Monday, April 26, 2021

Take 2 on the East Trail


OK, If you're thinking this looks suspiciously like my track from yesterday - you're right.

Today (March 23) I'm back on the East Trail once again.

Why would I hike the same trail two days in a row??

Well for one thing, today I'm hiking it counter-clockwise, the other way 'round,

and for another, the weather cleared out overnight so it's not even remotely the same trail today!

Even the walk down the road from campsite to trailhead, wet and mostly hidden yesterday, dry and bright today, made me want to skip along in the sweet smelling sunshine like a little kid - which I didn't of course - Or did I??

Since there was no one around to witness, I guess we'll never know - - -

But I can confirm, witnesses or not, that I had my camera in hand, my real camera this time, not my phone, and couldn't stop clicking.

That mist is rising out of the canyon I'm heading for.

The trail is a little wetter than usual this morning, but but the air is a lot dryer so I don't care.

I couldn't resist taking this photo because it reminded me of a lecture I recently sat in a Paleontology course titled Minerals and the Evolving Earth where I learned that the Universe started with zero minerals at the time of the Big Bang and by about 4 billion years ago here on Earth the interaction between  the violent processes of a forming plant and the original 60 or so primitive minerals formed in the heat and chaos of the first 400 million years of the Universe created about 500 different minerals.

From there Earth's continuing volcanic activity formed various granitic minerals taking the mineral count up to about 1000. Then tectonic action, unique to Earth, at least within our solar system, pushed the count on up to about 1500.

But as of today there are about 4400 known minerals found on Earth so where did the all rest come from? (I'm finally getting back to the point of this photo!) They come from the highly complex interactions and interdependencies  between minerals and organic compounds. For instance, iron ore, which consists of various iron oxide minerals, didn't exist at all until oxygen, a byproduct of early photosynthesizing bacteria, started interacting with the soluble iron (Iron oxide is insoluble and settles out into the deposits we mine today) saturating the early oceans.    

Hence the organic and mineral, the living and the rock, are inexorably tied together on this planet as dramatically illustrated by this photo. The various limestones wouldn't exist without living organisms, and complex organisms such as trees wouldn't exist without various minerals.

Anyway - this example of a tree and a rock not only chemically but physically intertwined to the point of being inseparable reminded me of that lecture.


While I was dealing with the background noise of continuing education I was also making my way closer

 to the limestone walls of The Grotto

and the beginning of the first climb of the day.

That too was different today.

For one thing I'm going up, which is always easier than going down. And for another, as you can see, today, instead of slick and wet and half terrifying, the rocks are dry and the footing secure.

But before we leave the lower part of the trail and head on up to the upper,

I've often been disappointed that my camera doesn't always catch the true saturation, the true sparkle, of the colors I'm seeing. Perhaps to be expected out of a relatively inexpensive $400 camera that uses a single lens the size of my fist to capture every 35mm-equivalent focal length from 24mm to 1200mm. But when I saw this bit of tree-born moss glinting in the sun like a jewel I decided to try an experiment.

The photo above is taken with my camera  at 24mm focal length in aperture mode with the aperture stopped down by 1/3 step. (My go-to settings to help reduce blowing out the brights which are then unrecoverable in digital media.) And no, it doesn't fully capture the sparkle of the sunlit greens as they appeared to my eye.

Then I took this photo with my phone, an LG6, at the fixed optical focal length (It registers as 4mm but I have no idea how that equates to the 35mm standard used on my real camera) and exposure settings.

It's good to see that my camera captures the "sparkle" of the moss slightly better than the phone, and does a better job of capturing shadow details than the phone. (check out the dark branch cutting a diagonal behind the moss. The camera shows more detail in the bark than the phone does.)

But it's a little annoying that even stopped down by 1/3 the brights were blown out in the camera more so than on the phone. (Check out the bright spot on the branch above and slightly right of the moss. There are a couple more specks of detail in the phone photo compared to the camera photo.)

