Wow – another 9 days since I have blogged anything! Here goes on the “catch up” project . . . On Thursday, January 31, I skipped class to spend more time at the campground with Jane and Bill to learn the ropes of the camp host job. The sunrise that day was fantastic. I moved into my new site (but forgot to take a photo!). Work days are about 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. plus any time that people might need to wake us during the night for emergencies. None of those yet thankfully!
Friday was a walking tour of Grapevine Hill Trail with botanist, Joe Seratnik (spelling?) and Jennette Jurado our cacti specialist and leader of our 2-week orientation. I took a lot of notes but still do not excel at identifying plants. I’ve GOT to start carrying those handy field guides!
Below are photos of the prickly pear cactus getting ready to bloom, a holly-like shrub, me under Balanced Rock, and a surprise caterpillar under the rocks where we sat.
Saturday I really started getting my feet wet as camp host. Sunday I attended church and had soup and salad bar brunch at the Chisos Basin, then drove to the ghost town of Terlingua with a friend and park visitor, Mel – retired forester and trail designer. Terlingua is a town where artsy and “free-thinking” people live. They are obviously alive but have resurrected the old quicksilver (mercury) mining town.
On the way home, I hiked some washes a few miles from home and got to see some magnificent fossils that Mel had previously discovered. A casual visitor to Big Bend might only see dried out plants and a barren landscape but there is so much to discover!
Monday was another relatively non-physical day – drove about 60 miles on the park’s East River Road exploring anything that looked interesting. The drive started out with a lovey-dovery paiar of ravens in the campground and lots of bird sightings -and them sighting us! Discovered trash piles from early ranchers, the magnificent rock formations, fantastically large shell fossil imprints, mysterious holes in some of the imprints and even the shell of a desert snail. Makes me wonder how a snail can survive in the desert? I will have to find out later.
Next along the East River Road was a stop at the Marascal Mine. At the turn of the century a rancher discovered cinnabar (rock bearing red particles that were then known as “quicksilver” or mercury). A mine was started run by 3 Americans and about 2 dozen Mexican workers and their families. They built the mine and processing facility. I found the brick work of the furnace interesting. They had to burn ore for a year to saturate the brick with mercury until they could begin to recover (by condensation) the mercury product. If you can imagine, this area and others like it (Terlingua) was once covered with trees which they decimated to build their houses and fire the furnaces. The area is still a target for thieves who raid for artifacts of that time period. And the area is posted with warnings not to pick up the bricks or breathe the dust. All the miners and their families (who lived and grew their food on the compound) died of mercury related diseases. The last pictures are of the beautiful scenery. We met former camp host Bill, doggie Greta, and brother-in-law Tim and had lunch in the parking area for the mine.
The trip down East River Road continues. We explored campsites on the Rio Grande and I even saw some trespass livestock on the US side of the river. They were skittish and we accidentally “chased” them back to Mexico. At the end of the day I reported the wayward horses to dispatch so that the law enforcement rangers can try to round up the horses if necessary and transport them to Austin, Texas for quarantine.
The River Road trip continued and we were observed by a hawk, saw a hundred year old cemetery on the Black Gap Road, a science experiment (studying soil evaporation rates?), fantastic rock formations (note the boulders embedded in the cliff face!), and the Rice Tank shrubs which were blooming and up close, smelled like the orange blossoms of Florida. I may come back and insert some photos of Black Gap Road – a harrowing, definitely 4WD road!! Amazing – we only drove a couple hundred yards up the road so that we could see the graves and Mel let me drive! I am SO BRAVE with someone else’s vehicle, huh! Later during my time here I can take the park’s 4WD vehicle for a spin if it is available as well as take an airplane ride with the park pilot. So much to do!
Tuesday, February 5 was a BIG hike day – up Laguna Meadows Trail and out Blue Creek Trail with a hard scramble up scree to a very large cave in the mountainside. So disappointing that there was no evidence of big animals, former human habitation (although who would want to scramble up scree every day?!), or bats. The total trip was 10 miles and we spent about 2 hours on the “cave detour”. It is hard to describe how hard it was to scramble up the scree – a very thick, extremely slippery layer of rock at an angle of I estimate 60 degrees or so. Here are some pictures of that hike. Towards the end. coming out of the canyon there were beautiful red rock formations then the Homer Wilson Ranch where several thousand sheep and goats grazed back in the day.
Wednesday, was my first full day on duty alone and it was pretty busy. A guest (Mel!) locked himself out of his vehicle and he opted to wait for law enforcement to help him rather than break out the vehicle window – a wise choice!! Our law enforcement officer was in training that day, though, and could not rescue him until about 1:30 in the afternoon. It was also the first day of irrigation in the Rio Grande Village (which I will refer to as RGV in the future). The park uses the old irrigation system built by ranchers to give then vegetation a good drink twice a year – now and the week after Easter. Below, visitors call the water area around my camp site the “moat”! Also pictured are a vermillion fly catcher, a female roadrunner (irate over being stalked for her photo), and her mate.
Thursday and Friday were equally busy days. We had unexpectedly high winds (30-40 mph) on Thursday evening and there is a Red Flag warning in the park for this entire weekend. Although there are no predictions of wind speeds, I have heard that we might expect west Texas winds sustained of 60 mph with gusts up to 90 mph! I’ve put out warnings to all the campers and the park strongly discourages smoking outside your RV and even charcoal fires. (Wood fires are currently banned here at RGV already.)
The problems we have are minor – people putting out bird “watering” stations, leaving a big dog outside unaccompanied, etc. Nothing we cannot handle! My camp host counterpart, Jane, and I work well together so all is well.
I am off to do some errands in the park today and possibly some hiking. Also going to hike the South Rim of the Chisos Basin tomorrow with park guests. Who knows what on Monday! Love to all who drop in to see what I am up to!