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Entries about boulders

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)

Deep Underground: The Hueco Tanks and Carlsbad Caverns

Journeys in Texas Continued: The Wind, Explorations of the Hueco Tanks, and Carlsbad Caverns of New Mexico

sunny 75 °F

“One night a wild young cowboy came in, wild as the west Texas wind.” Marty Robbins

I understand these lyrics a lot better now. I have a full appreciation of the wind that whips the grassland and mountains of west Texas. I have fully experienced the Wild West Texas wind during two nights of attempted sleep. The wind was just as Marty writes, it came on all of a sudden, as a cowboy would enter a bar, and suddenly the wind turns violently strong whipping everything in its way. I have never experienced wind like this, and I was impressed.

In our sturdy little tent (named Columbus), we attempted to sleep, but it was a long time coming. The wind hammered, harangued, whapped the sides of the tent, pushing them in with such ferocity as to slap us around every few minutes. I was viciously slapped in the face, until I finally rolled over and let my back be massaged by the tumult. It took awhile to get used to the noise, and the beatings, but eventually both of us slept.

What was just as amazing was the how quickly it came and went (just like Marty‘s cowboy). At one point, I had finally fallen asleep. I awoke a few hours later to silence, with just a breath of fresh morning air under sunny skies for wind. I doubt anybody would believe me if I tried to tell them of the gale in the night.

The wind is part of the allure of west Texas.

Besides the wind, the geology of the northern Chihuahua desert is just as impressive. Ihave been spending my quality time exploring the Hueco Tanks, east of El Paso, and Carlsbad caverns of New Mexico. Between both parks, I have spent more of my days underneath the earth as I have spent walking above it.

Hueco Tanks State Park
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Huecos are hollows, or water carved recesses in rock. The Hueco Tanks area are just that, an ancient low lying mound of rock that are filled with huecos. The huecos store water in them even during the driest parts of the year. In the desert, water is life, and life has flourished here for thousands of years. Man has used these watering holes for just as long. The low rocky mountains are a jumble of humongous rock slabs, piled up boulders and narrow caves and crevices. Man has been leaving their signatures for as long as they have been coming to the tanks. The ancient visitors left pictographs of masks, and hunting scenes, more recent but still historical visitors (in the 1800’s) chiseled their names, dates, and home into the rock. Modern morons have left their mark-using spray paint, sometimes covering up the priceless ancient markings.
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The park is well regulated, and they keep track of who comes and goes, as they only allow a limited number of visitors each day. They are doing a good job preserving the ancient sites, yet allowing the boulders and rock to be used what it ought to be used for: the great playground that it is.
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Hueco Tanks state park is designated by four “mountain zones.” Three of the zones are closed to the public and are only reachable by ranger-guided tour. One of the zones, North Mountain, is open for day use only, and that is where I spent my time exploring. With a map, a climbing guide to the boulders, and my reckoning, I spent a day traversing north mountain.
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It was tremendous fun to explore through the giant boulders, rock slabs, slot canyons and caves. It reminded me of exploring Joshua Tree National Park’s rock islands, and my approach was much the same. With determined effort, I found I could climb, slither, slide, crawl and squeeze my way through the mountain. I was in my element, my urge to explore unleashed.
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Using these methods, we stumbled upon most of the ancient sites. One cave was filled with paintings of masks in exquisite condition. The rock was slick from the hundreds if not thousands of feet that have visited this amazing cave. This was a good place, an ancient place, and one I will never forget.
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Though we were not the first people to explore these mountains, and find these ancient sites, it felt like we were the first. It was exciting, and fun, and the thrill of discovery was intoxicating. I happily left the mountain in the late afternoon. I was satisfied with my efforts.

Creatures of Hueco Tanks
Lizards and Horse Lubber Grasshopper
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At the campground, late in the night, I had stepped outside to use the bathroom. Beware, when stepping out to go pee in the desert. EVERYTHING is sharp. As I found relief, I looked up at the stars and found my self gazing at the constellations. I wondered what the ancient people thought of the stars. I became inspired and I captured a photograph of Orion (the Hunter), and Taurus (the Hunted) before I crawled back into my sleeping bag.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park
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A few days later, I found myself once again heading down the natural entrance to the big room at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. For once, I was prepared: I had a working camera with fresh batteries, and sturdy tripod. The caverns were mine to explore by camera. In past visits, I was hampered by a lack of batteries, or tripod, and unable to photograph the impressive decoration and wonder these caverns hold.

My traveling partner and I had made reservations for two of the wild cave tours, one for the Hall of the White Giant, and The Spider Cave. These tours were on two consecutive days in the afternoon, so we had the mornings to spend walking around the natural entrance and the Big Room. This turned out to be the perfect combination to exploring Carlsbad, (outside of dating a caving ranger).
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The Natural Entrance and Big Room are beautiful, and full of amazing decoration. The whole route is on an asphalt path, guarded by railings and lit up by decorative lighting. I had a great time setting up photos of the caverns, much like Ansel Adams had years before. The exposures are long, and a tripod is necessary to keep the images sharp. What is great about the tourist route of the caverns is that the lighting never changes. I had all day to get my exposure and focus the way I wanted it.
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Which do you prefer? Black and White or Color?
I can't decide which I prefer.
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I would highly recommend to any photographer who wants to learn to take long exposure extreme low-lighted photographs to practice in a cavern. Not only are the subjects beautiful and interesting, the lighting is constant, and a great place to learn.
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The walk was pleasant enough, but as this was my third visit to the place, I wanted more adventure than the easy routes could offer. That is where the ranger-guided tours of some of the other caverns came in. While I’ve gone caving on my own before, (a serious no-no in the caving world), I had never had the right gear, or gone on an actual caving exploration. I was curious to see what it was like to go on a modest exploration on well-explored routes.
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I was pleased to find cave exploration as fun and exciting as I hoped it would be. Once again, I found myself crawling, scooting, slithering into narrow, passages and crevices. I climbed up rock chimneys, and pulled myself up ropes, and ladders to get to our destinations. I was sweating from the exertion, I was filthy with mud, and dirt, and water. Above all, I was smiling.

The White Giant is impressive, a massive stalagmite rising up from floor, one of the cooler seldom seen decorations at Carlsbad. Spider Cave was full of pure white crystalline decoration, and rooms of delicate halectites, draperies, and soda straws. It was just as fun to crawl through the cave as it was to see these beautiful decorations.

The ranger talked of other rooms in the cavern that aren’t open to the public. Carlsbad has over a hundred miles of known passages, just about three miles of them are opened to the public. Granted, they are an amazing three, but just think about what other gorgeous views could be hiding under the ground.

The only way to see some of the other caverns is by applying for a permit to the four that are currently open to explore by permit, becoming a ranger, or by dating a ranger. The rangers have more access to some of the restricted caves in the area. I’m going to take the advice of one of the rangers and check out www.caves.org. I want to explore more caves, and this is a great place to get involved.

I am spending the day here in Carlsbad, New Mexico getting more supplies, (food, and gas) and taking care of some business. While on the road in the U.S., a great place to stop is the local library in whatever town you might be visiting. Not only are they clean, full of information, and quiet, almost all of them now have a WIFI connection.

It has been a great week here in west Texas. I am now heading into the Guadalupe Mountains to explore some of the high country, including a return to the highest point in Texas.

So long, and Adios, Amigos!
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Posted by Rhombus 13:56 Archived in USA Tagged landscapes rocks canyons photography caving texas philosophy boulders slot exploration caverns Comments (1)

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