Monday, July 26, 2021

I Finally Make it to The Gate


It's been a long time since I've been on the Canyon Rim Trail in Caprock Canyons State Park.

Not because there's anything wrong with it, but because the trailhead is right there at the Honey Flats Campground (lower left corner) with it's paved mix of popular 50 and 30 amp water/electric sites with adjacent playground, and I haven't stayed there in a long time now.

But there is a dozen-or-so-vehicle parking lot in front of the bathhouse, so today (Apr 28) I drove up out of the canyon and left The Van up there on the rim near the campground,

while I walked through the prairie-dog town that exists right there next to the busy campground, accompanied as I went by a constant barrage of warning squeaks and peek-a-boo popups,

to the official start of the trail,

and began my day by hiking along the rim of Holmes Creek Canyon.

The views, especially when the light is right, are pretty dang good and this spot is easy to reach even for many of those that are mobility-challenged.

It's not far from parking-lot or campsite,

the terrain is flat,

and the trail wide and well-groomed,

and for an extra bonus this morning, the Bison herd (all those brown blobs out there) seems to be up here on the rim, which means they are not down in the narrow confines of the canyon where they were hike-blocking me yesterday.

If you use your imagination, the ridge here looks like a three-fingered cartoon hand with the wrist up there on the rim and the fingers pointing off to the north-northeast.

A mile and a half into the hike the trail threads its way between thumb and forefinger and begins the first drop.

A lot of people come this far then turn around. In fact there's a fancy bench just off the left edge of the photo for rest and contemplation before heading back.

But not me.

With the Bison herd behind me I figured I had a pretty good shot at making it all the way to the gate today, so I went for it.

Between that first drop down from the wrist and the second drop off the end of the fingertip the going along the 'forefinger' is pretty easy.

The first time I took this hike and looked to the northwest from here I spotted what I assumed was an RV pulled into a park overlook up on the canyon rim out there in the distance. (White blob in center of photo) But I was clearly wrong because it was still lurking up there on subsequent hikes, including this one.

So today I got out my lensatic compass, shot some bearings as I hiked along, plotted them on my GPS,

and finally figured out that I was looking at a mobile-home

perched about 4 miles away on the north rim of the canyon just barely outside the park boundary.

Nice views! But I imagine the winds can be a bit fierce at times up there.

OK! Mystery solved. Moving on.

Which entailed continuing down into the canyon, past some seriously vocal turkeys that I could hear but never caught sight of, (On the way back I got a very brief glimpse of one turkey-butt.)

to the official end of the Canyon Rim Trail, Bison-free today, unlike yesterday, (that sign-post out there is the once surrounded by bison-babes yesterday)

and on to the last little bit of trail before finally reaching the elusive gate out at the county road.

I know this sign looks a little worse for wear, but it's not really all that old.

You see all the churned up ground around the sign?

Bison like to roll in mud, dust, dirt, whatever they can get their hides on, then rub it off - hopefully taking some of the parasitic insects along with it.

Usually they do this on the more natural elements of the landscape where the dried mud will hang until the next heavy rain, which could be a long time around here, but frankly any ol' post will do, including the expensive signs.

It wasn't heavy enough to wash the trees clean, but the rain that caught me out on the trail yesterday evening made it down this far into the canyon as well, gently grooming the trail of all footprints other than the ones I left today.

Oh yeah, and these massive, three-toed pterodactyl prints

that at one point were tearing down the trail in front of me.

OK, So maybe they were turkey-tracks - but then again maybe not!


After a couple of thwarted attempts I finally made it 

to 'The Gate' !

Which was double-chained and padlocked.

The fence along here is clearly wired, and no, I didn't check to see if it was live. With no one around to film the results and send it in for a possible $10,000 prize on a very popular show, why would I risk it?

So it was with a great deal of care that I reached over the gate and got this shot of the county road with another - private - gate across on the other side.

More about that county road later today.

And by that I mean in the next post.

For now prairie-dog back-talkery neatly book-ended my hike as I made my way the last few steps back to The Van with one more thing checked off my bucket list.

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.