A Travellerspoint blog

To Baja By Hammock

An Evening Spent in a Hammock, Sensing Baja, Our Passage South

sunny 63 °F

We have reached the Cape (Land’s End near Cabo San Lucas) and the tropics. The air is humid, the air temperature is comfortable and warm. I’m back in my desert paradise. It hasn’t really set in, I suppose. I think it will when I see a pod of dolphins leaping through the air, or when I hike around the giant boulders of Bonanza Beach, and most definitely, when I swim for the first time. Where I come from, swimming in December is a death sentence. Down here, it’s like dipping yourself into the fountain of youth: so rejuvenating.

I rose out of bed at about 3 p.m. I went up stairs, fixed myself a breakfast of honey on toast, apple juice, and a double shot Americano. I brought it up to the bow, and sat down on one of our line lockers to eat. As I enjoyed the crunchiness of my toast, I realized a post breakfast in the hammock would be just the thing to start this day off right.
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I set it up on the bow, stringing the slap straps between our anchor box rails and portside bow rail. Then I grabbed a pillow, two books, a journal, and my camera. I wrote in my journal (in fact, everything you are reading is excerpted from my journal), and read from Yutang’s “The Importance of Living.” I wish I had brought my hammock last year, but now I am a year older and a year wiser. I’m still living a good life.
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It is glorious. I’m rocking easy with the swells, comfortable in my nylon nest. The sun is setting, beginning its last hour of sunlight in the sky. The distant mountains of the Sierra de la Giganta are layer in the humid mists of the tropics. The sky is serene. Light cirrus clouds wisp southeasterly. The distant thrum of the engines is constant, and my white noise is occasionally broken by the non-distinct words of passing crew. The best noise is that of the wake off our hull. It’s a soothing chuffing rhythm, a rolling breaking wave followed by a moment of quiet before another crash of water sliced over on top of itself. The air is a mixture of ocean saltiness and cool humid air. Finally, though I am not eating, I realize that this tastes a lot like paradise. I’m glad to be back.
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Our passage south was uneventful. We had one day of sloppy seas, the ocean had become quite confused with ocean swells and wind blown surface chop coming from two different directions. We rocked side to side for most of the day, making it very difficult to work or sleep. I enjoyed it. I love being at sea, and I accept what the ocean offers with a calm appreciation. You cannot fight the ocean, you just have to accept it and go with the flow. The ocean is a great metaphor for life.

I’ve been working nights once again, and I enjoyed seeing the beauty of the night. This week, the thinnest sliver of a waning moon would rise just before sunrise. Looking at it through binoculars is still one of my favorite views of the moon.

In working this shift, I would watch the sunrise break over the ocean scape, eat a good dinner of bacon and eggs with orange juice and go to bed by 8 a.m. Often I would sleep until sunset, stepping out my cabin to a glorious arrangement of colorful sun, sea and cloud.
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So begins my next Baja adventure. “Ah, Is this not happiness?”

Posted by Rhombus 18:35 Archived in Mexico Tagged boats deserts sunsets oceans baja hammocks Comments (0)

Five Photographs of Fort Point

The Architecture, A short History, and the Artistry

semi-overcast 56 °F

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Fort Point National Historic Park is directly beneath the south side of the Golden Gate Bridge. The fort once protected the entrance to the bay with a military force of 24 cannons. It's odd to think of military force in terms of archaic cannons, but at one time they were state of the art.
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I walked through the building one Sunday morning with a friend of mine. The light was good, and the shadows were interesting. The building was made of tons of brick and mortor, and i wondered how well it could stand here in the land of earth quakes.
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The buidling holds one of the best hallways one can find. I wish i had come here with five other friends to lead a trail of the "dead." We made the best of it however and with a little help from a well placed shelf were able to get the shot we've always wanted here. In truth, I didn't know this shot existed, until i saw it.
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I love spontaneous creativity.

I'm now headed south to Mexico.

Posted by Rhombus 11:40 Archived in USA Tagged buildings architecture california forts photography hallways Comments (1)

A Morning In the Davis Mountains

On Boulders, Climbing and Slot Exploration, Enjoyable Pastimes, Expedition Chronicle

sunny 75 °F

A Morning Exploration

I was driving around the southern end of the Davis Mountains a little southwest of Ft. Davis, Texas when a gigantic collection of boulders caught my eye. I love boulders. I especially love enormous boulders that have been piled up in a chaotic jumble. Jumbled boulders make for a good morning’s entertainment.

My approach to these boulders was just like my approach to any natural area or park; I like to start by walking around the outskirts of the rocks, feeling them, jumping on them, climbing them, and getting a feel for the place. I let my senses take control taking in the scenes around me. It was sunny, but not too hot yet. The rocks were were rough offering a good grip, and I had no problems scaling them in sandals. The air was desert clean, and smelled of rock dust. There wasn’t much of a breeze. I could hear the everyday trills of songbirds foraging in the trees. I liked the look of the picnic tables hidden in the deep shade of the oaks, and knew I’d be eating lunch there in the near future.

