GC3B: Potters Pond

There’s a little place in Utah that we’ve been talking about for a while.  To tell the truth, it is a little bit of a sore spot for us, but it’s a beautiful sore spot.  Even though we’ve had some heated discussion about what went down at Potter’s Pond back in 2010, what happened actually represents the good in us, the complementary nature of our relationship.  As in, I am the risk taker, and he is the cautious one.  I push him to explore areas past his comfort zone, and he reins me in when I am going too far with it.

We still haven’t established who was in the right back in 2010, in my opinion.  All I know is, he strongly insisted we not pursue finding the grandfather cache hidden there, in light of certain danger.  This is what the area looked like when we got to it that June, over four years ago now:

Copy of DSCF0331 - CopyThe cache seemed to be at the top of that peak, and there was a snow “storm” coming in.  Also, from the angle we approached it, it appeared that the only way to get there was to cross a creek, which was raging with cold water this time of year.  I am still pretty certain I could have walked over this fallen log and made it across the creek, then up and back down this “mountain” before the snow came in, but Jason didn’t think we should take any chances.  There had to be an easier way, I thought, but this was kind of before we were caching with smart phones, and I hadn’t really looked all the way through the previous logs to see if that was true or not.  We tried walking parallel to the creek, but we never did find a place where it seemed like you could cross.

Anyways, fast forward to this past July, just about two months ago.  We were back, and I was on a mission.  My, what a difference a month makes around here, as well!  This time, we could not have picked a prettier day to make the hour or two drive out of Salt Lake City, to the mountain area southwest of Price.  I was ecstatic about the weather, the beautiful wildflowers, the prospect of finally finding this cache.  I had done some research this time, and knew there was an easier way across the creek, where all we had to do is get the tips of our shoes wet in the crossing.
After this, the going was fairly easy for a little bit, but then the trail got a little more dodgy. It really was a horse trail, like they mention in the logs, and there were fallen logs about. I still can’t believe I tripped over one of them, falling flat on my face right when some boy scouts were coming down the trail ahead of me. Duh! As I dusted myself off, they asked if we were geocachers. I wonder, how did my clumsiness identify us as such? They told us the cache was just a little ahead, as were some others, even though they had not logged it themselves. They also warned us about the mosquitos, and we should have heeded their warning a little more seriously, as in put on some bug spray. We got swarmed so bad that it really took the joy out of actually making the find. We were in a darn hurry to just sign that log and get out of dodge at that point!

Now this is where the story leads us to our latest bone of contention. Jason insisted since we were up here, that we should find the geocache called Mountain Ninja that was also nearby. Well, Mountain Ninja is named that because you have to have a certain amount of agility to make the find and get back out. It is hidden in an area covered with downed trees. Now, back in 2010, I would have been loving this, but since I had that terrible leg injury with its long series of complications, including a very recent stint involving more physical therapy in which we were JUST working back up to my being able to balance on one leg, I was not a very happy camper about this situation. I grumbled, a LOT, to the point that it was making Jason nuts, and now he tells everyone we know that he finally took me up that darn mountain, and I could not get off of it fast enough. It was just this particularly challenging terrain I was unhappy about, though. That, and we kind of lost the trail on our way back down, so it was a bit of a bushwack downhill. I was so happy to finally find that darn little creek again.

The flowers and birds were incredible, though, and on our way out, we saw a shape running through the fields. I got a close up look with the binoculars at a badger turning his face towards my view for a second before scurrying faster. The drive in and out is a series of dirt roads that eventually lead to bigger roads that eventually lead back to the highway. We came in and out of the area through Fairview, where we stopped for a burger afterwards at a dive/gas station area that advertised the best burgers, and pretty much they were. We had an interesting talk with some retired older man and a couple of cowboys, one of whom turned out to be from the Tomball area, which was crazy.
And I don’t know who is more glad to get that stinking cache off our list: me, who wanted it so bad, or Jason, who was so tired of hearing about it.

