Thursday, March 27, 2014

Big Bend, Rio Grand Village, Chisos Basin

These are two hot areas in Big Bend, and both have completely different ecosystems.

Chisos Basin is a high flat area (flat is relative here), in a rise above the Chihuahuan Desert.  So it's dry, bu then it's high, so has a little different plant life than you would normally find.  As a matter of fact, some you don't find anywhere else except in the Chisos Basin.

The main hike is the Window which is really rather unusual, as you are surrounded by high peaks, except for a certain part - a Window into the world outside.  I sorta felt like I was in Shangra La, but didn't have to go through a blizzard to get there!

So imagine mountains all around except for this little "Window" and you have a good picture of the Chisos Basin and the charm of the area.

Well that and there was a mountain lion  the night before right behind the basin store....rats, why weren't we there last night!!!

Further down the road is the Rio Grande Village close to - yep, you guessed it - - the Rio Grande.

BTW, there's a $5,000 fine if you cross the river. I have no intentions of doing anything like that cause my little dog, Siggy, doesn't have papers!!!

But because we're close to the water....and trees - apparently there was a ranch here early on where they dug ditches to flood irrigate the area - there are birds and I mean lots of 'em.


Yep - my first Vermillion Flycatcher.....and what does he do?

 Right before our eyes he swoops down and catches a little brunch snack and looks at us....."Can you do this?!" 
 On the ground is something I wouldn't think I would see here - a flicker.

In the tree above was another.  Lots of cottonwoods in the area as you are so close to the river that provides the moisture needed to sustain this wooded area. 

 Indigenous to this area is the Cactus Wren.

Also are these beautiful sparrows - White-crowned Sparrow.   This bird has a beautiful song too.

Big Bend has some very unusual climates - desert, mountains and riparian - all different and unusual - very interesting to visit.

Davis Mountains State Park Review

This rv park is in the state park, and most state and national park sites are usually primitive or no hook-ups, which means you are pretty much self-contained.  They will often have a toilet and sometimes a shower, but to find an rv park inside a park with full services is a treat.  And that's exactly what we had - and probably a little better than we thought.

 This isn't a picture of the campground.  It's a picture on the road to the McDonald (and yes, we went, and yes it was a gas - not nebular fortunately!!!!)  But this does show the topography of the area.  It is mountainous desert and I say that because it is dusty and dry there, but this is normal for them.

We stayed at site #4 which happens to be the site of an elf owl's nest.  The thing is that often they will come back to those nests, and this owl has done that in the past, but this doesn't always happen - just saying that if you have a choice of sites, this can be a great one.

The sites are not level.  As a matter of fact most of the time the sewer hookups are higher than where the hookups are on RVs - that includes the large motorhomes as well as the simple as pop-ups.  We were lucky that our RV hookup was just a smidgen higher than the sewer site hookup.

That and the no cell and iffy-internet, (you can go to the top of Skyline Drive or into Ft. Davis to get a great cell signal - 4G), the park is really a great place to stay if you're in the area.

There are also critters running through the campground.  I asked if I could put up my birdfeeder on my back window, and they asked not to do that as it draws in the javelinas who draw in the mountain lions.  Now, there's one side of me as the photographer who would just salivate at that but then there's the kids and little dogs and just the general mayhem that would ensue with a mountain lion running amok in the campground.  So the better side of me did not put up the feeder!!!  And without the feeder the peccaries show up anyway!

What to do in Davis Mountains?  Well, if you ask me, you could go to the McDonald Observatory  - even twice.  This is the layout of the ampitheather part (during the day) and picture of the three "big" scopes they use for the star parties.  Be sure and make reservations early so you can get a spot, and they have a pre-event, twilight event, which is just as much fun. 

These folks (yes, it is the UT campus), going way beyond the norm to make sure that every person has a very enlightening and entertaining experience. It's really a lot of fun, and if you're anywhere in the neighborhood, I highly recommend it - even for novices.....especially for novices.  I wouldn't try and take kids who are too young as at the earliest the program is over is about 10pm.  But this program is geared for kids as much as for adults.

The Nature Conservancy also has an area that is not normally open, but was while we were there.  We made a round around Madera Canyon, but some of the roads were so rough that even the truck couldn't make it.  The runners are so low that going over some bumps and pot holes (if you want to call these pot holes in a dirt/gravel road), would not only cause damage, but the truck could get stuck and hung up on the high point where the wheels couldn't gain traction or even touch the dirt road, and then you're trekking back to the hiking trail head and then headquarters and possibly further to get a cell signal to get a tow truck to pull you out, and it just puts a real damper on the vacation.   So we turned around and came back.
On the way back we caught some wild turkeys and a javelina carcass that no one knew how it died, but could be any number of ways. 

We even stayed a couple of extra days at Davis Mountains and enjoyed our stay there.

On to Big Bend next 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Big Bend - First Day

We hit Big Bend yesterday and just for a look see we traveled for a quickie into the park.    Bad idea - that lead to a 3-hour tour (only not the same ending as Gilligan's Island!)  It was beautiful and we stopped by many places that I had wanted - I mean we were just passing know how that goes!!!

