2.01.2013

Hot Springs

Before you even get down to the world renowned hot springs, there is a quite interesting drive, and as a person who is scared of heights, these canyon walls and roads sometime get the best of me. I try not to let on too much because A) I don't want to scare the kids and B) I don't want to pass my scaredy cat gene on to them; however, today I did not do a very good job as I dug my fingernails into the passanger handrest.


It may be hard to tell but that grey line on the left that runs across the photo is the road below us, and it was a long way down.
Only enough room for one vehicle at a time.
On the passenger side, I could see paint on the rocks left from some automobiles that got too close.

 

Once safely at the bottom, I took a deep breathe and enjoyed the neat old houses left from the 1930's.

Notice the sign on the right. Theft from unattended vehicles occurs frequently; although, I felt quite safe.

 

The natural occurring hot spring is an easy one mile walk though history. Along the way you pass an old post office/store and motel from when the town was booming, and some pictographs on the cliffs from prehistoric times.

The kids hanging out at the old post office.

As we rounded the corner of the post office, we got our first up close view of the Rio Grande, which is not what I expected. The famous river is not much more than a big creek now due to misuse and over irrigation - leaving it almost completely dry from El Paso to Presidio, and it is only when it gets fed by Mexico's Rio Conchos in Big Bend National park that it starts to carry water to the Gulf.

Our first up close view of the Rio Grande river.
We then walked down a long corridor with an endless wall of steep rocky cliffs on one side, and tall water grass on the other. At one point, I asked John if we were on the right path, and just as he answered the trail opened up to the the Hot Springs Bath House ruins.
I find that I am reminded of an early 8th century poem - The Ruins

Stone buildings stood, and the hot streams cast forth
Wide sprays of water, which a wall enclosed
In its bright compass, where convenient
Stood hot baths ready for them at the centre.
Hot streams poured forth over the clear grey stone,
To the round pool and down into the baths.

Notice how clear and calm the water looks before the tribe entered, and once we entered it doesn't look quite as nice. The bottom of the mineral spring is just a fine sandy floor with a grey clay below the sand. The mineral water comes out of the earth at 105 degrees in the top right corner of the picture. You will notice that we are sitting in the bottom left corner because it was a bit cooler for the kids. It was neat to think that we were sitting in water that was transporting ancient minerals deposited deep in the earth crust millions of years ago.

Enjoying the warm mineral waters.

Here I am lounging around with the kids, rubbing sand on my arms, and even making a mud mask for my face, while John the protecter stands guard. He did finally get down on the ledge to dangle his feet in the water, and discovered an old inscription carved into the stone foundation near where I was sitting - J.O. Langston 1912, which happens to be the name of the man who built the little town we walked by and developed the hot springs. Relaxing here was easy because the spring was only about 2 feet deep in most areas, and except for the two very nice couples who joined us, we were the only ones there.

Taken while standing out of the Hot spring in the Rio Grande river, which was much colder.


At one point, I ventured into the Rio Grande, which was only about knee high, and was shocked at the temperature difference. The older kids eagerly joined me in the river, and discovered a sweet spot right where the spring run overs the old foundation and spills into the river. The temperature there was just right - not too hot and not too cold.

Johnny and Maia sitting in the much cooler Rio Grande playing in the run off from the spring.

And although no one really wanted to leave this oasis in the desert, at some point we had to leave but only with a promise that we would come back again before we left.

Everyone was wore out, especially the twins, and it was the heat of the day, which made the walk back a little more somber than the hike out.


A beautiful moment on the walk back - Hanna and Lexi at their best.

 

Building In The Desert

When we are not hiking or roaming across the desert, the kids are always busy doing something, and usually that is building things.

At Big Bend National Park, there are lots of rocks to use over and over to build interesting things. One child built a fairy house, another child used some of the same stones the next day as a dividing line for a game, and yet another for a lizard sunning station.

Lexi with her fairy house.

We even built a working sundial on day two, which was useful for the remaining 8 days. It may not look like much but it does the job, and quite accurately.

Can you tell what time it is? 1:30 CST


A little lizard scuttled up Lexi's hand while she was play with some stones.

I have made a new rule in the past month or so, no inside toys go outside, and since the kids prefer to play outside they have been very creative with the things nature has left them to play with.

I am hoping in a couple months I can cut the six drawers of toys down to three, and the rate we are going it will be totally doable.

 

1.29.2013

Lost Mine Trail

or

No Shit There We Were!

(John said I shouldn't say the S word on a family blog but it seems so appropriate)

Yes, we are still in Big Bend National Forest and loving all the trails to hike; however, this trail was an unexpected stop with unexpected sightings.

At the beginning of the trail. What you can not see is the large sign on the left saying, "Trail not recommended for children due to mountain lion and bear sightings".

We were on our way back from the Chisos mountain lodge, where we get our daily dose of free ice and water, on a late afternoon and I spied only one car at the lost mine trail pull off, so I convinced John to pull over, and just have a go at this moderate trail. Encouraging him that I had no expectations of making it to the top of the 5 mile trail but rather to just get out and see how the kids did on a real trail vs. the paved loop trails we had been doing.

After strapping two kids on John, Ciara in the backpack carrier and Freya in the MiaTie on front, and then Moby wrapping Joclyn on me, we were ready to head out - all this took about 15 minutes to finagle, and I honestly think John was ready to get back in the van at this point. But despite him having a double load, he humoured me, and off we went.

