Tag Archives: adventure

#ILiketoTravelBut

A friend of mine coined a hashtag that makes me laugh. #ILiketoTravelBut.

I like to travel but…I hate sitting in coach.

I like to travel but…I don’t like losing money to the exchange.

That kind of stuff. But lately, I’ve been thinking more and more about travel’s place in the soul, or at least my soul. About why they call it wanderlust.

I like to travel but…I hate pulling out of the driveway.

IMG_8503

Leaving home always strikes me with the deepest sense of regret. Even if I know I’m coming back. I know I’ll have an amazing adventure as soon as I get over it, but it always catches in my chest, just for a moment.

I like to travel but…it could kill me. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , ,

Last Call Adventure: Bruja Canyon Part II

When we last left our intrepid team of trekkers, they were setting off across the desert in the dark…

Part II: Up, over, around, and down

With our gaiters firmly in place and the desert air still dry and “cool,” we crossed Terlingua Creek (which was exactly as technical as Lewis nudging a rock into place and us skipping across), walked the dry tributary creek bed, and out on to the clay flats.

The terrain.

The terrain.

The expanse of soft clay felt like we were walking across a macaroon, leaving easily trackable footprints that we would later appreciate. The clay also radiated heat that it had been holding from the days before. Suddenly we all started doing math in our heads, wondering how it would feel to walk the flat in the scourge of the afternoon sun on our way back to the car.

My guess was that it would feel really hot. Like if you were put in an oven. Satan’s oven.

The open flat was soon interrupted by a stubble of desert plants. Mesquite, all thorn, prickly pear, lechuguilla, ocotillo, cholla, and the particularly sinister claret cup. Everything in the desert wants to kill you. Or rather, it wants to keep you from getting close to it, which I respect. Since some unfortunate childhood experiences, I have given cacti a wide berth. While my gaiters did reduce the diameter of my bubble, it was soon popped altogether by invading spines.

We got up close and personal with some very surly plants.

Bruja is a slot canyon, like a stab wound in the side of a Mesa de Anguilla. Standing on top of the mesa it would have looked like a fissure running across the ground. From where we stood on the plain, the vertical face of the plateau’s northeastern wall loomed, Bruja was just a void. A crack in the wall.

We picked our way through and eventually scrambled up the rocks at the base of the wall, still dodging the “pokies” as Jenna named them.

Then it was time for the adventure to begin in earnest.

The grade of the wall varies from report to report, but it’s in the high 4’s or low 5’s, if that means anything to anyone. There were some moments where those extra inches of arms and legs that the boys had on us girls really made a difference. My own first hurdle came somewhere near the bottom of the wall when it was fingers,toes, and pokies  between the ledge I was on and the ledge where I needed to be. There was a rope too, but we were not tied to it.

The little white dot is Colin on reconnaissance.

The little white dot is Colin on reconnaissance.

In life, I’ve made a habit of saying “one, two, three, go!” and jumping off of things. Or cutting things. Or pushing buttons. I can count to three and shut off my brain. But lunging at the next hand hold or sloped surface requires, “one, two, three, quickly-do-the-next-thing.” That’s harder.

Our feet on the first ledge.

Our feet on the first ledge.

Jenna on the other side of the gap.

Jenna on the other side of the gap.

So we needed a new chant. Fortunately as I hung there quivering, Colin said, “Trust yourself!”

And then I was on the next ledge. The rest of the wall was no problem, not simply because I now trusted my feet, but because it really was a lot easier. We just walked on up the sticky rocks.

From there we walked two miles along a ridge that was like the rim inside the rim of the canyon. This was pretty thick cactus habitat, but we were high on life after a quick ascent.

IMG_4354

At the back of the canyon we had snacks in a cave with burn marks on the cieling, and little Native American grain grinding holes outside. We were like ancient peoples…with Camelbacks, a decided evolutionary advantage.

From there we dropped down into the canyon itself. It was a fairly mild drop, just sliding down the smooth walls of the shallowest pool, which happened to be dry. From there we would slowly work our way back to the plane, dropping from pool to pool via rope, wiggle, and hopping.