Hill Country Highways, Episode 4: For the Birds

We had a single purpose when we went to Burnet, a single purpose that had morphed into other diversions but was our sole motivation for our journey. So here it was, Sunday morning, and it was time for the main event.
Only, things weren’t going well right from the start. There was an incident with the screen door at the place we were renting. There was an incident involving the wine that almost cost us the entire bottle. We had no breakfast with us, because what I brought for Saturday was not enough, and so we had eaten Sundays ration as well. There were some other personal issues. J said we should have just gone back to bed and started the day over. Plus, we were a little behind schedule if we wanted to find a place to have breakfast along the way.
Turns out there is NO breakfast along the way to where we were going, just thirty minutes of road and farm houses along the dried out banks of Lake Buchanan. Several properties for sale. We finally decided to bite the bullet and dine at the overly-priced but very good buffet at the Canyon of the Eagles Resort. This resort was just a couple miles up the road from our main destination, the Vanishing Texas River Boat Cruise.
On occasional Sundays, this boat line offers a special trip for bird lovers called the “Freedom Flight”. A San Antonio raptor rehabilitation service comes out with birds they have nursed back to health that are ready to be returned to the wild. For each bird, a person on the cruise is picked to be the one to hold the bird before it takes its farewell flight.  We were very excited about this, being fans of the birds of prey.
I should have known something was up when I observed there were so few cars in the parking lot at check in time. When we went inside, there was some tension going on, and the employee behind the counter was frantically on the phone trying to figure out how to resolve the issue. A few ladies inside gave me the run down: basically, there was some kind of “emergency out of town trip” by the cruise line operator, and so the Freedom Flight had been rescheduled for NEXT Sunday. Turns out there was an email sent out July 22 that served as notification. J and I searched my email to find it, and he saw what I saw when I had gotten the email – it appeared to be a confirmation of the cruise I already knew I had reserved. It wasn’t unless you clicked on the link in the email to view your tickets that one could see that the original date was crossed out, and the new date subbed in.
Man, we were disappointed. We had spent a considerable amount of time and money to get to this point, only for this big let-down. We weren’t going to be able to afford to spend those same resources the following weekend. So, we did the only thing we could to get our minds off this: geocache all the way home.
We picked a scenic route home that took us through the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge. I didn’t even know about this place, but I am glad I do now. This gazebo was the site of a virtual geocache, and while we were there, I read this sign that shared some interesting information about the preservation work going on at this NWR.
There are two birds that depend on this ecosystem for survival, the golden-cheeked warbler and the black-capped vireo. There is this other bird, the brown-headed cowbird, who is a nest parasite. The cowbirds will take over the nests of the vireos, puncturing their eggs and knocking them out of the nest, replacing the vireo’s eggs with eggs of their own. The eggs will hatch, much to the surprise of the vireo, who is now taking care of babies that look suspiciously unlike her. At the refuge, the rangers try to manage this by building traps for the cowbirds – a big aviary, much bigger than even the feral hog traps that you see at parks in Texas. There is some information here on the different trapping methods and how to become certified to trap these birds by the TPWD.
The cowbird has been increasing in prevalence and dramatically altering the number of songbirds that make it to maturity in this day and age. The reason  has to do with agricultural practices of people. The cowbird used to follow the buffalo herds and therefore move through an area, but now with livestock penned up in pastures, the cowbirds stick around. By the 1980s, they were preying on black-capped vireo nests at a rate of 90%. Since the inception of the trapping program, the parasitism was reduced to less than 10% by 1999. I am very fascinated by this example of how humans altered the behavior of a species, and how we have managed to turn that around in a positive direction.
DSC_0366The drive was also quite pleasant. I was able to drink a little of the salvaged (and now frosty) wine. All we were missing were some Willie Nelson CDs (or any CDs – neither of us had any music along with us, and I think we could only get a country station in now and then). We drove south from Bertram to the Highland Lakes area north of Austin via the Cow Creek Road, and saw nary a car or another person along the way. We stopped a few times. We were able to shelve our disappointment and enjoy the trip.

There are four access points for the public to the NWR, and two of those have hiking trails: Doeskin Ranch and Warbler Vista. It was a little hot during midday for a long hike, but we did explore a little. We also hit a small section of a “power trail” of geocaches very close to the Warbler Vista entrance. After a while of this, we were too hot to continue and decided to just come on home.
But, we will be back. We have to at least return to Burnet in the fall – I managed to get our tickets exchanged for a different date later this year. So the trails of the hill country will have to wait until then. It might even be better then, because the bald eagles will be nesting during that time.

So goodbye Burnet, Balcones, birds, and the hill country – we will be back soon!

Puerto Rico Adventures #2

el yunque 2So, we’ve been back from Puerto Rico for a month, and I have been a slacker about relaying our adventures, sorry about that.  I’ve been occupying my time writing my children long letters because I miss them this summer.  They are a little more than halfway through their visit to their father’s house.  We’ve been going to the gym a lot, and hanging out doing other things besides computer activities.

I did want to share our experiences, though, in case other people were curious.  Our trip to El Yunque Natonal Forest was a sojourn into the true wilderness of Puerto Rico.  This US National Park Service property spreads across 28,000 acres, and is the only tropical rainforest in the US National Forest system.

Our visit there was somewhat marred by the fact that it was raining all day, but we were determined not to let it interfere with our enjoyment.  If one finds themselves in El Yunque National Forest, a stop to the El Portal Rain Forest Center is essential.  The walkway is 60 feet above the ground, taking the visitors on a walk through the treetops.  It gave a unique perspective on the canopy.  We engaged in a long conversation with a dedicated employee who supplied us with a map and explained to us key features of the road and trails.  We shopped in the gift shop, because I wanted to get something for the kids there.  There were several educational areas along the walkway, but we were now in a hurry to take in as much as we could before the rain stopped us.

