Big Bend Critters – Tarantulas

A tarantula minding his own business along the Croton Spring Trail

On our previous trips through Big Bend National Park, we never saw a single tarantula. This winter they are everywhere!!

Big Bend Hikes: Balanced Rock

Looking through the balanced rock

It’s been a long time since I posted. My cell data speed took a beating last month when I was trying to watch some FIFA soccer matches! So, had to wait until it reset with the monthly turnover! 🙂

One of my favorite short hikes in Big Bend is the trek to the “balanced rock.” Officially called the Grapevine Hills Trail, the trailhead is accessed via 6 miles of dirt/gravel road leading to a small parking area.

I hiked it again this year after reading the book Death in Big Bend: Real Stories of Death and Rescue in Big Bend National Park, by Laurence Parent. (This is a great read, by the way) There’s a story in the book about a young man who ventured out on this easy, 2-mile trail and got lost, eventually suffering from heat stroke and perishing in the hot, desert sun. Part of the trail follows a wash and hikers must pay attention to the markers indicating when the trail leaves the wash and takes a turn leading back to the parking area. This particular hiker was on the trail on a blistering hot day in early summer and was probably already suffering from heat stroke and disoriented as he was returning to the parking area from the end of the trail at the balanced rock. He missed the marker where the trail exits the wash and, instead, continued down the wash. That was his fatal mistake.

One cannot see the parking area from the wash as it sits lower in elevation where it passes the lot and, is therefore, hidden from view. The hiker overshot the parking area by a few hundred feet and, in his disoriented mental state, kept walking in the wash. A mile or so beyond his car, he perished.

Grapevine Hills area

I was curious about how this could have happened and, once we returned to the parking lot, I walked down the road which descended steeply to the wash and saw where he must have crossed the road. There would have been no indication at the time that the trailhead parking area was nearby at this juncture. The park service has now placed a directional sign in the middle of the wash at this crossing with an arrow pointing to the parking area. It was very sobering to realize just how quickly one can be overcome with heat and lose their way – even on the easiest of hikes. What’s the lesson here? During the hottest times of the year, carry plenty of water, hike during the coolest parts of the day and tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.

View of the trail in the wash from above near balanced rock

Big Bend Hikes: Pine Canyon Trail

Trail heading towards the canyon

Thanksgiving Day in Big Bend National Park started off crisp and clear, eventually warming up in time for a nice mid-day hike into Pine Canyon.

The Pine Canyon Trail starts at the end of Pine Canyon Road and is reached via 6 miles of rough, rocky dirt road travel. While high-clearance 4×4 vehicles are recommended, it is possible for higher-clearance all-wheel drive SUV’s to make the cut – just drive slow!! Those wishing to take the extra effort to reach the trailhead are rewarded with a nice 4-mile roundtrip hike through diverse vegetation on a lesser trafficked trail.

The route starts at the end of the small parking lot that defines the terminus of the road. For the first 1.5 miles, hikers are traversing through a lush desert environment characterized by sotol, beargrass, juniper and pinyon pine. As the trail enters the canyon, the vegetation changes drastically and the trail begins a steep ascent to the Pine Canyon pour-off where it ends at a seasonal waterfall. Plants found in the canyon include several varieties of oak, big tooth maple, pinyon pine, madrone and Arizona pine. The deciduous trees were exhibiting some nice fall color! I found evidence of longspur columbine plants along the trail deep in the canyon. I can only imagine how beautiful they are in bloom!!

At the pour-off, the maples were turning some brilliant yellows and oranges!
Colorful Big Tooth Maple leaves

Amazing how much cooler it was in the canyon compared to the exposed desert portion of the trail!! One of the benefits of an out-and-back trail is the alternative views you experience on the way out. Walking back to the parking area, we were rewarded with some stunning views of the limestone cliffs of the Sierra del Carmen Mountain Range in the distance.

The Sierra del Carmen cliffs in the background!