Hanna was carrying the self-guide trail booklet, and I was playing my typical teacher role, while John was playing scout. He would lead us around sharp corners with the tribe in tow, all in a single line, and me pulling up the rear. The kids would spot a numbered marker and I would read the guide, while John patiently stood to make sure there where no mountain lions or bears on the approach.

We had just come to marker number four, and I was talking about the CCC boys, and how they had built this trail, and the stone culvert we were approaching using only hand tools in the 1930's as part of Roosevelt's New Deal when John yells back, "Everyone quiet!" Like that is really going to happen with our tribe - 6 girls and 1 boy, and he can out talk some of the girls. But surprisingly it did stop them, and my heart rate quickened.

It was only when I seen him take a seat on the culvert ledge that I knew we where in no immediate danger. He waved the kids quietly up, and around the corner, about 30 feet, was a six point buck, or as we like to call him, The STAG.

We sat for a bit watching him pay us no mind and eating the gramma grass and Emery Oak acorns from the trees. But it wasn't long before my patients wore out, and I was ready to see more of the trail, knowing that the kids, John, and the sun would expire at a time sooner than I would like. After much debate, it was agreed that I would cautiously walk forward, and John would bring up the rear with his warning whistle in hand.

As we crept closer, the Stag just kept eating with one eye on us, and we could soon see that down the hill was a doe.

And then. . . No shit, there we were, a tribe of 9, less than 10 feet from this amazingly magnificent animal. I soon forgot to worry about the kids and started snapping as many pictures as I could, as John the protecter urged me to keep moving and not encourage an attack. After what seemed like forever, we all slid past him and were at a safe distance when John says, "Kids, you won't be seeing that in a typical classroom".

We continued to hike, with more courage than was probably wise, and new hopes of spotting one of the acclaimed mountain lions or bears that were so popular in the area. But after about 200 yards, the adrenal began to diminish, the kids started to expire, and the sun was heading below the ridge line. There wasn't much left to do but turn around and head back.

On the decent we talked about the alligator juniper, the graves oak, the agave plant, and the beautiful rock formations. We also decided that this was a pretty magical mountain with so many beautiful things on it, and the girls declared it to be enchanted.

The big girls standing next to an alligator juniper, prickly pear cactus, and gramma grass.

We made it safely back to the van, unhooked the little ones, and decided that next year we would come back and ascend it to the very top.

As we pulled away the kids waved and said, "Goodbye Enchanted Lost Mine Trail".

 

 

(Please forgive the grammatical errors, I have not had time to edit these)

 

1.28.2013

Big Bend National Park

This place is AMAZING!!! There are so many diverse habitats in this area, and is well worth a visit, even though it is out of the way.

We were lucky enough to get one of the primitive backcountry sites in General Springs - Grapevine 1, and we were the only humans for miles around. We watched spectacular sunrises, walked trails from our camp in the mornings, sunbathed in the afternoon, colourful sunsets, and black starry nights. There were lots of great things about this site but for us the cost was the best; for $5 (or is you don't have a golden age or disability access pass it is $10) you get 10 days of this beautiful landscape. The park rangers have done an awesome job of creating these primitive sites so that they can not be seen from the main roads, so as someone is driving down the paved park roads they would have no idea there was a family of 9 living for 10 days back in the hills.

Our first sunset at Grapevine 1

The Sunrise on our first morning at GV1

Another great thing about this park is that there are quaking aspen groves around old ranch wells, desert washouts, rolling cactus desert hills, mountains with oaks, pines, and mesquite, and snow on the mountain peaks. Plus there is the Rio Grande with a whole new set of ecosystems; and lets not forget the hot springs.

We DO NOT just blatantly disregard the posted signs but the ranger said since we were such a large group we would probably scare away the resident mountains lions and keep them from attacking one of the kids.

This is what they call window canyon, which is a spectacular view in the Chisos Mountains.


One day we ate lunch at Dugout Wells, which actually had pools of water and a totally different feeling about it compared to the desert just yards away.

This one is for my mom; she loves old windmills.

A person could easily spend a month here roaming around, and if funds were unlimited we could have really rocked out; however, because gas was about 70 cents more a gallon here we really had to conserve our gas money and there were places we just didn't go because it was too far down the road to spend the gas to get to it. Most places are about 20 to 30 miles apart, and when you add that as a round trip plus 10 mpg it is easy to see why having a gas budget is a bit of a bummer here; however, I am not complaining because what we did take in was fantastic.

 

Del Rio

We made a stop in Del Rio before heading out to Big Bend National Park.

We stayed at Laughlin AFB, and enjoyed full hook-ups, cable tv, playground across the street, and a sky filled with aircraft for viewing - all for $15 a night.

I must say, if we weren't heading straight to primitive camping at Big Bend National Park, we would have stayed at one of the primitive sites on the Amistead reservoir, which was beautiful as we passed by. We didn't stop to dilly dally because we had a full days drive to Big Bend, plus we were behind schedule.


We started out the morning ahead of schedule (a miracle for us) when John noticed that one of ourpassenger tires on the camper was wearing extremely thin on the outside tread. So rather than take the chance of changing a blow out tire on the side of the road, we paid Walmart $11 to put on our regular spare, and it only took about 15 minutes.

There looks to be a lot to see and do in Del Rio, and when we pass through this way again I will definitely plan to spend at least 3 or 4 days here. We could have visited the Reservoir, followed part of the Pecos Trail, and taken in the local historical areas in the town. Also, if you have a passport there is a rather large Mexican town, called Del Rio's sister town. I would have loved to eat some of the local Mexican restaurants and visited the local markets for those yummy mexican pastries.

 

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