environment

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

New Stomping Grounds

Luke graduated!

And then we packed up and moved to Austin.

And moving is expensive, yo. So while we get our finances restabilized, most of our recreation has consisted of exploring Austin’s many free local parks and trails. Our favorites so far have been the Pennybacker Bridge clifftop trail…

 

…Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park…

…Bull Creek District Park…

…and Shoal Creek Greenbelt Trail in the heart of downtown.

There’s so much life in and near the creeks.

Along the limestone banks of Walnut Creek there were these clumps of what we thought were some kind of moss, until we got up close to one and realized that each one was a colony of harvestman spiders!

Elizabeth’s hand for scale:

How cool is that?

We moved down from DFW in the first week of June, and just today we finally got our tv set up and plugged in. I guess that’s a testament to Austin’s ability to lure us out of the apartment and keep us entertained outdoors. We’re still kinda in the habit of comparing everything to San Antonio, but Austin’s parks and trails get three solid thumbs up.

My next post will probably be all about the new Central Library, because that shit is amazing.

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

Decision Time, Part II

Read Part I here

One of the biggest advantages San Antonio has over DFW is public transit. It’s crazy that most of the Metroplex has no public bus system at all. The bike-share programs that are taking hold in Fort Worth, Dallas and parts of Arlington have not yet spread to the smaller mid-city suburbs. This has been incredibly limiting for Luke and Elizabeth, and inconvenient for me since I have to drive them everywhere. So on Day Two we tried out San Antonio’s B-Cycle system and its public VIA transit.

We parked at the Blue Star Arts Complex just south of downtown. I had already downloaded the B-Cycle app and prepaid a 24-hour pass for myself. We bought 24-hour passes for Luke and Elizabeth directly from the kiosk at the Blue Star’s B-Cycle station. The system is simple: each pass buys unlimited use of all B-Cycle bikes and stations for 24 hours, one bike at a time per pass. Each bike has to be docked at a station at least once per hour to avoid extra fees. You can also purchase monthly or yearly passes.

Elizabeth carried that huge backpack around all day, I have no idea why. I don’t even know what was in it.

We rode the Hike-and-Bike trail along the river to visit four historic missions. The weather was glorious.

Mission Concepción, founded by Franciscan friars in 1731, is first on the trail. One of the first major battles of the Texas Revolution took place here in 1835.

We found a shrine on the mission grounds and I thought, “That’s a weird place to put a shoeshine stand,” and then I realized that I’m an idiot.

Mass is still held in the mission on Sundays. I didn’t take any photos inside the church itself because I didn’t want to seem disrespectful.

Luke’s philosophy is “Why walk when you can run?” It’s like there’s too much world he wants to see to waste time getting there slowly.

We had docked our bikes at the B-Cycle station in Mission Concepción Park, not realizing that it was a 15-minute walk from the park to the mission itself. Luckily there is another station just outside the mission, so we didn’t have to walk back to get our bikes.

We took the bike lane on Mission Rd until it reconnected with the river trail, then followed the signs to Mission San José.

This is my favorite of the four missions. It was founded in 1720 and is still an active parish with a beautiful little church.

The church entrance:

 

We hit our first snag with the B-Cycle system when we were ready to leave Mission San José. Only four bikes were docked at the Mission station and two had flat tires. Not a catastrophe: it was an easy 15-minute walk to another B-Cycle station at Padre Park. But that station was having some sort of connectivity issues; we spent close to half an hour coaxing three bikes out of it.

At least the view was nice. We got to watch kayaks going down a river chute from the shady comfort of our pavilion.

Once we all finally had our bikes, we continued on to Mission San Juan. This is a pretty stretch of trail, with woods and bridges.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was founded in 1731. It was heavily restored in 2015, including the addition of a coat of white plaster on the main structure. It was small to begin with and there wasn’t a lot left of it.

Like the other missions, it still has a nice church.

Our last stop, Mission San Francisco de la Espada, was originally founded in 1690 in northeast Texas, or what was then northern New Spain. It was relocated to San Antonio in 1731. Like Mission San Juan, it has lost some of its historic charm due to extensive restoration.

This is the ground that we covered on the Mission Trail, including the walk back to Padre Park:

It took a lot longer than an hour, though, with all the time we spent exploring the missions. We rolled out of the Blue Star at about 10:45am and finished up at Mission Espada a little after 5pm, sunburned and ready for supper. I have just now realized that we went about eight hours without eating anything that day and didn’t even feel hungry until we were headed back to the Blue Star. The missions and the bike trail kept us completely captivated.

We left our bikes docked at the Mission Espada station and walked to the nearest bus stop. Here we got lucky: there’s a bus route that just goes back and forth between the missions and downtown. It took us about six hours to cover that distance by bicycle and maybe 35 minutes to get back by bus. Then another 10 or 15 minutes to walk from where we got off the bus back to the Blue Star. We could have waited for a connecting bus, but that would have taken longer.

The bus was clean and pleasant, and the driver and passengers were very friendly. Three thumbs up for public transit.

The original plan was to see the missions, have lunch at Alamode Panini and Gelato in the Blue Star Complex, go tour some local neighborhoods and then have supper at Mi Tierra. But it was so late by the time we got back to the Blue Star, we only had time for one of the restaurants. I was leaning toward panini and gelato, but the kids had their hearts set on Mi Tierra. I bowed to the majority, and we had a nice Mexican dinner.

For some reason – probably hunger – I forgot how expensive parking is downtown and just drove to the public lot closest to the restaurant. We did get some nice views of the skyline.

Not sure the views were worth the $10, though.

Mi Tierra was packed with tourists. We basically inhaled our meal and then spent the next twenty minutes trying to get our waiter’s attention for the check. To be fair, he had a large party keeping him running.

The mercado is pretty at night.

This spot reminded us of Disneyland. New Orleans Square on the right with the Matterhorn in the background:

The last landmark on our Day Two checklist was the Hays St Bridge. It’s a pedestrian-only bridge, so we headed back to the Pearl Brewery to trade our car for some bikes. I love that they repurposed the old buildings without changing their names.

There’s no hike-and-bike trail between the Pearl and the bridge, but there are mostly continuous bike lanes on the streets. We got there with no problems.

We got a nice view of downtown.

That was a fun ride. We like the B-Cycles.

We got back to the hotel around 10 or 10:30 and had no trouble falling asleep.

Read Part III here

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

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