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Published on December 12, 2010, by admin in Adventure.

Yesterday, I drove to Santa Elena Canyon and walked the short trail back into the canyon. It’s an awesome place to see. The gorge narrows to 30 feet with vertical rock  walls 1500 feet high on either side. I took some pictures, but you really can’t capture the experience with anything but your eyes.  The Rio Grande River is famous for it’s beautiful passage through spectacular scenery in and above the Big Bend area, and that’s why many people raft/canoe the miles of waterway along the border.  I decided to drive the road that follows the river through Big Bend Ranch State Park to Presido and check out the scenery. 

Mexico is privileged to hold most of the beautiful mountains and canyons along the Rio Grande and I often wished I could explore them. I heard tell of one canyon, feeding into the Rio Grande, that is so lush with vegetation it is like a rain forest. The drive was very pretty and interspersed with information at canoe access points. 

From Presido I drove north and soon came to the Border Patrol checkpoint. I have the wrong kind of vehicle to pass through an inspection station in innocence, and they always give me the third degree. I answered questions about every part of my life for the last few years and even some about the future. I kind of guessed I was in for a grilling when I saw the narcotics dog held by one of the patrolmen as i pulled up. I guess it’s good that they are spending money and time with these inspection stations, but all the miles I drove along the border, not once did I see a Border Patrol vehicle. 

Last night i stayed at Davis Mountain SP in Texas, and tonight I will camp somewhere near Carlsbad. I want to see the cave one more time and then head back to Arizona. 

 
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Published on December 10, 2010, by admin in Adventure.

I guess I’d better catch up on my journal. It’s been so long since I’ve had a cell signal my writing fell into extinction. This section of the southwest, from the Gila National Forest to White Sands National Park and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, down through Guadeloupe National Park all the way to Big Bend Nat’l Park in Texas never once gave me one bar of  AT&T signal. This is not the section of the USA to have an iPhone. 

The Gila Wilderness is the neatest place on earth. I would love to backpack there someday. It took forever to cross through the mountains but it was worth it. The road is so winding and steep it keeps you to about 20 mph all the way through. Finally, you come down from the mountains and skirt the Missile Range on I15 to White Sands Nat’l Monument. 

I took a nature trail through the sand dunes and drove the 8 mi loop around the park. There’s not much to see there except pure white sand. Most of the visitors were sledding down the dunes with there kids like they were on a hill of snow. 

Carlsbad Caverns Nat’l Park is worth the trip all by itself. I never remembered it being so hugh when I was there before. It took me two days to tour only about half what is open to visitors, and then I wanted to do them all over again. Two of the largest and longest cave trails are now self-guided:  the Natural Opening that spirals down a trail for over a mile to a depth 800 ft below ground, and the Big Room, another trail over a mile in length were free with my Golden Pass. I liked them so much that i came back the next day and did them again. I also joined two guided tours, a lantern walk and the Kings Palace. It is just such a place of alien beauty I may stop and do It again on my way back, if it is not too far out of the way. 

Guadeloupe NP was a good place to spend the night while I toured Carlsbad Caverns. I left there with a full tank of gas for what I knew would be a long lonely stretch of barren highway through southern Texas. Texas likes to put up a lot of Historic Markers along it’s highways, and for awhile I stopped at each one to marvel at some fact, but soon I tired of stopping from 70 mph every few miles to read about some cattleman killed by Indians, or where a railroad went through, and passed a few by. 

I’m now spending three days- or maybe more- at Big Bend NP. I’ll have to see how many Mexicans I can get in the back of my van to bring to Phoenix.  Donna says they need a lot more illegals there  That’s the only scary thing about being here, this park is pretty active with smugglers. Most of my hiking has been in the Chisos Mountains though, and the heavy traffic goes through the Rio Grand area twenty miles from here. 

Today I climbed Emory Peak, the highest point in the Chisos Mountains at 7825 ft. My legs are a little tired but otherwise I feel good. I’m not sure what I will do tomorrow

 
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The cliff dwellings were quite interesting. It’s one of the few sites they let you walk through the ruins, although, there are guides stationed strategically to keep an eye out for mischief. It was afternoon by the time I finished looking around so I decided to stay another night in Gila NF. As I drove the winding road through the wilderness, a wolf passed in front of me. I stopped in the middle of the road and watched him until he disappeared over a hill. Just before he vanished, he turned and looked at me for a few seconds. That was pretty cool!

The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail runs through the Gila Wilderness, and I spent part of the afternoon looking for it. I have hiked small sections of the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, North Country Trail, and the Arizona Trail. I wanted to add the CDT to my list, but after much searching, I couldn’t find where it crossed the road and gave up. 

I hope to get to White Sands NM tomorrow. I should find a cell signal for an update soon. Then it’s wherever I end up I guess. 

 
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Published on December 5, 2010, by admin in Adventure.

