Big Bend Rafting and other stuff…..

As you all know, the Big Bend area of Texas is far and away one of Ann’s and my favorite places to spend time.  Last week we spent four days there again.  We again stayed at the Casitas at Far Flung Outdoor Center, in Study Butte.  They are the best outfitters for the rafting, jeep tours, and other activities in the Big Bend.  Before I get into trouble, I want to emphasize that is just my own opinion.

View from porch of our cabin at Far Flung Outdoor Center.

View from porch of our cabin at Far Flung Outdoor Center.  Long lens used.

You already saw some of my images of some birds from the trip, but I also was able to get a few more landscape photos as well.  The area was as greenest as I have ever seen in the many years that we have visited.  The above photo was taken in the evening as the sun was setting from my far right.  It is a view from the porch of our Casita, albeit with a very long lens.

One photo that I left out yesterday I would like to insert here.  This man, Joseph, a park service employee, has the job of traveling around the Basin in the Chisos Mountains cleaning out the composting toilets.  The boxes on his pack horses have HUMANURE  painted on them.  A thankless but necessary job, I am sure.  I spotted him while I was scoping out some birds with my 500mm lens.  He was riding towards me about 200 yards away.

Joseph, collecting from the trail toilets.

Joseph, collecting from the trail toilets.

Here are a couple more of my favorite landscapes from our trip.

Sotol and Santiago Peak - Big Bend National Park

Sotol and Santiago Peak – Big Bend National Park

"Dawn Sun on Distant Mountain" - Big Bend National Park

“Dawn Sun on Distant Mountain” – Big Bend National Park

On Thursday morning, we decided to take a half-day rafting trip that Far Flung has as one of their scheduled activities.  We load up and head up-stream to a river put-in area called Grassy Banks.  It is about 10 miles west of Lajitas.  We launch there, then float back to Lajitas, where we are met by the Far Flung crew to load up for the trip back to Study Butte.

Tim, our guide getting the raft ready to launch.  Notice fast moving water of the Rio Grande.

Tim, our guide getting the raft ready to launch. Notice fast moving water of the Rio Grande.

Ann getting into her life jacket.

Ann getting into her life jacket.

Away we go!

Away we go!

The ride wasn’t as dangerous as some of the trips that go through the canyons, but nevertheless I had to hang on to my cameras, grab the side of the raft, and try to keep my balance.  I managed to get a few shots from the raft, though.  Even with the Image Stabilization feature of my Canon lenses, it still was difficult to keep some images in focus.

One view from the raft.

One view from the raft.

Goats high on a bluff on Mexican side of the river.

Goats high on a bluff on Mexican side of the river.

Turkey Vulture warming wings for morning flight.

Turkey Vulture warming wings for morning flight.

After the float trip, we were happy to spend the rest of the day on the porch of our canyon sipping refreshments and watching the surrounding scenery and seeing the quail, rabbits, birds that play around the cabins.  What a great time we had.  Be sure and click on the images to see some nice enlargements.

Birding in the Big Bend

Ann and I are back after spending a delightful four days in the Big Bend area of west Texas.  The weather was great, actually better than normal, as the temps barely reached the 100 degree mark in the afternoon.  Cool nights made the sleeping easy.

On Monday afternoon, after arriving in Marathon, Texas, to stay the night, we decided to go to the nearby Post Park, a very nice birding area.  We saw several species there and also met another friendly birder, Dean Hansen, who was helpful in identifying some of the birds.  It was there that we picked another one for the life list.  A Red-breasted Nuthatch.  Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo to show you.  By the way, it does not have a red breast, instead it was more yellow.

Yours Truly

Yours Truly

Cholla Blossoms

Cholla Blossoms

We stayed Monday night at the historic Gage Hotel in Marathon, then Tuesday morning took the 75 mile trek south into the Big Bend National Park.  After stopping at the park headquarters at Panther Junction we made the drive up in to the heart of the Chisos Mountains to where the Basin Lodge is located.  We didn’t intend to stay there, but the trails leading from there make for great scenics and birding.  There was a black bear alert for a mother and four cubs that had been seen nearby, but as luck would have it, we didn’t get to see them.