I guess that in strongly-lit, high-contrast situations I need to try stopping the camera down by 2/3 to capture more detail in the bright areas.

Anyway - 

Once up on top of the ridge I made a side trip to the official overlook that I didn't bother with yesterday since I wouldn't have been able to see anything anyways.

The cluster of specks at the left edge of the bright green patch is the maintenance area for the State Park consisting of several shop-buildings and a couple of full-hookup RV sites for park volunteers.

What you can't see

unless I blow it up, is that there is a power transmission line marching across that impossibly green patch. (back to that in a moment) From that double-pole support nearest to us in the photo the wires swoop long and high above the canyon, across the river, and road, 

 to another double-pole support up on the shoulder of the ridge.

Today, after leaving the official overlook I diverted onto the power-line right-of-way and made my way down to the second pole from the end up here on the ridge, (No sense in getting crazy and climbing all the way down to that last pole. It's a steeper climb than it looks in the photos and a pretty rugged route too.)

where I shot this photo, zoomed in which compresses things along the near-to-far axis and makes them look closer together than they actually are.

That well-defined, impossibly green patch down there probably used to be a pasture, but today it's the clean-effluent dispersal area for the aerobic waste water treatment system of the park. As inviting as it looks, when the sprinklers are running it's recommended that you don't come in contact with the water which isn't fully "polished" until it has been further biologically treated by seeping down through the ground.

These aerobic waste-treatment plants, circled there in red, need a constant, as in 24/7 supply of air bubbling through the aerobic tank and the periodic running of a pump to move nearly finished effluent from the pump-tank to the dispersal field. The equipment needed for this creates a continuous, low-volume mechanical hum down near the bottom end of the human hearing register.

It has been shown that low frequencies at and just below human hearing can drive some of us mad!

The hum is intrusive enough when I walk by on the road, just off to the right of this image, on my way to and from the campground, I can't imagine spending all night, every night in one of the volunteer's parking spots!

As I was climbing back up the electric easement to regain the official trail I looked up and - ummm - that doesn't look right!

That dangly little bit connected to the top of one of three lightning arresters

is supposed to be bolted to that wire stirrup up there so it can shunt the excess voltage of a lightning strike out of that phase of the power to ground before it can cause any damage. And up here on the ridge the power lines are naturally at high risk of lightning strikes.

Maybe the next set of arresters six poles further along will do the job until they can get back up here and fix that. (There are very faint indications on the service road that a vehicle was out here in the last couple months, and since the rest of the hardware for bolting the wire to the stirrup is missing I speculate that that particular arrester failed during the February storm and they came out and deliberately removed it from the circuit as an emergency repair and are now waiting on a replacement.)

Speaking of power poles. As I made my way across the ridge, weaving back and forth under the powerline as I headed for Primitive Camping Area B

with the intent of finding a quiet spot for lunch this Raven, often considered a bad omen in some cultures, seemed hell-bent on following me.

But don't worry. In my personal culture no living creature is a bad omen, and I resisted his raspy croaks so he didn't get any lunch off me.

But there was one last bit of fauna excitement, scaled instead of feathered fauna excitement this time, as I made my way down the other side of the ridge towards the last stretch of today's hike.

This guy darted out from in front of me where he had been resting on the sun-warmed rocks, but he only moved a couple feet farther down the trail before he stopped and gave me the beady-eye. This was repeated so many times, dart down the trail, stop, watch me approach, dart down the trail, stop, that it was like having a hiking companion.

At first he reminds me of those dang squirrels that play chicken with us when we drive out of the property in the morning, never quite making up their minds which way to go and therefor ending up staying in the road. But after the first couple of dart-stop-dart cycles turned into a dozen or so I changed my mind. Now I see his behavior as a metaphor of the all-too-often action of people just barely avoiding a near disaster, like maybe an epic winter storm, only to stop in their tracks and just wait for the next disaster without doing anything to prepare for it - like Einstein's doing the same thing and expecting different results definition of insanity. Stupid species!