Often, questions come to mind during my first approach, which often piques my curiosity. Are the rocks sharp? Are there climbing holds? Do I need my rock shoes, or is it better to scramble up in hiking boots? How did these rocks get here? What‘s the best line to traverse that one? As I wondered about this place, I started to climb up on the first boulder barrier, my key to the place.
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The Boulder Field
The boulder field I was entering was a large one. Picture a “C” shaped, long row of oddly shaped car to house size boulders that stretches 600 yards long (that is two American football fields long). The “C” is the base of the south end of a mount that rises above to the north perhaps 150 yards away, and much higher than where I am standing at the base. Between the apex of the mount and where I am is a slope of boulder piled atop one another. They are standing side by side, stacked atop one another, crammed together and thrown together in complete mayhem.

My initial goal was to climb up to the top of the mount. I didn’t really know how to get there, but I started climbing up on one of the rocks, leaped across a crevice to another rock, and was on my way. The rock had a good grip to it, and I started up in my sandals. I had packed my rock climbing shoes in my pack in case I needed them.
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The Entrance
I made it about a third of the way up and I crawled into a narrow crevice on top of a car-sized boulder that had a huge house sized boulder stacked on top of it. Due to the angles of the balanced rock, the crevice opened up to a decent sized cave. I stopped to get a drink of water, and check out the cave. There was a narrow slot that looked like it might lead back to daylight, and I stopped to set up a picture. I was thinking about a photo chronicle of my exploration of the boulders, but hadn’t yet made up my mind.
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Beautiful Lighting of the Slot
I worked my way into the narrow slot, and it led back around a rock about twenty feet. I turned back and saw the beautiful reflected light of a narrow slot under the earth. I set up another photo, capturing the low-level light and rock. As I was about to leave, I looked up and saw a small opening in the passage that looked like it was big enough to climb through.
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The Ceiling Slot
“I wonder if I can get up there?” I thought to myself, and I just HAD to find out. Incidentally, that is my favorite question I often ask myself. Though the answer is a simple yes or no, I find that the challenge of trying to answer the question much more fun than the actual answer itself.
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Investigating The Ceiling Opening
I took off my sandals and put on my rock shoes. I tested the slope of the rock, and jammed my way up to the opening, as you would climb a chimney. I used opposite forces with my butt, my arms and legs to elevate myself up the sides of the slot. I found the opening small, but maneuverable and there was enough of a foothold to allow me to wedge my body into it. I looked up through the crack and saw the next pitch of the climb to be another twenty feet or so with more chimney work to get up to the exit. All told, from the bottom of the slot up to the top was about a forty-five foot climb. I had made up my mind. I would climb this crack, and document the moves and see if I could make a compelling documentary in the process.

I had left my gear down at the bottom of the slot, and began to earnestly think how I would get the shots I wanted to show the climb. The hard part would be where to place the tripod, especially once I made it through the ceiling opening. I climbed back down, stowed all of my gear back into my backpack, and began to chimney my way back up to the slot. I pushed my bag through first and onto a narrow shelf before I made my way through.
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Looking Down at the Ceiling Opening
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Climbing Through the Ceiling
Once inside, and through the opening, I pulled out my camera to figure out where I wanted the angle for the shot. Once that was decided, the hard part was getting the tripod to adjust for that exact location. I was setting my camera up on a tripod that was clinging to the narrowest of rock nubbins. I really really hoped my tripod would not slip, because if it did, I doubt I would have been able to save my new camera gear from a 25-foot crash onto the hard rock below.
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Precarious Tripod Setup
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Beginning the Last Pitch
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The Final Grab
I only had one more face to climb, and it was more chimney work. I wedged my body in, and worked my way across a fifteen foot gap. Far below me was the bottom of the original slot. Above me, lay the bright desert sky of west Texas. I jammed my feet into a narrow crack and reached up to grab the lip of the rock. With two easy moves, I was up and out. I was a lot higher than when I started, and the long desert views were well earned. I sipped some water, and was completely satisfied with my efforts.
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I never did get to the summit that I had set out to reach, but I did answer my favorite question once again.

Yes, you can get up there.

