Sunday Hikes: Alkali Flat Trail

The Alkali Flat Trail in White Sands National Park was different than any hiking trail I’ve ever done before. It’s a 5 mile loop trail through the seemingly neverending sand dunes. It’s also unusual as most hikers are carrying plastic sleds as well.

The trail follows from one marker to another where you can walk up a sand dune and then sled down the other side. Eventually you get the the far end where you can see the Alkali flights along with the adjacent White Sands Missile Range in the distance.

This hike is really unusual but also amazing with mountains off in the distance surrounding you as you navigate the sand dunes. This is the definite White Sands hike you must do when visiting our newest National Park.

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Sunday Hikes: Ernst Tinaja

Big Bend National Park is a wonderful place! Collectively I have spent over a month exploring the park’s near 1,300 square miles (that’s 10x the size of Atlanta). Each new visit brings new places I had never even heard of to explore. One could spend a lifetime in the Big Bend country and still have more to explore. On our last trip one of these places was Ernst Tinaja.

Ernst Tinaja is by no means a secret but it is tucked away in the less visited eastern side of Big Bend National Park. The trailhead is located off the Old Ore Road about 5 miles from the south entrance near Rio Grande Village. Old Ore Road is considered a 4×4 high clearance only road but as long as it is dry most vehicles can make it to Ernst Tinaja driving carefully (if it has been rainy I would not attempt it, visit Panther Junction visitor center for road info). Along the way are beautiful views of the desert and Chisos Mountains.

Chisos from Old Ore Road

Along the road are a few landmarks starting with Candelilla campsite (one of my favorites), then Camp De Leon campsite and the nearby grave of Juan De Leon (a mysteriously murdered mexican man from the area’s more lawless times). Soon after Camp De Leon is Ernst Tinaja campsite and trailhead marked by a small stone sign. If you hit the La Noria campsites you’ve gone too far.

Grave of Juan de Leon

The trailhead is marked by a small metal sign like most others in Big Bend.

The trail starts in open desert and moves into a valley that then narrows into a canyon. In the valley are large stone ridges running across the trail with small pools of water (after rains anyways). Like many places in Big Bend the past is evident in the geology of the area and it is very clear a river flowed through this area creating the valley and canyon.

As the valley narrows into a rocky canyon there is a relief of shade created by one of the canyon’s walls during most of the day. When the temperatures can regularly reach the 90s even in the winter, any respite from the sun is welcome. The ground is loose and gravely like most dried up desert creek beds until quickly and suddenly turning to smooth pinkish brown limestone with a slight climb up.

Inside the limestone are three ‘Tinajas’, pockets of water collected from past rains (Tinaja literally means Jar in spanish).

I had fun playing with the tinaja reflections

The climb up and around the tinajas is fun and can feel a little sketchy (especially when you’ve heard accounts of mountain lions drowning in the very tinaja you are scrambling by).

Just past the Tinajas on the left side of the canyon is a fascinating force of nature captured in rock where presumably whatever water once flowed through distorted and twisted the limestone wall into a small cave (another place to hide from the sun).

At this point there are two options: turn back or carry on. The canyon continues for miles eventually hitting Ernst Valley (or at least the hills before Ernst Valley, I have not explored this far). With what seems like endless desert to explore turning back wouldn’t be a bad option either.

PSA: Anyone hiking here should know their limits and pack accordingly to their trip. Over 400 people die in National Parks every year with a majority of these deaths being because of drowning or heat exhaustion (both very possible in Big Bend). Visit the Panther Junction visitor center to get info from rangers on how to explore Big Bend safely.

To sum it all up: Ernst Tinaja is incredible and is a highlight of that trip for us now. If you have the ability to hike there, you should. Be careful and have fun! 🙂

Thanks!

– Josh

Sunday Hikes: Tom’s Creek Falls

Tom’s Creek Falls is located in the Pisgah National Forest north of Marion, North Carolina. The hike itself is very short at only one mile round trip with a flat gravel trail that is very easy to traverse (there were multiple people in wheelchairs on the trail when I went in March).