Cactus Wren - singing a welcome song at the Panther Junction park headquarters.

Cactus Wren – singing a welcome song at the Panther Junction park headquarters.

Later that afternoon, we headed out of the west side of the park into Study Butte, where we had reservations at one of the little ‘casitas’ at Far Flung Outdoor Center.  That was to be our home for the next three nights.  After unloading our luggage and settling in, we headed to the La Kiva restaurant.  Happy hour at 5:00 featuring one dollar margaritas.  We shared a 12 ounce T-bone and were back at the cabin by 7:00 to sit on the porch and enjoy the desert evening.

Scaled Quail, also known as Blue Quail.

Scaled Quail, also known as Blue Quail.

Wednesday morning we were ready to head to Rio Grande Village RV Campground on the far east side of Big Bend NP.  It is one of the prime birding areas of the park, and it did not disappoint.  We saw several birds to add to our burgeoning list of birds we’ve seen in the park.  We learned of a rare nesting pair of Common Blackhawks that were nearby.  The area is roped off by the National Park Service in deference to a possibility of some newborns.  One of the below photos is of one of the hawks eating a lunch, while the other adult in the second image is watching over the nest.  We believe that there may already be eggs there, or will be soon.

Common Blackhawk - eating lunch

Common Blackhawk – eating lunch

Common Blackhawk - watching over nest in lower left of photo.

Common Blackhawk – watching over nest in lower left of photo.

That is all for this post.  In a few days I will tell you about the rest of the trip and another lifer.  Enjoy the photos, and click on any of them to see enlargements.

Big Bend Bird Photographs

First before I get started, Frank Jones, who is a good friend of mine and runs the Roadrunner Deli in Study Butte, commented on my yesterday’s post about the Big Bend Scenes, and explained what many of those photos were.  Click here to read that comment.  You will find it very informative.

Birding was great in the Big Bend I must say, but the birds were pretty skittish and I didn’t get near as many photos as I would have liked.  Well, actually, I did get a lot of images, around 300 or so, but not enough of the ones that I like to publish on this blog.  Many of them were just duplicates or quick snap-shots that I got mainly for identification purposes.  But here are a few of my more presentable photos.

Hermit Thrush

Eastern Phoebe

Vermilion Flycatcher

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Common Raven

Cactus Wren

Loggerhead Shrike

Red-naped Sapsucker

Maybe more to come, as I go through some more images.  Click on any of these to see an enlargement.

Scenes from the Big Bend

In the photos for this post, I wasn’t going after asthetically perfection.  These are just a few images from the area that I thought you would enjoy.  They are snap shots of a desolate, remote part of TexasTerlingua Ghost Town and Study Butte are really one and the same.  Two remote desert communities that run together with no visible boundary.  Just a few hundred people inhabit the area.  But having said that, they do have a school, bank, church, medical clinic, etc.  Personally, I love the area for what it is.  A place to go and just lay back and forget your troubles.

One distinct thing about the place.  You can drive around and see things of unusual nature.  You wonder where they came from, what possessed people to come up with things.  You never know what you will see around the next bend in the road.

Old ghost town ruins

Old ghost town ruins

Old ruins near Study Butte

Remnants of another time, a bygone era.  In the early 1900s a mercury, or quicksilver mine existed in the area.  Today all that is left is ruins of old buildings, piles of slag once removed from the ore, and signs of rusting equipment scattered here and there.

Terlingua ghost town sculpture

This is the result of some enterprising sculptor being creative in the desert.  In and around the Terlingua Ghost Town are small art studios or galleries.  I use those terms loosely, as many of the artists just moved into some of the adobe ruins, or an old van and done some renovation.  I don’t know what the above sculpture above represents.  Perhaps, a dragon-fly with it’s 6-foot wingspan,  or a giant mosquito, of which there are very few in the desert, or maybe just an imaginery bug.  Anyway, it is just planted there in the sand.

