Gravely Mountains

Gravely Mountains
Gravely Mountains in Morning Light

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

On the Road to Big Bend Ranch State Park

Sunday, February 17, Natale and I decided that since there were so few birds in Choke Canyon and we didn't want to paddle in the lake, we would start our long trip to Big Bend Ranch State Park, over 500 miles away. (Ultimately, we drove about 1,700 miles on the ten day trip.)

 We packed up the insides of our tents and left them to dry before going on a walk with Bill.  We saw few birds or other wildlife but enjoyed the trails at the park. (This area is in a really bad drought.) We got back as the winds were picking up. Natalie pulled the stakes on her tent, but left it standing. Suddenly, we saw it turn over and blow down the field towards the reservoir, spewing a few leftover items out.  All of us chased it and caught it, then had to work our way our of the thorny brush to a grassy area to walk it back up. We  finished our packing and told Bill goodby, then ate our left-over broccoli salad for lunch. We FINALLY got everything squeezed into the car and were ready to go.  (Fortunately, Bill was kind enough to haul my canoe and paddling equipment back with him. THEN Natalie started looking for her car key.  She decided she had left the key in a pocket in her tent. We decided to look where the tent had gone first, to see if it was one of the things spewed out, didn't find it, and had to unpack the tent, buried near the middle of the car, before we could leave.


The entire back was packed to almost the last inch

With Zootie in a crate, we could pack on top of her  space
After that we had an uneventful trip to Seminole State Park, getting there with just enough light to set up Natalie's tent and make supper. I slept in her 4-man tent to save time the next morning. We left about 9:30A.M. and stopped at the very low Rio Grande River, then at Marfa for lunch at the new, wonderful restaurant, the Future Shark, a descendent of the mobile restaurant called the Food Shark. Natalie and I both had the meat loaf special and picked different sides. All were delicious and filling. This is a sort of New American/Mediterranean place with beautifully cooked healthy meals at a very reasonable price. We had to ask around to find them, but they will soon have their sign up, and are on the main street a block or two before the court house. 

Natalie pointing out a put-in on the very low Rio Grande

The courthouse at Marfa - Future Shock is to the bottom right, across one more intersection back.

A sitting room in the Hotel Piasano in Marfa - looked like a wonderful place to stay.
After lunch we had another hour of driving to get to Presidio - we have to come in from the west side to be on good roads - and then a few more hours of traveling and stopping to take pictures and visit Fort Leaton, a few miles before the western entrance to the park. Natalie finally declared the we would stop no more until we reached  the South Layva campsite. I had probably taken fifty or more pictures of this wonderful wilderness where we saw very few signs of civilization until we reached the Sauceda Headquarters where there is lodging and food for hire as well as an office and gift shop.

Big Bend Country View

Another Roadside View

World's second-prettiest outhouse

View along road

Shelter Rock containing pictographs next to road

Pictographs are faded due to dust and people touching them

Hand print in shelter

Rock formation

West Texas bluebonnets - a taller and skinner species than east Texas ones
We got to camp and joined our group in time to get our tents up, and eat supper while enjoying the prettiest sunset of all our evenings at Big Bend Ranch State Park. We were here to hike with Louis Aulbach, who is gathering information to write a series of guides for hiking in the park. Check out the link for information on the largest and wildest state park in Texas.

Sunset from our camp site at South Layva
We did several hikes,which I'll take you on, and then took a really fabulous tour of Fresno Canyon in a 4-wheel drive van.  Unfortunately, I took a dead battery by accident and got no pictures of that. Stayed tuned for several more blogs on this wonderful place. Here you have a quarter of a million miles to hike, mountain bike, raft, canoe, kayak, take 2 and 4-wheel drives and experience the sound and sights of wilderness in a place where you can see five million years of history. And when you run out of places to visit here, you can travel on to Big Bend National Park.

Of course, I took more pictures than I can put in this blog.  They are on my Picassa site.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Another Birding and Paddling Trip at Choke Canyon

Dateline: February 14 -17

As I do most years when I'm in Texas, I spent a long weekend at Choke Canyon with a group of about 20 friends. (Different friends spent different parts of the time there so I never actually counted them all up.) Natalie was one of the group that had to wait to leave until Friday so I drove over and camped with my new friend, Bill.  Before Natalie could get there the following day, I sublet her campsite to a guy needing a campsite so she  and her dog,. Zootie,camped with us.  I got to visit with lots of my Corpus Christi friends and even some old friends that live way across Texas in Del Rio.

