I bet y'all were hoping I forgot and moved on to blogging about other things.
Well no such luck!
OK. For those lucky enough to miss out on the previous two parts of this tour, we're wandering the trails I've cut on our 14 acre property.
Their use is roughly equally split between my workout laps 3 or 4 mornings a week while carrying a 15 pound pack and more civilized rambles where I get to just enjoy being out in the woods
where, in our case, pretty much nothing is flat because of the three ridges (red) and the two waterways (blue) that we are blessed with.
To recap, this is an image of my trail map stripped down so the numbers are easy to see. The numbers, which are repeated as the caption of the corresponding images below, give you a rough idea of just where I was standing when each photo was taken.
|- 15 -|
When we - OK - When I - left off last time I was about to duck through this vegetation-tunnel about midway across the dam and slip onto the back, the western end, of the property.
|- 16 -|
Just after crossing the earth dam I have this 4-way intersection mowed into the vegetation, again, mowed to cut back on the number of burrs I pick up when wading through during more lush times. In fact, if you look close at the ridge/waterway image above (second one of this post) about a quarter of the way up from the bottom and just a smidge to the right of center, you can actually see this intersection in the satellite image.
For me, down here on the ground and approaching from the dam side, turning left, or south, and then going a short ways takes me close to the south fence-line where the trail turns west again.
Going right, or north, I walk the length of the pond before re-entering the woods and arcing west near the north fence-line.
If I go straight like I usually do, which is what I'm going to do right now, I go west up the middle of the property. This requires climbing the steepest incline on the trail-system to get to the top of the middle ridge.
You can see a little piece of the trail I'm about to walk winding around a little more than halfway up near the right side of the photo.
|- 17 -|
But before heading up the ridge, a quick comment about the cleared area above the west side of the pond.
Again, not sure we would have put the pond in if it was our choice but when it was installed by the previous - short term - owners this slope was cleared in the process. From something those previous owners said at closing, I gather they intended to put a house on this side of the pond, using the dam as a driveway to reach it, which would have required a rather expensive bridge over the spillway for all-weather vehicle access and makes the placement of the well on the east side of the pond somewhat puzzling.
As I pointed out before, the contractor wasn't very good at his job and though you can't see them now that things have had 20 years to grow over, this slope is cut through with several deep and sharp-sided erosion gullies. (I actually got a 4-wheeler stuck in one when we first bought the place.)
We have left this area alone since we got here in 2002 so the cleared area is much smaller now than it used to be, but it still has a ways to go to get back to a 'natural' state.
|- 18 -|
OK Back to the trail!
Not far from the 4-way intersection that middle trail is like climbing stairs without the steps. - In other words, pretty much like climbing a ramp strewn with marbley-like gravel turning it into a slip-n-slide. But one with dire consequences if you do slip - and slide!
And when I turn that corner up ahead -
|- 19 -|
Nope! Not done climbing yet! (trail goes between the two trees in the distance, one leaning and the other, even more distant, straight up as if supporting the first.)
|- 20 -|
So up around that next bend and -
Oh come on! Are you kidding me?!
Where's the damn top?
I hit this climb near the beginning of my workout laps and it's a good wake-up call for my legs. Lets them know we mean business.
- - - and feel the burn - - -
And to be honest, it's my own fault. On the other climbs/descents I threw in some small switchbacks to ease things up a little, but with this segment I purposely went pretty much straight up one side of the ridge and straight down the other to take advantage of the challenge. (According to the GPS the average grade over the entirety of my trail system is 5%)
|- 21 -|
Sometimes there are distractions along the way.
There used to be an antler-shed, just the one side - I have never spotted the other side - laying in this part of the trail. It started higher and for years it slowly wandered it's way down-slope. Sometimes staying put for months at a time before continuing it's journey. Apparently it found the trail to be easy wanderings because it stuck pretty close all those years. But I haven't seen it for a long time now so - good journey my friend.
In it's place today, perhaps as a sympathy card, was this vulture feather. Not an uncommon sight out here in these woods. Mom gets a kick out of hearing the birds when I'm on the phone with her (outside as always) but she's never heard one of these Black Vultures, who make no sound other than a raspy hiss and then only if you try to take their food away. Which I don't!
