Animals

Palo Duro Canyon State Park and Other Stories, Part II

Read Part I here!

We stepped out of our tent the next morning into a world of impossible colors. Nature seriously cranked the saturation up to 11 that day. The sky was so intensely blue that the horizons looked like bad photoshops.

This “hoodoo” is one of the first notable rock formations you see on the iconic Lighthouse Trail. To me it looks like a muppet wearing sunglasses:

Lighthouse is an easier and more pleasant hike than Rock Garden, and has a much better payoff at the end.

The mapped trail officially ends at a small clearing with a picnic table and a bike rack, some distance from the eponymous rock formation. From there, a few desire paths lead up from the clearing to the Lighthouse itself. This time we had accounted for the dry desert air and brought extra water, so we chose a path and kept climbing. This ended up being my favorite part of the whole trip.

You can go a bit higher here and get some great views of the canyon.

When we were ready to go back down we took a different, more direct path than the one we had come up on.

We reconnected with Lighthouse trail at the clearing and backtracked to the trailhead.

The only thing left on our Palo Duro to-do list was the Cave.

It’s not deep, but it’s a world of fun to climb around on.

Once we’d worn ourselves out at the Cave, we treated ourselves to a surprisingly fresh and tasty supper of burgers, fries, onion rings and root beer floats at the park Trading Post. Then we returned to our campsite and called it a day.

We woke up early the next morning, broke camp…

…and drove back up into the flatlands.

On the way home we got to see all the scenery that we had missed during our night-time drive out to the canyon. Still mostly just corn, cotton, cows and wind turbines, though. Our next home has to have mountains. We are not flatland people.

Since I’m apparently blogging again, I might post a few of my favorite Austin pics from the past year. Or maybe not; this might be my last post for another year, who knows. I’ll leave you with a few lines from Cohen’s “Anthem,” which is basically my theme song these days:

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in

That’s how the light gets in.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, food, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Palo Duro Canyon State Park and Other Stories, Part I

Fun fact – the second-largest canyon in the US is right here in Texas!

Palo Duro Canyon is about 120 miles long and up to 20 miles wide in places. It ranges from about 820 feet to 1,000 feet deep.

Full disclosure: I didn’t really expect to be continuing this blog. With Luke and Elizabeth both over 18 now and the custody issue no longer looming in the background, I’m less motivated to keep a public record of their good health and general wellbeing. But Palo Duro is too pretty not to share.

So, some quick catch-up: Austin has been good to us, I’m glad we moved here. It’s such a beautiful city. I don’t know if we would have been happier in San Antonio, but I doubt we would have found the same opportunities there. Maybe things really do unfold the way they’re meant to.

In an earlier post, I described living in DFW as “a slow death of the soul.” That wasn’t hyperbole; if we had stayed in Bedford we would eventually have lost ourselves, or lost everything of value inside of us. Living in Austin has given us back our sense of joy and our appetite for life. And ironically, we’ve become mentally and emotionally healthy enough here to recognize that Texas is not the right place for us to put down roots.

Albert Schweitzer once said, “In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” I was fortunate enough to encounter two such people in Austin, at different times and in unrelated settings. Neither was from Texas originally, and both were on their way to better places, but I am inexpressibly thankful to have crossed paths with both of them. They reminded me that those kinds of people and those better places still exist in the world.

In a different post, I described my long journey to the realization that I needed to stop trying to heal broken people. That epiphany was certainly true, as far as it went, but I’ve since figured out that I had drawn the wrong conclusions from it. I thought the solution was to keep the broken people at a safe distance. But apparently if a person isn’t at least a little broken, I have a hard time relating to them at all. Like the Japanese art of kintsugi, it’s all about how they have repaired themselves along the way. Strength, wisdom, compassion, courage and humor make the best scar tissue. Other, less-noble materials can occasionally produce some delightfully interesting results as well. In all instances, the key to keeping these encounters enjoyable is to maintain rock-solid personal boundaries and to make no attempt at any kind of healing or restoration on the other person’s behalf. That’s their journey, not mine. I have my own kintsugi project to work on.

Luke and I have slipped the surly bonds of customer service and gotten regular weekday jobs, which has improved the quality of our lives by about a billion percent. Elizabeth is still working in the food industry, but she likes her current job well enough and she was able to request the Labor Day weekend off without too much trouble. When the big weekend arrived, we napped through the worst of the Friday afternoon and evening commuter traffic, and then rolled out of Austin at 12:30 a.m. Seven hours later the sun rose on a flat world of corn, cotton, cattle and graceful white wind turbines. Around 8:00 a.m. we arrived at Palo Duro Canyon State Park.

The canyon does not reveal itself until you are right on the rim. Its bluffs and spires and whimsical formations all sit beneath the surface of the surrounding flatlands, invisible from even a slight distance. Driving down to our campsite on the canyon floor, we got no real sense of the scale of it. We set up camp in warm morning sunlight, leaving the rain-fly off the tent to let the clean desert breeze drift through, and took another short nap to catch up on missed sleep.

