearly seven miles of hiking and was looking up at the climb ahead and thinking about that nice gentle road-bridge I was seriously questioning my ability to make smart choices. - But too late now!


We're climbing.

           And we're climbing.

                      Sure it's hard but we're scratching-the-groove.*

                                 Just don't look up! 

* Excerpt from a previous post explaining 'the groove': "We are all born with a shallow groove which is where the toughness, fortitude, and resolve we need for dealing with physical and mental challenges lives, and every time we face one of these challenges it scratches that groove just a little bit deeper, giving us a little bit more of that toughness, fortitude, and resolve to work with next time."


You looked up!

Apparently my groove isn't as deep as I thought it was, so stormy threat or not, I think this calls for a break before we finish up those last couple miles back to camp.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Well That Didn't Go Quite As Planned !

 OK. So this is what I get for trying something new!

Turns out evening hikes may not be all they're cracked up to be!

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Right now (Apr 26) I have about two hours left until pretty-dang-dark. Just time enough, I thought, for any easy 3 mile, out and back, stroll along the flat section of the Upper South Prong Trail.

That would get me past the backpacking camp to the base of Mildly Terrifying. Which I had absolutely no intention of tackling this evening!

The view up the canyon from the trailhead didn't show a lot of promise for a photo-worthy sunset, but it is what it is.

It should still be a pleasant, if unusual for me, way to spend the evening.

At least that was the plan - until -

 Uh Oh!

I'm not even a half-mile up the trail when this guy wanders into my path.

No! Literally! That's the trail there under his feet and he chose this moment to step out onto it.  Like he'd been reading my diary and was lurking behind a bush this evening just waiting for me to come along.

He's one of the two bachelor-bulls wandering around this end of the park at the moment.

One of them, so a ranger tells me, is pretty mild and sweet, the other - not so much.

Think unsupervised, frustrated, angst-ridden, angry teenage boy.

And guess which one this is!

I tried to reason with him.

I told him that if he just moved over a little I would slip on by and go on my way, leaving him alone, but he ignored my diplomatic efforts by plopping down right in my way and proceeding to take a dust-bath.

You might think, this being the canyon floor, that I could easily detour around him to 'go on my way', but you'd be wrong!

The canyon floor is a complex network of steep gullies, sharp rises, and thick - well - thickets of sharp, prickly stuff. 

So you know what?!

When looking back I can't quite see camp from here so maybe it's OK to just turn around and cut this hike short, because - you know - I'm not all that into evening hikes in the first place.

So I turn around with the intent of cutting this experiment short.

At least that was the idea, but then, after a few steps towards the sanctuary of The Van I look over my shoulder and - 

Holy Crap on a Cracker!!

Oh man! I really hope that was only a fart that just blasted out of me! If this keeps up maybe I should start carrying spare underwear when I'm hiking!

OK. So he may be more trotting than running, but either way, with his four legs to my two he is definitely covering ground faster than me!

So I stop screwing around with the camera and pick up my own pace, looking for a high spot I can scramble up.

Not that he can't also climb that bank over there, but at least it will slow him down some. (And no, I wasn't taking photos at the time. I took this shot of my 'refuge' after the fact.)

Fortunately, once I veered off the trail he didn't follow, but he did take his own sweet time lingering around down there just below me (And I'm pretty sure I heard him chuckling.)

before finally wandering over the bank and down into the river-bed, far away - OK, somewhat away -  from the trail but pretty dang close to camp. (Notice the red tent there in the background.)

At this point, since a furtive check showed my underwear was still clean-ish, I had two choices when I eased myself back down off that high-ground to the now, and hopefully future-ly, vacant trail. I could either slink back to camp or buck-up and resume my interrupted hike.

Yeah, that's right,

smart or not, I "bucked-up", retraced my steps to the scene of The Chase, and resumed said interrupted hike.

And I know I heard some snickering from The Guardian as I went by her with my heart still at runaway speed.

And yes, it's pretty pathetic, but after all I went through to get here I was going to get my sunset-from-the-trail photo - dang it!