Monday, November 24, 2014

One time too many!!

I've walked away from the van on my way to go kayaking or hiking only to have to return again just one too many times because I've left something behind.

You would think that I'd have this down by now, but I can't count how many times I've started off on an adventure without my hiking stick, or the binoculars, and once even without trail food! (What a near disaster that was!! I mean how am I supposed to maintain this hard-won girth without trail food??)

You could be unnecessarily cruel and say it's just a sign of the ages, specifically my own age, but I'd like to point out that commercial airline pilots use written checklists for just about everything, even though they've gone through the process hundreds of times before.

So when I got back from my last little trip I created a simple checklist. First I made one for kayaking and a separate one for hiking, but most of the items on one list were also on the other, so, since I think I can figure out on my own that if I'm heading out on a hike I don't really need to pack the kayak and life jacket, I combined them into a single list.

The list itself is pretty simple.

I don't need detailed notes (At least not yet.) to remember that when I take the kayak I also need to take the various dry bags, paddle, pump, etc. that go along with it, and clothing will depend on the weather. (Clearly I don't need a wool hat and gloves on a summer day and it's pretty ingrained in me that 'clothes' means to always carry one more outer layer than I'm wearing in case I end up unexpectedly overnighting.)

Since my pack is always loaded with things like water, poncho, and river shoes, I don't need to list that stuff separately. And, though generally I'm not a fan of duplication, in some cases it makes perfect sense, so both the pack and the life jacket are always stocked with their own dedicated bug juice, sunscreen, fire starter, compass, first aid and emergency whistle, so that sort of stuff is also taken care of. (Yes I always take the pack with me in the kayak but suppose I fall out and the kayak, with pack, gets away from me?? Not that I'm planning on falling out and letting the kayak get away from me, but in the event I ever manage to pull that stunt I'll still have the life jacket and all the gear stowed in it.)

So, after pondering my list until I think I have it right, doing a touch of formatting, running it through the printer and taking the scissors to it, I'm good to go.

So my new list doesn't end up ignored in the bottom of drawer somewhere or so crinkled up and dirty I can't read it, I picked up a package of self-stick photo laminating sheets, the 3 x 4 size, for a few bucks along with some Command poster strips (Sticky on both sides) and mounted the laminated list on the outside of the kitchen cupboard (Circled in red above.) so it's right in my face when standing outside the open side door where I can make one last check before locking up the van and setting out on my merry way. And, as a bonus, there's plenty of room left over for mounting additional lists, which may very well become necessary as the years march on. . .

So now we'll see how effective this list is at preventing extra trips back to the van.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Colorado Bend State Park; An interlude along the river, The chilly conclusion

This morning the sun, still hiding behind the bluffs on the east side of the river, was showing promise,

but from where I was standing, shivering in my boots, it seemed more like a cruel taunt!

But being the real he-man (stubborn fool) that I am, I girded my loins, (At least I think that's what I girded but there was a lot of shrinkage so it was hard to tell!) geared up and hoofed it down to the southern most point of the state park where I picked up the Spicewood Canyon Trail.

I had my choice of either the canyon or springs trail, or I could have made a nice little 3 mile loop out of going up one and down the other, but the springs trail is another one of those weave-back-and-forth-across-the-creek-get-your-feet-wet propositions and standing there while an icy wind raced down the river gorge and cut right through my layers I just wasn't that motivated, so I took the canyon trail which stays up on the rim, well away from most the wet stuff.

There were plenty of nice views from up there so it's not like I cheated myself or anything.

Besides, the creek-side trails, both this one and the one I skipped yesterday for the same reason, will still be there another day.

It was a little disturbing though to look out across the hillsides and see those large swaths of grey out there.

The persistent drought much of Texas has been experiencing has been tough on even the hardy cedar and the Cedar Bark Beetle has been killing them off in patches all over the state.

The beetles get into the sapwood and leave tracks under the bark, not too unlike these in the photo above, but these 'tracks' pictured here are actually in/on stone. Not being a geologist I can't give a detailed explanation of how this happens, but it's pretty cool anyway. 

 As I continue to climb (And climb, and climb!) up the canyon rim I can look back and get glimpses of Spicewood Creek far below, and out there in the distance, showing as a tiny, light colored slash below the peak in the middle of the horizon, is a hint of the Colorado River right where it's rounding the bend below the bluff to the left and heading down the slot between that bluff and the one in the center of the photo.

