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. 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.

McKinney Roughs – 4/12/21

Monday, April 12, 2021

McKinney Roughs

Warm, mostly cloudy, low 80s

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

4.7 miles

McKinney Roughs is one of the last relatively unknown hiking gems in the Austin area. It is part of the LCRA system and there is a $5 entry fee, but it is well maintained, lush, and offers a variety of trails. We both had this Monday off, so we headed out to the park and hit the trail around 9:30am.

We took the trail down to the riverside, where it is lush and shaded. The river was a little murky and flowing slowly this morning, but it was serene nonetheless. This trail reminds me a lot of the scene where the hobbits encounter their first Black Rider. Nerd alert.

Court with distance in her eyes, a la Teddy Roosevelt
Murky Colorado River

We could see some cows at the ranch across the river that were cooling off in the water.

There was a good amount of wildlife on this hike. Aside from cows, we saw several deer on the way in, a hawk (red-tailed?), and a black vulture gave us a nice close up as well.

Scanning the trees for wildlife
Vulture perched on a hollow log

We also came across one of the biggest ant mounds I’ve ever seen. Seriously this thing was huge. At least 10 feet by 10 feet. Quite the colony.

Flower (Virginia Spiderwort) at bottom right for scale

We left the river and continued on to the Deep Sandy and Pecan Bottom trails, which make a nice mile or so loop through some fairly dense forest. We then paused at the large pecan tree to have a snack and rest before continuing back to the Riverside trail and then back up the hill to the Visitor Center where we started.

We both love this park and will be back many times in the future. Don’t tell anyone about it.

Yellow track

South Llano River State Park – 3/27/21- 3/28/21

Saturday, March 27 – Sunday March 28, 2021

South Llano River State Park Overnight

Partly cloudy, WINDY, pleasant

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

6-7 miles hiked

We headed out to South Llano River State Park to camp, almost 3 years to the day from our last visit. Finn was just a pup last time.

We set up camp and took a couple of hours to just hang out in the hammock and read and enjoy the birds. South Llano River is a big birding destination. The bird songs are continuous and relaxing.

Biff was very helpful in setting up the tent.

We also brought out the spotting scope I bought Court for Christmas last year. This is something that will be a constant companion going forward, especially with our National Park adventures where wildlife is plentiful.

The park is also an International Dark Sky park, though tonight there was a super moon, which unfortunately would dilute some of the stars. We also made the mistake of sleeping with the rainfly off, so we woke up around 2am in a spotlight. Court got out and put the rainfly on to block out the moon, which felt almost as bright as the sun.

Sunset
Supermoon

The next morning we woke up, made coffee, and got packed up to go hike. The clouds were beautiful in the morning.

Sunrise
Boiling water for coffee

We hiked the West Canyon Loop, which gained some decent elevation and had some pretty views. As we hiked, the wind picked up and was blowing very hard on the ridges.

The hike was good and we also went through the wild turkey roost area back down by the river. There were two other hikers that were taking pictures of something in a tree and when we approached they said, “Porcupine!” I couldn’t get much of a picture, but he was curled up in a tree about 20 feet up. Court had seen one on the AT in Massachusetts when we went a few years back, but I had never seen one in the wild.

He’s in there, I promise

South Llano River is a very underrated park and really not that far from Austin. It’s a 2.5 hour drive, but feels much shorter. Also, on highway 290 in between Fredericksburg and Harper, a huge number of oak trees have been absolutely decimated by Oak Wilt. It’s really sad. Miles and miles of dead trees along the highway. I hope it doesn’t continue to spread.

Let’s end this post on a happy end of trail pic.

Steiner Ranch Nature Trail System – Bright Sky Overlook 3/6/21

Saturday, March 6, 2021

Steiner Ranch Nature Trail System – Bright Sky Overlook

Sunny, nice, mid 60s

Ian, Biff, and Finn

5 miles

I have blogged plenty of Steiner Ranch trails before, but I found one I hadn’t fully traversed and it ended up being one of my favorites of the whole system. This trail has great lake views and also dives into a couple of canyons with water crossings. It really encompasses all the different landscapes present in this part of central Texas.