It was a great hike! Hard to believe that I would come down with Covid the very next day!! I had no symptoms on Thanksgiving Day at all. Covid hit me hard and fast Friday night and put me in bed for several days!! After 3 years of avoiding the dreaded virus, I guess it was inevitable that I would eventually contract it. I’m on the mend now and furiously washing and disinfecting everything in sight! 🙂

Edisto Beach Moments

Colorful chairs on Edisto Beach house porch

Our annual family trip to Edisto Beach occurred one week later in November than normal. It meant that we missed the late-season hurricane that came up the coast but had to endure less than ideal weather from the backlash of the storm. It was cloudier and cooler than usual even by local standards. We still managed to get a couple of beach walks in and some side trips to local attractions. Our trip in photos!

Beach Time

Boone Hall Plantation

Boone Hall Plantation was established in 1681 by Englishman Major John Boone. It has realized several transfers of ownership over the years but has continued to produce agricultural crops throughout its long history. The current owners, the MacRae family, purchased the plantation in 1955 and opened it to the public a year later.

Oak Avenue planted in the mid-1700’s lines the driveway to house
Slave quarters for the “house” slaves – not typical. During a period in the 1800’s, brick was produced by slaves from clay on the property to be used in many buildings around Charleston
The main house on the plantation – remodeled in 1936
Fall theme throughout the plantation!
The gardens on either side of the main house are arranged in the pattern of a butterfly – visible only from above!

Mepkin Abbey Creche Festival

Mepkin Abbey was established in 1949 on the grounds of the former Mepkin Plantation. It is inhabited by Trappist monks who follow the Rule of St. Benedict by devoting their lives to “prayer, spiritual study, work and hospitality.” For 18 years, the abbey has hosted a Creche Festival – displaying close to 100 nativity scenes from artists around the world. Friends of mine who live near the abbey invited us to join them for a tour of the festival. It was absolutely a wonderful experience. While most of the nativity scenes were located indoor, there were a few outside displays where I could take pictures. They were all so very unique in their interpretation of the nativity!

Georgetown, SC

We try to choose a new town somewhere within a couple of hours from Edisto Beach to explore during our visit. This year, the choice was Georgetown, SC. Founded in 1729, the city quickly became a registered port of entry allowing trading to occur directly from the city rather than all trade going through Charleston. Early on, indigo was the main crop traded in the port. Later, rice and lumber were major exports. Today, the outskirts of town are dominated by International Paper. The town itself was a surprise. A walkable downtown center along the historic Front Street with restaurants and shops is surrounded by old, well-kept neighborhoods of Victorian-style homes. The marina no longer supports large ships so the shipping industry has died here, but there appears to be a healthy population of tourists and leisure boaters enjoying the harbor.

Fun wall mural along Front Street
Harbor in Georgetown
Waterfront condos and shops in Georgetown

From the Porch on Edisto Beach

Memorial to a Friend

Tear Drops on a Rose

While visiting Edisto Beach, South Carolina a couple of weeks ago, my extended family and I visited Boone Hall Plantation in Mount Pleasant. The day before this visit, I learned of the passing of a friend and former colleague. Joe Wright was a man of many talents – one of which was his love of roses. I spent some time in the rose garden at Boone Hall that day contemplating my friend and this photograph says it all.

Joe – I’m thankful to have known you.

Big Bend Flora 11.9.22

Ipomopsis aggregata  – Scarlet Gilia

Another beautiful red-flowered perennial blooming in the Chisos Mountains is the Ipomopsis aggregata. I found this little gem along the Lost Mine Trail – a popular 5-mile out and back trail near the Chisos Basin. It’s one of my favorite hikes in the park due to the spectacular views and the diversity of plant material encountered along the way. At the terminus of the trail high above Juniper Canyon, you can see for miles across the desert floor below.

Lost Mine Trail View
Looking east from the Lost Mine Trail
Gorgeous and peaceful looking out over the rugged peaks and valleys of the Big Bend landscape!