(Remember a paragraph or to ago when I mentioned that for me no living creature is a bad omen? I guess I should have clarified that by pointing out that the exception might be one particular two-legged creature, and I'm not talking about birds!)

Sheesh! Here I am only three days into the first trip in a couple months and I'm already sounding like a curmudgeony, well seasoned and marinaded hermit! I suppose next I'll be muttering angrily to myself around camp and scaring off all the other campers. (Humm. That might not be a bad idea!)

Monday, April 19, 2021

Scratching the Groove a Little Deeper

 I have lived a blessed life.

Born into a great family to grow up and thrive with.

A smart and independent daughter that has been far less troublesome than I deserve.

Career opportunities and choices that, while they may not have always been what I would have chosen for myself given free-range, for the most part kept me interested in what I was doing and allowed me to retire early.

And not least, far more good days than stormy during my numerous camping trips.

But you remember those clouds that blew in late yesterday and kept me from getting some good sunset photos of the Murphy House? Well it started raining last night and this morning (March 22) it's still raining. Not too hard, but steady.

The radio reception here is crap, very sporadic and faint, and I have to be standing in just the right spot at just the right time (go back to the same spot 10 minutes later and nothing) with my little pocket-sized weather-band radio to catch the NOAA forecast, but as best I can hear, it might clear up, or at least stop raining, later today, or maybe not until overnight.

Now I could hunker-down in the cozy, dry warmth of The Van and work on my collection of mini-puzzles while waiting for the perfect hiking weather or

I could swap out my usual straw hat for my Tilley, (She's pretty old - I know for sure I've had her since the 80's because I've got photos, but it could be I got her as far back as the mid to late 70's - and she's rather shapeless, permanently stained around the head-band, and scuffed where she's been mistreated. In other words she's far from pretty anymore - but then again neither am I - but I treat her with a spray water-guard every couple years and she still does the job.)

don my rain-suit, jacket and pants,

slip on my fisherman's gloves, which, though it is hovering in the chilly mid-40's still might still be a little over-kill since they are thinsulate-lined, but these are water resistant, (they claim the shell is water-proof but very few things are actually water-proof, just ask the Appalachians which are the stubby little remains of Himalaya-esk mountains worn down by, you guessed it, water) and my other gloves are more sponge-like - worse than nothing in the cold rain,

stretch the rain-cover over my loaded pack,

and head on out despite the weather.

The rain is falling more sideways than down, especially up on the exposed ridges, and I feel like I'm walking in a small, fuzzy bubble and the world ends in a pillow-like fall off the edge a few dozen feet away in any direction, but many decades ago when I was briefly playing solder it was explained to me this way and it has stuck ever since:

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. But that groove is just like our muscles. If it isn't challenged on a regular basis then it gradually reverts back to it's original form, it's original shallow depth that can only hold limited reserves of what we might need.

So I try to scratch my groove regularly. Acclimating to seasonal changes rather than retreating into heated or air-conditioned comfort, pushing on up that next hill even though my legs would rather not,  forcing myself into my daily workout even though I don't feel like it, and today, hiking when the conditions aren't the best.

Besides, the worst day hiking is better than a day - well you know, blah - blah - blah

(Most the photos in this post come from my phone because it is "water-proof" and my camera is definitely not! I carried the camera safely tucked away in my pack, but ended up just leaving it there.)

So off I go, frankly feeling pretty smug about myself as I walk by other campers huddling in their sealed RV's. More smug than I'm entitled to. - - - After all, it's just rain - - -

Not quite a mile from The Van the old posts for the gate that once kept goats where they were supposed to be loom up out of the mist one step at a time

marking the official, in my mind anyway, start of the trail,

and the beginning of a glorious, if damp, day.

