Exuma, Bahamas – Scuba Diving 5/02/22

Monday, May 2, 2022

Scuba Diving

Location: Exuma, Bahamas – Half Moon Reef and Stingray Reef

Divers: Ian, Tyler, Ned, Kyle

Depth: 30-40 feet

Scuba selfie

So here’s a new category for this blog! I recently went to the Bahamas with my buddies and got re-certified for scuba beforehand. I was certified when I was a kid, but hadn’t dove in years, so I figured I might as well start from the beginning. I convinced Tyler and Ned to get certified as well and Kyle was already certified, so there were four of us.

We stayed in Exuma and had a great time. We only dove one day, but this is looking to be an annual guys trip going forward, so we should get in some more dives. We are going to try and get in some other dives in Texas and perhaps other locations throughout the year also.

We did two dives to two separate reefs, Half Moon and Stingray. When we arrived at the dive shop in the morning, we found that they had mixed up our reservation and we were actually supposed to go that afternoon, but luckily there were just two other divers there (a father and son) who said we could go with them on their charter. They were both experienced divers and it was nice to have them along to keep an eye on us newbies.

This was my first attempt at underwater photography on my little knock off GoPro camera, but I think it came out ok, considering I was just holding it in my hand and praying I didn’t drop it. Nothing spectacular, but it did the job. I’ll include everything I got, including the videos.

Video 1:

Tyler
Ned
Coral
Ned again – still waiting on his GoPro footage!

The reef was actually a little better in terms of health than the reef we were on in the Maldives a few weeks back. Sadly, in 2016 there was a worldwide coral bleaching event and most reefs are still recovering. I’m hoping against hope that we can reverse course, as these are some amazing creations that play such a vital role in our existence, even if most people don’t understand it.

In terms of wildlife, we saw a couple of huge lobsters, a barracuda, and a nice reef shark. Of course, I don’t have pics because I wasn’t even sure my camera was going to work, but you’ll have to take my word for it.

Video 2:

Top to bottom: Tyler, Kyle, and divemaster
Coral
Divemaster and Kyle
More coral

Video 3:

Colorado Bend Overnight 4/9-4/10/22

Saturday, April 9th – Sunday, April 10th, 2022

Colorado Bend State Park – River Trail and River Backpacking Area

Windy, sunny, high 80s in the day, low 60s overnight

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

About 9 miles

The weather finally cooperated for our April Colorado Bend trip, after raining us out in 2020 and then having stinging caterpillar issues in 2021.

Trail head
Gearing up

The river backpacking area at Colorado Bend is only .7 miles in from the regular camping area, but it is so much better. Especially the site we reserved, which has its own private beach on the Colorado River.

We hiked in and set up camp by about 1pm and then slack packed (thru hiking term, which means we had our packs, but mostly empty with just what we needed for the day hike) up the River Trail.

Hiking to camp
Blowing up sleeping pads
Biff leading the way
Day moon

I have renamed the River Trail as “Armadillo Alley”. They were EVERYWHERE. We counted 13.5 going one way. Yes, there was half an armadillo. Some animal had gotten to him, but I didn’t take a pic, so you are spared that image, dear reader.

We were going to try and finally hike the Tenaja Trail, but decided it would be a bit too far to push the dogs on a relatively warm day. Courtney thinks that trail is just not meant to be hiked by the pair of us. I hiked it solo in 2020 and it’s a great trail, but Court has never done it.

We stuck to the River Trail and backtracked back to camp after about 4 miles, returning through Armadillo Alley. The dogs, especially Biff, were supremely interested in them. No armadillos were harmed though.

Break time

We got back to camp and cooked dinner on the beach. There were some beautiful birds (cranes? herons? both?) in the river at sunset and they were a little ornery with each other, much like flamingos in the zoo. We heard them still squawking as we got into the tent for an early night and fell asleep quickly.

Private beach
Camp kitchen
View
Birds
Sleepy Biff

We were up with the sun and packed up and headed out. Successful trip to one of the most underrated state parks. Pups had their usual naptime on the 2 hour ride home.