Posted by Rhombus 20:08 Archived in USA Tagged rocks fun climbing photography texas boulders Comments (0)

Big Bend Country

The Rio Grande, The Window View, Rain in the Desert, The Best View in Texas

sunny 75 °F

I rambled on down to Big Bend Country in southwest Texas. Big Bend Country is so named after the big bend that occurs in the Rio Grande, that famous, well storied muddy crossing that separates the United States and Mexico. I like the Rio Grande. In a parched desert where water is scarce (especially this year), it was good to see a cold-water stream cheerily chuckling through the rocks, desert and canyon.
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When looking at a map, the boundary marking the border looks like an imposing river of great magnitude. Something on the size of the Amazon, or even the Mississippi, clearly marked, well guarded and defined. When I stood on the gravelly desert shoreline under the glare of the noonday sun, I saw a river that was far less imposing, defined and guarded than I ever would have figured.
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The river level is way down this year due to a lack of rain. Despite having all of my expectations dashed (usually a good thing, especially when traveling), I still thought the river was charming. It was cloudy blue, gurgling healthily through the rocks and between the giant river cane. The giant river cane was impressive, a towering reed that rises well over fifteen feet above the river growing in a thick forest of reeds. This plant is a non-native species (originally from Asia), invasive, having been introduced several hundred years earlier perhaps by the Spanish, though that is mere speculation among scientists.

From what I could tell, the U.S. border isn’t as well guarded as one would think, what with all the news stories of recent years highlighting the problems of drug runners, “illegal” aliens (what a horrible name), and border crossings. I didn’t see much of a presence from the border patrol, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t there. They are a sophisticated bunch using hidden cameras, stings, and other unseen ploys.
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I saw Mexicans crossing into the U.S. on two occasions. We were walking along the sandy path to the 105-degree hot spring outside of the Rio Grande Village, I saw three Mexicans wading across the river. This made me slightly alarmed, as there was a large sign warning visitors of car break-ins (I admit this was unfounded, and I apologize. It could‘ve been anyone). Since it was a busy day, we continued on to the hot spring and had a good soak. As we steeped, one of the Mexicans, ran up, hurriedly grabbing his inventory of beadwork trinkets, minerals and walking sticks, before running back to the bank and crossing back over to Mexico. He was selling his wares on the U.S. side, plying for cash from sympathetic tourists. A couple of minutes later, a park ranger ambled by, mostly keeping a presence of law to keep the Mexicans honest, and on their guard.

I figured the reason there weren’t any border patrol guys running around was that this probably wasn’t a hot spot for illegal crossings. In Big Bend National Park, you are still a long way from any population center, and therefore not the target market. The Mexican’s I witnessed had no troubles crossing and re-crossing the border. It looked as though a couple of guys kept an eye out for rangers and the border patrol, while one man crossed to make his sales pitch.
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It was novel to see Mexicans cross the river. I bet these guys have a lot of fun with it, so long as they aren’t caught. I had no interest in the knickknacks they were selling, but enjoyed watching them play cat and mouse with the rangers.

First Takes on Big Bend National Park
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At first glance, Big Bend National Park is somewhat intimidating. It’s a huge park. The map they give you is gigantic, with lots of options for adventure. I had never been to Big Bend before, and I hadn’t done much research into the place. As we drove into the park, I had my eyes mostly on the map, trying to do some quick planning on what I wanted to see. We stopped at the Panther Junction Visitor’s Center, to get some information.

After perusing the photo books, postcards, and trail guides at the visitor’s center, I came up with a half ass plan to our visit. Visitor’s centers are great places to get information on most national parks, and this was no exception.

The first thing that caught my eye was the trail to the top of Mount Emory, the highest point in the park. At 7,795 ft, it seemed a worthy challenge, and a good way to introduce ourselves to the park. There is nothing like plodding slowly up a mountain to give one the feel of the place.

Since it was already past noon, we decided to find a campsite, hike out to see the view from “the window” and start early in the morning to take on the summit.
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I also wanted to see the giant rock arch hidden somewhere up in the Grapevine hills. The photos and postcards of the arch were beautiful, and I wanted to see the place for myself. Besides the arch, the boulders around the valley looked climbable, and could be a fun place to play.

The Window View and the Rain
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The hike out to the window view is a short one, about three miles round trip from the campground. It’s an easy hike. It was enjoyable cruising along on the wide flat path. It was a nice to be able to look away from the path unlike our treks on the rocky paths of the Guadalupe Mountains. The path followed the course of a dry wash, surrounded on all sides by high rocky canyon walls and Mt. Carter looming just to the west.
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The Playboy Bunny of the Prickly Pear
Near the trailhead, there were many signs warning of mountain lions and bears. BBNP does not mess around when it comes to wildlife signage. On every trail we passed in the Chisos Basin, there were signs warning hikers of the dangers of wildlife. The bears and mountain lions are probably flattered to receive so much attention. It seemed unnecessary to me. I would be thrilled to see a mountain lion, but for as much time I’ve spent in the wild, I’ve only found their footprints, scat, and kills (a deer).
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Along side of the trail grew the largest agave plants I’ve ever seen. The agave is a cool looking plant. It has greenish gray, stout stems that come to a lethal point. If you are ever falling out of an airplane, do not aim for an agave to land on. The other interesting thing about the agave is their reproductive stalk. Towards the end of their life cycle, agave will send up a tall flowering stalk that grows well over fifteen feet high. In short, it reproduces and dies, but it goes out with a bang.
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The trail followed the course of dusty dry wash. The canyon walls closed in on the trail, and we were soon walking through a rock canyon that twisted around boulders, rock shelves, and dry waterfalls out to the edge. The window view was on top of a high, dry waterfall. It was awesome. I would have loved to see the view, and listen to the roar of the falls if water was running. A spur trail runs down to oak canyon for a view of the falls. If you find yourself in Big Bend during the wet season, go check out these falls.
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It began to rain.