I've hiked many trails more than once, sometimes a lot more than once, but each time the trail is different. Different light, different season, different attitude; even the trails on the property which I hike several times a week are constantly changing. (With branches and trees falling across and blocking them more often than you'd expect!)

But today, with limited visibility eliminating the familiar ridges and the rain sometimes closing in tight

and other times being torn open by the swirling winds, it is a notably different hike.

Enough so that the mild discomfort of hiking in the rain is often pushed out of mind by the wondrously new - which is a shame really since I'm hiking in the rain dammit and someone should be making note of that! Even if that someone is just me - - -

About two miles from The Van it's time to start the 350 foot climb up out of the canyon towards the ridge.

At the top of the climb, enshrouded firmly in my small, misty world, I deviate from the main trail to wander through Primitive Camping Area B perched high into the thick of things on the un-sheltered top of the ridge. The camping area, understandably, is devoid of campers on this fine morning.

I hike my diversion all the way to the ghostly gate between the park and the back-side of a private ranch to the north.

(This is how the electric-coop service trucks get to the high-voltage transmission lines that cross the ridge-tops here)

Eventually I wander back to the main trail and make my way along the serpentine spine of the ridge.

For the past 100 years film-makers have understood the impact of sound and music on us humans, and that impact is not only felt on film.

When the trail wanders, without advanced warning because of the limited visibility, under power lines that are moaning and howling in the cold, wet, wind, it is suddenly a colder, uneasy, and lonely place to be.

But that is replaced by a different kind of uneasiness as I stand at the top of the descent down off the ridge looking down at 300+ vertical feet of wet, slick rock.

Humm, this reminds me of something - - - Oh Crap! Illinois' Little Grand Canyon where I slipped and busted my ass on wet-slicked rock just like this! I knew that canyon was slick - and I was being extra careful with each step - yet, without warning, I was unceremoniously thrown down on my ass into what could have been a pretty nasty situation - And now I'm standing, frozen here in the rain, looking down at more slick rock!

Dude! Just quit your whining - pull your big-kid underoos  up - and cut the groove a little deeper!

But first I take the rubber tips off my hiking sticks.

Technically I'm just supposed to use those rubber tips for safe transport of the sticks between hikes, but the carbide tips under them clicking on rock as I hike are just too noisy for me.

But those noisy tips also grip rock, especially wet rock, even at ridiculously obtuse angles, a whole lot better than the rubber, so I'll put up with the noise for this treacherous descent.

Unfortunately my hiking boots have seen quite a few miles of trail and the edges of the lugs and sips are well worn and rounded, which means that like the rubber tips on my hiking sticks they too only offer - well let's call it limited - grip, especially on wet rock.

I was recently looking at some mini-spikes, the kind you pull on over your boot a lot like those old-fashioned galoshes.

Rather than the long steel shark-tooth like spikes of crampons used for thick ice and hard snow, which I hardly ever encounter these days, the ones I was looking at have 12 grippy lugs  per foot, each tipped with one of those rock-grabbing little carbide nubs. Now I'm kinda wishing I had clicked that "add to cart" button - - -

OK, quit procrastinating and cut the groove dang-it!


The trip down is slow and sometimes frighting. But at the bottom, with no spills along the way, and only a few minor slips, the trail abruptly flattens out (This is where a surprising number of hikers coming up from the other direction, barely more than a mile from the trailhead, take one look at the climb ahead and turn around) and my reward is the bench in front of The Grotto.

In anticipation of a cold hike I brought my stove with me for an augmented lunch today.

Water keeps dripping off my Tilley into my noodles, and I have to keep my crackers tucked into my jacket so they don't get soggy, but I don't care. It's the best lunch ever!

From here it's a flat, three mile dawdle along the Sabinal River back to The Van.

Along the way there's a little cluster of about a half-dozen of the Texas Madrone trees that were missing from my hike a couple months ago along Pedernales Falls Madrone Trail. That's a fun bonus!