Lake Bastrop LCRA Park – Swift Trail, Gideon, and Loblolly Loops 3/5/22

Saturday, March 5, 2022

Lake Bastrop LCRA Park – Swift Trail, Gideon, and Loblolly Loops

Overcast, windy, but pleasant – low 70s

Ian, Court, Biff, and Finn

5.21 miles

Another new trail!

To be honest, this wasn’t the best hike, but it was good to get out into the world regardless. The dogs enjoyed it.

Lake Bastrop is an LCRA park. The Lower Colorado River Authority administers 18 parks around Central Texas. It is just north of Bastrop State Park, which was devastated by wildfires a decade ago. The pines are coming back and it’s been interesting to see the recovery of the area.

That said, the trails are fairly flat and the whole area is covered in shredded wood, which I’m guessing is the remnants of the trees that died in the fires. It makes for kind of a bizarre, sparse landscape.

Ducks!
Break time
Finnigan
End of trail pic
map

Spring Lake Preserve – San Marcos, TX 1/17/22

Monday, January 17, 2022

Hike: Spring Lake Preserve – San Marcos, TX

Weather: cool, sunny, upper 50s

Hikers: Ian, Biff, Finn

Length: 4 miles

New trail! Even though I went to school here, I never knew this preserve existed. Spring Lake Preserve is about a mile from the Texas State campus.

From the Texas State website:

“Spring Lake Natural Area is a little known 251-acre park that sits just above Spring Lake, the headwaters of the San Marcos River. It offers many miles of natural surface trails and is open to the public for hiking, biking, birding, photography, and is a perfect companion to a visit to The Meadows Center.

Spring Lake Natural Area contains the typical meadows and woodlands found in the Edwards Plateau, with a wide variety of flora and fauna, ranging from Mexican buckeye to deer and other large mammals. The geology includes layers of the Eagle-Ford, Georgetown, Del Rio clay and Edwards limestone. The endangered golden-cheeked warbler breeds only in central Texas and nests in the ash juniper and oak found here.”

I got to the trail head around 9:30am and got a nice little hike of 4 miles in about 2 hours. Court unfortunately didn’t have MLK Day off, so I went and met her at her office in Kyle after my hike. The pups enjoyed getting out in the chill morning and burning some energy.

These trails are well maintained and marked, with metal blazes and trail junction markers throughout.

Blaze

The terrain is varied and the trails go from dense woodlands to more grassy and open parcels. There’s also a pond and some sections with spanish moss hanging from the trees.

It’s nice to have found a new trail system fairly close to home. I want to come back with Court so she can experience it too. Until next time!

Commons Ford Ranch 12/5/21

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Commons Ford Ranch – Waterfall Trail

Overcast, warm, pleasant

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

2.7 miles

One of Court’s favorite hikes in Austin is Commons Ford Ranch. There are a wide variety of eco-systems, varying terrain, and in the fall, lots of color. It’s an easy hike and not crowded, so thumbs up all around.

The winter doesn’t usually hit in Texas for real until January or February, so we took advantage of a warm December day to get out and hike with the pups. The leaves in Austin have just started to change and they only last a week or so usually.

We went on a dry spell with rain for a while, but had a little in the past couple of weeks, so the waterfall was flowing ok. Always pretty.

As we headed down off the ridge toward the Colorado River (Lake Austin), the colors really started to show out.

We added on an additional loop to this hike that we didn’t get to last time and it was really beautiful. I love the contrast of the colored leaves on the forest floor.

End of trail pic!
map

Big Bend National Park – East Rim and Emory Peak – 10/23-10/24/21

Saturday, October 23 – Sunday, October 24, 2021

Hike: Pinnacles Trail to Emory Peak to East Rim (overnight) to South Rim to Laguna Meadows Trail

Weather: warm, low 80s, mostly clear, beautiful

Hikers: Ian, Josh, Ryan, David

Length: 17.3 miles

Long blog post incoming! I have been wanting to get out to Big Bend National Park my entire life. In early May, I got inspired to finally make the trip by my buddy Lee and booked a night out on the East Rim in the fall and a couple of nights car camping in the Chisos Basin. Sadly, Lee couldn’t make this trip, but I wanted to give him the credit for the idea anyway.

