Thursday, March 31, 2011

Learn to Camp - Texas Outdoor Family Workshops Begin this Weekend

"Have you wanted to take your family on a camping trip, but you didn't feel you knew everything you might need to know to have a successful camping experience?" Texas Parks and Wildlife is offering a multitude of Outdoor Family workshops designed to give your family hands-on experience learning basic outdoor skills. Your family will be able to camp for the first time (or after a long hiatus) without needing to buy expensive gear. Texas Outdoor Family workshops are hosted at various state parks all across Texas. Some of the things you can learn include:
  • How to set up and break down camp (including your tent)
  • Fire starting
  • Outdoor cooking
  • Guided walks
  • Nature activities
  • How to use a GPS
  • Geocaching
  • Fishing
  • Kayaking
  • wildlife watching

Texas Family Outdoor Workshops begin this weekend. Cost is only $65 per family up to six people. If you love the outdoors and have been waiting for the right chance to get the family outside without spending alot of is your chance.

Click here for more information on Texas Outdoor Family Workshops.

Click here for a schedule of upcoming Texas Outdoor Family Workshops.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Emory Peak Summit - Big Bend National Park, Texas

The morning of our second day in the high Chisos mountains my friend and I decided to summit the Highest Mountain in Big Bend. At 7825 feet high, Emory Peak is the highest point in the Chisos Mountain Range. The Chisos Mountains Range is the third highest range in Texas and is completely contained inside Big Bend National Park’s boundary.

Emory Peak from the South
We woke up early Saturday morning and packed up camp in a hurry. We were on the Trail by 8:00 am and began heading up the 1.6 mile trail to the summit. The Emory Peak Trail used to be only 1 mile long from its junction with the Pinnacles Trail to the Summit. Recently the Park modified the trail in order to expand the climb over a greater distance. The trail now travels through the old Emory Peak campsite which has since been eliminated.

Emory from the trail
A view of the South Rim from along the Emory Peak trail
By 9:00 am we had reached the end of the trail, but had not yet made it to the summit. At the top two separate peaks are divided by a shallow canyon. At first we were unsure witch of the two peaks was the actual summit. We guessed that the northern peak was tallest and turned out to be right. The last 50 feet to the top is a class three scramble. Already impressed by the views so far we couldn’t wait to get up there. We climbed up to the top and sat down for a well deserved rest.
Shallow Canyon dividing two peaks near the summit of Emory
Near the summit before the Scramble.

Nearing the Summit
 From the top 360 degree views entice the eye in every direction. To the south we could see the South Rim, the Rio Grande river, and on into Mexico. To the East we could see Toll Mountain, Casa Grande, Lost Mine Peak, and Crown Mountain. To the west endless expanse of Chiuaune desert. And to the North the Chisos basin.

Blue Creek Canyon from Emory Peak
Toll Mountain (foreground) Casa Grande, Lost Mine Peak, and Crown Mountain (left to right)
Crown Mountain from Emory Peak
The Chisos Basin from Emory Peak
Santa Elena Canyon, viewed from Emory Peak
Standing on Emory Peak Summit
Emory Peak Summit Marker
Summit Lizard
The Window from Emory peak.
 Time began to fly by. Before we knew it we had already spent two hours on the summit. So far we had the summit to ourselves but knew this couldn’t last long. We still had several miles to hike before reaching our second nights camp. We took in our final views from the summit and began heading down. Shortly after beginning our decent we passed the first group coming from the basin. We wished them well, glad we didn’t have to share the small summit with them.

Emory Peak Trail via Pinnacles Trail
The New Emory Peak Trail. The old trail is marked by a dashed line on the map.
Emory Peak Elevation Profile
The Hike:
Distance: 4.7 miles one way.
Starting Elevation: 5341 feet
Ending Elevation: 7825 feet
Elevation Gain: 2484 feet

I use both the Map and Book featured below when planning my trips to Big Bend. I highly remomend them to anyone wishing to hike there. Buy them through these links and help support MyLifeOutdoors.
Getting There:
Trailhead:  29°16'12.39"N 103°18'3.87"W
Emory Peak Trail Junction:  29°15'6.44"N 103°17'48.11"W
Emory Peak Summit:  29°14'45.83"N 103°18'19.18"W
GPS File: GPX of Emory Peak

Related Posts:
South Rim Backpack Trip
Toll Mountain Summit
Big Bend Sunset Time Lapse Video

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Friday, March 25, 2011

Big Bend Sunset - Time Lapse Video

It has been pretty crazy for me lately. With spring break here and gone I have been traveling a lot and working double hard to make up for the time I have been gone. As a result...MyLifeOutdoors has been neglected a little. I haven't posted a "week in review" in three or more weeks and have been doing good if I get out one post per week. I have lots of trip reports to share with you in the coming weeks and ask that you remain patient as I prepare them. Next week I will be posting my final report from my recent Big Bend, South Rim, backpacking trip. Until then... here is a short Time Lapse video of a Big Bend Sunset. Enjoy.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Toll Mountain Summit - Big Bend National Park, Texas

Our first night in the High Chisos Mountains a friend and I decided to bushwhack to the summit of Toll Mountain. At 7415 feet Toll Mountain is the 19th tallest mountain in Texas. That morning we started our hike climbing 1643 feet up the Pinnacles Trail to the saddle between Emory and Toll. We set up our first camp at the TM1 campsite near the bottom of the saddle. Continuing east from our camp we climbed an additional 420 feet to the summit of Toll.

