Sunday, January 31, 2010

Monahans Sandhills State Park

After reading about the Great Sand Dunes over at Colorado Lifestyle the family and I decided to head over to Monahans to play in Texas’ own oversized sandbox. The Monhans Sandhills State Park is located about an hour west of Midland on interstate 20. The park consists of 3840 acres of sand dunes, some up to 70 feet high. The park invites people to come and play in the sand in a verity of ways.

Since we were visiting in January the temperature was really quite pleasant. We have been to the sandhills before during the summer when you really feel like you’re in the desert (which, you are, by the way). The park charges three dollars per-person to enter the park. They also have sand-discs (for sledding) and sand-boards (for sand surfing) that can be rented for a dollar an hour. We picked up a sand-disc and a sand-board and drove out to the main picnic area.

Sledding down the Sandhills

Climbing up the sand dunes can be quite a chore. With each step you sink deeper into the soft sand. Footprints and sled trails where everywhere from previous visitors. My family and I made our way up to the first tall sandhill to spend some time playing. When the sand is dry and loose sledding is really quite hard. The park hands out wax to help overcome friction between the sand-discs and the loose sand. On the day we visited, the park had just received several inches of rain a few days before. As a result the sand was moist and hard packed, making sledding a breeze.

The hill we spent the most time sledding on. It sure did get tiring going back up each time.

If you decided to come out to Monahans and do a little sand sledding let me give you some pointers my daughter and I discovered the hard way. First, it is a good idea to drag your hands behind you. This will help you steer and maintain control. The sled really starts going fast and if you get turned around backwards….you WILL flip over. Second, avoid the hills where grass is growing. The grass looks nimble enough that your sled will just push it down. It won’t, and it hurts. I sliced my finger open trying to maintain control on a steep hill with tall grass. Third, skip the sand-boards and go straight for the discs. The boards don’t slide well and dig into the sand too much to be fun.

Some type of bird tracks in the sand.

The park has camping and picnic areas as well as a small nature trail. None of these seemed to be all that great. The main attraction of the park is the sand. Make sure you get the sand-discs back to the park office by 4:00 pm or they will send park rangers out looking for you. The park doesn't close till 10:00 but the office closes at 4:30 pm.



Friday, January 29, 2010

Is Global Warming Real?

Who is to say for sure? I have to admit I have always been a little skeptical of the Global warming bandwagon. Its not that I don’t believe in protecting the earth. Or that mankind has a tremendous impact. I am just a little skeptical when everyone starts to jump one aspect of the very broad issue of conservation.

Well now I read On Walkabout that temperature data all over the world is being manipulated to make it look like the world is a hotter than it actually is.

Thermometers that once existed in historically cooler, higher altitude climates are being replaced by historically warmer, lower altitude climates. The number of thermometers and even temperature sample sizes are decreasing as much as 75%.

These are the same datasets, incidentally, which serve as primary sources of temperature data not only for climate researchers and universities worldwide, but also for the many international agencies using the data to create analytical temperature anomaly maps and charts.

People we are being scammed…or at least it seems to look that way.

If you would like more information check out these links:

The ClimateGate scandal


Scientists Manipulating Data

Leaked E-mails Discredit Climate Expert

Blame Canada!

Musings from the Chiefio

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Guadalupe Peak - 8,749 feet - Highest point in Texas.

Guadalupe peak is the highest point in Texas at 8,749 feet. Last April a good friend and I set out to summit on a two day backpacking trip. The hike to the peak can actually be done in a fast day trip with the trail to the top lasting just over 4 miles. A group of teens and I once made it to the peak and back in less than five hours one unusually cold august day. But this last April we wanted to take our time and spend the night at the Guadalupe Peak Campground.

The Trail leading to Guadalupe Peak, and campground.