Maybe if I collect enough of these feathers I can finally fulfill that 8 year old's dream and jump off the roof and fly!
No?? Too stupid?
OK. Perhaps I better just leave it lay there and let nature do what it does.
|- 22 -|
So, I'll do the least stupid thing here and continue on, where eventually I make it to the large oak that marks the summit of the ridge. (It looks like this oak might succumb to the current drought.)
|- 23 -|
But - 'goes up must come down' and all that, so I'm immediately heading down the other side of the ridge, ensuring that the down-slope parts of my knees also get a decent workout.
|- 24 -|
Four years ago, long after I had finished this segment of trail and was using it almost daily, I was suddenly confronted with this double blow-down after yet another wind storm.
Since it happens to be at the bottom of the western slope of the ridge, right where the second waterway runs, (I was standing in it when I took this photo.) everything around this location is very overgrown and difficult to get through.
So, instead of my usual, live and let live strategy of cutting new trails around blow-downs like this I drug out the heavy equipment
|- 24 -|
and solved the issue this way.
For four years I've been sliding through here fully erect under that upper tree multiple times per week with no issues. But the other day I managed to put a good sized dent in my skull, not to mention my hat, and had a sore neck the rest of the day. (During my workout laps I'm moving at a pretty good clip and the neck is not a very good shock-absorber!)
Since, at my age, I'm clearly not getting any taller that upper tree must be settling!
One day I might have to do something about that, but for now I just have one more spot along the trail where I need to duck.
Now, let's see how long it takes me to learn that!
|- 25 -|
Today I make it through unscathed but am immediately faced with yet another uphill slog as I start the climb to the west ridge.
|- 26 -|
Finally on top of the west ridge and only a few feet from the western fence-line I come to a T intersection in my trail system.
From here I have the option of going either north or south.
But, being the mildly obsessive and ordered person that I am, I don't leave the direction to chance. Instead I use this feral hog jawbone from a skull that just happened to be here already when I cut this trail, to show me the way to go.
It's operation is simple.
When I come up the central trail and hit this intersection I turn in the direction the jawbone is facing. But before I leave the intersection I also reach down and turn the jawbone 180 degrees so it will be pointing the other way next time I come up the trail.
From here, depending on the jawbone, I will go to either the north or south fence-line, east, back over the central ridge, and down to the pond where I'll cross to the opposite fence-line and head west back to the T intersection again.
Since I sometimes get lost inside my head when doing laps and lose track of where I am, as I approach the T intersection from one side or the other I check the jawbone.
If it's pointing at me I know I've reached the halfway point of my workout laps and need to turn down the central trail rather than continue straight across.
If I turned right to go back down the central trail, when I get back to the 4-way intersection at the pond I turn left to loop back towards the west end of the property along the fence-line. (vice-versa if I turned left at the T intersection.)
But if, as I approach the T intersection and the jawbone is facing away from me then I know I've already done the central trail once in both directions and should continue straight past the intersection to the other fence-line before turning east again.
Sounds more complicated than it is.
And why bother?
Well the issue here is that because of terrain issues, going east to west along the north fence-line presents a more challenging climb than east to west along the south fence-line. So one day I get the challenging bit done and over with earlier in my laps when I have more oomph in my legs and the next day I'll have to power through the challenging bit later in my laps when there's a little less oomph left in the tank.
|The scale is difficult to judge in the photo, but my newly rerouted trail makes a sharp right and slips under the trunk right in the center of the photo, just this side of that first major branch - and even with my hat on I don't have to duck to walk it.|
- 27 -
Three years ago this tree fell right into my trail. As the caption I wrote at the time notes, with a little trimming I was able to reroute my trail right under the fallen tree. (The crown is laying right on top of the original trail.)
|- 27 - |
Same tree from about the same spot today. It lasted less than a year before that major branch failed and the main trunk fell the rest of the way down. Now my trail makes a sharp u-turn to the right just where I'm standing and around the butt end of the fallen log before continuing up the other side.
|- 28 -|
Some of the logs that were already down on the ground when I came through cutting trail were easy to go around.
|- 29 -|
Others, because of heavy vegetation in the lower areas, were not so easy to go around. One of these, in addition to being slippery when wet making stepping on top of it an iffy prospect, was a little too large to safely step over while also being able to see where your foot was going to land (on a snake?!) so I modified it with a step.
|- 30 -|
This is looking out over our fence to the north.