Our Campsite

On Friday, we hiked, birded, and did a short paddle in the lake but were driven off by rising winds. I got in a short loafing session in my hammock before Natalie showed up.  I had brought her tent and Bill helped me set it up for her. We helped her haul in her stuff and get it all organized. Then it was time for supper, followed by a campfire gathering across the street.  Our hosts, Harris and Denise had selected a large campsite so we could all fit on it for the campfire. Harris worked each day to find and prepare the wood and build the fire.

Fireman Harris
On Saturdays, we always do a longer paddle.  Our favorite put-in was closed because the water was too low to allow motor boats in  so we had to put in under the Highway 99 bridge.

Putting in






We paddled upstream for about a mile, ,then explored a little slough that still had lots of standing dead trees in it. The drought had caused lots of birds to leave, but the low water had brought in a lot of roseate spoonbills, the first I ever remember seeing there. The same place also had a bunch of black-crowned night herons, including lots of juveniles.


Paddling into a side channel
Some of the roseate spoonbills
Juvenile black-crowned night heron

Black-crowned night heron
At this point, about half the group decided to portage a few yards and get back into the Frio River,  while the other half paddled back around. I ended up having to go find them and get the group back together. After only another mile or so, we started having people complain of being hungry so we found a place we could get out for lunch. This was at the intersection of the Frio River and a side stream. 

Some of the lunch bunch
After lunch, most of the group wanted to turn around but several of us were not nearly ready to stop.  We decided to check out the side stream .  It went up another couple of miles and we found some interesting birds up there as well as an alligator skeleton, sans its head.  We also came past a killdeer pair that seemed to be building a scape in the gravel.
Alligator skeleton - about 6 feet long

Bill and a fishing couple on the side creek
The creek became too shallow to paddle at about the time we had set for turning around.  We enjoyed the trip back to the put-in,admiring  the stately tree skeletons in the beautiful light.

Back at the put-in
We had time to take showers and then I made my broccoli salad. Bill brought two kinds of delicious cookies. We took our food, chairs, and eating utensils and joined the supper party that was getting organized. Soon we were eating way too much delicious food and enjoying visiting around Harris' fire. Harris and Charles brought their didgeridoos and played for us at the supper party.

Some of the delicious food

Doing serious eating

Neither Natalie nor I wanted to paddle on Sunday so we decided to start on our next adventure - we were to meet up with another group of friends to hike in Big Bend Ranch State Park. We could break a very long drive down into two days this way and not be exhausted when we arrived. So we enjoyed a leisurely morning of birdwatching and packing up and left after lunch.

I'm writing this after a long day of touring a pictograph site at Seminole Canyon, then driving over three hundred miles. Finally we had to unload the car. Tomorrow, we'll have to go retrieve my car and canoe from Bill and visit my chiropractor.

I'll be sharing some of my experiences in Big Bend Ranch State Park and my tour at Seminole Canyon as I have time to get the pictures processed. But I have Natalie convinced that she needs to retire and she may get to do it real soon.





Thursday, February 14, 2013

Choke Canyon Anticipation

I'm about to go off the Internet for ten days.  I'm going to one of my favorite birding places on earth, Choke Canyon State Park for a long weekend, starting today, then Monday will drive another ten hours to Big Bend State Park for several days of hiking. 

So I thought I 'd give you a small taste of what I'll be seeing and doing at Choke Canyon.  We'll be a group of about 25 and will have a group paddle on Saturday, and perhaps another one on Sunday.  But we'll also be hiking, birdwatching, just going out on the reservoir to enjoy sunsets and birds, and eating a group meal on Saturday night.

These pictures are from several years back so many of them are taken on very small point/shoot cameras. But they will give you an idea of what this weekend will be like. I consider this weekend to be our official first weekend of spring. We'll have night temperatures in the 40's and daytime temperatures in the high 60's to mid 70's.  Next Monday, it will be in the 80's.  It's also about the last weekend we can expect to see lots of ducks and sandhill cranes. They will be leaving very shortly.