IMG_4356

We moved along in full sun, finding shade along the edge or in crevasses where we could. We were almost to the highlight, the big rappel into water, when came to what would be, for me, the scariest moment of the trek. To get to our rappelling point for the first major drop, we first had to clear a gap. Colin suggested we take a running leap.

“Um…I don’t do run-and-jump,” I said. Playing the one princess card I would allow myself. I don’t. It’s one of those “one, two, three, be coordinated” moments that I avoid. Whenever I try to run and jump, I second guess myself at the last second, try to stop mid-flight, and fall.

Aborting this jump would end in death…or paralysis…and waiting to be rescued…in the heat.

Colin is setting up the rappel on the other side of the gap...while we pretend not to worry about the crossing.

Colin is setting up the rappel on the other side of the gap…while we pretend not to worry about the crossing.

So we figured out another method, which still required leaning across the gap, hands on one side, feet on the other, and pushing off into a precarious hand hold. But “trust yourself” did the trick and we all made it safely across.

From there Colin rigged the rappelling system. I say rappel. Really he lowered us into the pool of water beneath. There was little rappeling involved. Somehow even this uncomplicated plan still found me with my bare feet above my head, butt against the wall. Laughing too hard to help myself.

Once we were lowered into the pool, and safely past the floating cactus on the other side, we watched Colin actually rappel, put our boots back on and continued.

Before long we would rappel again. This time the drop was far more dramatic, into a bigger pool. The boys swam the pool with the packs on their back, keeping them amazingly dry while Jenna and I cleared cacti from the exit of the pool.

Just before we exited the canyon I got to rappel one more time, thanks to a particular feature of my anatomy wedging itself so tightly into a hole that everything from my ribcage on down was dangling in mid-air. I wiggled back out and opted to go over the boulder, rather than have a distinctly female reenactment of 127 Hours.

IMG_4363 IMG_4364 IMG_4367 IMG_4368

We polished off the snacks, and made a mad dash for the mouth of the canyon, stunned at our quick pace thus far, and now just going for a quick finish. So many of these adventures fall apart in the last hour.

Ours did not. We were quiet, yes. My trudging was more trudge-like. I’d been wrong about what the clay flat would feel like in the heat of the day. Not an oven. A griddle. Satan’s griddle.

We ran out of water about 1,000 steps from the car. Part of the strategy game that is desert trekking is rationing water, and we were shocked at how well we’d done.

We soaked our top layers in Terlingua Creek (long sleeves are a must in the desert, in one of natures cruelest ironies), and made the final push to the car, where the beer was still cold.

Campsite number two, 1,000 feet higher, 10 degrees cooler.

Campsite number two, 1,000 feet higher, 10 degrees cooler.

That night at our 10-degrees-cooler campsite in the Chisos Basin, we marveled at how well the hike had gone. No injuries. No water shortage. And we all still liked each other.

Tagged , , , ,

Last Call Adventure: Bruja Canyon, Part I

Prologue:

This was the big one.

When Colin first told us about canyoneering Bruja Canyon in a remote corner of Big Bend National Park, I was hooked at “rappel into a pool of freezing water.” I also knew that to make it happen, we would have to find a rare surplus of two extremely scarce resources: time and water. Looking for that magical moment when it had rained in Big Bend, and all four of us were free to skip town would be a challenge.

That magical moment was this weekend, July 5-7, 2013.

And whyever not? The forecast seemed totally amenable to a 10 mile desert trek. (Hike scheduled for Saturday)

i Phone upload July 7 2013 075

Part I: The journey West

So we loaded up Colin’s car with 4 friends, an ice chest, and every durable synthetic fiber known to man.

i Phone upload July 7 2013 073

Along the way we carefully rationed our David Sedaris Live CD, and did our best to listen to a Cormac McCarthy audiobook (by doing my best, I mean that I went straight to sleep). At some point everyone indulged in “I-only-eat-this-on-roadtrips” snacks. A sharp contrast to the meals we would be eating for the rest of the trip.

Yes, Lewis is using a sour straw to drink a Cherry Coke. We'd been in the car for many hours.