That's the Roberts' place.
We're not very enamored with the Roberts. We haven't shared phone numbers or permission to jump the fence onto each other's land.
Our issue with Roberts started when he, an insurance salesman selling farm and ranch insurance so he clearly should have known better even though he lived in the city, paid twice market value for the property which is exactly the same size as ours. This had the effect of increasing all his neighbor's property taxes, including ours, by a good bit the next assessment year.
He also immediately got pretty aggressive about trying to get us to sell him our place - to the point of jumping the fence uninvited three times that we know of. One of those times we discovered him right inside our barn. (Texas law allows us to use anything right up to deadly force to protect ourselves from trespassers so clearly this is not an overly intelligent man!)
And is seems we aren't the only ones not enamored with the Roberts. This spring he ran in the primaries for a State Representative seat. Out of a field of about 10 candidates for the seat he came in second to last.
Roberts plastered large campaign signs all over a 5 county area. The last place candidate had no signs at all. But then again, neither did three other candidates that garnered more votes than Robert's despite that.
Anyway, the Roberts' place looks different than ours right now because
|- 30 -|
he recently rented something like this (I wonder what that cost!) and spent the next 4 weeks burning expensive fuel every day grinding down everything except the larger trees.
Now the Roberts do have a couple rescue horses and one rescue donkey but this is the second time he's destroyed acres of habitat and cleared the land down to bare dirt, and I only occasionally saw any of the livestock utilizing it the first time, probably because there's nothing for them to eat out here.
If it's anything like last time it will just revert back to scrub, expensive scrub, in a few years.
|- 31 -|
But back to the trails!
Back down by the pond I shoot across the open space left by the pond-builder, go straight through the 4-way intersection,
|- 32 -|
and duck back into the woods on the south side.
Mine aren't the only trails out here though.
It's difficult to see in this photo but there's a crossing of my trail and a game trail here and the game trail is usually churned up by more traffic that my trail sees.
|- 33 -|
It's not uncommon for me to find carcasses in the middle of my trails.
After all, they, the trails, make for a nice open dinner table.
|- 34 -|
It's all a natural process and I just step over and leave them alone. We humans have done more than our share of interfering with the natural processes of the earth so I try to minimize my own personal interference wherever possible.
Yes, the smell gets pungent, but that's a good thing. It's pretty much the equivalent of a pop-up restaurant posting fliers around town. And truthfully, by the third day (longer for Armadillos which, because of the hard shell, require a little more 'tenderizing' time.) things are pretty much cleaned up and it just smells like woods again.
In a few weeks there's nothing left but a small pile of bleached bones,
|- 35 -|
and in a few months all that will be left of those are a scattering of a few of the larger bones.
|- 36 -|
After a dip down into the west waterway followed by a climb back up the west ridge, I'm back to the T-intersection and have covered every one of my trails in at least one direction.
This is the view over the back fence, the western boundary of our place. We don't know who owns that place back there, have never seen them, and have never seen any livestock over there despite the wide cleared area next to the fence.
And that's just fine with us. (The people side. We don't mind livestock.)
|- 37 -|
When not doing my workout laps out here I don't always stick to the trails.
In fact my little shelter in the woods is off-trail.
|- 38 -|
And the other day when I was doing some off-trail bushwacking on another part of the property I stumbled across this large den with two separate openings.
I find a lot of dens out here.
They are used by many of the critters we have in the area and no - I didn't stick my arm down there to see if anyone was home!
How would you react if some giant hand came through the window and started groping at you in your bed?
|- 39 -|
Alright, I'm sure I'll hear a big sigh of relief when I say that, while there may not be any hot-dogs or grilled salmon waiting, there will be something to eat by now, so I'm going to head back towards the barn now and that's the end of the tour.
So the rest of you just go home because I'm not feeding you!
|- 1 -|
(I know, another crappy photo courtesy of my phone-camera.)
Nope, not even the cows that look at me like I'm nuts for walking - briskly - up to the gate with a pack on my back a couple times most mornings.