We started our ascent around 9:00 am on a beautiful Thursday in April. Our packs were heavy with the water needed for the two days and cooking we had planned to do. The trail starts at just over 5734 feet at the Pine Springs Camp Ground. We started up the steep switch backs on the east side of the mountain. Within the first mile we had already reached and altitude of 7,000 feet. We stopped under a ledge to shelter us from the signature gale force spring winds as we took in the abundant views of the east desert foot hills.

Me sitting on the edge of the trail with the view to the east behind me.

Just a little further along the trail we crossed a ridge exposing us to the northern side of the mountain. Wind seemed to pick up at this point were the trail is less steep rising another 1,000 feet over two more miles. Looking across the valley you see Hunter Peak (8368) to the north. Along this stretch in the trail you enter the “Sky Island” where vegetation begins to change from the arid Chihuanhuan Desert below to the large ponderosa pine forests of the higher elevations.

Hunter Peak (8,368 feet) across the valley with the Tejas trail snaking up its side.

We stopped along this stretch to eat a late brunch consisting of some fresh fruit and cereal bars. Not wanting to waste any time we started up the second batch of switchbacks before leveling off at around 8,000 feet near the Guadalupe peak campground.

The campground area viewed here from above. Our campsite was just beyond the left hand ridge.

The campground is a relatively flat meadow about three to four hundred yards Northeast of the trail. Since we were the only ones on the mountain that day we had our pick of campsites. The main factor to consider when picking a campsite is the wind. I don’t know how to describe the force of the winds during spring time. You literally face gusts of up to 100 mph in the higher elevations.

At one of the campsites, previous campers had built a wind block surrounding 3 sides out of downed trees. We looked at all the sites and decided this would provide our best shelter from the wind. We set up our tent and decided to go bushwhacking around the area until dinner.

Our campsite with a wind block made out of downed trees.

After a well needed meal of buttered noodles and real cheese ,spices, and summer sausage we began to prepare for breakfast in the morning. My friend took it upon himself to bring ingredients for fresh cinnamon rolls that would rise overnight. Unfortunately we used too much flower and did not have enough water to make anything but a messy glob of dough. He apologized profusely despite my reassurance that it was no big deal. With night upon us we bear proofed our food by headlamp light and headed off to bed. (Black bears have been spotted numerous times in Guadalupe Mountains National Park.)

Sunrise. This shot was taken near our campsite.

We had planned to wake up early and summit in time to watch the sun rise. When the time came however the wind was blowing so hard neither of us dared summit in the dark. So we stayed in our warm sleeping bags and waited for the wind to die down.

Heading to the summit in the early morning. Alpenglow can be seen on Guadalupe Peak.

Just after sunrise we left our campsite and gear to finish the last mile to the summit. Just past the campsite along the trail to the summit is a man made wooden bridge. At around 8200 feet I have been told it is the highest bridge in Texas. Considering not many things in Texas exist at or above 8200 feet I am apt to believe it is true. On either side of the bridge the trail encounters quite a bit of exposure looking down into the valley. The last mile of the trail is the steepest and hardest but also the prettiest with the ponderosa pines reaching well over 100 feet tall.

Highest bridge in Texas resting somewhere around 8,200 feet.

As you near the summit views of El Capitan (8085 feet) the signature peak of West Texas can be seen from above. Marking the summit of Guadalupe peak is a Stainless Steel pyramid placed there by American Airlines in 1958 to commemorate 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail, a stagecoach route that passed south of the mountain.Alongside the pyramid is a green ammo can with a summit log inside.

American Airlines 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail commemorative perymid marking the summit. The ammo can with summit log inside can be seen at its base. El Capitan in the background.

We signed our names and proceeded to play around on the peak for about an hour. We had brought along some more summer sausage and the rest of the cheese to cook on the summit. It was a great breakfast with an unbelievable view, the highlight of the trip. Heading down around 9:30 am we stopped to pack up our campsite before and heading home.

Signing my name in the summit log.

