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

Deep Creek Lake State Park, Maryland 10/6/20

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Deep Creek Lake State Park, Maryland

Chilly, clear, crisp, low 40s

Ian, Court, Doc

4.3 miles

Courtney’s brother bought a lake house on Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland and we took a road trip all the way from Texas to go check it out. The expedition consisted of myself, Court, her parents, and the two dogs, Biff and Finn. Overall it was a 3100 mile round trip in about a week. That’s a lot of driving. We did get a couple of good hikes in though and we were there in peak leaf peeping season.

Deep Creek State Park was less than a mile from the house and we got up early one morning and got in a nice hike up to a fire tower and back down. The air was crisp, the trails were well marked, and the woods were beautiful. This is bear country, but we would not see any the entire trip.

Beginning of trail pic

The trees were still pretty green on this hike, though there were some yellows strewn about, and the forest floor was covered in moss and ferns.

We reached the Thayerville Fire Tower, which was decommissioned in 1993, about half way through the hike. I wasn’t aware the trail we were on went to the tower, so that was a nice surprise.

We headed back down the back half of the trail and looped back towards the trail head. We passed the camping area, which looked very well maintained, complete with bear boxes. If we make it back this way one day, perhaps we will spend the night.

End of Trail pic

Balconies Cave and Cliffs Trail – Pinnacles NP 8/28/20

Friday, August 28, 2020

Balconies Cave and Cliffs Trail – Pinnacles National Park, California

HOT, sunny, mid 90s

Ian, Court, Greg, Cat

3.1 miles

Warning: the pics on this post kind of suck. It was a bit smoky and I think there was also something off with my camera, so apologies in advance.

The four of us took a drive out to our newest National Park: Pinnacles. It’s about an hour and a half east of Carmel and Monterey and is quite spectacular.

I knew it had a reputation for being hot and it lived up to that reputation, especially when we had just come from 60 degrees in Carmel for 4 days. There are also zero natural water sources in the park during the summer, but we all had a good amount, so no problems there.

Pinnacles is also known for being a breeding ground and home base for endangered California Condors. We scanned the sky for condors as we hiked, but the birds of prey we saw were too far away to positively identify.

There are some long and tough trails that lead up into the High Peaks area, which I would love to do one day, but seeing as how we were limited on time and got there in the heat of the day, we decided to try out the shorter trail to the Balconies Caves and Cliffs. The caves were closed due to Covid (no staff at the park), but it was a nice trail anyway.

The rock formations were spectacular and the trails well marked. We crossed several dry creek beds that I think would be flowing well during the spring.

Looking up
You shall not pass

After we got to the closed cave entrance, we double backed and took the fork for the Cliffs. We switchbacked up above the caves and got some nice views as we battled the sun. One of the main rock formations on this trail is called Elephant Rock, which looms over you for most of the trail and can’t really be seen in full until you get up above on the cliffs. Looks like an elephant laying down and sleeping, in my opinion.

Elephant Rock

Greg also pointed out one that looked like a human skull in profile.

The views back down the valley were great and after we reached what we determined to be the high point of the trail, we turned back to retrace our steps. If the caves were open we could have made this a loop, but twas not to be. I hope to make it back out here one day, probably during the spring, and get deeper into the High Peaks and maybe even make a backpacking trip out of it.

Jack’s Peak Trail – Monterey, CA 8/26/20

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Jack’s Peak Trail – Monterey, CA

Foggy, cool, mid 60s

Ian, Greg

5.9 miles

After braving an airplane during a pandemic (good work all around Southwest Airlines), we got out to California to visit our good friends Greg and Cat in the Bay Area, who moved there just before Covid hit. We hit up the smoky wine country (wildfires) for a few days and then headed down to Carmel and Monterey. Greg and I got out on a hike one morning at Jack’s Peak Park, just east of the two towns.

We parked at a trail head that was actually outside of the park and walked uphill about a mile to the park boundary. The trail was a bit overgrown and I’m glad we both had long pants on. The foggy morning led to some really cool pics. There was moss hanging from the trees and it was very serene.

Looking up into the mossy trees

Once we got to the park boundary, the trails were much wider and in better shape and there was a parking lot and restrooms. There was a sign warning of a black bear in the area, but we never came across any sign of him/her. We combined a couple of trail loops, hit Jack’s Peak, which was a bit underwhelming, and then headed back down the way we came.

You know you’re on the west coast when these guys start showing up
Can’t see the Bay can you Russ?

On the way back down the overgrown section, I looked down at one point and saw a yellow jacket nest in the ground right on the trail. I pointed it out to Greg and we quickly kept moving to avoid upsetting them. Just after that, we ran into a hiker and her three dogs. She was heading back uphill on the trail and we warned her about the nest. She said she had just been stung 3 times and was trying to get back to her car. She described where she had parked and we realized it was probably right next to us and she was heading the wrong direction. She had gotten disoriented trying to get away from the yellow jackets, so she and her dogs followed us back down the car.

