Friday, February 21, 2014

Hike Report: The Big Hill

Most of the time we hike in the south section of San Angelo State Park. Our hikes in the north section have been few and far between. Recently, we decided to take another hike in that section.

The north section of the park is located just a couple miles west of Grape Creek on FM 2288. The main entrance for this section of the park is on the east side of the North Concho River. But the trailhead is at the end of a road on the west side of the river. That road, however, is gated. You need to check in at the office at the main entrance and get a combination for the lock on the gate. On this particular day, the lady at the entrance told us that we could also use the code to get into the gated area farther west called River Bend. This was great information, for this will give us easier access to trails in the center of the park about halfway between the north and south section. We've hiked those areas before, but they have been long hikes from either the north or south sections.

But for today, we decided to hike a loop that took us atop the Big Hill and then back along the North Concho River. This trail is similar to one I reported in San Angelo SP: January 23, 2012.

It was an extremely windy day. The first part of the hike was in a level area where the wind really swept along. I had trouble with my camera on this day, and not all of my pictures came out as I expected, so the ones I have are rather limited.

After leaving Bell's Trailhead, we turned due south on Dinosaur Trail. One of the unusual things about this park is that there are often dual trails, one for horses and one for bikes. Hikers can travel either trail, but bikes MUST stay on bike trails and horses MUST stay on equestrian trails. From time to time the trails cross or even merge, but when separate, each to his own. On this day, we followed the horse trail as we believe it is safer to be with horses than bike riders.

Trails at the park are usually appropriately named. For example, Roller Coaster Trail dips up and down and around, like a roller coaster. Tasajillo Flats Trail winds among tasajillo plants. I have heard that there are dinosaur tracks in the park, but these are not indicated on any maps that I know of. However, there are occasional guided tours, I believe, that will take visitors to the dinosaur tracks. If I were a betting man, I would bet those tracks are located near the Dinosaur Trail.

The Big Hill in the distance. It doesn't look like much from here, but as you get closer, it becomes a bit more imposing.

The Big Hill looks a bit more pronounced as we near it. Towards the right center, you can see a crane. Oil activity is taking place on the Big Hill, which mostly sits on private property. Note the dirt trail. Most of the Dinosaur Trail is easy walking on level, dirt trails.

The dinosaur trail heads south across a western prairie, then turns east where it dips into a creek. Just after turning east, the horse and bike trails merge into one for the next section of trail. Whenever I hike, I always look on the map for landmarks that we will encounter. These help break the hike up. A landmark can really be anything, from a scenic overlook to a river crossing to a campground. On this particular hike, I made note of several landmarks. The first was a watering trough just beyond the creek. Since horses use these trails, water troughs are provided. Most also have a bike rack or two for bikers as well as a hitching post, a map, and maybe even a bench.

After leaving the water trough, the trails soon diverge again and turn north. The trail gradually works up a slope towards the Big Hill. Near the top, the trail then switchbacks down. At the north base of the Big Hill is a trail junction. We decided we needed a workout, so we took the trail straight up the Big Hill (no switchback this time). At the top, we paused at the cross (see San Angelo SP: January 23, 2012) and to enjoy the view north along the North Concho River. Mature pecan trees line the river; it is a rarity to see mature, natural trees in this part of the country. They usually only occur along rivers and streams.

We were disappointed to see that just on the backside of the cross an oil well was being drilled. The entire area had been scraped clean of all plant growth and the foundation was being put up. The land is private property, I believe.

Most of the land atop the Big Hill has been cleared for an oil platform. The cross is still standing, though, and is just to the left, outside this picture.
Mature trees lining the North Concho River. Taken from the Big Hill. Note red tint to sky. Something was wrong with my camera during the mid-section of our hike, and many of the pictures did not turn out at all.

From the Big Hill, we continued east, taking the Badlands Trail, another appropriately named trail. There is a section on the trail where the dual trails merge to cross an area that looks somewhat like the Badlands. By the way, after emerging from this dip, the left trail is the horse trail.

Donna in the Badlands, an appropriate place for a bad girl like her.

Just beyond this area, we encountered a herd of longhorns. They were peacefully grazing near the trail, and they were curious about our presence and kept an eye on us.

Longhorns near the east end of the Badlands Trail. They were having a drink at the local watering hole.
 At this point, we came to the paved road that leads to the River Bend area previously mentioned, and we took that road north. From there, we followed the Slick Rock Trail, another appropriately named trail, as it followed the river back towards the trailhead.