Guadalupe Peak Trail is a difficult trail with elevation gain of 3,015 feet over 4.17 miles. There is no water available anywhere other than the trailhead. Winds should be considered a hazard with gusts up to 100 mph. Bring good shoes and plenty of water. Be sure and check out the rest of the park. Guadalupe Mountains National Park has more than 80 miles of trails available for hiking.

Ummm. Breakfast on the Summit.

Shumard Peak (8,615 feet) and New Mexico in the distance.

El Captain (8,085 feet) viewed from above just short of the summit.

El Captain (8,085 feet) viewed from the Guadalupe Peak summit.
I use both the Map and Guide book featured below when planning my many trips to the Guadalupe Mountains. I highly recommend them to anyone wishing to hike there. Purchase them through these links and help support MyLifeOutdoors.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Happy Birthday Rocky!

Long's Peak, Elevation: 14,259, Rocky Mountain National Park. Photo Credit: Flicker user UHLMAN

I would like to join Compass Points in saying happy birthday to Rocky Mountain National Park. The park is 95 years old today January the 26th.

Camp Blue Haven

I have recently applied to teach youth at Camp Blue Haven near Las Vegas, New Mexico. I do not know yet if I will be accepted, but if I am I will get the opportunity to work for one week this summer with teenagers ranging from the fifth grade to recent high school graduates.

Camp Blue Haven sprawls over 1,100 acres in the heart of Sangre de Cristo mountain range. The camp has an abundance of rugged mountain terrain covered in pine, spruce and aspen. The Blue and the Tecolote streams flow through camp which borders the Santa Fe National Forest. I am excited about the opportunity and look forward to working with the youth. I will update here as time comes closer.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Davis Mountian Preserve Open Weekends/Open Days

The Nature Conservancy's Davis Mountain Preserve has released their open day weekends for 2010. The Davis Mountian Preserve (home of Mt. Livermoore 8378 feet, highest in the Davis Mountain range) will be open on the folowing dates:

  • Open Weekend March 12-14: Open from noon on Friday March 12th, until 2:00 pm Sunday March 14th.
  • Open Day April 17th: Open 9:00 am to 4:00 pm Saturday April 17th.
  • Open Weekend May 7-9: Open from noon on Friday May 7th until 2:00 pm Sunday May 9th.
  • Open Weekend June 18-20: Open from noon on Friday June 18 until 2:00 pm Sunday June 20th.
  • Open Weekend July 23-25: Open from noon on Friday July 23 until 2:00 pm Sunday July 25th.
  • Open Day August 14th: Open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm August 14th.
Photo: Mount Livermoore. Photo credit: Fliker user Legdog

Sunday, January 24, 2010

West Texas Sunset

This was our view as my daughter and I drove home last monday. If there is one thing Texas has in abundance... it is sky.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Free Anti-Stink Shirt from Active Agion

Agion is giving away 5,000 free shirts that have been treated with a new technology called Active Agion. Active Agion is a anti-stink technology that, they claim, can be applied to any fabric. Go to the Active Agion website to sign up for your free shirt. The only catch...only half the shirt has been treated with anti-stink technology. But hey...its a free shirt. And it will give you a good idea weather or not this stuff really works.

Mission Mary - Calera, Texas

At the foot of the Davis Mountains on Farm to Market Road 3078 a little church was built more than 100 years ago. We don’t know when Mission Mary was built but the first written records began in 1902. Sometime around 1940, when travel became easier and people moved away, the mission was abandoned and became the home for bats and livestock. Now, thanks to the La Calera Foundation who restored the mission in 2003, Mission Mary is open to the public.