This is one of the most photographed vistas in the park, and unfortunately, the photo doesn't do the vista justice.  But Walt tries and tries well.

The surrounding area is really quite odd.  Big Bend is made up of a mountainous area that rises above the Chihauhaun desert which makes this a desert mountainous area, which means high, but little moisture.  Put in the middle of this a river adding another ecosystem - riparian, and this makes for a very interesting group of flora and one section you will have beautifully and often exotic blooming cactus while in another part you will have gorgeous butterflies

Switching back to the riparian ecosystem, this beautiful fern type evergreen with gorgeous delicate blossoms.  All the photos are huge so click on them to see the detail in Walt's photography.

Another cactus - back to the desert, and this is an ocotillo that looks like a bunch of thorny branches - just a stick type bush, then at the top of each stick are the gorgeous orange-red blossoms.  Again click on the photo to see the close up behind the beautiful blue desert sky.

 As Claire likes to say, "It's a painting!!!" And it is - all I have to do is paint it!  Some "vintage" buildings next to Cerro Castellan or Castellan Peak which is a super example of the volcanic, ash and following build up of sediment.  It's really colorful as you can tell with the vintage structure in the foreground.

 One of the showiest flora in the desert is the prickly pear which is normally just a purple-ish disc cactus, till spring and then out comes these glorious blossoms, and in some spots (further south) the plant is covered in blossoms as the desert is a hard environment the plant has a short time to pollinate and get its business done.  Amazingly we saw several stacks of what looked like bee hives along side the road, which makes us wonder if, as spring progresses slowly north, the apiarists follow the spring north keeping their bees busy as....(can you hear it coming)...bees!!!

 But the other great thing is that these bees serve a great purpose for these flowers that have an all too short lifetime, and they really do help them and the ecosystem of the desert.

Another popular scene from Big Bend - Mule Ears - and it looks exactly like that!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Goodbye Davis Mts. and Hello Big Bend

We said goodbye to the McDonald and hello to Big Bend yesterday

But it didn't take us any time at all to get to Big Bend so why not take a quick tour....and that didn't work out well (next post) cause we are nothing close to quick....but did have some camera fun - taking and posing!

Friday, March 21, 2014

What's so great about a star party

And no this isn't a post about movie stars or pop stars - it's about the REAL the sky!

For years I've wanted to visit an observatory and there are lots around the US that are accessible to the public, but there are some that are more accessible than others.  For us, Texas is close and of like mind, so it's easy to trek down here and check out the stars.  Upon arriving, I'm discovering that this area is designated as one of the "darkest" areas in the US - that's good talk for astronomers.

So imagine my delight to not only find a great observatory in this area!  But also to find one that has public star parties - - ooooooo!!!  In the photo above you can see the viewing area with folks waiting in lines to see the neat different objects. But this also shows this neat laser pointer where they could point to places in the sky and you could actually see them with this pointer - it was pretty cool!!!

These folks go totally out of their way to make this a wonderful, exciting, education and anything but boring evening for those who attend.  There's a little deli cafe where you can purchase dinner.  A pre-show (which I highly recommend) and then the evening's program begins.  They have an ampitheater which holds a number of folks, then 3 major scopes (OK they aren't the biggest ones on the grounds, but big enough - about two stories tall and 23" wide - that means a lot of light can get into the scope and of course more magnification), and some other wonderful odd scopes - one was particularly interesting as it was sort of a Dobsonian looking thing that was on a "big bowling ball" as it was described to me.

These smaller more portable scopes were focused on some great things like Orion Nebula (one close and one far away) which is a star nursery - a place where gases are congregating and making stars.  Another was on the Pleiades, a star cluster where the nursery had given way to several stars in the area, and another double cluster in the constellation Perseus.  In addition the three major scopes had their eye on Jupiter with all four of the Galilean satellites or moons (Callisto, Io, Europa and Ganymede) visible.

Here's a map of the grounds showing the 3 major scopes and where the more portable scopes were set up.  If you want to have time on the Harlan (the big mamoo) I think you have to be a serious astronomer like Neil deGrasse Tyson or Brian Green or someone like that!  And although that sounds like a dream, I'm not sure where I would want to start and if the night would be long enough!

Basically the whole night was a dream come true for me, and if you're in the area, it's well worth the cost of the pre-show, the big show and an evening there.  They do a wonderful job of making this as fun for everyone as can be, and even though I WAS on the University of Texas campus....I'm still a Sooner born and Sooner bread!!!!!

Goldfinch color change at Davis Mountains

Many birds have different colors for winter than for summer as this helps them hide better in those months - adopting the colors fairly close to their winter or summer garb.

My favorites are the Wild Canaries or American Goldfinches.  Seeing these in the country side - usually in large flocks are absolutely beautiful.  I can't help but imaginethe settlers on a beautiful spring day watching these gorgeous birds flying through the countryside. 

It's fun to watch birds change from their drab winter garb to their summertime bright colors, and even more fun to watch it happen in one sitting (with different birds - - hopefully).  In south Texas, they are turning in March.