Courtney had gone to Dallas for the weekend to see her friends from grad school, so I took the pups out for a hike. We survived the deep freeze a few weeks ago (let’s not do that again) and it’s starting to feel like spring here in Texas now.

The cacti out here somehow made it through the freeze unscathed. The ones in town did not fare nearly as well.

With state parks still requiring day passes, which are freaking impossible to get, Steiner Ranch is one of the only places near Austin I can get out and hike with some solitude.

This trail is an out and back that more or less follows the river (Lake Austin) on a ridge a few hundred feet up. It delves down into a couple of canyons along the way and then turns back toward the neighborhood, popping you out on the main road of Quinlan Park.

The pups were very excited, as they haven’t been hiking much this winter either. I was glad to get out into nature again, where I belong.

The lake (river) was a gorgeous shade of blue-green on this sunny day.

My in-laws are also building a house out here and I got some good aerial views of how it’s coming along.

Hopefully I can get out to some new trails more often this spring and get the blogging ramped up again. We are headed to Colorado in a couple of weeks to look at some properties, so maybe I’ll be able to have a whole host of new trails to blog in the coming years!

Gnarly wood
Testing out Gaia GPS 3D maps. Trail is the blue one in the foreground.

Comanche Bluff Trail – Granger LAke, TX

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Comanche Bluff Trail, Granger Lake, TX

Chilly, WINDY, mid 40s

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

4.7 miles

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged so let’s get 2021 kicked off. Surely it has to be better than 2020.

We’ve been hiking, but mostly trails I’ve blogged before, so I haven’t been updating the blog. This was a new one near Taylor, along Granger Lake. Granger Lake is another Army Corps of Engineers project, like Lake Georgetown, and also on the San Gabriel River, downstream a bit.

We left the house early and got to the trail head just after 8am. The night chill was still very present and the wind would howl whenever the trail turned toward the lake.

There were a couple of old iron bridges on the trail from back in the early 20th century. One of which is said to be haunted.

I am a geek for when infrastructure and trail meet. My favorite are railroads, but bridges are good too.

We hiked on for a while, but we were on a time schedule, so had to turn back before the end of the trail. We only saw one other hiker and his dog on this chilly morning. This wasn’t the greatest trail, but it was nice to get back out to nature regardless.

End of Trail pic

Swallow Falls State Park, Maryland 10/08/20

Thursday, October 8, 2020

Swallow Falls State Park near Oakland, MD

Sunny, clear, cool, mid 50s

Ian, Court, Doc, Biff, Finn

1.9 miles

We woke up early and drove about 20 minutes from the Deep Creek house over to Swallow Falls State Park. The main attraction here are the waterfalls and they delivered, especially with the leaves starting to really turn now. I’ll include some photos of the surrounding area as well. Us Texans don’t get leaves changing like this, so it’s a big deal.

I tried to not filter these photos much. The colors were so vibrant. Prepare for the autumn picture onslaught! (FYI, the photo captions show up correctly on the mobile version. Not sure why they suck on the regular site.)

Mist in the valley on the drive to the park

We were one of only 3 cars in the parking lot and hit the short trail to the first set of falls.

Rock Island

The biggest and best was Muddy Creek Falls. Near those falls was a marker commemorating a camping trip taken by Ford, Edison, Firestone, and Burroughs back in the 20s. I had just read about their camping antics in a book on the history of camping, so it was interesting to tramp the same grounds.

Muddy Creek Falls
Admiring the falls with the pups
Exploring the beauty
Another view

We finished the short loop and headed back home, catching a few more color explosions on the way. Western Maryland, you do autumn well.

Good colors on the way back
End of trail pic