One of my all-time favorite shots - can't find my original so had to use the backed-up one from Webshots
Choke Canyon is one of those places where several biomes come together.   It is the western-most place to find American alligators, the northernmost place to find several Mexican bird species, and has both eastern and western birds. It also attracts white pelicans and lots of ducks and geese in the winter. Sandhill  cranes roost there in winter when the water levels provide them with shallow inlets or ponds.

I have learned to take a couple of bags of oranges - the birds eat them down at about one very thirty minutes.  I also bring sunflower seed to bring in the green jays, cardinals and the sage sparrow, among other seed-eating birds. But we also find birds from our boats or by hiking - there are several trails just for bird watching.

Audubon's Oriole - we take oranges to attract it to our sites

Pine Warbler - oranges bring in many species

Bird Blind from which I took the previous two pictures, by Dutch on his cell phone

The reservoir killed many trees but some of these keletons are still beautiful

Long-billed thrasher

This is an amazing place for butterflies - this was taken in the spring, not on the annual trip.

Osprey hunting over the reservoir

On the Frio River from Breckenridge entrance - closed this year due to low water.

Me taking out out at Breckenridge several years ago

Scissor -tailed flycatcher taken from the visitor center parking lot

Winnie shooting wild turkeys on the reservoir shore. She became an avid birder after several years of coming here with me.

What our trip this year will look like

Morning view on 75 Acre Lake

This used to be a common scene before wildlife feeding was banned

A very old view of the Frio
So give me a couple of weeks and I'll be back with pictures from this years trip as well as several virtual hikes in Big Bend State Park. 

And Happy Valentines Day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Doing Lunch on Dickenson Bayou - Kayaker Style

Dateline: Saturday, January 9, 2013

It's so fun to be back where I can paddle any day I wish.   Saturday, I joined another HASK (Houston Association of Sea Kayakers) trip, this time on Dickinson Bayou.  This was to be a very social paddle as our destination was Garcia's Grill in the little Town of Dickinson on Benson Bayou. We paddled upstream from out put-in at the Highway 3 boat ramp until it was time to turn around and go back, in order to be at the restaurant by the time of our reservations.

Boats came off cars and lined up by the boat ramp

Putting the hatch covers on Linda's new kayak

Trip Leader Donna putting in
This paddle is through neighbors with huge houses on large tracks of land with a few still wild areas in between. It doesn't  get to be really wild until a ways past where we had to turn around.  Still, we enjoyed being on the water, visiting with friends, and enjoying the birds.  Herons and egrets were fishing, as was an osprey, and a pair of red-tailed hawks were courting. Lots of spotted sandpipers bobbed along rocks and logs at stream side, or flew weakly to new landings.  Black and turkey vultures circled lazily overhead. I was able to get real close to a tri-colored heron, but alas, I didn't have my camera on the correct settings to get a sharp picture of him as the wind moved and bounced my canoe around.


Bayou View
 The day was partly to mostly cloudy with soft air.  I wore my long pants, river sandals and a a Coolmax short-sleeved shirt.  When the sun went behind clouds and the breeze picked up, I could have used a layer on my arms but I could stay warm when I was paddling.

Donna with  some of the group
By the time we reached the restaurant the temperatures had risen to high sixties and we were comfortable sitting out on the deck.  We had nineteen of us for lunch when friends of one of the paddlers joined us. It made for a long, relaxing lunch.

Taking out at Garcia's Grill

Coming under the Hwy. 519 Bridge to reach the restaurant

Lunch bunch sans three
 After lunch, we had a short paddle back to the boat ramp. About half the group elected to paddle on downstream.  I am still fighting a shoulder problem and didn't want to stress it by paddling into the increasing wind, so was in the group that packed up and went home.

Getting ready to continue our paddle

Nap time, Gus?
This is not the prettiest paddle, but is close to most of us - I was only  thirty minutes away from Galveston - to make it an good place to go for fresh air and exercise on the water. In the winter, it is quiet and there are few motor boats around.  And if you are willing to paddle upstream longer, it does get wilder. However this is a place to avoid in the late spring through fall as there are lots of motor boats and jet skies on it.

My shoulder didn't get worse paddling here, and I enjoyed visiting with friends and observing the birds,  so I deemed the day a success.