 While I was standing there getting that shot of the creek and river, I heard something wallowing around way on down below and thought there were some hikers on the creek trail below me, but when I zoomed in for a better look I discovered it was a surprisingly noisy trio of deer instead.

As long as I was standing there, (OK, OK, after a dozen miles yesterday and a couple hundred foot climb so far this morning, standing still for a while wasn't so much an indulgence as a necessity!)  I spent some time scoping the creek looking for signs of the trail I'm sure I'll hike one day.

One of the crossings, (See the trail blaze there on the right side of the photo?) didn't look like it would be all that wet, but I wasn't about to give up my hard-gained altitude to go down and check out any of the other crossing for degree of wetness!

Not today anyway.

Instead I hiked the canyon trail up to it's high point at a road crossing, where I crossed (Duh!) and picked up the Lemon Ridge Pass Trail for a long but mostly gentle drop back down to the River Trail which would then take me back to camp.

In addition to just enjoying the outdoors and the solitude (Today I didn't see a single person, not even back at the campground.) I ran across a few interesting things.

Like this tiny little tree with it's bold, well defined leaves, one of them showing just a hint of fall color. (In case it's confusing, that's the head of my hiking stick next to it.)

And this poor little guy.

He was just laying out in the open on the trail without a mark on him.

An overlooked snack just laying there completely unmolested; which isn't something you see everyday.
It made me wonder what the story was.

Did he heroically lead everyone else in the band through the dark and stormy night to safety, only to have his body give out before he could make it himself?? Or maybe he's from the other end of the spectrum and went on a bender last night and the cold felled him before he could stumble all the way home??. . .

On a more upbeat note, at one point the clouds thinned enough for the sun to light up the spines on this healthy prickly pear long enough for me to get a shot of it. (Well, 5 or 6 shots, but this was the best of them.)

After 6 slow and contemplative miles I wandered back into camp mid-afternoon, but it was still colder than a witches tit, (Though that's just hearsay since, to the best of my knowledge, I've never had any part of a witches anatomy in hand before.) so I retreated to the van for some hot cocoa and a little civilized amusement.

During my last pilgrimage to Cabela's I stumbled across a 10-pack of assorted puzzles, all Terry Redlin images, (Think of him as the country cousin of Thomas Kinkade.) for about $2 per puzzle. Now that's a pretty good deal, (Though my recent best was a 500 piece in an old-fashioned sealed tin for 50 cents I found at, of all places, a Hallmark Fabric store!) but the thing that caught my eye was that the set included a couple of 100 piece puzzles that would fit in a sandwich sized Ziploc bag when in pieces and on a standard sheet of paper when assembled.

Just the thing for the van where there's not a whole lot of flat-spots to spread out on and no place to store a partially assembled monster puzzle while cooking dinner!

And this has to be the epitome of lazy!!

I was finishing out my day, kicked back in my chair with my feet propped up on the gaucho, and noticed something on my sock. Instead of going to all the effort of leaning forward to check it out, I picked up the camera, which was conveniently at hand, flipped open the LED viewfinder and zoomed in on the object to verify that it was indeed a burr and worth the struggle to bend over and remove. . .

Friday, November 21, 2014

Colorado Bend State Park; An interlude along the river, Part 2

I didn't realize when I set out on the River Trail this chilly morning that I was going real-estate shopping.

but turns out there's a small track along the east bank of the river (I'm over on the west bank.) reachable via a circuitous combination of county and private roads, and jammed into the space between the track on the river side and the bluffs above are some properties.

Clearly the majority of these are weekend places and, given the track's proximity to the river and the fact that the nearest dam is about 100 miles upstream, I would guess that the handful of permanent residences are kept well stocked unless the occupants don't mind running out of beer and toilet paper when the track is impassable.

Since this is not a place you're going to end up passing by on a casual Sunday drive, I can only assume the for sale sign is intended for park visitors that happen to be hiking this section of trail. Though, admittedly, it's a nice place down here along the river so that strategy just might work.

The first section of the River Trail is more track than trail, probably to make maintaining the hike-in campground a little easier for the park personnel.

Since a whole group of bloggers I follow have been recently wandering around the arches of southern Utah I couldn't resist including this photo of my own arch encounter. . .