An abandoned home??

This is an old abandon house trailer and pickup truck.  They are still attached together.  They both need a little work.

Red-tailed Hawk

A Red-tailed Hawk flies overhead.

Desert Sotol

A familiar sight in the desert.  The sotol standing vigil with the gap of the Santa Elena Canyon in the far distance.

Balanced Rock at the Hoodoos

Along Highway 170, by the Rio Grande River, there is an area of eroded formations called the Hoodoos.  This 10-foot diameter balanced rock looks like it is nearly ready to fall into the river.  Look carefully and you can see daylight underneath.

Passing Wind

Don’t ask.  I have no idea what it is supposed to be either.  There are sails furled on those masts.  To the right is an old conning tower from a submarine. (or maybe a replica).  A large number 643 painted on the side.  There is a camper trailer parked to the side.  I have never seen an individual on the premises.  It is located on the road that passes by the Terlingua ghost town.

Terlingua Ghost Town cemetery

This old cemetery at the Terlingua ghost town has grave sites dating back to during the 1800s.  It is still in use today.

Greater Roadrunner

A Greater Roadrunner, or chapparal, on a rare patch of grass.  He doesn’t seem to know what is going on either.  Time to move on.

I hope you enjoyed this selection of photos from far southwest Texas.  Click on any image to see an enlargement.  For more photos from the Big Bend and other images, click on my Flickr logo on right side of this page.

In Terlingua, ya gotta eat somewhere

As most of you know, if you were paying attention, Ann and I spent four days in the Study Butte and Terlingua area last week.  We stayed in the little casitas at the Far Flung Adventures.  Now you are not going to find 5-star restaurants anywhere near there.  But the local establishments can give you great eating fare.  The following places were where Ann and I enjoyed the most.

Starting in the morning, we stopped at the Roadrunner Deli.  Frank Jones opens his place of business at 7:30AM.  If you are a few minutes early, heck, the door probably is open for you anyway.  He has the coffee hot and ready.  For me and Ann, we think it is the best breakfast around.  The deli is located about a half mile east of downtown Study Butte, on the way to Big Bend National Park.  Indoor or outdoor seating.

Roadrunner Deli

For lunch or dinner, if you like Mexican food, the place to be is Rio Bravo Cafe.  It is located next door to Far Flung Adventures, so that was convenient.  We just walked over there a couple of evenings.  It is a small, plain looking place with about six tables inside, plus some more outside.  Authentic Mexican food.  We had the Red Enchiladas.  They fix them flat instead of rolled.  The Mexican way.  We had them put a fried egg and chopped onions on top and they were fantastic.

Rio Bravo Cafe

If you drive further south on Hwy 117, just a couple miles south of the Terlingua Ghost Town, you will see Long Draw Pizza on the left.  If it is after 5:00PM on Wednesday through Saturday, do not pass this place by, as Ann and I did for a number of years.  This has the best pizza I have tasted in many years.  It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but inside it is a different world.  Go on in, and Nancy will serve you the coldest beer around and cook your pizza to order.

Long Draw Pizza

Another fun place to eat in the evenings is the La Kiva Restaurant.  Yep, they have a web-site.  It is partially sunk in the ground, giving the impression of being in a cave.  In actuality, it is built right into the bank of Terlingua Creek, that is behind the restaurant, so when you enter, you step down a few steps.  Entrees are pricey, but the portions are so huge, it is wise to share with your partner.  During happy hour, great margaritas for 2.00.  Tuesday nights are for Karaoke.  I have been known to sing a bit there, myself. 🙂

La Kiva Restaurant

As you can see, the above four places all have one thing in common.  On the outside, the don’t look like much.  But that is the nature of the area. There is no need for them to all look gussied up and fancy.  But as I have said, don’t judge a book by the cover.  Trust me, these are all great places to eat.