Big Bend Flora 11.2.2022

Salvia regla – Mountain Sage

Hiking the upper part of the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains last week, I came upon the showy, bright red, tubular flowers of Salvia regla or Mountain Sage. Often blooming in the spring and, again in the fall, the flowers are attractive to migrating hummingbirds! The plant is native to the rocky, higher elevation slopes of the Chisos Mountains and a corresponding area across the border in several of the states of Mexico.

Capricious Captures 10.26.22

Taking a Swim in the Rio Grande

I’m back! Since my last post, we have made our way from Northern California to Southwest Texas via a circuitous route that allowed us to visit family along the way and a whole bunch of national parks! Much of the time, I’ve had little to no cell service. Rather than be frustrated with zero or slow uploading speeds, I decided to forego trying to post anything here until we landed in SW Texas and got settled in our new spot for the winter months.

I have a ton of catching up to do and I’ll be sharing adventures and photographs – but not in chronological order! It’ll be fun and I’ll mix and match varying geographical locations we’ve traveled over the past year.

Rio Grande River

I get to spend the next 5 months in a very special place – Big Bend National Park. Looking forward to some quality time here exploring parts of the park and surrounding area that have eluded us in past visits!!

Big Bend NP has experienced some great rainfall in recent weeks and it’s caused the desert to come alive! It’s unusually green right now and some desert plants have taken advantage of the extra moisture and are blooming out of season. Along the Hot Springs Historic Area roadway, I spotted Eagle Claw cacti showing off their blooms!

Echinocactus horizonthalonius – Devilshead or Eagle-Claw Cactus

The Chisos Basin area is awash with green, gray, and blue hues across the landscape.

Looking toward the Window in the Chisos Basin
Casa Grande in the Clouds

Capricious Captures 9.5.22

Watch out!!

Jim walked around the other side of the picnic table on our site and reached down to pick something up off the ground – and heard a hiss…..he was inches from this rattlesnake! Jim backed off and the snake moseyed on along and disappeared behind a pile of lava rock. We caught a glimpse of his rattle and he gave it a little shake as he headed away. I wonder if he’s been hanging out that close to us all summer??

Evening Strolls and Memories in Lava Beds NM

Walkway to the Lava Beds Visitor Center

The sunsets here at Lava Beds National Monument are some of the most spectacular that I’ve ever experienced. As much as I love my morning sunrise walks, my favorite time of the day is dusk.

Cave Loop Road in Lava Beds NM

As I walk in the evening here (and everywhere), I am always taken back to one particular childhood memory. When I was a little girl, I came down with a serious case of appendicitis. It was right after the Easter vacation and I missed a couple of weeks of school. Since I was raised by a single mom and she worked full-time, my grandparents were my caregivers during my recuperation. I loved the time that I spent with them.

During this time, my grandfather had just retired from Longwood Gardens and they moved into my grandmother’s family home outside of Kennett Square, PA. It was an old Sears and Roebuck kit house built in the 1930’s – the materials arriving via the railroad just down the hill from the property. I remember the built-in floor-to-ceiling kitchen cupboards, the extraordinary millwork throughout the house and the stone fireplace most of all. My great-grandfather was a house painter and I remember the interior walls painted with a mottled, textured surface in dark earth tones. I’ve never seen anything else that compares to it.

From 1908 to 1940, the Sears and Roebuck company sold over 70,000 kit homes across the country. The depression and, ultimately World War II, brought an end to the kit house era of that time. I hope the house is still standing today. It would be interesting to visit it!

One particular night during my convalescent stay with my grandparents, I observed my grandfather standing at the screen door in the sunroom at the back of the house. He was gazing out into the darkness listening to the night sounds as dusk was settling in. I can still conjure up a pretty vivid picture of his still silhouette by the door. It’s one of those memories that stays with you always. I asked him what he was doing and he told me it was his favorite time of the day and his evening ritual. And so, at that moment, it became my favorite time of the day. 🙂