Sitting on top of Toll Mountain
From the TM1 campsite the climb to the top of Toll Mountain is an easy bushwhack. Toll has an average grade on the west slope that is mostly free of trees and thick brush. The hardest part is avoiding the cactus, agave, and other prickly plants as you make your way up the mountain. We did have to backtrack here or there to get around the occasional low tree or thick brush.

looking toward Boot Canyon from the side of Toll
Boot Canyon
Once we reached the top we made our way over to the mountains northern edge. The top of toll is a mostly flat half circle that gently fades to a shallow southern facing bowl. All along the north edge thick trees seemed to hinder the best views of the basin. We continued bushwhacking east till we came to a clearing and a small rock outcropping high above the basin. The views were beyond stunning. I couldn’t resist the urge to venture out onto the rock outcropping. With 500 to 1,000 foot drops on all sides I slowly made my way to the edge of the small rock and sat down. This, it seemed, was the top of the world. I pondered how such experiences never get old…how I could climb to thousand similar locations and never cease to be amazed.

Thick trees along Toll's northern edge,

Chisos Basin from Toll Mountain
Sitting on the small rock outcropping
Looking West from the top of Toll Mountain
Chisos Basin view from Toll Mountain
Looking West from Toll Mountain
We continued around the edge of toll eventually reaching the saddle between Toll and Casa Grande. From here a whole new set of views opened up with Juniper Canyon sprawling below us. We gazed over at Crown Mountain and The Sierra Del Carmen in the distance as we sat on the edge of the cliff dangling our feet high above Juniper canyon. We must have sat for close to an hour enjoying the gentle breeze and amazing views. Before long, sunset threatened to force us to descend Toll in the dark. We made our way back to the West slowly bushwhacking toward camp.

Looking along the Saddle between Toll and Casa Grande
Casa Grande
Crown Mountain
Crown Mountain above Juniper Canyon

Heading down to our campsite
Sunset on Casa Grande
The decent was much trickier then the climb but nothing we couldn’t handle. With just minutes left before dark we reached our campsite. The Summit gave us a great since of accomplishment. We wondered how many, or how few had ever stood were we had that day.

The Hike:
3.5 mile hike one way plus 1 mile bushwhack one way
Starting Elevation: 5352 feet
Ending Elevation: 7415 feet
Elevation gain: 2063 feet

I use both the Map and Book featured below when planning my trips to Big Bend. I highly remomend them to anyone wishing to hike there. Buy them through these links and help support MyLifeOutdoors.
Getting There:
Trailhead:  29°16'13.62"N 103°18'6.10"W
Toll Emory Saddle:  29°15'7.26"N 103°17'49.53"W
Toll Mountain Summit:  29°15'18.25"N 103°17'27.46"W
GPS Track: GPX File

Related Post:
South Rim Backpack Trip

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Backpacking The South Rim - Big Bend National Park

Big Bend National Park’s South Rim in the Chisos Mountains is one of the best known hikes in Texas. As a Texas native I was way overdue a visit. So on the first weekend of spring break a friend and I planned a two night backpack along the South Rim.

A view from Big Bend's and The Chisos Mountains' South Rim
We woke up early Friday morning and began the four hour drive from Midland to Big Bend. Spring Break is Big Bend’s busiest time of year and backcountry campsites are awarded on a first come first serve basis. We knew the sites would fill up fast. We left Midland around 5:00 am trying to beat the spring break crowds. We arrived in the Park around 9:30 am to find about half the backcountry campsites already reserved. We put our names down for Toll Mountain and the Southwest 2 campsites. Not our first choices but better than nothing. With permit in hand we loaded up our packs headed for the trail.

The South Rim is located at the far southern end of the Chisos Mountains. A small range of mountains, The Chisos, are entirely contained within the boundary of Big Bend National Park. Rising more than 6,000 feet above the Chihuahuan Desert and the Rio Grande River, the Chisos create a sky island that supports a large variety of vegetation and wildlife otherwise impossible in the harsh desert. The Hike to the South Rim begins near the mountains northern bowl called the Chisos Basin.

We started on the Pinnacles Trail and climbed 1643 feet out of the Basin to the saddle between Toll Mountain and Emory Peak. As we hiked views of Casa Grande, Toll Mountain, and Emory Peak kept us company. To our backs the Chisos Basin’s Window gave us glimpses to the hot desert below. Desert temperatures were set to reach the mid nineties the day we arrived. Temperatures in the Chisos Basin, however, were at a cool seventy five. Thankful for the temperature difference the mountains afforded we made it to our first campsite by lunchtime.