Driving home from our trip to the Davis Mountains my daughter and I stumbled upon Mission Mary and stopped to take a look. A long rope extends down from the bell inviting you to ring it (and of course my daughter did). Lift the lever to the door and you will find some quaint wood benches, candles and a Cross on the wall. There’s not much to Mission Mary, but if you are ever in the area you might stop by, spend some time in prayer or just enjoy the history of the area.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Scenic Loop - Davis Mountians, Texas

Starting in Fort Davis and continuing 75 miles around Hwy 166 and 118 is the Davis Mountains Scenic Loop. Taking approximately 1.5 hours to drive the loop begins and ends in the small town of Fort Davis.

One of the least crowded and most scenic drives in Texas the loop takes you around Mount Locke, Fowlkes, Madera Canyon, Sawtooth Mountain and other sites such as McDonald Observatory. The loop reaches its highest point at 6700 feet which, consequently, is the highest public highway in Texas. If you get the chance take the small detour down Hwy 17 toward Balmorhea, Texas to take in some of my favorite scenic views. Always be sure to gas up in Fort Davis, there is nothing around for miles.

Sawtooth Mountain
This last shot was taken on a short detour to the "Boy Scout Camp" off hwy 17. The sign reads "Loose Livestock."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Nature Conservancy...New Friends?

We had originally set out, Monday, to hike the Madera Canyon Trail located on The Nature Conservancy’s Davis Mountains Preserve. I first found out about Madera Canyon Trail from West Texas Weekly and have wanted to check it out every since. But as we approached the Lawrence E. Wood picnic area on Hwy 118 (where the trail begins) we could see smoke coming from the area of the trail. As we came closer, a gentleman with a stop sign informed us TNC was setting controlled burns in the area. As our luck would have it, the trail (regularly open 365 days a year) was closed.

Smoke rising from some controlled burns set by TNC

The trip wasn’t a total waste. The gentleman directing traffic that day happened to be Chris Pipes, the recently appointed director over TNC’s Davis Mountains Preserve. When I told him how far we had driven just to spend some time in Madera Canyon he apologized and promised to make it up to us. Controlled burns will continue until January 31st, after which, he said I could call and set up some time to hike, not only in Madera Canyon, but within the rest of the Davis Mountain Preserve. I don’t know when I will find the time to head down there but I am excited to be making new friends with TNC.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Skyline Trail - Davis Mountains State Park, Texas

Yesterday my oldest and I drove down to the Davis Mountains State Park to do some hiking. We wanted to hike in the parks “primitive area” but where told the park had allowed some hunters on the area to bow hunt for Havalinas. So we took the Park Rangers suggestion and followed a number of trails around a five mile ”Skyline” loop of the park.

We grabbed a park map and drove down to the Skyline Mountain Bike Trailhead and began heading east. The Trail gradually climbed the hill side eventually linking up with an old dirt road that was originally installed by the CCC. The whole time we were on the Mountain Bike Trail Hwy 118 could be seen. Every time we felt secluded, a passing car would remind us we where not. We followed the Historic CCC road for about 200 yards before breaking off to the south where we reached the ridgeline (or Skyline as the park refers to it). After breaking from the historic roadway the trail system became very confusing. My daughter and I found at least 3 trails (that looked to have been recently maintained) that were not on the map.

Hwy 118 down below

The map itself didn’t seem to portray any of the trail's actual paths. It just seemed to mark the trail's general direction. It did not show actual turns in the path or even the correct number of switchbacks the trail took. We eventually decided the map was worthless when trying to figure out how far we had gone or which path to take.

Our approximate path. Shown more acuratly here then on available park maps.

Once we reached the Ridgeline we followed it back west to the parks summit, climbing a total 500 feet (from the trailhead to the summit) to an altitude of 5500 feet. We ate lunch on the top and took time to enjoy the views. The Park Ranger said Mexico could be viewed to the south but we couldn’t tell if we could see it or not.

The view to the South. Can you see Mexico? We couldn't.