We then picked up the multi-use trail and followed it until we split off onto the Shady Trail for a final walk along the North Concho River. There isn't much water in the river. There will sometimes be isolated pools of water, but no flow; it's just too shallow for that. But it's nice to be able to walk underneath the trees along the bank.

The Shady Trail is appropriately named. Lots of trees and thick undergrowth in some sections along the river.

Sometimes the river just dries up. You can see just a trickle continuing downstream.

Sometimes there will be a nice body of water in the riverbed. Note all the trees on the opposite bank.

The end of the trail is always a welcome site.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Hike Report: Looping Pulliam Ridge

The weather has really been good lately, with highs often reaching the 80s. We've tried to take advantage of this good weather and do a couple of hikes a week at San Angelo State Park.

By this time, we've hiked all the trails and I've reported these hikes and shown pictures. There really is nothing new to report. But, I still click pictures of things I think are interesting on our hikes and I'll continue to post those pictures. Sometimes I get a new angle of an old subject. Sometimes we stumble on something we haven't seen before. So, as long as we hike the trails, I'll continue to snap photos.

On one recent hike, we parked at Burkett Trailhead (see map) and took the Roller Coaster Trail to the south of Pulliam Ridge (indicated as Highland Range Scenic Lookout on park map), then followed the Potts Creek Trail along the creek of that same name. After crossing the creek, we walked along Armadillo Ridge before heading back to the trailhead on the Burkett Trail. Total distance was probably 4 to 5 miles. Below are some pictures from that hike.

Lots of folks were riding mountain bikes in the park that day. Just after leaving the trailhead, we encountered  a man walking his bike to his vehicle. He had a flat and was calling it a day.

This is a good hike. The ups and downs of Roller Coaster Trail are good for the legs, and the views from several points on the trail are good. 

The trail begins by heading down into an arroyo leading towards the Highland Range Subdivision. Note especially the house just right of center.
Same house as in picture above, but from much closer. What a view they must have from that upstairs balcony.
I'm not a photographer -- I just snap photos. But I rather like this pic of Donna standing on a bluff overlooking a park road. In the background -- note the picnic table -- is Pulliam Ridge. Our hike today takes us on a long loop around that ridge.

On the southside of Pulliam Ridge is quite a bit of exposed limestone that serves as the trail. A series of switchbacks snake down the slope along this rock.

Along Potts Creek, the level trail is dirt and easy to walk on. As in most creek bottoms or arroyos in the park, mesquites are numerous.
This photo of Pulliam Ridge was taken from the trail as we had just worked up Armadillo Ridge from Potts Creek. All of the area beyond Pulliam Ridge is the lake bed. Less than 100 yards behind me is FM 2288. There was lots of traffic on the highway today, and the noise took away from the hike some.
I've mentioned before that after OC Fisher dam was completed, the lake filled up almost immediately. I don't know if it has ever been full since. As a result, there are picnic areas scattered throughout the park that are far removed from any possible water in the foreseeable future. The cover for this picnic table is long gone.

Old boat ramp on the west side of Pulliam Ridge. I wonder when the last time was that water reached this area.

Donna on the trail skirting Pulliam Ridge heading northeast

On the north side of Pulliam Ridge, the land takes on a different look. No underbrush, no rocks -- just flat land, looking almost as if it has been swept.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Gauging Distances on Foot

Donna and I went to a nearby neighborhood park yesterday for a walk. Meadowcreek Park is located east of us in an area of established homes with lovely trees. A sign posted at the park indicates that the paved loop ringing the park is .3 miles long. This would give us a good opportunity to check our walking speed.

In a recent entry (see Hike Report: Tasajillo Flats Trail), I mentioned that I estimated distances based upon time. So, after the first loop yesterday, I checked the time. It took us about 5 minutes to walk .3 miles. I no longer use a watch (got rid of it when I retired as I was determined not to be bounded by time any more), so I rely solely on my phone for time. The clock on the face of the phone does not show seconds, so I do not know precisely how long it took to walk that first loop.

With each passing loop, I'd check the time, and we seemed to be keeping pace. Sometimes, 6 minutes would elapse between loops.

We made the loop 10 times for a total of 3 miles. We began at 1:48 and finished at 2:41 for a total of 53 minutes. This breaks down to making a loop in just over 5½ minutes, and averaging a mile in just under 18 minutes. We've lost a step or two over the years, but not much.