There ended up being four of us: myself, my college buddy Josh, my friend Ryan from Dallas (who I hiked with at Yosemite a couple of years ago), and his friend David, who was a former Boy Scout guide at Philmont in New Mexico.

Josh and I made the long drive from Austin (8 hours) on Friday morning and met up with Ryan and David at the first campsite around 4pm. We set up camp and took a quick hike to see the sunset in The Window, which is a gap in the rocks that surround the Chisos Basin, through which all the water in the basin drains.

The Window

I also found the Stephen Mather plaque. Mather is the father of the National Parks System and he and his second in command, Horace Albright, are responsible for so much of what the National Parks are today. The last line on the plaque says it all: “There will never come an end to the good that he has done.”

We got back to camp and all laid out on a big rock at our site to watch the stars as they came out. Unluckily, the moon was almost full, so we only had a couple of hours of star watching before the moon rose and washed out most of the stars. The moon should have gotten the memo about Big Bend being an International Dark Sky park.

We awoke early the next morning and packed up to hit the trail. We drove to the lodge parking lot where the trail head was and started off on the Pinnacles trail. This is the steeper direction to do the loop, but I figured I’d rather have a tougher first day and cruise down on a more gentle slope coming back the next day. Honestly, either way was a good and hard hike.

The motley crew – L to R: Ian, Josh, David, Ryan

The weather couldn’t have been better as we climbed the trail up to the junction with the Emory Peak trail about 5 miles in. Emory Peak is the highest point in the park. We stashed our packs in the bear boxes at the junction so we could make the 3 mile round trip to the peak with less weight on our shoulders.

Starting on trail
These guys were common along the trail
Views of Chisos Basin as we climbed
Views off of the Emory Peak trail
Top of Emory Peak, looking towards Mexico

We made our way back down to the junction and had lunch in the shade. We still had a few miles to go to get to the East Rim, where we were camping for the night. Setting off into Boot Canyon, we came upon a lot of water, which would have been nice to know, since we were all carrying 5-6 liters each. That translates to 11-13 pounds, or about 1/3 of my total pack weight. It was a pretty canyon at least.

Water, water everywhere!

Finally we started to climb out of the canyon and up the last 500 feet of elevation to the East Rim. We were all extremely tired, but the views were amazing. We started to set up camp and I got into my camp shoes, after which I promptly stubbed my toe on a tiny stump sticking out of the ground near the bear box. It hurt like hell for a couple of minutes, but I got it wrapped up and it wasn’t that big of a deal, though I was dreading the hike down in the morning a bit.

Resting after a long climb up
Broken toe nail
Curious deer

After about an hour of decompressing at camp and hanging out with the friendly deer who are not afraid of humans at all, we went out to the Rim to eat dinner and watch the last rays of sun hit the incredible landscape laid out before us. Truly an awesome experience. Ryan also got some great shots of the Milky Way once the sun went down. The morning would be even better.

Sunset
Photo credit: Ryan

We woke up around 7am, bundled up, and went out to the Rim to watch the sun rise. The wind was pretty fierce and I’m glad I had my puffy, though it was probably in the upper 40s, so nothing too terrible. This was something I will never forget.

Waiting for the sun
Not a bad view
Sun peeking over the horizon
Ryan getting some epic shots

After soaking in the experience, we packed up and headed on the trail to the South Rim, which gets more notoriety than the East Rim, but I thought it was a little overblown. I’m splitting hairs here, but I’d choose the East Rim, personally.

One view off the South Rim
Looking back toward the East Rim where we camped

The trail down was pretty, but long. Got a nice video of some more curious deer right along the South Rim trail.