By the time I get back to camp there are hints of clearing weather so maybe I'll be back to using the weather-sensitive camera for tomorrow's hiking.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Restoring Marital Bliss (Or at least tolerance!)

 When The Van sits beside the barn for too long a couple of things happen.

First, I start getting - well - grumbly (Yeah, let's call it grumbly and not a horse's ass - - -) because let's face it, doing work-out laps around the same couple of miles on the property just isn't the same as getting out there on a real trail.

And second, The Wife starts getting antsy - OK, not antsy so much as fed up with me being around under her feet day after day.

We both need our breaks, but the winter storm of February got in the way, forcing me to cancel a scheduled trip in favor of digging out, restocking the homestead, and getting it ready for the next one.

In these corona-times spontaneity and snagging a campsite just don't go together, so when I canceled that one trip there was nothing to do but wait ( and wait, and wait ) for the next one, already scheduled and reserved for March.

Oh, we played it casual when the day finally arrived, taking the time for a civilized breakfast together before I hit the road, but once the civilities were done I shot out the door with a big shit-eating grin on my face so fast that The Wife whiffed the boot she had aimed at my ass!

Relief at finally being behind the wheel of The Van was slow in coming as I fought the reality of the Sunday rush of returning spring-breakers, but eventually I made it to the far side of the intervening city and most of them were finally going the other way.

It was pure luck that I chose to deviate from my usual route to Lost Maples State Park this trip. I didn't realize, until I passed the intersection where I would have normally come out and saw the big sign blocking the road, that a bridge was completely out on my usual route. And out here where hamlets are sparse, sprawling ranches dominate, and roads are few and far between, detours take the better part of an hour.

All I had to do was check before I left, but in the excitement of getting on the road (Check back a few paragraphs where I shot out the door just barely ahead of a swinging boot.) I rarely do. 

As far as campsites go here at Lost Maples (Unless you are backpacking into one of the primitive sites the only option is one of the thirty water/electric sites) it's better than commercial campgrounds but not as nice as some of the other state parks.

While the campsites are reasonably sized here, they are lined up side-by-side with no buffers between them.

But I'm not here to hang around the campground!

Even though afternoon would soon be transitioning to early evening by the time I got parked in my assigned site (I know some people are just hitting their stride around this time of day but I'm definitely a morning person and starting anything after 1600 just doesn't feel natural.) I grabbed my pack and hiking-sticks and left The Van behind to cool off on her own.

I thought maybe I could get some late-sun, maybe even sunset if I felt ambitious and dinner wasn't beckoning too loudly, photos of the Murphy House, and while I was waiting on that perhaps check out the trail-less bench that sits south of the Murphy House on the far side of the Sabinal River.

Though it was late on a Sunday afternoon, and it's 50 miles to the nearest Walmart and 90 miles to the nearest city, there are still quite a few cars here at the trailhead parking in front of the Murphy House.


And, despite some early promise

In all the years I've been coming here I have never seen a single bike nosed into this rack, but it does make for some interesting shadows.

clouds quickly filled in so there were to be no award-winning sunset-over-the-Murphy-House photos today,

but all's still good.

Regardless of of the cars still in the parking lot I had that little bench above the river

all to myself and I took full advantage of it as I felt marital bliss, at least I think that's what it was, seeping back into my soul.


Yeah, I too wondered why this particular tree was reserved for women. After all, it doesn't provide much cover for any gender.

Until I figured out it was just humorous recycling of an old sign into a birdhouse 

And this downright (Giant!) vertebraic rock had me going for a minute

Probably because I had just run across the remains of a fairly recent deer-kill so bones, and predators, were on my mind

But eventually, with my chance at world-renowned sunset photography still eluding my grasp, it was time to head back across the river to The Van, settle into the fuzzy comfort of an efficient routine evolved over thousands of nights ensconced in her familiar innards, and make my first dinner of the trip.