In Terlingua Ghost Town there is the Starlight Theatre Restaurant.  This old building is a remnant from the old mercury mining era of the early 1900s. When the quicksilver ran out and the mine closed, it went into dis-repair.  The roof went astray along with the movie screen, etc.  In later years, someone got hold of it replaced the roof, and turned it into a restaurant.  It is quite popular with the tourists, and priced accordingly.  However, on Mondays they have 2 for 1 hamburgers and you can get a good deal then.

There are a number of other small eating establishments scattered around the area, but Ann and I didn’t sample them.  As far as appearance, you must remember that Study Butte and Terlingua are in a very remote and desolate part of the state.  For Ann and I, it is the perfect place to get away from it all.

Update:  The birds in yesterday’s post have been identified as, first, an Eastern Phoebe, as I assumed it was.  The second one had me fooled, as I was thinking about a smaller bird such as a sparrow.  But I misjudged it’s size from the distance, and it turned out to be a female Red-winged Blackbird, which is slightly larger.

Adventures from the Big Bend – Wednesday – Day 3

In yesterdays’, Day 2 Tuesday post, I forgot to mention our evening dinner plans.  We were tired, but we thought a cold margarita and a steak would be good.  We went to the LaKiva Bar and Restaurant.  It is a place that you could only call unique.  It is more or less a cave-like structure.  It is actually built into the banks of Terlingua Creek, so it is partially underground, so to speak.

This being a Tuesday, it was Karoke Night.  In previous visits there I had got up and sang a couple of tunes myself.  Not this time though.  We got there at 5:00PM, had our margaritas, (me – two), a delicious steak filet and we were out of there before 7:00PM.  We went back to the casita and sat on the porch for awhile.  I guess we’re getting too old for shenanigans. 🙂

Now on the morning of  Wednesday, Day 3, we decided to take a guided Jeep tour through the back country around Terlingua and Study Butte.  It is another service that is provided at extra cost by the Far Flung Outdoor Center.  Thinking that the Roadrunner Deli didn’t open until 8:00AM we opted to eat at a nearby motel restaurant.  Our tour was scheduled at 8:45AM.  A young lady, Laura, was a very informed guide, and she gave us an education about the geological history of the area.

The tour was over at 11:00AM, so we had some light snacks and headed for the Chisos Mountains, in Big Bend National Park.  The Chisos are the center-piece of the park, with peaks rising to over 8,000 feet.  Our destination was the area called the Basin.  After driving up through Green Gulch, the highway tops out and about 6,000 feet, then you drive back down into the Basin which is at the 5,000 foot elevation.

Drive through Green GulchGreen Gulch and Mt. Casa Grande

On the floor of the Basin are campgrounds, and the Chisos Lodge and Restaurant.  If you visit and want to stay at the lodge, you need to make reservations about two months in advance.  It is surrounded by peaks, including Mount Casa Grande, not the highest, but the most photographed peak in the park.

Mt. Casa Grande

All the water that is collected in the Basin is drained at the pour-off at the bottom of  The Window, a vee-shaped formation on the western side of the basin.  A trail leads to the bottom of the “vee” where you can look over the edge to a  several hundred foot drop to the desert below.  A shorter trail takes you to an over-look where you have a spectacular view, also, looking far out over the Chihuahan desert for many miles.

The Window

 That drive into the Chisos took up all the afternoon.  After returning to our casita, we freshed up and decided on pizza at Long Draw Pizza.  On our many visits to the Big Bend area we passed this established many, many time.  We always ignored it as it, from the outside, looks like just a half of a large mobile home.  Drab looking with just a simple sign outside in a dirt parking lot.  You could kinda picture a red-neck cowboy, behind the bar and serving beer.

But we had recently heard that it really had the best pizza in west Texas.  We were delightly surprised, when walking in, discovered a nice looking, very inviting atmosphere.  Never judge a book by it’s cover, right?  We sat down and were greeted by Nancy, the owner, cook and dishwasher.  The pizza was fantastic and the beer was ice cold.  We ordered a medium size and had enough left for the following evening.