We were all pretty wiped out when we got down to the basin again. We stopped at the lodge restaurant for lunch and a couple of beers. We had planned to do the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and maybe another short hike that day, but once we set up camp, we decided to just veg out in the shade for the rest of the day.

We had another epic night of star watching and then woke up to make the long drive home. This was a great adventure and everyone did really well on the hike. I’ll have to bring Court out here, even though she isn’t a big fan of the desert. I’m betting this could change her opinion.

Last sunset from camp – alternate view of The Window
Andromeda Galaxy – photo credit: Ryan
photo credit: Ryan

As for hiking plans the rest of the year, we were supposed to go to Sequoia in December to see the trees in the snow, but the KNP Complex fire forced the lodge to cancel all reservations until next year. Huge bummer. We will reschedule for sure. Thanks for reading!

Balcones Canyonlands NWR – Doeskin Ranch – 9/6/21

Monday, September 6, 2021

Balcones Canyonlands NWR – Doeskin Ranch

Partly cloudy, warming up quickly

Ian solo

4.5 miles

We didn’t have specific plans for Labor Day this year, but I wanted to make sure I got out and got a hike in. Finn is still recovering from his paw injury, so Court stayed home with him and Biff and their cousin Cray while I went out to Doeskin Ranch, where dogs aren’t allowed. It is part of the Balcones Wildlife Refuge.

I got out to the trail head at 8am, as the Texas heat has finally decided to come on down. Before the last couple of weeks, it’s been the coolest summer I can remember. Now we are hitting 100 pretty much every day, which is more normal. Hopefully it will only last for a couple of more weeks, but I feel like we have a penance to pay for our lack of summer earlier. The trail signage has been updated in the past year or so also, which is nice.

Texas prairie
Heading up the ridge
Top of the ridge

The trail was beautiful and the water was flowing in the creeks well. The whole trail was very green, especially compared to normal years around this time.

Lush trail

On the way back down there were a lot of butterflies along the trail and then one not so lucky one that had gotten snagged by a big praying mantis.

Gah

The creek was flowing really well and I cooled off a bit with the water, as the sun was getting higher and higher and the temps were climbing. Was glad to get off the trail around 10:30am as a couple of other groups were just getting started. Gotta get there early to beat the heat!

New trail head sign
map

Pedernales Falls State Park – Wolf Mountain 8/14/21

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Pedernales Falls State Park – Wolf Mountain Trail

Warm, partly cloudy, 80s

Ian and Biff

5.52 miles

Biff and I took a hike out to Wolf Mountain while Court stayed home with Finnigan, who sustained a toenail injury and can’t hike for a while. Poor buddy. I think Biff was happy to get out and hike without his brother for once though. I’ve blogged this hike before, so this is going to be a bit heavy on the Biff pics, just because.

We got to the park exactly at 8am when the gate opened to beat the heat and the crowds. Indeed, when we left a few hours later the park was at capacity. As with most things, if you get there before 9am you can beat most of the crowds.

We headed down Wolf Mountain trail, which is also the path to the primitive backpacking sites. The trail is a really wide jeep trail and I found that there were groups of people (mostly younger) that had packed in a lot of gear on wheeled carts that they dragged behind them for the 2 or so miles to the sites. Seems like they could have just backpacked it in, but whatever, I found it amusing.

Most of the creeks were dry, but there was a little water in Bee Creek that Biff was appreciative of.

We headed up the trail to Wolf Mountain and did the loop around the summit. It’s not a very hard hike at all, but has some nice views and some good silence, which I tried to document in the video below.

Break time

We headed back down the way we came, with Biff leading the way. We passed a lot of people heading out as we were heading in and I was glad to be done early before the heat really ramped up. Always a good hike out at Pedernales Falls.