Beginning our hike on the Pinnacles Trail, Emory Peak (7,825 feet) in the background
The sign making the beginning of the South rim Loop

The Pinnacles along the Pinnacles Trail
Two park rangers below Casa Grande (7325 feet)
"The Window" from the Pinnacles Trail
Climbing up the Pinnacles trail

Casa Grande
We took our time setting up camp and resting our feet. Before long several Mexican Blue Jay’s invaded our camp begging for food. At first we were fascinated at the birds but then began to wonder if they would become a nuisance. I was reminded of a previous Guadalupe Mountain trip along the Tejas Trail when several Deer invaded our camp and wouldn’t leave us alone. I worried the Jays would do the same, but before long they gave up and went to bother someone else.
That afternoon my friend and I bushwhacked to the top of Toll Mountain. (Click Here for Toll Mountain Post). As the sun began to set we arrived back at our campsite with just enough light left to make dinner. Temperatures began to drop quickly as the light faded. We washed out our pots, packed all our food away in the provided Bear Box, and climbed into our sleeping bags.

Toll Mountain Campsite
Some Mexican Blue Jay's invaded our camp the first night
We woke up with the Sun Saturday morning and packed up camp in a hurry. We wanted to be the first to summit Emory peak, the highest in the Chisos range (click here for my report on Emory Peak Summit), before continuing four miles to our second campsite. As we left Emory, views of lower Boot Canyon caught our eye. The Canyon drops over 1,000 feet in less than half a mile just below a boot shaped rock spire near the base of Emory peak. “The Boot,” for which the canyon is named, is visible for some time along the trail as it climbs south toward the Rim.

Boot Canyon
Boot Canyon
Boot Canyon and "The Boot"
Boot Canyon
We continued along the Boot Canyon Trail until we ran into several Carmen Whitetail Deer. Following the deer into the woods we discovered a shaded picnic table behind Boot Cabin. Boot Cabin is used by park staff for shelter, equipment storage, and as a staging point for trail crews, fire crews, search and rescue, and backcountry patrols. The picnic table provided a perfect place to eat lunch and rest before continuing on to the South Rim. Just past the cabin is Boot spring and the intermittent Boot Creek. As expected neither creek nor the spring was flowing. A fact that became increasing evident by the water weighing down our packs.

Carmen Whitetail Deer in Boot Canyon
Picnic Table Behind Boot Cabin
Boot Cabin
Boot Canyon Trail
Dry Boot Canyon Creek
Dry Boot Canyon Creek
As we climbed up out of Boot Canyon we finally reached the South Rim. Before us lay 180 degree panoramic views of the desert extending far into Mexico. Santa Elena Canyon was visible to the southwest and gave a clue as to where we should look to mark our nation’s border. Here and there we caught glimpses of the Rio Grande some 5400 feet below us. We lingered for awhile as we slowly soaked in the views. 1.5 miles later we arrived at our second night’s campsite.

A meadow just North of the South Rim
Standing on the South Rim
The South Rim
View from The South Rim
Looking East along the South Rim
Me on The South Rim
The Southwest Rim Trail
Me on the South Rim
After setting up camp we packed up our dinner and headed a few hundred yards west toward the Southwest Rim. We bushwhacked to the top of point 7395 were we ate dinner and waited for the sunset. The setting sun painted rich oranges along Blue Creek Canyon. Before long Emory peak was rich with color too. To the north west we could see Laguna Meadows and a few hikers along the Blue Creek Trail. We stayed until the sun was gone before heading back to camp by the light of my headlamp.

Big Bend Sunset over Blue Creek Canyon
Blue Creek Canyon
Warm color in Blue Creek Canyon
Laguna Meadow
Sun Setting on Emory Peak
Big Bend Sunset
Sun setting over Santa Elena Canyon (left)
The morning of our last day we took a little extra time packing up camp and eating breakfast. We hit the trail about 10:00 am. Within a short half mile we caught our last glimpses of Blue Creek Canyon before rounding the corner toward Laguna Meadows. Before long we could see Casa Grande and The Window again, two welcomed sights. We descended 1,898 feet to the Chisos Basin where our car waited for us.

Last view of Blue Creek Canyon
Emory Peak from Laguna Meadow
Laguna Meadow Trail
As promised the South Rim was a trip of a lifetime and no matter how long we spent there the views never got old. We got in the car and drove some 20-30 miles before reaching the parks northern border. We left the park wondering when we would be able to make it back again.

The Hike:
12.1 Mile Loop
Starting Elevation: 5352 feet
Highest Elevation: 7395 feet (excluding Emory and Toll)
GPS Track: GPX File of South Rim Loop

I use both the Map and Book featured below when planning my trips to Big Bend. I highly remomend them to anyone wishing to hike there. Buy them through these links and help support MyLifeOutdoors.
Related Post:
Toll Mountain Summit
Emory Peak Summit

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