After lunch we followed the trail west along the remainder of the ridgeline, strolling peacefully through the tall grass. Views of the park’s campground and Indian Lodge Hotel could be seen to our right and Fort Davis to our Left. Reaching the Trails western most point we began to descend back into the valley. This was by far the best part of the trail. We could no longer see or hear hwy 118. A cool mountain breeze gently rustled the tall grass. The views of the tall 8,000 foot peaks could be seen to the West.

With an 8 year old we spent just under 4 hours (with a stop for lunch) to complete the 5 mile loop. The trail was moderately difficult with an easy gradual climb over several miles when starting on the Bike Trail. If you start on the other end (by the amphitheater) you will climb nearly all 500 feet in the first mile.

 The path was well maintained (some areas better than others) but poorly marked with a mostly gravel surface. There was hardly any shade on the trail at all. With temperatures barely reaching 65 the sun was a welcome variable. We only saw one other person on the trail the entire time. But as I mentioned before, the noise from hwy 118 keeps you from feeling secluded for most of the hike. All and all we had a great time. When we got home my daughter asked when we would be going back. That has to count for something!


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Family Push-Pin Map

Not long after my oldest was born we set a family goal. Before she graduates from high school we want to have visited every state in the US. So far we have made it to 10 states (I think) which is a little more than one state per year. Now that she is 8 we only have about 10 years left and 40 more states. I think we need to speed it up a bit.

Maybe our problem is we can’t see the big picture. So the other day I went out and bought a large (3x4 foot) bulletin board and wall map of the US to help us keep track of where we have been. Each member of the family has a different colored push-pin. When we visit a town or state we place a push-pin on the map as a reminder.

We have all had a great time just trying to remember all the places we have been in order to catch up to the present. Once we have all our past pins in, we will hang the map above the family computer and update it when necessary.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Outdoor Gear Testers Wanted by Cocona Fabrics

Cocona Fabrics is running a full page add in Backpacker Magazine looking for outdoor enthusiasts to test a new fabric called Xcelerator. They claim Xcelerator Fabrics perform 50% better than other similar fabrics, and are looking for 1000 testers who will receive free gear for testing. If you are interested in applying to become a tester you can go to the Cocona website to register. The website says:

We are looking for people from all walks of life, to test the lastest in high-tech fabric "Cocona Xcelerator outerwear". 

Cocona will be giving out 1000 pieces of Cocona Xcelerator Outerwear and all we ask is you wear it, give the a good solid work-out and send us the proof, post to our micro-blog, Blog away, send in video and pictures; let us and the world know exactly what you think of Cocona Xcelerator outerwear. We are so confident in Cocona Xcelerator's ability to wick away moisture, chase away odor, not weigh you down and keep you dry that we are giving it away and letting 1000 savy users be the judge. You hear high priced Wall Street advertising firms tell you about how great some outdoor gear is, now you will hear 1000 people's first hand experience with Cocona Xcelerator outerwear.

Cocona provides fabrics for brands such as Marmot, Patagonia, Go Light, Merrell, and many more.

The tester application asks questions such as: Describe your physical abilities?, Frequency of outdoor activity?, What is your relationship with the outdoors?, List notable outdoor gear you own, Describe your favorite piece of gear, Do you have a blog?, and Why would you be a great tester?

I have applied to be a tester. I understand each application will go before a panel of judges with the 1000 winners being notified sometime before April 30th 2010. I don’t know if I will be selected to test Xcelerator Fabrics or not, but if I am selected, you will be able to read about my testing here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Two New Mexico weekend trips

I received the March (??) issue of Backpacker Magazine yesterday in the mail. A Featured article titled Ultimate Rockies by Steve Howe highlights 14 Rocky Mountain weekend and weeklong trips in the heart of the country. Two specific trips caught my eye due to their close proximity (relative) to West Texas.

The first was Wheeler Peak, the highest in NM at 13,161 feet. Wheeler has a 16 mile out and back summit with an elevation gain of 3,800 feet. The trailhead is located just east of Taos Ski Valley at the Twining Campground. The “A” on the map marks the trailhead’s approximate location.