We can still keep a lively pace for 3 miles. After 3 miles, we begin to slow some. Now, this is a smooth walk, paved and level, so it just doesn't get much easier. On a walk with ups and downs, we'd get slowed down a bit. On a walk with rocks and other obstacles, we'd slow even more.

Many hikes we've been on have had markers along the trail indicating distance, and this is an excellent way to time your walks and learn how to measure distances you hike. But you have to take into consideration all the factors, such as distance, trail difficulty, frequency of stops (for admiring views and taking pictures, for example), and even weather conditions.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Movie Review: The Monuments Men

Donna and I recently went to see The Monuments Men. It is based on the book The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel. I do not know how accurately the book follows history, and I am not aware of how closely the movie follows the book. Regardless, for us, it was an enjoyable movie.

The movie follows a specially created platoon of mostly older men who attempt to rescue art stolen by the Nazis during World War II. The older men are museum directors, curators, and art historians. As the war grinds to an end, they seek art works plundered by the Nazis in an attempt to save them from destruction and return them to their rightful owners. It is a race against time, against the Nazis, against the Russians, and against the bombs of the Allied forces.

The movie is directed by George Clooney, who also stars in the film as Lt. Frank Stokes, the leader of the platoon. Other notables in the film include Matt Damon as Lt. James Granger, Bill Murray as Sgt. Richard Campbell, John Goodman as Sgt. Walter Garfield, and Cate Blanchett as Claire Simone.

The film's narrative is a bit erratic and does not seem to flow smoothly from scene to scene. But you could argue that war does not flow smoothly.

The central question of the movie regards the value we place on art. Is art worth a human life? What is the value of art for a country, for a culture? This is a question each of us must answer individually; it is a question that each member of the platoon answered at some point in the movie.

I liked the movie, and I think Donna did as well. Of course, part of our enjoyment was the result of the movie starring folks we like, especially Clooney and Damon.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Hike Report: Tasajillo Flats Trail

Following our tour of the longhorns and bison, Donna and I wanted some exercise. The temperature was pushing 70 as we set out from the parking area in Red Arroyo Campground and followed the Tasajillo Flats Trail south in the general direction of the park headquarters.

We hiked this trail once before, so we weren't exploring new ground. We simply wanted a short hike to get some exercise and enjoy being outside while the weather was good.

The Tasajillo Flats Trail is probably about 1.5 to 2.0 miles long in its entirety. I do not use a GPS on our hikes, so any mileage I give is always an estimate. I base my estimates on time. On a smooth surface (city street, for example) with no ups and downs, Donna and I can do a bit more than 3 miles an hour at our normal pace. On a typical trail with few obstacles, we normally do 1 mile about every 20 to 25 minutes. If there are challenging ups and downs, difficult footing, blow downs, or other obstacles, we get slowed even more. On some really challenging trails, we may only do 1 mile every hour or more.

The Tasajillo Trail parallels the main park road to its entrance. Near the headquarters, it crosses the main park road that heads west, then recrosses that same road farther west. Prior to the first road crossing, the trail is level and is easy walking as it weaves among scattered mesquites, prickly pear, and other desert vegetation. After the first road crossing, there are several ups and downs, none really challenging. There are rocky slopes in some places where you need to be careful of your footing, though.

After the second road crossing, there is a high ridge with some nice views to the north. At this point, the houses of the Highland Range subdivision are only about a football field away, to the south.

On the ridges, there is only low-lying vegetation, but in the arroyos, mesquite thickets are plentiful. Notice the shadows playing across the area.
Houses in the Highland Range Subdivision. They are so close that it takes away from the "wilderness" experience we enjoy in our hikes.
At this point, the trail takes takes a rocky path down to an old paved road. We slowed our pace descending this ridge, as the loose rock made footing a bit difficult for folks our age. We crossed the road and continued on the trail.

This next section of trail is rather level and presents no real challenges. The most interesting aspect of this trail section is man-made. If you keep your eyes open, you will see golf balls placed in the mesquite trees along the trail. There aren't many, but enough to get your attention. In fact, when we walked this trail a year or more ago, I thought there were more balls.

The trail then intersects with the Nature Trail, where we turned right to begin our return to the car. In a quarter mile or more, we recrossed the same old paved road mentioned above. At this point, the trail becomes the Horny Toad Trail, which we hiked and reported on about two weeks ago. The trail follows a switchback up a ridge. Atop the switchback, we took the Talley Valley Trail north, down into a valley, then back up to another ridge.