The trailhead is located a mile-ish off of highway 221 on a maintained dirt road. It was midday when we started our hike and thanks to the recent spring rains there were loads of wildflowers at the trailhead. And thanks to the first warm weekend of the year the small parking lot was full (Like 5 or 6 cars).

The trail starts flat and wanders through the woods for a bit before reaching a small stream. With the stream to our left the trail got a little steeper with a few easy switchbacks. After the switchbacks the trail straightened up and here is the first view of the waterfall. I was surprised when I first saw it, the 80 foot cascade pours off a cliff into a rounded and rocky area before draining away into a small stream.

The trail ends at somewhat of a split in the road, to the left is a wooden balcony with benches for viewing the waterfall, and to the right is a small hill that is probably twenty feet above the balcony and has a nice view of the waterfall. We went right and scrambled up the small hill and then down into the round and rocky area below the waterfall. From there we could not see or hear anyone and despite the trail having decent traffic it felt very secluded.

The Tom’s Creek Falls trail is a short and easy hike with a lot of reward! If you are ever in the area it is definitely worth the time.

 

Thanks – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Mariscal Mine

Long before Texas’ Big Bend country was made into a national park it was populated by a handful of small ranches. In 1900 Martin Solis discovered cinnabar near his farm and quickly tried to capitalize on it. Mining continued here sporadically until the creation of Big Bend National Park in 1944. The mine was fairly unprofitable in it’s day but has become a benefit to all future generation as a protected historical site. It is now an eerie reminder of the past in the heart of Big Bend’s backcountry.

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We visited the derelict mining town after a long day of exploring backroads and canyons on the park’s east side. From the Rio Grande Village area we took the River Road East towards the center of the park. We set up camp at the Fresno backcountry site (the only place you can camp near Mariscal Mine) around 5:30pm and as the sun was setting we rushed to explore the mine.

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At this point I will say that purchasing the Guide to Big Bend’s Dirt Roads book from any of the camp stores of visitors centers in the park. This book is a well of information for all the parks roads and it has a nice map of the Mariscal Mine complex telling you what each building is and what it was used for.

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The hike begins in a small dirt parking area with rock houses scattered around where the former miners once lived. There is a sign at the trailhead with a warning not to touch anything because of the mercury that has soaked into the bricks. Up on the hill we could see the mine blending in with its surroundings as it is made of rock from the hill it sits on. The trail up to the mine is loose and rocky dirt so we had to be careful not to slip while trying to take pictures and hike at the same time. The largest structure in front is one of the many furnaces used to melt down the mercury containing cinnabar ore.

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The trail curves past the large furnace and gains some elevation to get a view of the complex from above and to see the mines themselves. Large deep and dark pits with metal grates blocking entrance. some went like a doorway into the mountainside and some were just a hole in the ground dropping vertically  to the center of the earth (or close to it at least). The only other people out there, some kids and two adults with them were dropping rocks and sticks into the largest mine shaft and counting before it hit the bottom.

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We reached the end of the trail at a high point overlooking the mine with great views of Boquillas Canyon and the east side of the park as well as the setting sun and west side of the park. After enjoying the view for a bit we started to head back down, peeking in the mines along the way.

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We spent about an hour hiking and exploring the Mariscal Mine area with the trail being about 2 miles out and back. The mine is in the middle of nowhere and takes an hour to drive to but it is well worth the trip!

 

Thanks! – Josh

Picture of the Day: Snowy Sandias

Sandia Peak rises 5,000 feet above Albuquerque, New Mexico and well into spring can have snow atop the peak. The views are incredible and despite being a popular weekend spot you can often find the peak void of people on weekday mornings.

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Blue Mesa Trail

The Blue Mesa Trail is a one mile paved loop trail in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. The trail takes you through blueish-gray badlands littered with petrified logs and a couple signs about the areas history. According to one of the signs this area was once a swamp filled with dinosaurs but now it’s a unique and beautiful desert filled with Dino ghosts. Petrified Forest is one of the most fossil filled places in the country and Blue Mesa has some of the most fossil discoveries in the petrified forest. So keep an eye out while hiking and maybe you’ll spot a prehistoric giant alligator skeleton sticking out of the ground (probably not though).