We all safely arrived back and neither Greg nor I received any stings. That would have been a bummer of a way to end the hike. All in all it was a very pretty and quiet hike with a lot of solitude on a Wednesday morning.

Blue Lake via Bridal Veil Falls Trail – Telluride, Co 7/29/20

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Blue Lake Via Bridal Veil Falls Trail – Telluride, Colorado

Sunny, pleasant, mid 70s

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

11.3 miles

This was the biggest hike of the trip and one of the biggest we’ve ever done, especially the elevation. We got up to over 12,000 feet and man, I felt it. A bit of a long post coming.

Our original intention was to hike the other Blue Lake trail on the north side of Telluride near Mt. Sneffels, but it was an hour and a half drive to the trail head and I wasn’t sure if my non-4WD SUV would make it. Instead, we drove to the end of the road in Telluride and parked at the trail head for Bridal Veil Falls.

A lot of people take a jeep trail up to the base of the falls and start the hike from there, but we decided to add on the additional 1.2 mile trail from the very bottom to lengthen the hike. Hiking with dogs, especially on tough trail, is a mental exercise as much as it is physical. I didn’t start off in a great mental spot. Finnigan gets a head of steam and loves to pull on new trails, so it’s a challenge to keep your balance while clambering over rocks. However, there were so many waterfalls and general beauty on this trail that it was well worth it.

We reached Bridal Veil Falls and also the remains of some mining equipment, which I found really cool. We had a great view down into the valley and Telluride as well. There’s also an old power plant at the top of the falls, which is actually back in use after being originally decommissioned in 1953. According to wiki, it supplies about 25% of the power to Telluride down below.

Looking back down the valley to Telluride
Power plant
Tracks to nowhere

From here the trail kept going up and eventually started to switchback as we gained elevation to over 12,000 feet at the lake. The wildflowers were gorgeous and we saw pikas and marmots as we ascended. In multiple places the ice cold water streamed over the trail from small waterfalls and rivulets originating from places unknown.

Pika
Marmot

There was also a section where there had been either an avalanche over the winter or a landslide (pretty sure it was an avalanche) and there was a huge debris pile going over the creek with snow still melting underneath it. It was like a giant snow bridge covered in destroyed trees and looked like it might collapse at any moment.

Debris pile on top of snow bridge over river
Debris starts on the left and goes across the trail to the right

Once we got over 11,000 I had to stop and catch my breath multiple times. I was determined to make it though and I struggled through to the end. There was more old mining equipment and shelters way up here. I can’t imagine how they got it all up here.

Almost there!

We ate lunch and filtered water before starting the long descent back down. Another downside of hiking with the pups is not having our trekking poles, but they had a blast and it was well worth it. Around mile 10, little Biff’s legs weren’t having anymore, so we switched off carrying him down the last mile or so. He’s such a trooper.

Quarantine hair

What an amazing hike this was. I probably had the hardest time of all four of us, but it was stunningly beautiful and absolutely lived up to my expectations for Telluride and the Rockies in general. We went home, picked up dinner, and the pups passed out.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – Colorado 7/28/20

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park – Colorado

Sunny, WARM, low 90s

Ian, Court, Biff, Finn

Black Canyon of the Gunnison is about an hour and a half drive north of Telluride, near the town of Montrose. I had always heard this was one of the more underrated National Parks and it was pretty spectacular. I would have liked to have been able to hike down into the canyon, but with the dogs, our options were basically limited to the overlooks. We probably walked at least a couple of miles overall anyway, as there were paths to the overlooks of varying lengths, usually a quarter mile or so. Each overlook gave a different perspective of the canyon.

The visitor’s center was set up on tables outside and they had the stamps for our National Parks Passports, which was awesome. I was worried they might not. The park was fairly crowded for a weekday during a pandemic, but again, people in Colorado were very good about distancing and mask usage.

We got to the end of the road that followed the south rim of the canyon and had a picnic lunch in the shade. It was quite warm today at the park, which is at a similar elevation to Telluride, but in a much more exposed and less mountainous area. Highly recommend if you’re ever in the neighborhood.

Panoramic of Painted Wall

From the NPS site:

The story of Black Canyon can be summed up in three words: grow, blow, and flow. About 60 million years ago, a small area of land uplifted (grow), bringing 1.8 billion year old metamorphic rock to high elevations. This is called the Gunnison Uplift. About 30 million years ago, large volcanoes erupted on either side of this uplift, burying it in volcanic rock (blow). Then, as early as 2 million years ago, the Gunnison River began flowing in force (flow). The river and time eroded all of the volcanic rock and cut a deep canyon in the metamorphic rock below. What you see today is a deep, steep, and narrow canyon: the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.