Rock Garden Trail is billed as Palo Duro’s “most difficult and most scenic hike,” with “the best views of the canyon,” so naturally that was first on our list. It certainly is a pretty hike.

But Rock Garden Trail’s best scenery is on the way up. The vista from the top is, in our opinion, rather underwhelming. It does connect with a rim trail at the top that probably leads to better views, but by then we were running low on water and had to head back down. We still hadn’t gotten a really good look at the canyon, and we were starting to wonder if Palo Duro were overhyped.

Back at camp, we checked our park map and found a main overlook right off the paved road near the park entrance, so we drove up to have a look. That finally offered the view we’d been looking for.

There is a visitor’s center with big windows and a telescope, which gave us a rare glimpse of an Aoudad sheep in the far distance. If my camera lens and the telescope lens could have played more nicely together, this would have been a postcard-worthy shot:

On the drive back down to our campsite, we found another nice overlook.

We stopped to check out an old cowboy dugout, a remnant of the canyon’s cattle ranch days.

By then we were getting tired, so we headed back to camp and settled in for the evening. Nightfall brought us a slender crescent moon and the faint splash of the Milky Way across a glittering wealth of stars. Lightning flashed on the horizon, and we debated whether to enjoy the starscape or put up the rain fly just to be safe. After some debate, we decided to put up the rain fly.

That turned out to be the right call. We were awakened in the middle of the night by crashing thunder, howling winds and an absolute deluge of rain. I can’t even imagine how miserable that would have been with no rain fly.

Read Part II here!

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, Holidays, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Reflections in Water

Luke is in California for his final court-ordered summer visit. He’s a little too close to the wildfires for my comfort, but it looks like Anza is in no real danger.

A few days ago Elizabeth and I decided to cool off after a hike with a swim in our apartment pool. The water was perfect, just cool enough to be refreshing.

After maybe five minutes, Elizabeth said, “Now I’m cold.”

Me: “How can you be cold? The water’s barely lukewarm!”

Elizabeth: “You’re fat.”

Me: “….”

Elizabeth: “You have a protective layer of blubber protecting you from the cold.”

I burst into laughter so hard I might have sunk if the pool were deeper. Partly at the absurdity of her statement (I could probably stand to lose five or ten pounds, but I’m hardly into manatee territory), but mostly because she sparked a flashback to the years of my life when no one – and this is literal fact, not hyperbole – no one was allowed to utter the words “old” or “fat” in any context within earshot of my mother. The farther I get from that madness, the more bizarre it all seems in retrospect. Most of my response to Elizabeth’s comment was just relief at how far we’ve come.

While I’m here, I guess I’ll share some pics that don’t really need whole posts of their own. Here are some from the Fourth of July, when a storm almost rained out the fireworks…

…some local flora and fauna…

…and Elizabeth crossing creeks on logs. No log is too low or high or long or narrow or wobbly for her, she’s drawn to them like a cat to cardboard boxes.

I think that’s everything in my random-pic pile. I’ll get back to writing real posts eventually.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, kids, Life, Weather, Wildlife | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Merry Christmas!

The secret to getting hand-drawn Christmas cards designed, assembled and mailed out on time when you work in retail is to start them around June and have them finished and ready to mail by Thanksgiving. I think I need to start doing my gift shopping/making that way too.

Merry Christmas!

Categories: Animals, Artwork, Celebrations, Christmas, Holidays, Life, Uncategorized, Wildlife, Winter | Leave a comment

Travelling to the South, Part III

Read Part I here

Read Part II here

When you love to see new places but work in retail, you get pretty good at traveling on a shoestring budget. Most of what we eat and drink on our road trips is brought with us in a big cooler. But if someone recommends a particular shop or restaurant, we’ll usually include it as part of the general experience. A friend recommended a place in Austin called “Juan in a Million” for breakfast tacos.

Tangent: on last year’s road trip we fell head over heels in love with San Antonio. It’s still at the top of our list of potential places to move to after Luke turns 18. Shortly after we returned home from that trip, I went to r/SanAntonio and asked the locals what they loved or hated about living there. The responses immediately degenerated into a heated argument about where to get the best breakfast tacos. I’ve since learned that there’s a semi-friendly rivalry between Austin and San Antonio regarding which city has the best breakfast tacos. Breakfast tacos are apparently Serious Business in south Texas.

Driving from our hotel to Juan in a Million brought us through parts of the city that took some of the shine off of Luke’s wide-eyed wonder. They looked fine to me, but I spent a lot of my childhood and teenage years in downtown Riverside CA in the 1980s, which people tell me was a rough and dangerous time and place to be. To Luke’s eyes, the urban outskirts of downtown Austin looked slummy and unattractive. When we reached the charming Hispanic neighborhood where Juan in a Million is located and Luke said it looked “low-income and run-down,” I realized that my next duty as a parent is to broaden my kids’ horizons in a new direction. I’ve been so focused on trying to show them the shining best of what humanity can accomplish, I’ve neglected to teach them about the pleasures and realities of average inner-city life.