I just can’t get enough of Apache country. I spent last night at Chiricahua Nat’l Mon. again, and hiked a short nature trail this morning before heading into New Mexico.  Before that, I stopped at Colossal Cave below Tucson and had a VIP tour, I was the only one that showed up for the 3:00 group. 

Tonight I’m at a free campground in the Gila Nat’l For. I noticed some cliff dwellings on the map and I will take a look tomorrow. It is still cold at night with traces of snow both here and in Chiricahua where I stayed last night. I gathered up enough wood to keep warm for a while and then I will crawl in and pile the blankets on.  Tomorrow I will head east. 

 
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During the last month, Daryl, Donna, and I had been considering an overnight hike someplace in southern Arizona. It would be Donna’s first experience at backpacking and my first experience camping in a wilderness where rattlesnakes, scorpions, and coyote call home. Daryl has hiked in several areas around Phoenix and knows the climate and terrain we were likely to encounter, as well as having a vehicle that could get us to remote trailheads if need be. It seemed that everything was coming together as planned until an unusually, rare cold front moved into the Phoenix area and dropped nighttime temperatures dangerously close to freezing. We were beginning to think that our hike wouldn’t happen this year when Donna noticed that the weather for one of the areas we were considering reported a fairly mild night the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Two days later we were headed for Picketpost Trailhead and a section of the Arizona Trail just south of the Superstition Mountains.

Over the last few weeks, Daryl and I had searched for a trail in a forested area, but the altitude in the mountains of Southern Arizona where treeline begins also brings cooler temperatures. We wanted this hike to be fairly easy for Donna’s introduction into the world of backpacking, leaving out the long distance, mountain climbing, and arctic weather. This was my first time backpacking in a desert area and I have to say that I truly enjoyed it. The only drawbacks were having to carry a lot of water and wear long pants – it seems like everything that grows in the desert has needles sticking out of it.

The temperature for the first day was almost perfect. We hiked about 8 miles through rolling hills, canyons, and dry riverbeds (called washes out here because they only see water when it rains). There were several different kinds of cactus and innumerable plants and bushes, many of which Daryl knew their names. Daryl has a friend who is a botanist and they go hiking in the surrounding area and study plants. It was kind of interesting to learn the names of some of the plants and why they are called what they are.

Donna did great. In fact, I was the one usually lagging behind. I tried to lighten her pack by distributing some of the heavy items between Daryl and I, but by the time we divided up the water and food, she had a pack that weighed more than some of my overnight packs. Plus, she had to carry a whole bunch of makeup and her curling iron and blow dryer

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At about 3:30 we crested a hill and glimpsed a valley far below. There was an open area that looked like a good camping place, green trees near the edge of the valley suggested water nearby, and it looked protected from the wind. Our maps indicated that this place was called Spring Trough. The trail seemed to skirt the edge of the trough and it took us a long time to hike down from the hills and navigate a riverbed into the campground, but we all agreed it was a good place for our home that night. I began to gather firewood as Daryl scouted for water at the spring and Donna prepared spots for our tents. Apparently, this land is open range and cows also enjoyed this place. The ground was covered with cow pies.

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Daryl came back to report that the spring didn’t look like anything we would want to drink. We still had plenty of water for drinking and cooking but we would be careful not to waste any. After we set our tents up, we all gathered wood. The sun was beginning to set behind the hills and already the air had a chill to it. When we were sure we had enough firewood to last into the night, we made our dinner of Lasagna, chicken, and mushrooms – no, Donna and I did not like the mushrooms.

As we warmed ourselves by the fire, Daryl kept getting up to check the thermometer I had brought. By 9:30 p.m., the temperature was almost down to freezing and we were a little concerned that we would be able to stay warm in the night. According to the weather report we had so readily trusted, it should have been closer to 50 degrees at the minimum. Donna and I had tents but Daryl was sleeping out under the stars. None of us were prepared for below freezing temperatures, so when we crawled into our bags, we were wearing all our warmest clothes.

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I remember wakening in the night and listening to Daryl unfold an emergency space blanket. He asked me if I was still staying warm and I replied, “Just barely”. I never herd a peep from Donna in the night, but the next morning she said she was a little cold too. Clouds moved in towards morning and the temperature rose a few degrees. By the time daylight broke over the hills and Donna and I crawled from our tents, Daryl had a nice fire going and we breakfasted on oatmeal and coffee.

The hike out followed an old forest road for most of the way. At times it would rain and once we were pelted with hail. It was chilly but we stayed warm with the exercise of walking. We met a group of horses and riders that talked with us briefly, and when we were almost back to the car, two young day-hikers were in awe of our rugged accomplishment. The only other people we met on the trail were two motorcycle riders that Daryl reminded should not be on the trail.

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I had a great time on our desert hike. It was wonderful to spend time with Donna and Daryl. Maybe next summer we will be able to hike in the forests and mountains and get more relatives to come. Donna and I agree that one thing that definitely could have made this hike better was to have Karen with us.

 

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