Yes, Lewis is using a sour straw to drink a Cherry Coke. We’d been in the car for many hours.

i Phone upload July 7 2013 108

What we ate outside the car.

 Once inside the Park we went through the rigmarole of permitting, paying fees, and not getting to go into Mexico.

We’ll save that for the next adventure, because it does involve 1) ferrying across the river, 2) possibly riding a horse into Boquillas, Mexico, and 3) chatting with U.S. Officials via virtual passport control upon return. All things I’m dying to do.

However, we were informed by the helpful NPS employees that we’d probably be stuck over there if we left after 4 pm. They reassured us, however, that there was no night life we were missing. Something about our sunhats and trekking shoes must have screamed, “I like to party hard.”

Here’s my question…do people really still go party at night in Mexican border towns? That’s terrifying.

This fancy border control station closes at 6pm folks.

This fancy border control station closes at 6pm, folks.

Jenna utilizes to topographical map at the headquarters to make tomorrow's hike look like "no biggie."

Jenna (who conquered Bruja back in March) utilizes to topographical map at the headquarters to make tomorrow’s hike look like no biggie.

So from there all we could do was set up our campsite along Terlingua Creek. We camped under the stars, being slow roasted by the desert floor which radiated heat through our inflatable sleeping pads like some device used by celebrity chefs to make the perfect braised duck.

It was far too warm for sleeping bags, so we slept largely exposed, which is thrilling in it’s own way.

Few things are more majestic than falling asleep under a glittering canopy of shooting stars with Scorpio rising up from the horizon as you drift off to sleep with no one around for miles… except the three other people lying shoulder-to-shoulder with you on a tarp.

Our first campsite, and the tarp we shared.

Our first campsite, and the tarp we shared.

We set our alarms for 4:40 am, only to awaken to a completely dark sky that looked no closer to daylight than when we’d gone to sleep. Big Bend is at the western edge of the timezone. So we slept another hour, until distant coyote howls woke us and the horizon was growing lighter.

Still, this is what “getting ready” looked like:

i Phone upload July 7 2013 103

Jenna and I added a clever, if not particularly trendy, piece of equipment to our desert gear: gaiters. Mine were “3 season” gaiters. I’m willing to guess that blistering summer is not one of those seasons. But I didn’t care. The desert is thick with pokey flora, and I intended to trudge like a pro. Gaiters on!

i Phone upload July 7 2013 104

From there we set out and the adventure really began.

Stay tuned for Part II of the story to find out if all four intrepid travelers remain intact as they climb, rappel, scramble, and swim their way out of Bruja Canyon.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Last-Call Adventure: Canyon Lake Gorge

Our dear friend, Colin, is leaving us in August. He’s going to Boulder, CO (of course).

This is Colin.

This is Colin.

Lewis is sad to loose a kindred spirit. I am sad to lose one of our only friends who doesn’t think that all of my adventure ideas sound ominously fallible. In fact, Colin trumps me in great ideas that are more…grand… than anticipated.

So, in honor of his departure, we’ve begun to execute what I will here dub the Last-Call Adventures.

May 18 was Canyon Lake Gorge

This is Canyon Lake Gorge.

This is Canyon Lake Gorge.

Walking along the Canyon Lake spillway feels like a trek into a wasteland. Concrete severs the limestone in an attempt to solve a different man made problem (erosion of the man-made dam, which was built to make the lake), this scenario tends to proliferate when left unattended. Canyon Lake itself was born for flood and drought control, because German settlers insisted on inhabiting an area that is more flood-prone than anywhere else in the country. Barry Commoner might have had some thoughts on what we were setting ourselves up for here.

Lewis and Colin surveying the landscape.

Lewis and Colin surveying the landscape.

Case in point: A massive flood event in 2002 that crashed over the Canyon Lake spillway flooded homes, washed out roads, and moved enough earth to cover a football field under 30 stories of rock, soil, and flora. The flood carried such force ( 7 feet deep over the spillway at 67,000 cubic feet per second) that it ripped a giant gash in the land, exposing millenia’s worth of fossils, footprints, and geological features.

The laceration is now known as the Canyon Lake Gorge. The only way to gain access is by paying a for a tour from the Gorge Preservation Society (GPS). So that’s what we did.

