May 18, 2003 - Big Bend & Beyond

OK, so maybe everything isn't perfect. The war against an impotent, toothless Iraq began a couple of months ago and WMD #1 has yet to be found. The political situation there and throughout the Middle East (not to mention the rest of the planet) is only going to get worse from here. The taxless-wonder Repubs are giving giftie after giftie to their big bucks buddies while the education system and services for plain ol' citizens fizzle into ether. The economy remains in a pit for the rest of us while fat cats bathe in gilded tubs overflowing with large bills. And it is all presided over by an unelected neanderthal xenophobe who, despite his own prior AWOL status, seems to enjoy photo ops dresed up in the sartorial splendor of military drag.

Nevertheless, outside of aggressive, volatile and dangerous world conditions and the miserable domestic economic situation, life here in the Hill Country is pretty good. The old garden is starting to produce some useable peppers and lots of tomatoes are on the way. Just the other day I finished fencing in a new garden area where I planted cukes and the 3 sisters - corn beans and squash. All got in a little later than recommended (here's hopin'). We have enough paying work to feel somewhat secure, at least at the moment. The wildflowers are profusely poppin', the river is an eminently swimmable 84 degrees and the air temperature is unseasonably comfortable. And, to make matters even better, we are leaving for an 11 day Maui vacation tomorrow (that's the 19th). So be prepared for a plethora of pix in the next edition of this e-rag.

That's enough about the future. Let's dwell in the past for a few moments. For starters, just after the war began, we returned from a short trip to Big Bend. Here's the evidence:

