Monday, September 28, 2020

Trail Detritus

(Note: This all happened on a trip in Feb 2020, before Corona. For now my trail-trash-collecting is on hiatus until all this crap settles down again.)
When I hike I move The Van's key from my pant's pocket down to one of the flap-covered thigh pockets on my cargo pants where it won't fall out even if/when I go ass-over-teakettle while tumbling down a hill. (If I'm falling down a cliff I'm not likely to need my key again but at least someone will be able to find it- - -) This leaves me with an empty left pant's pocket in which I stash a well-used and re-used, but equally empty, quart freezer-bag to deposit trash into.

It's primary purpose is to collect my own trash, but as I go along I'll pick up crap left behind by others and stick it in there too. (Including the damn tissues and wipes which need to be outlawed on trails since it's clear a high percentage of people are just completely incapable of carrying used ones back out for themselves!) Sometimes I'm tempted to just walk on by this crap left by someone else, but a sense of guilt and an uncomfortable feeling of irresponsibility seems to force me to turn back, do the right thing and add to the collection in my pocket.

During my working career I noticed that the culture of a company, even large companies, can be shaped and influenced by only a few, sometimes even just one, person.

I don't know how that culture-shaping works in public spaces, but regardless, some parks have a trashy culture while others, similar in facilities and ease or difficulty of access to large population centers, have a clean(er) culture.

Whatever the reason, Lost Maples State Nature Area is one of the cleaner parks and during my chilly meander out to the Grotto and back, a round-trip distance of just over 6 miles (From the campsite, only about 3 from the trailhead.) on a popular trail, I collected hardly anything at all in the way of other people's trash.

Just part of a candy-bar wrapper, a bit of squashed and unidentifiable paper, and a pen top.

But I also came back with some unusual items that day that don't really fall into the category of trash.

As I passed through Primitive Camp A on my way out to the Grotto in the morning I noticed a pyramid-style tent like this one set up in one of the clearings back off the trail. Not a style I find particularly useful, but we each have our likes and dislikes.

On my way back out that afternoon the site was empty and I later caught up to the young couple that had obviously occupied that camp.

Why obvious?

Because he had a bulging pack slung precariously over one shoulder, a very manly, my-dick-is-bigger-than-yours, long-handled ax dangling from his belt down to nearly his boot-top, (A pretty useless item - the ax - and the usefulness of a big dick is debatable - in a place where no collecting of firewood is allowed, nor are open fires of any kind permitted in the back-country where they were.) and with one hand was dragging a bright red wheely, you know, the kind of luggage designed for airports?, over the rocky trail making a racket that sounded like thunder from a distance (On my way to the Grotto that morning I wondered what the heck made those tracks in the trail. They were too perfectly parallel and in-sync to be two different bikes and too close together to be a tricycle) while trying to control a large and very loud and unruly dog with the other hand. While the other half of the couple was struggling along with an armful of long tent poles hugged closely to her chest, a DYI Center bucket overflowing with stuff dangling from an elbow and banging against her legs, and various bags and sacks hanging off her and the tent poles, all swaying and jerking uncomfortably with every step. (Which is probably why I was able to catch up to them.)

I have to give them credit. They were out there on the coldest night of the week, but holy cow! There's a right tool for the job guys! (I shouldn't point out other's shortcomings and mistakes because I've been there done that myself, but if only these youngsters would realize that I'm always right and always know best their lives would be so much easier!!!)

Not wanting to get tangled up with them, and especially that snarling and slathering dog, I turned back and found something else to occupy myself with for a while to give them time to get well out ahead of me.

But when I did make the rest of the journey out to the trailhead, along the way I came across a lost and lonely footy laying right in the middle of the trail. (Not my first such trail-find. For some reason speckling the trail with socks, especially near swimming holes, seems to be a popular sport.) Then later I stumbled on a bark-collar. A first for me.

At first I thought the collar was just some strap that fell out of their bucket and grabbed it up without much thought. But when I figured out what I really had in my hand I immediately dropped the damn thing and jumped back to a safe distance lest it do its shocky-thing on me!

Not wanting to just leave something like that laying around to surprise any unsuspecting animals or kids that might happen along, I snuck up on it from behind, very quietly, and gingerly removed the battery before putting that thing in my pocket! I mean big dick or not, who wants fried pubes?!

Having seen that dog in action, I'm guessing the collar just pissed it off even more so even if they could manage to get it on the dog, what's the point?

I wonder if they'll blame the missing footy on the dryer or the dog?

At any rate, they were gone by the time I made it to the trailhead so this crap all went into the trashcan. You know, the one conveniently put there for when you do the responsible thing and carry your trash out.

Monday, September 21, 2020

A Nippy Meander to Lost Maple's Grotto

It was 27 degrees this morning (February 2020) and a smart person would have huddled in The Van for a few hours with a hot cup of oatmeal clenched in his hands, but - - well, you know - -

Instead I was headed in the direction of the Grotto, because why not?