Our guide was clearly a geology/archaeology enthusiast, and thus we spent the bulk of our time looking at fossils and dinosaur prints. There was also a rather excited 8 year old in our group, so fossils and dinosaurs were winning topics. However, since Colin is an environmental reporter who writes mostly about water and water issues, and Lewis is a spring fanatic, we took issue with our guide’s overall dismissal of the hydrological significance of the area. But we did learn a lot about fault lines and local dinosaurs, so the day was a most definitely a significant net gain, educationally.

The first layer of limestone to tear away under the flood waters revealed several dinosaur tracks. Personally, I buy about 70% of what any given paleontologist says on the matter because in grad school I became sort of a slave to sample sizes. However, these are undeniably footprints in the limestone, put there by the controlled fall of a bipedal creature long before several feet of limestone formed on top of it. Given the rate of limestone production in nature, the size of the print and the length of the stride…I’m convinced, and awed.

This is a very unphotogenic dinosaur footprint.

This is a very unphotogenic dinosaur footprint.

From the mega to the mini, our guide called our attention to the crunching beneath our feet and asked us to find fossils. Lo and behold the very tiny things crunching beneath our feet were, in fact, orbitolina texana. Tiny tiny fossilized forminifera (a one-celled creature with a nucleus and hole in its body).

Orbitum texana

Orbitolina texana

Another tiny fossil.

Another tiny fossil.

IMG_2768[1]

Crunch.

We proceeded deeper through the strata into the gorge. Each limestone shelf gave way to another stunning feature, more forensic evidence for times past and the general behavior of the earth’s crust.

IMG_2773[1] IMG_2784[1] IMG_2779[1] IMG_2790[1] IMG_2778[1] IMG_2782[1]

Limestone is porous, and so for the Edwards Aquifer dependents in the group, witnessing both the porosity and the solubility of the stone was a telling look into how we get our own water. The water in the gorge leaks out of the lake, though the porous ground, as well as underground canals carved out by persistent rivulets over time. Lots and lots of time. A similar process created the Edwards Aquifer.

Our guide lost me a little bit when he snubbed the Edwards Aquifer Authority for placing water restrictions on San Antonio to save the fountain darter, tampering with right of captures laws (I think that differentiating between surface and ground water is absurd as well, but while I’d like to see ground water protected like surface water, he’d seemed to be advocating for the reverse). He also assured us that fracking would not hurt our drinking water and that the aquifer was far deeper than we would ever need it to be. Oh the confidence of those who don’t have to drink other people’s “rights.” Except that he did spend a few minutes ranting about an ex-business partner who poured motor oil into a hole in the ground near enough to effect his private well.

This water does not belong to you.

This water does not belong to you.

We progressed to an examination of the Hidden Valley fault. The dramatic effects on the rocks as they press and jar against each other is magnificent. It looks like wreckage, and yet its presence makes rivers possible, and fills our aquifer. We also learned the term slickenside, referring to the scrape marks caused by the hanging wall (moving plate) moving against the footwall (stationary plate). I think it sounds like something you’d find at Schlitterbahn.

Under the careful explanations and occasional soap-boxing of our guide, our three hour tour matured into 4.5 hours, but even the 8 year old weathered it well. It’s an amazing place, though I am a little leery of industry building around it, even something as noble as the GPS. It just seems like when a human ties their livlihood to the whims of nature,  the battlelines are drawn. Already there are power washers involved.

I highly recommend the trip, if you are heat/sun tolerant, and fond of a good hike. Take a note from Gilligan, and don’t build your plans around a three hour tour. We lost Colin to a work commitment about 3.5 hours in. On the way out I heard the 8-year-old say, “I feel so bad for that man. He had to leave right before we got to all the fossils!” Darling, but untrue. We’d seen 3.5 hours worth of fossils. But I admire his enthusiasm for the final sites.

Fossil

Fossil

Canyon Lake Gorge, as it is now, is the museum that nature made. Her response to Canyon Lake. Her moment to show off what she’s been up to for so long before we were looking.

Tagged , , , ,