So then back to our room for a good night’s rest, because on Day 4 we are heading up Ross Maxwell Drive for some more photos to show you.

Until then, click on the images to see enlargements and enjoy.

Adventures from the Big Bend – Happy birthday to me.

So what do you think.  Do I sound any older?  No??  That’s good, ‘cuz I don’t feel any older.  But I guess I should.  Today I just finished my 77th year on this great planet.  I actually feel much younger.  I think I told you before, that I thought there was something wrong with my birth certificate, not that I want to start a Obama-like controversy.  I even asked my mother if I was adopted, and she said “Yes, but they brought you back.”   I may have even told you that before, but I guess it’s still good for another laugh.

On Friday, we got back from another trip to the Big Bend, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post.  There may be something to that old people stuff after all.  Despite what I said above, I feel a bit worn out after all that traveling.  But hey, young people get tired too.  So anyway, I can now get going on telling you about the wonders of the Big Bend National Parkand surrounding areas.

Audubon Yellow-rumped Warbler

Having said that, I think we spent most of the time in the BBNP than any surrounding area.  Of course, we stayed in Study Butte at the Far Flung Casitas so I guess that would be called part of the “surrounding area”.  Before I go any farther, we always started our day eating breakfast at this great little nondescript place, called Roadrunner Deli.  Dang, if Frank Jones doesn’t have the best breakfast in the area, I don’t know who does.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on who is doing the talking, the tourists head for another motel/restaurant up the way a bit.  So Frank’s place is the place to go if you have the inside knowledge.  Well, maybe enough people will read this and start filling up the place.

His breakfasts, are full menu meals.  He cooks everything to order, however you like your eggs, etc.  A super way to start the day.  So chalk up another piece of information for when you make the trip.

Our first day was spent getting there.  We left San Angelo at about 8:00AM, drove south to Sonora where we picked up I-10 West.  Now along there the speed limit is 80mph so you can cruise right along.  At Fort Stockton, we used the facilities, then took Hwy 385 south to Marathon.  From there, we continued south to the entrance to Big Bend National Park

Santa Helena Canyon - Big Bend National Park

We hit the kiosk at the park entrance around 1:00PM.  From there it still is another 40 miles or so the park headquarters at Panther Junction.  The speed limit is 45MPH, and rigidly enforced during peak times.  Last week it still was pretty hot, and the busy season hasn’t really started yet, so we could get on the gas a bit more to about 55MPH with no worry.  Could probably get away with a bit more speed, but why push your luck.  Anyway, if you do that, you are going to miss a lot of great scenery, and possibly not get to see much wildlife.

We stopped at the Panther Junction to check out the facilities again.  At this point there is a junction with the highway that runs east and west across the park.  If we turn left we go to Boquillas Canyon and Rio Grande Village campground.  We turned right and headed for our destination of Study Butte outside the west side of the park.  A distance of about 35 miles.

After we checked into our accomodations at Far Flung Outdoor Center we unpacked then decided on our evening activities.  Valynda at the desk had told us that Monday night was two-for-one hamburger night at the Starlite Restaurant in the ghost town of Terlingua.  The Starlite was originally a roofless theatre back early in the 20th century.  It was vacant and near falling down when some entrepreneur decided it was worth saving.  They put a roof on it and opened the bar and restaurant.

So we enjoyed a couple of large, juicy, cheeseburgers along with a couple of well-earned margaritas.  After that we had a nice evening of sitting on the porch of our casita, just laying back and watching the birds and wildlife.

About the pictures:

The Yellow-rumped Warbler was photographed at the Rio Grande Village Campground, Big Bend NP.

Santa Elena Canyon is the most accessible canyon in the Big Bend NP.  You can easily drive your car to within 500 yards of the entrance.  The walls at this point reach 1,500 feet.  A short trail from the parking lot takes you to a switch-backed, concrete walking trail , that leads you up to about 100 feet above the Rio Grande River.

More on my next post.  Click on the photos to see enlargements.