My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Monday, March 4, 2013

Search for the Lost Road at Big Bend Ranch State Park

We spent Wednesday, February 20 trying to find and hike on a road which shows on an old topography map of the area. Louis hadn't taken a waypoint off the map so we just guesstimated on where to start out.  We looked for features in the landscape and figured out where it must go.  Finally, after about a mile of walking, we began to see signs of it. But some of the most fun on the hike was just cutting across the country, which was easy to walk through, then climbing up a couple of hills to see the view from higher ground.

Looking for chert - we found some that was worked in this area
I love seeing how nature arranges garden elements.  The arrangement comes from the weathering of mountains into boulders and rocks, wind blowing in sands and dust, and seeds arriving, some of which find a niche in which they can grow.  Wildlife eats and processes seeds, then plants them beside boulders or under shrubs. Cows and other animals carry seeds from one place to another and some of those places give the seeds a chance to make new plants and new plant combinations.  Each year the area looks a little different as some plants die, and others begin life. And some places are so naturally beautiful, I want to try to recreate the scene, or some of its elements, in a garden. .

An view early in our cross-country hike

A rock garden on top of the first rocky hill I climbed
From this first hill, I was finally able to see a piece of the lost road and we started up it.  Lewis knew our destination was a dammed up pond. We also found places where the gulleys had been blocked to cattle and goats with stone fences. The tops of the hills were rocky enough that goats and cows couldn't cross, so they were used to make huge pastures.
View from hillside

There was one beautiful view after another
Rainbow cactus
Sotol with bloom stalk
 At the end of the road, we climbed the dam,  to find a dry bed.  Some  flowers  and grasses were growing at the edge of the dry pond.  Some some spots were wetter, and held the prints of the longhorn cows, who, by the dryness of the cow patties, had been there several months before.(The park has a small, historic herd of longhorns.) Other places were so dry that the soil had cracked 

Cracked earth

Flowers growing on the edge of the pond
We ate lunch on the far side of dry pond, where there were rock chairs. After lunch, the beautiful, rocky hill behind us beckoned and several of us climbed up it to see the different plants growing on it and to get long views across the landscape.

Our lunch spot

A surprising fern growing on among the boulders on the hill

Louis almost to the to of the hill behind our lunch spot

A look down on the pond

The second agraita - this growing on the rocky hill

Susan taking a rest
On the way back, Lewis again tried to follow the old road to the intersection of the road we  on which we had driven in.  But that end of it had completely disappeared into the landscape.This outing taught me that it is possible to study topographic maps and then travel using landmarks. (As a child, I used to to this all the time, but without maps - I just generally knew where electric lines, roads and streams ran and reoriented myself when I got to them. )  It makes a more fun way to travel, provided you can work your way through the brush.
And John and I decided to again cut across the land to the site of the car.  He had set a waypoint, so, even though we couldn't see the car, we knew where it was  And when we were on higher ground, we saw Natalie leaving. She had hiked on the road until she got tired and then driven back to camp. She had a lingering cough and fatigue from a light case of the flue and spent a lot of time sleeping.

The most amazing thing I found on this hike was this flower - perhaps the smallest I've seen in bloom, other than duckweed.  It was about 100 yards back from the car and was the only plant of its kind I could find in the area. It most looked like a Primula but that is SO not the habitat for them. It was growing in dry, gravely/sandy soil.

A single tiny flower growing in dry gravelly ground

I took the following picture to give an indication of its size. The entire plant was less than a quarter. Sorry for the poor focus.  I got a little closer than my lens would focus.

My next post SHOULD be about the exciting and wonderful tour we took down into Fresno Canyon in  a 4-wheel drive van. But I managed to leave two charged batteries at camp so got no pictures. But, if you visit the park, be sure to take one or more of the tours back into history - both the history of the people who have lived in this canyon, and the history of the earth. At least I did get to go - I wasn't supposed to because the tour only holds six people, but Natalie had had a relapse the day before and was afraid she might be infectious and was really too tired go anyway. So I got her spot. But on Friday, we  took what was my favorite hike to overlook the Fresco Canyon and the Flatirons in the Solitario. My header picture is from our view into the canyon.