Biff leading the way
End of hike derping in the grass
map

Ouray Perimeter Trail – Ouray, CO 6/21/21

Monday, June 21, 2021

Ouray Perimeter Trail – Ouray, Colorado

Sunny, clear, mid 80s

Ian and Court

4.05 miles

We took a long weekend and flew to Ouray/Ridgway/Telluride for the third time in the past year. We are really falling in love with this place. Originally, this weekend was meant to look at properties for a vacation home, but we decided the market is just too hot right now, so we used it as just a fun trip to explore more of the area.

The Perimeter Trail is exactly what it sounds like: a trail that goes around the perimeter of Ouray, clinging to cliffs, providing great views of the town and also a few waterfalls and plenty of elevation changes. We did about 80% of the trail, as we had a jeep tour lined up for the afternoon and were on a time schedule, but we probably could have done the entire thing in the end. Oh well, next time.

We started around 8am at the Amphitheater Campground on the south side of town where the box canyon ends (begins?) and went counter-clockwise. The trail on the east side was fully in shade, as the sun was yet to come up over the mountains on that side. We first came to Cascade Falls, which are the most famous and visible of the falls in Ouray.

We met a couple there from Oklahoma who were nice enough to take our picture in front of the falls. They then told us they were going to scramble up the side and go to the top of the falls. This looked fairly dangerous, but we told them good luck and continued on our way. On the other side, I found a ledge that went out to the falls and followed it out a little ways. I didn’t go too far, but I felt like John Muir climbing out behind Yosemite Falls without any gear, though he did it a few thousand feet up and I was only about 30 feet up.

Getting pretty close

I could see across the falls to where the Okies were climbing up and I think they were realizing their plan was a bit ambitious. We didn’t stick around, but I’m betting they turned back.

Yeah, that doesn’t look safe

We continued on the trail and got some great views of the town and the hot springs park below. We found out later that the hot water is actually piped in from springs up in the mountains, which is a little disappointing, but whatever.

Ouray
Hot “springs”

The trail eventually descended to ground level where it crossed the road to the other side. We took a quick restroom, snack, and sunscreen break, as well as a swing set break for Court. She’s a happy kid.

Descending
Swings

The climb back up the other side of the cliffs was fairly intense, especially with the rising sun beating down on us a bit more. Luckily we’ve been rocking the Peloton all during the pandemic, so we are in pretty good shape, though the altitude still took it out of us a bit. Austin is around 400 feet above sea level, so 7000 feet is a bit of a change.

We came to the second waterfall, which has a nice bridge over it and also a troll underneath.

Gotta pay the troll toll

After a short break we continued on and got to a rest spot with great views of town from the west side of the cliffs.

The trail kept climbing and went through a tunnel near Box Canyon falls on the south side. This is the gorge where the ice climbing takes place in the winter and has via ferrata in the summer. I plan to do both of these activities at some point in the future.

Box Canon (Canyon) sign
More stairs
Tunnel
Looking down into the gorge
Via Ferrata in summer – ice climbing in winter

We needed to exit the trail a little early to go meet Court’s parents for lunch before the jeep tour, so we left about a mile or so unfinished. We will certainly be back and will do this trail in its entirety, maybe with the pups next time.

End of trail pic

North Bean Hollow Beach Trail, CA 5/21/21

Friday, May 21, 2021

North Bean Hollow Beach Trail, California

Windy, clear, a little chilly, but nice

Ian, Court, Greg, and the dogs: Marty and Porter

A couple of miles or so

We flew out to the Bay Area to see Greg and Cat again and drove out to the coast one morning for a quick hike. The Pacific was beautiful as always, but the flowers were blooming at this time of year. We usually end up out here later in the year, so the flora on the trail was new for us.

Trail head
Greg
Court

The wind was really blowing hard and cold at the beginning, but we got used to it after a bit. The trail wasn’t long, but was a nice and the dogs seemed to enjoy it. The sand and wind has sculpted the stone along the beach into really cool formations in a process known as Tafoni.

Harbor seals were laying about being their normal cute selves and we had fun watching the waves almost get to them on their chosen perches on the rocks.

Add another beautiful hike on the Pacific Coast to our growing list. We’ll be back for more.