I woke up early in the Kaibab National Forest 15 minutes from the Grand Canyon’s rim where I had spent the previous day. I made some coffee and hit the road for Petrified Forest National Park. I got to petrified forest around 9am and I spent my whole morning in the southern end of the park where the majority of the petrified logs are. Around noon I arrived at the Blue Mesa area and set off to hike.

The trailhead has great views of the surrounding desert and it looks like the perfect western landscape looking out at the rugged terrain while a train chugs along in the distance. There is a “sun shelter” at the trailhead which is a nice spot to make a little lunch before or after the hike. The trail is paved for the entire mile but is very steep at the beginning as the trail drops from the top of the mesa to the bottom. I loved the views from here as I descended into the ancient dino swamp.

After the steep descent the trail is mostly flat as it makes a loop through the bowl shaped area created by the walls of badlands around. My favorite part of this trail was how the badlands looked completely different from every angle making it feel like there was always something new to look at and examine.

The park’s namesake petrified forest of logs also inhabits the Blue Mesa reminding everyone that there used to be trees in this now empty desert.

I made my way around the loop, taking pictures along the way and then found myself at the bottom of the steep incline back up to the trailhead. I was surprisingly winded once I reached the top so I took a second to drink some water and enjoy the badlands once more before I departed from the area.

The Blue Mesa Trail was one of my favorite hikes I did that day and I would gladly return to hike it again!

Thanks! – Josh

Picture of the Day: Hoover Dam

The Hoover Dam is awesome! It is an American icon of ingenuity in the west and the history behind it is enthralling! The scale of it is enormous and the canyon it sits in is beautiful making me wish I could go back in time to explore it pre-Dam. I love taking pictures here and was happy to visit recently and get some pics. Here are a few I took while the water was a vibrant blue-green popping in contrast to the canyon’s tan and brown walls.

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: The Inscription Trail

The Inscription Trail is a half mile paved loop trail in New Mexico’s El Morro National Monument. Half a mile wouldn’t usually take somebody 30 minutes to walk but if a park ranger hands you a hefty book with a couple paragraphs for each of the twenty something stops along the trail it’ll probably take you a while. And that’s what happened to me as I arrived just before the park closed it’s gates to day hikers. With my bible sized pamphlet about the rock inscriptions I started the trail to learn all about the history of El Morro. In a nutshell what I learned is that because of a year round watering hole at the base of El Morro’s sandstone cliffs, the area became a vital stopping point for people traveling west in the vast New Mexico desert (just like the first Love’s Truck Stop in New Mexico is to me after driving 18 hours from Georgia).

Anyways because of the sandstone’s easy markability many early graffiti artists made their mark in El Morro. Beginning with early Native Americans and continuing through the ages past Spanish explorers, pioneers of the Wild West, the infamous Don Juan, and up to miner 49ers. Since El Morro was made a National Monument in 1906 marking up the ancient walls is off limits but the history of people writing “[Blank] Waz Here” will be immortalized by this national monument.

My favorite inscription was a Native American depiction of some bighorn sheep!

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Cap Rock Nature Trail

The Cap Rock Nature Trail is a .3 mile loop trail in Joshua Tree National Park. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again that I love these short nature trails and Joshua Tree is full of them. This particular one is located at the junction of Park Boulevard and Keys View Road in the centerish of the park.

This trail is perfect for kids and adults who want to learn more about the plants around them. There are many signs that talk about the various plants along this trail from the New Mexico Thistle to the park’s namesake Joshua Tree and how each plant affects and contributes to the desert environment around it.

The trail is short and flat with picnic tables and a vault toilet at the trailhead making it a great place to stop off to eat lunch in the middle of a hot Joshua Tree day. There are also plenty of the classic Joshua Tree boulders in this area that could entertain a rock climber all day.

I would recommend that everyone who visits Joshua Tree takes the time to hike this short trail and take in the flat land of Joshua Trees surrounding them!

Thanks! – Josh

Picture of the Day: Santa Catalina Mountains

This is a picture of the Santa Catalina Mountains northeast of Tucson, Arizona. I took this picture from Saguaro National Park in the spring. The Sonoran desert get very green and full of life in springtime as you can tell from the lush landscape of saguaro cactus and other desert plants leading up to the mountains.

Thanks! – Josh