Annie gassing up at Grandad's. First of all, there's really nothing short about a trip to Big Bend. This is, after all, Texas. We gassed up before leaving the neighborhood and then we had to do it all over again here at Grandad's Place, wherever that is. As you can see, at long last, we have caught up with all the local Hill Country Joneses and gotten ourselves a pickup. Ok so it ain't a big honkin' Ford F350 or some such petrol eater. But it is a beaut'. This was our first major journey in the new (almost new, it's a '99) fancy 4 wheel drive Toyota. The truck, by the way, is officially Annie's, hence the proud grin. But the camper cap is mine. Now you tell me, who got the better deal?
After a pretty long while we make our first sightseeing stop at an overlook near Sanderson, where we see miles and miles of Texas. And lest you overlook him, here's your humble chronicler, posing at that very overlook. Sanderson overlook with Ric
Long view of twin peaks along the road to St. Elena Canyon Finally, after a mere 12 hour drive (and that's only halfway across the full width of Texas), we arrive. For those of you not in the know, Big Bend is a vast national park across the Rio Grande from a few Mexican towns. It is so huge that it includes several ecosystems, from extensive river canyons to imposing mountains to unending desert plains, all under rich blue skies (which, unfortunately, are becoming increasingly hazed over from polluting power plants across the border). Here is a desert view with a few peaks in the distance, as seen from the road to St. Elena Canyon.
We arrive too late in the day and fear that Spring Break will cause a disasterous shortage of campsites. Nervously, we enter one of the campgrounds. Right in front of us is a Huisache tree resplendent with bright golden, puffy, bee-attracting globes - an auspicious sign. Gold puffs on tree
Javelina sign. Despite the spring break rush (which, by the way, brings a much more desireable class of college students to Big Bend than one would find in say, Fort Lauderdale), we manage to find a nice, partially secluded campsite in an otherwise packed campground. It is right next to the river and convenient to many of the park's more attractive features. All over the campgrounds we see this scary sign and hope we get to see some Javelinas.
We are not disappointed. Soon one appears right next to our campsite. Pretty good camo this guy is sporting, eh? Anyway, turns out he is the leader of a whole marching unit. Javelina in the woods
Javelinas cross the road And they all march right across the road, headed for the river I presume. These guys are definitely not camera shy, by the by.
The next day, settled into our campsite, we set out to do some exploring. First on the agenda - a hike in Boquillas Canyon. On approaching the head of the trail down into the Canyon, this is what you see. Looks kind of dinky, don't it? Looking down into Boquillas
Boquillas Canyon high cave little people
Well looks can be deceiving. See that little cave up there? See those even littler people? Those aren't action figures. We're talkin' scale here. The little guys are preparing to slide down the sandy slope.
Annie in Boquillas trail arch Ric in Boquillas trail arch
Clowns will be clowns.
Those dark figures on the other side of the river are Mexican soldiers. That's right, the Mexican army patroling up and down the bank of the Rio Grande, in dark camoflage, carrying scary looking rifles. But why? Drug smuggling prevention? I don't think so. Illegal immigrants? Maybe, but what about the walking-stick vendors who crossed and conducted business right in plain sight of the patrol? Someone theorized that the soldiers were the guards for the walking-stick vendors, protecting them from dangerous American tourists. My theory? I think they were put there by the Mexican government as a very visible, if somewhat misguided display of anti-terrorist cooperation. Mexican army in Boquillas
Blue sky over Boquillas
Anyway, despite the military presence, the sky was a delight, the canyon magnificent. Who cared if shooting might break out any moment? The scene was perfect.
The next day, we hiked the Lost Mine Trail. And wouldn't ya know it? Right there at the trail head was a sign warning hikers about mountain lions. The sign suggested that if you see a lion you make yourself big and throw rocks. I figured If I saw a lion I'd prefer to make myself scarce and throw up. But what do I know? Annie immediately picked up a handful of rocks to carry for the entire walk. Lion warning sign at the Lost Mine Trail trailhead.
Annie with rocks in hand. And here's the lion-killer herself. Soon after this picture was taken she did discard her rocks and proceeded bravely up the trail, fully prepared to take on the mean old lion with her bare hands.
Well, that chicken lion never did show up but we did see some beautiful vistas, not to mention this raven (on top of the tree right smack in the middle of the picture), who raised quite a ruckus about us being there. Raven in middle of vista.
Annie contmplates a vista. You just can't explain or photograph some settings. You just have to sit and contemplate.
Rocks are key among the spectacular sights along the Lost Mine Trail. Psychadelic rock
Rockscape. Multi-colored rock.
Rocks with leaning cactus flower. Wide shot of colorful rock.
Tree growing from rock. Rocks are tough but I think trees are tougher. This one has grown quite healthy right on the side of a huge rock wall. How do they do that?
Trees aren't the only things growing from the rocks at Big Bend. When all you have to live in is rock, you call it home. Ask these prickly pears and yuccas. Prickly pears growing from rocks.
Annie in rock house ruins. Or ask the ghosts of those humans who once lived in the neighborhood. They built their homes of the local rock, and did it beautifully.
Vista from rock house ruins. Close up of rock wall.
The next day it was St. Elena Canyon. We arrived just as some canoers were finishing their run and heading for the take-out. Yeah, the river is brown (it did not call to us to jump in), but the canyon is spectacularly beautiful. Canoes in St. Elena Canyon
Annie in St. Elena Canyon And, of course, the canyon is made even more beautiful by the presence of my lovely wife.
Oops, there goes the beauty. Oh well, a little contrast never hurts. Ric in St. Elena Canyon
Canyon wall 2 toned canyon wall
As we were leaving St. Elena Canyon, thinking how nice it would have been to stay longer if only the shade had remained a little longer, we passed this lone woman entering, toting her own shade.
St Elena Canyon with umbrella woman
Red prickly pear. Ocatillo
The desert is quite spectacular, in a sparce, rugged way. Subtle and not-so-subtle color is everywhere. Practically everything is beautiful to look at but near impossible to touch - armored with spikes, spines, quills and an assortment of dangerous and itchy parts. On the left, nopal cactus (prickly pear), its pads (nopalitos) ringed with red. On the right, ocatillo, also called devil's walking stick, extends proudly skyward.
As we left the park on the road to Terlingua, we just had to stop and take in this desert sunset. Terlingua is a neat little town, poised on the edge of a semi-boom (in an old hippy sort of way). The neighboring town of Lajitas seems to be equipped and braced for a different sort of boom - more upscale than funky Terlingua. There are miles of fancy gates leading into seemingly empty subdivisions. There is a high-end hotel and restaurant where you can easily drop a couple hundred on dinner with the works. We had a $20 dinner in a nice, unpretentious, hang-out kind of place back in Terlingua called The Boathouse (tho it's hard to see where a boat might be launched anywhere in the vicinity). Sunset on road to Terlingua
There's lots more but that's enough (some might say "more than enough") about the Big Bend trip. Now back to the homefront. Check out the wildflowers (in alphabetical order), all shot right around here. I've tried an identification of each but have a difficult-to-use wildflower book and came up short on a couple. Might have gotten others wrong so if you know the correct names of any of these, please let me know. By the way, I've made these pix fairly small to expedite the download for those of you with slow connections. To see a larger image of any of the following, just click on the thumbnail.
Agarita and back of house
Agatita berries close
Agarita berries aplenty out back.
Hard to pick them berries - razor leaves.
Arnica (or Plains Blackfoot)
Beggar's Lice
Black Eyed Susan
Beggar's Lice (beautiful but they stick)
Black Eyed Susans
The famed (if overrated) Bluebonnets
Buffalo Gourd
Bluet in two tone splendor
Buffalo Gourd (locally - Stink Gourd )
A spray of Coreopsis on the bank
Garlic & cistern
Garlic closeup
Garlic in foreground (cistern in back)
Garlic Flowers in dunce caps
Horsemint (maybe?)
Indian Blanket
Mexican Buckeye
Mexican Poppy
Indian Blankets (or Pinwheels)
Mexican Buckeye (pink in background)
Mexican Poppy (don't pick barehanded)
Morning Glories
2 Tone Prickly  Pear
Yellow Prickly Pear
Morning Glories (not available all day)
Two Tone Prickly Pear
The more common Prickly Pear
Mystery flower
Texas Thistle
White Milkwart
Name that flower
Texas Thistle (also well protected)
White Milkwart
Yosemity Sam
Sawyer the cat
The lovely & delicate Winecup
The much less delicate Yosemity Sam
The obligatory cute Sawyer shot
Zac & Grandpa with block tower
And I know you've all been waiting patiently for the Zac progress report so here it is. Pretty cool tower, eh? (Mouse ears hat by Disney. Designer blocks custom made for wonderful grandson by his wonderful Grandpa. Photo by Annie.)