We stopped at the Yokahu tower and climbed to the top to get an aerial view of the area.  This is where the top picture came from.  We then went to hike along the La Mina Trail (below picture).  Since it was raining so hard, and also there was a promise we might be able to get into the water at the La Mina Falls, I changed into my swim suit for the hike.  When we got to the falls, about 0.8 miles down the trail, it was raining way too hard and causing the falls to be too intense and dangerous to get into.  Normally, the water cascades gently into the natural pool that visitors like to wade in, but there was no one in the water today.

The trail we took went down hill along limestone steps and walkways, which was great fun on the way down.  Although I was concentrating on not slipping and falling, I was completely thrilled with the walk.  I was very happy to be hiking here this day.  The way back was a little bit more difficult, because we had to now go up that hill we just went down. It took us about an hour or so to get there and back.  We could hear the coqui frogs singing in the forest but we never saw any.  We actually didn’t see any wildlife at all – they were probably all being smart and hiding from the rain.

When we got back to the car, J was done with the whole hiking thing, but I wanted to grab one more geocache so I went just a short way down the Bano de Oro trail by myself.  It was very nice, but then I was also ready to go.  We drove up to the end of the road, thinking we might hike up to the Mt Britton Tower, but then we decided not to, and elected to drive back and hit up the Loquillo food kiosks for the second time that day.

I would love to go back again someday and finish walking all the trails.  This place had a lot to offer and is a beautiful jewel of a forest.
el yunque

Mono Lake MonoMyth, Episode 2

Supernatural Aid

Ok so finally we reached the Mono Valley and started looking for camping places.  We drove down a dirt road to a campground that I thought would be a good choice – the Lundy Lake campground.  Google images and reviews showed this to be a very beautiful place.  When we got there, though, it was not living up to expectations, although we didn’t go all the way back to the lake.  Jason did not feel comfortable with the campground, or maybe just the mix of people we saw about it.  They were a little rough.  So we went back out to 395, and ended up searching for sites along the beginning of the Tioga Pass.  We stopped at one – I think it was the Tioga campground- but it seemed too exposed to the elements.  I was starting to feel like Goldilocks and the Three Bears when finally, we found a campground that everyone could live with – Big Bend Campground.  It was very beautiful -see below – but if you camp there, be prepared for no amenities.  The lack of running water was somewhat disconcerting to me but otherwise it was very relaxing.
The Crossing of the First Threshold

After getting set up, we had to go find dinner.  We hadn’t brought any provisions, due to the unknown element of where we were staying night to night, as well as the concern about bears.  And, we HAD to experience the Whoa Nellie Deli, or so first hand accounts and reviews would suggest.  So we drove back out of the pass to have dinner there.  We sat on picnic benches outside and watched droves of hiker types coming out with their food as we looked out over Mono Lake and ate giant hamburgers.  It was an experience worth having, although the food might not be as good as the price would indicate.

And then the night started.
The Belly of the Whale

The night here was rough.  The youngest child had gotten himself really worked up about bears.  And I think the oldest child ate too much at the deli.  He complained about a stomach ache, and then came out of the tent and puked on the ground.  That was nice.

In the wee hours of the morning, Jason decided that the urge towards photography was greater than the desire to attempt more sleep.  He got into the rental vehicle, taking all our possessions with him.  I thought I was okay with this, wanting to lay in the silence of the morning light listening to the sounds of nature all around us.
The Road of Trials

Soon, though, the sounds of nature were pierced by a different, more abrasive sound: the sound of my oldest raising his voice in anger, and my youngest crying.  Soon they were tumbling out of their tent, and I was tumbling out of mine, bleary eyed and trying to understand what happened.

And what happened was this:  during the night, my younger son needed to get up to go to the bathroom.  The bathroom at this park, a open latrine, was quite a ways away from our site, especially in the dark.  Really, all he needed was to find a tree…but he was too scared to go outside the tent by himself.  He tried to wake his brother, but his brother did not want to escort him into the scary dark night…or even contemplate getting out of his warm sleeping bag.  And then, the rest is my fault probably, for filling their heads about warnings about bears in this part of the country.  All the counseling I had done about not having the smell of food in our car, and even putting our dirty clothes and toiletries in the bear box before bed, had my poor little guy in such a panic about the dangers of the wild animals that he just curled up in his sleeping bag; then during the night, either consciously or unconsciously, relieved himself of his physical need in his sleeping bag.  A RENTED sleeping bag, mind you, in a rented tent, that we planned to use the next night in Yosemite before shipping it back.

So now they are up, and he is wet, with urine soaked clothes, and crying.  And Jason is not back yet, nor is he answering my call, and I have nothing to clean him off with or change him into.  Then I remembered yesterday’s dirty clothes in the bear box, luckily, so we got him changed into that.

When Jason came back, we were all irritated and not in the mood for the campground any more.  So we got ready, instead, to turn the SUV back towards Mono Lake and begin the next day’s adventures.