The trail can get a bit confusing at this point as it crosses a dual track trail used by vehicles. Go ahead and cross the dual track. The trail will wrap back around and come back to that same dual track a bit farther north. When it does counter that dual track again, you will see a post for the Chaparral Trail. Turn right and follow the dual track, which eventually dwindles down to a single track trail that returns to the Red Arroyo Camping area.

I enjoy these short walks in the park. It is so much more pleasant to walk along natural trails than on city streets, dodging cars and trucks. We're fortunate to have such a park on the outskirts of town that is so easily accessible.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Longhorns and Bison

Donna and I drove out to the state park on Friday. We visit the park frequently to take shorter walks. There is a 3 mile loop near the headquarters, and we walk this trail several times each month. When we stopped at the gate to show our Texas Parks Pass, we noticed a sign about a longhorn and bison tour being given on the next day, Saturday. Always on the lookout for something to do, we decided to come back for the tour.

The tour began at 10:00 AM. The skies were a bit overcast, and a cool breeze was blowing fairly constantly. The ranger giving the tour loaded us in a trailer outfitted with benches and pulled us to a pasture off the main park road.

Our transportation to the pasture where the longhorns and bison were located.
The longhorns were being held in a pasture separate from the bison, but the two small herds were near each other so that we could see both groups easily. The longhorns were very tranquil, and we were able to walk among them. The star of the show was T-Bone, who let people feed and pet him.

Donna feeding and petting T-Bone. She wanted to take him home, but I didn't think he'd fit in the car.

The ranger was very good. He provided background on both herds and answered all our questions. If I understood correctly, there is another longhorn herd and bison herd in the north section of the park, larger than these herds. We'll be on the lookout the next time we visit that section of the park. If you've followed my blog for long, you know that we visit this park often. However, we've only seen the animals once or twice. They seldom venture along the fence lines where they are visible to the public, preferring instead to remain in more isolated areas.

I like this picture because the horns are so symmetrically developed.

T-Bone showing the classic markings of a longhorn. He proved to be very gentle, and he loved being fed by hand.

Longhorns have different coloring, unlike other breeds such as Black Angus or Charolais that are more uniform in appearance. Notice how the horns can develop differently as well, especially on the one almost in the center of this picture.
The bison were on the other side of the fence from the longhorns. The smaller bison (right center) is about a year old.
Bison are curious creatures. This one was keeping tabs on me.

Profile of a bison.

The tour lasted about an hour. Following the tour, Donna and I took a short hike in the park.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Goodbye to a Good Man

I was saddened by the recent death of Pete Seeger. He lived a long and eventful life, though, and no man can ask for more. He was 94 at his death.

Seeger was an activist who stood firmly on his convictions. He played an influential role in the Civil Rights Movement as well as opposing the Viet Nam War. In his later years, he provided leadership in the effort to clean up the heavily polluted Hudson River. Although many are not aware that he served his country in World War II, many more are aware that he was blacklisted during the Red Scare years of the 1950s and early 1960s.

But for me, my memories of Pete Seeger are all about the music, and I think he would like that. I've always liked folk music. I love ballads and songs that tell stories, and much folk music does exactly that. But folk music often expresses the feelings, emotions, and concerns of common folk, so it often has a real message to share, and that elevates it to a higher plane.

Among my favorite folks singers have been The Kingston Trio, The Brothers Four, Peter, Paul, and Mary, Gordon Lightfoot, Joan Baez, and the Seekers. I also enjoy more recent artists who have added a bit of rock to their folk influences, such as Crosby, Stills, and Nash, the Byrds, and the Buffalo Springfield. 

Seeger was noted not only for writing many original songs, but he also revived many old and forgotten songs, often with new arrangements or new verses and other changes. Among the many songs he authored are Turn, Turn, Turn which the Byrds made famous in the mid 1960s, and two of my personal favorites, If I Had a Hammer  and Where Have All the Flowers Gone? During the Civil Rights Movement, he revived We Shall Overcome, and this song became a uniting force in that movement.

Many artists have been inspired and influenced by Seeger, including Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Roger McGuinn (the Byrds), Peter, Paul, and Mary, and countless others.

He married Toshi-Aline Ota in 1943. She preceded him in death, passing away in July 2013. I think that sort of commitment says something about a person. Mr. Seeger leaves behind quite a legacy.