During color season this parking lot at the day-use area fills to overflowing and they end up closing the park to new visitors. This morning there was one car out there that I later found out belonged to a young couple camping at Primitive Camp A.

I'm normally a pretty slow hiker, but once in a while I get downright snailish, shuffling forward, or maybe sideways, or even backwards, for a few steps then stopping, looking around, and just enjoying being there for however long the spirit wants.

This was one of those meander days

and it took me from breakfast through to dinner to cover about 6 miles.

Today, up behind this carefully terraced tree across on the other side of the river

I found the reasonably modern (poured concrete floor) remains of a house

on a bench above the river.

That's all I got.

Other than speculation I haven't been able to find out anything else about it.

So I meandered on.

Did I mention it got a little nippy overnight?

In 1983 there was a real freeze in Texas. It lasted for days and plumbers all over the state were in plumber-heaven crawling through vented attics (Yep, that's where tract-house plumbing and water-heaters go in south and central Texas) replacing burst pipes.

This event included Christmas day, a day that The Wife and I were here at Lost Maples. (All alone. Not even a ranger to give our entry fee to. Yep, this was back in the days when we were still courting and The Wife would grit her teeth and travel with me once in a while, though this trip she was damn glad we could afford a hotel room in Hondo and didn't have to stay in the tent like we planned.)

When we got to the Grotto that day ice was sheeting off the rocks above us as the morning sun did it's stuff.

It was a magical thing.

There wasn't near that much ice today,

but there was enough to keep me entranced for a few hours as it slowly melted away,

once in a while sending a cold dagger crashing down into the soft tufa below, leaving a scar that will take decades to repair. (From the conspiritalist part of my childhood I remember the story about the woman that killed her husband with a frozen leg of lamb then made the murder weapon disappear by feeding it to the detective!)

I finished up by making a side trip back to the bird-blind, but the birds were smarter than me today and stayed snuggled up at home.

Cold or not, it turned out to be a great day for a meander.

Monday, September 14, 2020

A Lazy Day in Lost Maples (sort of)

My intentions for today (sometime in February 2020) was to just kick around and take it easy, letting my, not quite a teenager anymore, body rest, repair, and recover after a pair of back-to-back days of ambitious hiking.

It sorta worked out that way, but not completely.

Just off the corner of the overflow parking area in Lost Maples State Nature Area is a (sanctioned) bird-feeding station with a blind. (The park was obviously quite busy the day this aerial image was taken. Not so the day that  I was here this time.)  

Standing on the Sabinal River crossing looking downstream towards the campground

I started off this morning by limbering up the Quad-B, my bicycle.

Though, given the worn state of her already cheap bearings I don't think limber is in her vocabulary anymore. In fact she wouldn't coast down a hill even with a 400 pound bear chasing her!

But regardless, I got her down off the rack, taking care to be quiet given the early hour, checked her out, then pedaled over

The view from inside the blind

to the bird-blind.

February is hardly the optimal time for birding around here but- well, who cares?

Though maybe not a photog's paradise,

Dove butts

there was enough going on to keep me entertained for a couple hours of just "being". A state I equate to that of the "living in the now" goal of several eastern philosophies/practices. 

Even though I couldn't have put words to it at the time, this was a state I was familiar with as a kid, often lazily swimming back and forth off one or another of the beaches we spent so many summer days at, just "being" out there by myself with nothing but the flow of the water over my skin, the sound and rhythm of my breath, the stretch and flex of my muscles, for as long as Mom, the designated lifeguard, could stand it.

But as the birthdays began to stack up past the "I'm X and a half!" stage, the cacophony of life shoved "being" aside and demanded I pay attention to the "what's about to be" instead as I navigated the savage jungle of getting ahead, getting stuff, getting somewhere. The getting, getting, getting, demanded by modern society. (Many anthropologists agree that our hunter-gatherer ancestors had more leisure time, more me-time, than our post-agrarian kin, and definitely more than our post-industrial revolution grandparents.) It's only now, after decades of running the rat-race, that I'm learning that ahead isn't really all it's cracked up to be, that I don't need stuff to be happy, and that I'm already somewhere.

Now I'm relearning how to just be, and frankly it feels like I can breath again.

But eventually it was time to "be" somewhere else.

Back to the Ponds again.

When I got back to my campsite I was energized, so I traded the Quad-B for my pack and, on foot, retraced the route back to the blind, and beyond.

The result was a bit of an odd hike where I retraced some of my steps of a couple days ago on the West Trail, but left the "normal" trail up there at the very top of this image and climbed a steep service road

that comes out on top of the ridge

where Primitive Camp F lurks,

and where I found another solitary spot to hang out and just "be", and, of course, slip in a late alfresco lunch too.

Once I'd had enough of that I leisurely closed the loop by picking my way back down the other side of the ridge.