As we walked back to the campground, the rain began to fall harder, and it was a beautiful sound. We stopped twice along the way back to sit down on a trailside bench to listen to the rain. Rainfall on a carpet of parched papery leaves is a beautiful sound. Tendrils of scent, the smell of rain, penetrated through the dusty air, and it smelled wonderful.

Conversation overtook the silence, and the smells. We chatted amiably for a quarter of an hour letting the conversation choose its own course. Eventually, we moved on, but not before we had enjoyed the experience of sitting through a rainsquall in the desert.
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The Best View in Texas

The hike to the top of Mt. Emory was pleasant. The park service had recently updated the trail, making it a bit more user friendly to hiking. At this point, we were in great hiking shape and we cruised up the switchbacks through the cold morning shadows. At one point we stopped for a water break, and a small flock of Mexican Jays showed up. They had the look of beggars, handsome, fluffing their pretty blue feathers in hopes of fleecing some dumb hikers out of a pistachio. They had played this game before, but so had I. If they wanted my pistachio, they were going to have to pose on my hand for a picture. It was a tough bargain, but a fair one. We moved on.
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The higher we climbed, the more beautiful the scenery became. There were fat puffy clouds moving quickly through the blue skies, and the Chisos Mountains were on display in all their grandeur. The final thirty feet of the hike was more of a scramble up a rock wall. You have two options: left or right. Both scrambles go to a high point, but the right hand scramble rises a bit higher than the left peak.
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Sitting atop the right hand peak and overlooking the incredible mountain scenery was probably the highlight of my trip. It was awesome. It is easily the best view in Texas, bar none.
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I laid down on the rocks, and closed my eyes, listening to the wind. Beautiful.
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After an hour of watching the clouds pass us by, we retraced our steps back down the mountain to the lodge store. We bought ice cream, knowing full well that it is probably the best food to eat after a ten mile hike. It was a fine day, and I was really starting to like Big Bend National Park.

Posted by Rhombus 11:10 Archived in USA Tagged mountains parks rivers hiking plants photography texas philosophy Comments (1)

Picturing West Texas From North To South: A Gallery

Hiking Guadalupe Peak, San Solomon Springs, The Finer Reaches of the Davis Mountains

sunny 64 °F

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This week is a gallery of images from the top of Texas (the highest elevation of Guadalupe Peak), down to the Big Bend country way down south. I’ve covered a lot of ground in the last week and a half, and I’ve a lot of good things to say about west Texas, and their splendid desert parks in particular. I'll let the images tell you my journey, but I want you to know that it has been a splendid journey thus far.

Scenes From the Guadalupe Peak Hike
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Guadalupe peak is the highest point one can reach in Texas. It is a beautiful hike, one that brings you high above the surrounding desert. We took it on as a day hike, and enjoyed the second best view in Texas. More on the BEST view in Texas next week.

San Solomon Springs
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While working my way south, I’ve swam in the wonderful desert springs at Balmorhea State Park. The San Solomon springs are a true Desert oasis that produce pure water at 76 degrees (f). The water is crystal clear and full wonderful to swim in, especially after a spectaular slack lining session.
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First Take on the Davis Mountains
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I really like the Davis mountains, and the small town of Fort Davis. The mountains are beautiful and full of intriguing rock formations that I'm just itching to explore and climb. The landscape is a mixture of rolling mountain ridges, rock outcrops, dotted trees, and desert vegetation. I'll be spending some more time there in the next few days, and I want to write a true essay on them.
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I've finally seen wild Javelinas. I've been waiting to see these spike haired, narrow bodied pig like creatures since I've started exploring the southern southwestern United States. As I was driving back from a hike, a herd of them crossed the road. I pulled into a parking lot and watched these little guys run by.

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The quaking aspen have turned a brilliant orange, giving me a taste of autumn. To listen to a quaking aspen rustle in the wind is akin to listening to an audience applaud the greatest natural maestro. I quite agree.

Bravo to the Davis Mountains!

Posted by Rhombus 19:10 Archived in USA Tagged mountains parks hiking photography texas Comments (0)

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