Juan in a Million is great. We were seated in a breezy screened patio that had been built onto the surrounding structures in a way that retained the outdoor vibe. Food and service were wonderful.

After breakfast we drove back to Zilker Park to pick up the trail loop where we had left off on Monday night. The drive took us through more areas of the city that Luke found lacking. I guess the “weird” aspects of Austin aren’t for everyone.

We parked near Barton Springs and walked downstream to connect with the hike-and-bike trail loop where Barton Creek flows into Lady Bird Lake.

Before long we came to Lou Neff Point with its pretty stone overlook.

We continued up the hike-and-bike trail, which gets less parky and more woodsy as you go.

You know those old prison movies where the rebellious hero inevitably ends up roasting in a metal box out in the hot sun? That’s what these metal restrooms reminded me of:

The trail crosses the river/lake at MoPac Expwy and circles back along the other bank.

We had planned to follow the trail at least back to Congress Ave before looping back to the car, but we got as far as the pedestrian bridge next to Lamar and kind of all decided at once that we had walked enough. It was getting hot again.

On the city side, the pedestrian bridge offers stairs for pedestrians and a spiral ramp for bicyclers. Of course we walked up the spiral.

The “power plant” fascinated Luke. He could tell at a glance that it didn’t seem to be in operation, and he wondered what sort of power it was generating and how.

As I write this blog post, I have googled info on the building and found that it is in fact no longer in operation as a power plant, that it is now a historical site and a multi-use structure. There you go, Luke.

The pedestrian bridge is lovely. The view from the top:

We crossed back over and returned to the car.

At that point we had to make a decision about whether to start the journey home ahead of commuter traffic, or commit to remaining in Austin until after the rush. We decided to stay.

Luke “collects” libraries, and the biggest one in Austin is at the University of Texas, so that was our next stop. Views of the University from the top of the parking garage…

…and the infamous clock tower viewed from near the library.

We were stopped at the entrance of the LBJ Presidential Library and told that it is only accessible by appointment and costs $10 per adult. Wtf? We asked if there were other, more visitor-friendly locations on campus and were directed to a small Texas history museum next door. If I had done more research before the trip, I would have learned that there are like a hundred libraries on that campus and almost all are free and open to the public. Thanks, unhelpful door guy! I’m going to be honest here, the few people we interacted with in Austin did not make a good first impression. The exception to that was some workers at Zilker Park who cheerfully called out to us as we were about to put money in the parking meters and told us that parking there is free on weekdays. I paid the good deed forward by stopping three other people from putting money in the park meters over the course of our three-day stay. In general, though, Austin seemed to be seriously lacking in the Texas friendliness that I’ve always liked so much.

Anyway, we wandered through the tiny museum and then gave up on the University and headed over to the flagship Whole Foods on Lamar. This is the original Whole Foods location, with corporate headquarters occupying the upper floors, a full-service restaurant inside the store and lots of special extras. I liked the living tapestry:

We wanted to explore the rooftop patio area, but the day was getting oppressively hot. It seemed like a good time to try that mochi stuff we’ve been seeing around lately. If you haven’t seen it, mochi is a Japanese dessert, basically balls of ice cream wrapped in a sweet rice dough. We picked out a bunch of different flavors and took them up to the roof.

My verdict: the ice cream is delicious, but I’m not a fan of the rice dough. It tastes raw and gluey to me. Loved the patio, though.

We still wanted to add an Austin library to Luke’s collection, so we googled “best library in Austin” and drove to the branch that was highest on most of the lists without being prohibitively far away.

All I can say is that this branch either paid to top those lists, or it offers services that go far beyond what is visible to the eye, or the reviewers are trolling en masse. It is a tiny, dreary, uninspiring library. Elizabeth found a place to sit with her laptop in the children’s section while Luke explored what little there was to see. She was immediately asked to leave the children’t section for being “too old to be in there.” Seriously, wtf?

No longer trusting reviews, we decided that the main central branch might be a safer bet. By then the commuter traffic was starting to get problematic, so we got to the central library as quickly as we could and settled in for the duration.

The central branch was…better, but that’s a low bar. Luke liked it because it’s four stories high and the third story is full of the informative non-fiction that he’s into. I found the decor (or lack thereof) to be depressingly drab and industrial. We all agreed that for whatever reason, Austinites do not love their public libraries and put no effort into making them cheerful or inviting.

We started the trek home when the library closed at 8pm. Getting home took over an hour longer than the drive down, because all of the traffic horror stories we had heard were rolled into one long stop-and-slow clusterfuck on I35 N.

We loved our visit to Austin, but ultimately decided that San Antonio is probably a better fit for us. Deciding factors include cost of living, traffic issues, a rather unfriendly social vibe and a straight up depressing library system.

Awesome breakfast tacos, though.

Categories: A Plethora of Parks, Animals, environment, Family, food, frugality, Humor, kids, Life, Road trip, Travel, Weather | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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