Like yesterday, this was another single-hump hike and since I had done much of the route just two days ago I'll spare you a repeat of the photos.

When I got back to camp this - well, let's call it a dog - was among the new arrivals.

It was windy and the really long fur was rippling like a Kansas wheat-field so it's hard to tell exactly how big it is under there, but look at the size of its feet!

To paraphrase any number of childhood westerns, "This Van ain't big enough for the two of us!"

Monday, September 7, 2020

Today, the East Trail, or Aw! Dad!!

After yesterday's ambitious hike on the West Trail,

this morning I set out, with surprisingly few aches and pains, with the nearly as ambitious intent of doing the East Trail.

Smart? Not sure about that.

Fun?  Yep!

At least this hike only had one steep up and one steep down to it,

and when I hit the river after coming down a few steps through the trees from my campsite it was clear that yesterdays cloudy-grey had been replaced by more upbeat lighting.

A mile and a half from the campsite I got to the official trail-head

and was raring to go.

But first an obligatory stop

at the world famous - - OK, locally renowned - - Alright dang it! Somewhat interesting - - Monkey Rock.

Not long after reaching the site of Primitive Camp A, about a mile from the trailhead, the trail crosses back and forth over a tributary of the Sabinal river three times in quick succession.

While I was lollygagging slowly along between the first and second crossings I noticed some movement far up on the cliffs above me.

Can you see it up there?

That's a Barbary Sheep, otherwise known here in Texas as an Aoudad. (Yep, pronounced Aw! Dad!!) 

Looks cute eh?

Well that dude, or dudet, is anywhere from 100 to 300 pounds, depending on whether it's a  dudet or dude, with a head harder than mine (And The Wife will tell you how hard that is!) and isn't afraid to use it!

Introduced from North Africa because they are tough enough to survive in this habitat, they are particularly adept at rock-hopping and are pretty dang shy so seeing one, or two in my case, was a real gift.

There were two of them up there, that I could see anyway, and when they realized I was looking they got a bit hinky despite being a long ways away, and decided to clear out.

In the process, unlike his companion on the high ledge, the one on the low ledge has just failed to make the leap up and is shaking off the stars before successfully making it on the second try, then, after a little, slightly frantic, milling around, they both disappeared from sight.

A little while later, just before the trail starts the steep climb up to the ridge above, is a popular spot called the Grotto. For those interested in more civilized activities, using this as a turn-around point makes for a nice out-and-back stroll,

Today the bench had just recently been reset into concrete but I'm sure it's cured by now and the tape removed.

Here the creek has undercut the limestone cliff on the other side and water seeping down through the rock is, in addition to supporting a thriving Maiden-hair Fern colony, leaching out the carbonate and depositing it at the base of the cliff as Travertine, though at this location where the process is due to ambiant temperature water instead of heated water, it is more properly called Tufta. Both are a very soft form of limestone that will eventually, the key word being eventually, harden enough to form a lightweight, porous rock.

In the meantime a single foot-step into fresh Travertine or Tufta can destroy hundreds of years of a natural process.

Up on top of the ridge, chewed on prickly pear with their needles shining in the sun

share space with delicate

little flowers.

OK, not a great shot but that weird thing poking in from the left to give scale to the photo is my gloved fingertip. (Did I mention that, though sunny, it's a nippy day?)

Also running down the spine of this ridge is a Bandera Coop high-voltage electric transmission line.

They were clearly up here three years ago replacing some of the poles,

but others have been here since at least 1979.

A side excursion along a diverging finger of the ridge resulted in this shot of the park's maintenance facility down in the valley.

Eventually I'll need to hike on past those buildings to get back to the campsite which is further down the river around that bend,

but first it's back to the main trail which will take me along the top of that ridge over there

so I can descend along that diagonal slash in the center-left to eventually get back down to the ponds, which you might be able to just see there under the arrow, which I passed by on yesterday's hike.

but first - again - there's yet another side excursion, this time to Primitive Camp B which I have all to myself and where I kick back for a late lunch

and some reading. (I couldn't resist this photo of a reflected image of my camera superimposed on the text about the protagonist's reflected image.)

Though the overhead view frequently distracted me from my book. . .

But eventually it was time to move on.

When the four people down there on this section of trail which is that diagonal slash from a few photos ago, an older couple with a younger couple on their heels, and I mean right on their heels, went by me (They passed me up because of my naturally slow pace, not because I was worn out and making frequent stops to rest.  Honest!!) I assumed they were all together. But once at the bottom they split up and went different ways so I figured out that they weren't really together-together, they just hiked that way.

It's a good thing that young couple wasn't dogging me like that because I would have been seriously annoyed!

The reward at the bottom of the decent

was the ponds.

From there it was another mile and three-quarters back to The Van patiently waiting at the campsite as the sun began making it's inevitable drop to the western horizon, a sure sign that dinner-time was coming up, and we already know I don't want to miss that!