In the mid to late 1800's, before ranching became the area's main economy, the flats above the river, cedar flats like the ones inside the red polygon above, were logged for - well - cedar, and when the old-growth was depleted and what was left was unsuitable for timbers it was cooked into charcoal in ovens built on site.

In addition to the 'Cedar Wars' fought between the various groups harvesting the limited resource, getting the lumber and charcoal out of this remote area and to the end user was a challenge. The solution in this neck of the woods was to build a narrow gauge railroad that connected with more established transportation systems.

Although there's no plaques or other information, (It's a shame how much history gets lost. . .) I suspect that these 'culverts' (I found two of them.) along the River Trail may once have been boilers from either the small steam engines that ran on those rails or maybe from stationary engines used in the business of logging.


The heads of these rivets are a good inch and a quarter in diameter. Can you imagine being the guy that climbed inside the 3' diameter boiler to buck the hundreds of red hot rivets used to hold it together?!!!!

The geology of this part of Texas consists primarily of limestone laid down some 100 million years ago. Since then water has had plenty of time to do it's thing and there are loads of caves under the surface of the Edwards Plateau. The water that seeps through all that filtering limestone might be very hard and full of dissolved minerals, but it's also very clear.

Sheltered from any wind that might raise ripples, it's difficult at first to see the water in this photo.

Water that was probably a surface stream back up on the plateau somewhere, but which then seeped underground and eventually resurfaced at this opening just a hundred feet or so from the river it soon falls into.

 At one point along the trail bicyclists are warned to get off and walk their bikes across this narrow ledge

and it's not until you get to the other side and turn around that you can see there's another stream-cut cave under there.

From this angle it looks like all this could have been deliberately laid by talented stone masons, but I checked, and it's natural.

And yes, I went a few feet into the cave, but only a few feet. . .

But some streams around here stay above ground, at least for a while. This is Gorman Creek that runs above ground for nearly a mile before spilling into the river at Gorman Falls. There's a trail following the creek up to the point where it emerges from the limestone. I walked this trail partway up, to the second creak crossing, then decided that since I was 5 miles from camp and it was chilly, I didn't feel much like wading, so decided to save the rest of this hike for another day and turned around.

Even though it was chilly enough that the thought of splashing around in the water wasn't too appealing, in the 4 hours or so since I left camp (My average speed when I'm hiking is right around a blistering 1.2 to 1.4 miles per hour! ) it had warmed enough that I took this opportunity to strip down and get rid of the tights I had on under my pants. Power walking, even at my snail pace, is warm work!!

My timing was close because shortly after I got myself all put back together again I encountered my first people of the day, a father/son duo that didn't have the same qualms about getting wet in Gorman Creek as I did and continued on up the trail past me.

What with a couple fronts lurking in the fringes of that polar vortex, it was fairly windy and on my way back down the Gorman Spring trail I found this nest laying at my feet.

It wasn't until I turned it over that I realized much of the underlying structure of the nest was made up of a shed snakeskin. That must have been quite a job for a bird small enough to build this nest to haul up there!!

This guy, a Black Vulture, was hanging around overhead near where I found the nest, but it clearly wasn't her's! I don't think she could have fit a single foot inside this tiny nest!

I remember a whole tree full of vultures hanging around like this over my Uncle's travel trailer in Big Bend National Park quite a few years ago. They perched and flapped and hopped around like big, black, untidy Christmas ornaments that couldn't quite figure out where they looked best. My Uncle wasn't very happy with the way they were looking at him and I have to admit, this one didn't look all that friendly either as she hopped from branch to branch accompanying me for a little bit of my journey.

I know I'm getting older and I'm way past pretty,  but do I really look like I'm about to collapse into road-kill??

The public show piece of Colorado Bend State Park is Gorman falls.

 Unlike most creeks which cut their way through low ground to the nearest river, Gorman Creek wanders across the flat top of a bluff and then simply spreads out and falls over the edge.

As you can imagine, the trail down to the base of this popular destination is steep. (This is where I saw 4 of the 6 people I encountered all day.) To make it even more fun, all those feet have polished the limestone into something slicker than snot!! I don't care how aggressive or sticky your boot soles are, they are not going to grab onto this stuff and if you aren't careful you're going to be looking up at your skyward-pointing feet as your butt slams on down the rocks! Fortunately the park service has installed steel cables along the drop with which to lower yourself hand over hand. Of course you also have to pull yourself back up out of there too!!

