Hiking Bull Creek.

Last weekend, I went for a 3-hour group hike with one of the biologists that does research for the City-of-Austin-managed Balcones Canyonlands Preserve.  It was really interesting.   We hiked a short loop along the preserve at Bull Creek.  Along the way, I learned much about the native Ashe junipers throughout the hill country that I had previously come to detest, due to my annual cedar fever allergy symptoms.   But I came away with a new appreciation for the tree and the role it plays in the ecosystem of the Balcones Canyonlands.   I also learned about the other native grasses and shrubs that make up the understory of the woodland.  And about the endangered golden-cheeked warbler that will soon make its annual trek from Central America in early March to nest in the woodlands of the preserve until returning south in July.   I’m looking forward to more hikes out there.  Stay tuned.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Bull Creek  is flowing nicely since the drought has broken.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And, I caught a tiger swallowtail butterfly taking a break along the creek.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Very nice!

Knocked one off the bucket list.

Over the weekend I took a roadtrip with 4 girlfriends to Big Bend National Park in far southwest Texas.   I’ve lived in Texas over 20 years and have never made it out there.   And it was long overdue.   It is all that they say it is.   Big, beautiful, rugged, inspiring, with mountain, desert and river views to die for.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

We made it!

Six and a half hours by car from Austin, we made it to Ft. Davis by about 7pm Friday night.  We had reservations to attend one of the evening Star Parties held 3 times a week at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory, and made it with a little time to spare.   The skies were dark and the stars were out.   The Milky Way was amazing.   The stars and constellations visible to the naked eye were too many to count.  Through the telescopes they had placed for visitors, I saw Saturn, the Andromeda Galaxy, M11 star cluster, and the 2 star clusters in the Perseus constellation.   If you’re going to make the trip all the way out to Big Bend, you really should combine it with a trip to the observatory.   Get tickets ahead of time online.   They sell out frequently and have to turn people away.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

McDonald Observatory giant telescopes on the hill – viewed from where we stayed outside of Fort Davis

Saturday morning we drove to Big Bend and hiked inside of Big Bend National Park.   Saturday afternoon we did the Window Trail – to experience the Chisos Mountains part of Big Bend.   Four hours round trip, a moderately challenging hike, with breathtaking scenery all along the way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Window in the Chisos Mountains from the beginning of the Window Trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Window view at the pour-off at the end of the trail. Watch your step!

We started Sunday at Santa Elena Canyon at dawn – to experience the Rio Grand river part of Big Bend.  It was about an easy 2 hour hike roundtrip – though we had to bushwack a bit to get onto the trail.  The Rio Grande has sliced a 1500′ deep canyon through the mountain there.  At sunrise, the face of the sheer mountain walls glow in the brightening sunlight.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Santa Elena Canyon trail, looking northeast with the sun rising over the Rio Grande.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

About a mile and a half into the Santa Elena Canyon trail along the Rio Grande.

Sunday afternoon we hiked the Mule Ears Springs trail – to experience the Chihuahuan Desert part of Big Bend.   A 3 hour hike, moderate difficulty, mainly due to the rough terrain and 90+ degree temperatures.  Packing water with you is a must!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mule Ears, in the distance on the left, from the Mule Ears Springs trail.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From the Mule Ears Springs trail, looking back south to Santa Elena Canyon in the distance.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Chihuahuan Desert scape, looking north to the mountains from the south side of the park.

Another very awesome trip.  We hiked our butts off.

A hill (and a thrill) with a view.

IMG_7681

One of many familiar images of Austin is of the Pennybacker Bridge at Loop 360, overlooking a stretch of beautiful Lake Austin.   The 360 Loop drive and its Hill Country views are one of my favorite parts of Austin.  I crossed off one of my must-do’s by hiking up the cliff overlooking the bridge to take in the view for myself.   In the panorama above, you can just see the downtown skyline peeking over the hill on the left of the image.   I’m not afraid of heights, but I have to say my heart skipped a beat or two as I stood on the rock on the edge of the cliff.

For reference (from google streetview):

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 3.42.57 PM

I think I like this shot better.  It’s taken from a vantage point slightly farther west, down the trail along the top of the cliff.

IMG_7688

Just another gorgeous day in my little corner of paradise.

Memorial Day.

Wow!  The weekend has zoomed by!

Today we headed over to Noreen’s to celebrate Memorial Day.   On the way we stopped by the cemetery to put a flag and flowers on Dad’s grave.  Cheers, Dad!

We spent the day together:  Noreen, Jared & Kelsey; Fran, Art, Rebecca, & Aaron (& Jojo); Colleen & Jake; Monte, Mom & me.  Brian was down with the flu, so he and Gail will have to join us another time.  It was another amazingly beautiful day in the Pacific Northwest when it was really supposed to be raining.

Jared and Kelsey cooked up the burgers & dogs, and we put out all the fixings;  we also had halibut that Art caught just a day ago off the Washington coast.  Delicious.   Afterwards most of us headed down the road for a hike to the beach.   Wow, that sure was steep!   We found one of the 2 geocaches we searched for along the way.

This is a panarama, looking west to the Olympics, of the beautiful beach along Hood Canal at the bottom of our 1 mile, downhill, switchback-y hike. Becca and Aaron are skipping stones and Jojo is splashing around.

IMG_4167

 

Then we turned around and slogged up the way we came down and were all extremely happy when we made it back to the upper trail head.  Whew-ie!!