 The other NM trial the Steve Howe highlighted is one he calls the Truchas Traverse. This trail hits three 13,000 foot peaks in 14 miles. Summit West Truchas, Middle Truchas, and the highest point in the range, Truchas Peak at 13,102 feet. According to Howe permission is required from the Truchas Land Grant (505-351-4250) and a high clearance vehicle to access the trailhead. I could not mark the trail head on the map but I am sure the people at Truchas Land Grant can give you directions. This is one I hope to do sometime this year or next.

On another note...some people have asked about the Mt. Livermoore and Baldy Peak summit I had planned back in november. Well we had some schedule conflicts and Mr. Barnett and I couldn't find a good day to summit on. I told him I would call him after the first of the year to reschedule and just havent had the chance to. I still hope to summit Mt. Livermoore sometime soon. I will post a report when I do.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Cherohala Skyway - Scenic Drive

Cherohala Skyway, located in Tennessee and North Carolina, is one of the few nationally recognized scenic highways in the United States. As I mentioned before my wife and I were recently given the pleasure of driving the entire 36 miles. Since we were staying in Tennessee we choose to enter the Skyway from the town of Tellico Plains. We had only driven a single mile on the Skyway before deciding to take the short detour down River Road to see Bald River Falls.

Bald River is a tributary triumphantly flowing into the Tellico River via a 100 foot water fall. River Road crosses over the Bald River just below the falls where the two streams meet. From the bridge you have a wonderful vantage point of the falls and many travelers stop to take pictures. The day we were there it must have been below 20 degrees outside and yet the bridge was crowded with pedestrians taking pictures and watching the falls. We crossed the bridge carefully, trying not to hit any photographers, and parked in the limited parking along River Road.

Bald River Falls is quite spectacular. It is really hard to describe the scale of the falls. Describing it as 100 feet of cascading water really doesn’t give it justice, and the pictures make it look much smaller than it is in real life. The falls blows quite a bit of freezing mist at the bridge making photography and simply walking on the bridge quite difficult. Most of the frost you see on the surrounding rocks is from the mist blowing off the falls. There was no snowfall in the days preceding our visit. There is a short trail located at the far end of the parking area that leads to the top of the falls. We decided not to hike to the top and instead opted to continue on so we could have more time on the Skyway.

After snapping a few pictures we headed down River Road a little further and came across a nameless waterfall. We parked at a nearby Forest Service Campsite and walked down to the waterfall to take some pictures. As we got out of the car a single Kayak was pulling out of the water after running the 20 foot drop. We did not get there in time to photo his run but got to talk to him about it. He said the water was very, very cold, evidenced by the icicle that had formed on his helmet.

We jumped back in the car and headed back to the Skyway to start our climb to the top. From Tellico Plains you climb 3588 feet to the Tennessee/North Carolina State line were you cross at an elevation of 4,518 feet. Crossing the state line you continue to climb another 865 feet to the highest point (Hooper Bald) at 5,383 feet. All along the way you find many scenic overlooks and pullouts to take in the abundant views. Shortly above elevations of 3,000 feet or more we saw evidence of Freezing Fog and snow covered hills.

After Hooper Bald you begin your decent into the forests of North Carolina. Descending back to an elevation of 2,460 feet where the Skyway officially ends at Santeetiah Gap. I recommend driving the short distance to Robbinsville to fill up with Gas. There are no other gas stations in the area (that I am aware of) and, in addition to my own gas scare, I had one other person (coming from the NC side) ask me how far to the next gas station. When I told him he was afraid he wouldn’t make it. If you’re thinking 36 miles doesn’t sound that bad realize we drove more than an hour, from our hotel, just to get to the entrance of the Skyway. By the time we got back we had used a whole take of gas on the steep grades and hair pin turns. You shouldn’t have a problem if you fill up in Robbinsville or Tellico Plains (or both).



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