On it's drop to the river below, the water of Gorman Creek sheds some of its high mineral content and creates these amazingly delicate stone curtains

And of course, even in the driest of times around here, the vegetation under the falls is thick and lush.

Having traveled the park from one end to the other I started making my way back towards camp, but instead of just backtracking the River Trail I made a wide loop by detouring up Gorman Road Trail,  eventually traversing a section of Cedar Breaks Trail and picking up Dogleg Canyon Trail which would ultimately take me back down to the river.

The climb up Gorman Road Trail isn't terribly steep but it is relentless and you have to question the sanity of a person that willingly slogs up all that altitude only to turn right around and trudge back downhill to the same level they started at. . . .

Along the way I came across a couple cave openings, one a little larger than a manhole and the other a narrow crack that only a dedicated spelunker could love, and I swear I took photos, but there was nothing in my camera between Gorman Falls and this shot of the abrupt upper end of Dogleg Canyon where the plateau just suddenly drops out from under your feet.

It's hard to judge from a photo, but that's about 40' nearly straight down, maybe one or two bounces along the way if you don't manage to jump out far enough.

Based on my uneducated interpretation, I would guess that I'm standing over a cave right there and the section between me and the river collapsed in a spectacular roar some time in the distant past, creating the canyon.

Whatever the nature of the event that created Dogleg Canyon, it left behind one or two balanced rocks.

Here the telephoto shot has compressed distances and the cabin is actually farther away than it looks and on the other side of the river, which is still about 300 feet below me at this point.

I'd been out there on my feet with a heavy pack on my back all day (My pack, gear and 4 liters of water weigh in at about 25 lbs. And these aren't 25 gym pounds either! These are slogging up and down the trail, scrambling over rock, all day on your back, pounds which are much heavier!!) when I spotted a straight line through the scrub some 150 yards or so off the trail. Straight lines are not natural but given the time of day, the number of miles I'd already covered and my state of tiredness, I was tempted to just ignore it.

But instead I maned up, reminded myself that I may not be by this way again, and left the trail to go find out what was up.

I'm still not any wiser as to just what this thing was sitting out here in this lonely spot.

I don't think it was a windmill base, it's a little too overbuilt for that and there's no sign of a well.

Although pretty massive with it's 12 inch thick wing walls and eight 1 inch bolts that have since been cut off with a torch, it seems too small for a watch tower of some sort.

And all I could find in the surrounding area was a single 15' 12x12 timber laying half buried.

But as least as I trudged my weary way back to the trail I could revel in the fact that I came, I saw, and I tried.

So,  with my most recent sense of accomplishment holding my head just a little higher, I continued to trudge heavily down towards the river.

You know it's been a long hike when two and half miles to go means you're almost there!!!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Problem solving

OK, it's only  a little problem and not worth receiving any awards over, but it still needed to be solved!

The setup:

A couple successive nights of hard freeze are forecast; I don't want to winterize the van since I'll be using it through the winter; There's a 27' 7000 lb. travel trailer sitting in the way on the RV pad; The travel trailer is winterized and doesn't need to use it but my 25' shore-power cord won't stretch the 45' needed to reach from the van to the RV power post.

The solution:


The only other power available to run the little 1000 watt electric heater I use to keep the inside of the van from getting down to freezing is inside the barn. After unreeling the 20 amp power cord and carefully laying it so the barn doors don't pinch anything when I close them, I connected it to the van's shore power cord via a 20 to 30 amp adapter. A couple buckets keep the decidedly non-weather proof, (Not even weather resistant!) conglomeration protected.

It doesn't look very elegant but it did the job.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Colorado Bend State Park: An interlude along the river, Part 1

First off, to avoid confusion among those not Texan, this is the Colorado River of Texas, not that other one.

It's 862 miles makes it some 600 miles shorter than that other Colorado River but it's still the 18th longest river in the US and begins, ends and flows entirely within, the state of Texas.

When I tried to make reservations at another park only to find it was full up even mid week in early November, I exhibited my remarkable ability to think fast, adapt to changing conditions on the fly, and make quick decisions then follow through on those decisions, and switched my focus to the Colorado Bend State Park instead.

OK, OK; before I buy into my own hype and risk my head swelling to the point of explosion here, I've actually had my eye on this park for quite some time and since I didn't want to waste a good looking forecast (For hiking anyway, though it was going to be way too cold for kayaking since a polar vortex was sweeping into the area!) it was pretty much a no brainer to switch directions.

The park lists 15 drive up sites (I'm pretty sure they're counting the campground host site in that 15.) yet at the time I make my reservation the system shows only 3 reservable sites still available and I quickly grab one of them, falling well within the published allowable limits of a maximum 30 foot self-contained rig. A full campground isn't ideal but there's some 32 miles of official trail within the park so it shouldn't be too bad.

There's no hookups in this park, the toilets are composting units and, though the web site says there's a shower available, it's a single, open-air rinse-off shower that I'm pretty sure I would not be availing myself of in the 30 to 50 degree weather that was forecast!

The web site also warns that most GPS's won't get you there so don't even try. Well I guess I'm old school since I use my GPS to tell me where I'm at, and from there do my own orienteering, and I drive by looking out the windshield and not listening to some sexy voice trying to pilot me right out into the middle of a corn field. Must be working because so far I've never driven down a boat-launch and drowned my vehicle while trying to get to the other side of the lake and there is a surprising number of people that can't say that!

On the big day I made my way to Bend Texas, some 25 miles west of Lampasas and the only river crossing in some 70 miles. In downtown Bend, at the corner of FM580 and CR442 I passed Bad Bob's Convenience Store and Saloon, the only commercial establishment in sight, and prepared to hit the 4 miles of gravel county road to the park entrance, followed by 6 miles of unimproved dirt road through the 5300 acre park to the headquarters and campground.

Doesn't look much like an unimproved dirt road to me. . .
Just like the road leading into our home, the county roads here clearly used to be access roads within one of the larger ranches until divvying up the land among the relatives forced creating public easements so all the inherited ranchets would have access to public roads. And of course the county is more than willing to take ownership of these 'roads' if it means spurring development which increases property taxes!

Also like our road, they are cut into sections by cattle guards with open range between. But somewhere along the line the road fairies must have gotten involved because instead of gravel they were seal-coated right up to the park entrance. And that promised 6 miles of unimproved dirt within the park itself? Well that was even better paved than the county roads!

And remember when I took one of the last three reservable sites??  Well I don't know what that was all about!!!

This is a photo of the 8 back-in sites on the river side of a natural bench above a bend in the river  (The river is over there to the left). As you can see, there's me and, a few sites farther down, a couple sleeping rough in the back of their pickup.

This photo, which I took while standing near the host campsite, shows the drive-up sites along the bluff side of that bench above the river. As you can see these are more suited to tent camping than rig camping as the parking pads are little more than 20 - 25' deep. And if you look close here you can see one more vehicle way down there towards the end of the road. And that was it for the the drive-up campsites. Three of 14 occupied not counting the host site.

Of the 28 walk-in tent sites, most located on another bench down closer to the river, only two were occupied, and that was the first day, by the third, other than the host I was the only camper in the park.

I guess that threat about the road conditions getting in here keeps the crowds down. Humm, on second thought, you know that bit I wrote about the roads being paved now??? Let's just keep that a secret. OK?

I was a few hours ahead of that polar vortex the afternoon I arrived at the campground and temps were in the high 60's under a largely cloudless sky, so I spent the rest of the daylight hours strolling a mile or so downriver to the day-use area and back, then lounging around in my chair with a small tub of humus, a handful of crackers and couple magazines under a convenient tree.

This time of year is burr season and I'm always getting stuck with the dang things because they end up populating my bootlaces and, of course, I forget until they're embedded in my fingertips and I'm dancing around muttering and spitting things I can't repeat around Mom, but there are burrs and there are burrs.  These things were the size of grapes!

I kept my distance and my bootlaces were thankfully monster-burr free. . .

And I have no idea what this thing is called but it sure was interesting, with large, bold green leaves, smaller, shiny deep red leaves, round berries of some sort on long drooping stalks with larger spiky balls shading them, and even little red globs of some sort of thick petaled flower that looks like it has been squeezed out of some of the spiked balls.


The Colorado is no longer a wild river, but from here the nearest dam is about 100 miles upstream and even several years into a severe drought there are signs of occasional high water. It's pretty wade-able right now, but this is flash flood country so it's worth keeping an eye on the weather upstream, especially if you have somewhere to be since there are several low-water crossings on the road into here.

 I'm also told that the low water flow of the past several years has created a bar across the mouth of the river where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico that has been preventing some of the game fish from entering the river to spawn. Though that has obviously not deterred these determined fishermen.