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

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: Wright Lake Trail

The Wright Lake Trail is a 5 mile loop trail in Florida’s Apalachicola National Forest that shows the diversity of plant life in Florida’s swamps. Dad and I hiked this trail in late March on a weekend trip. The trailhead is found at the Wright Lake day use area across from the Wright Lake Campground. We arrived early in the morning and caught the light just right to see the trees and clouds reflecting on the lake. At the trailhead is a large sign with loads of information about the different types of swamps and marshes that the trail goes through. Dad and I took a minute to read the sign and then went on down the trail.

The Apalachicola National Forest has been logged heavily and is mostly rows of pine trees planted for future logging with small pockets of swamp and marsh scattered throughout. It’s a very strange and unique looking place. We hiked through it while keeping an eye out for alligators and the pitcher plants that grow in this part of Florida.

We came to a dome swamp filled with bald cypress trees with some deep water and only one way to cross; a long plank not even a foot wide across the middle of the swamp. We went one at a time because we didn’t trust the bridge but it proved sturdy and gave us a nice view from the center of the swamp without getting mucky.

After the bridge we walked through the forest a bit more before we came to a sandy forest service road that cut through the forest straight and flat. After the road the trail makes a large loop and crosses the road once again. After this it curved around a circular depression of trees that looked like an aliens crop circle.

As we neared the end of the trail we came to a wonky bridge with a sign that said “Bridge Closed”. We decided to pretend we didn’t see the sign though and took the bridge anyways. It felt sturdy but about half way through the bridge made a 45 degree turn and the entire thing seemed like it had been lifted up on one side and was very slanted. There was a sign here that read “Marleen’s Magic Corner”. We weren’t sure what that meant but we figured there was a witch living nearby or something.

Soon we returned to the trailhead after a nice hike and we hungrily headed out to find some lunch. We never saw any pitcher plants on the hike but there were a lot of pretty wildflowers. We did find some pitcher plants off the road and stopped to take some pics.

I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the Apalachicola National Forest and I think it’s worth visiting especially if you like plants and/or boating in swamps with alligators and snakes.

Thanks! -Josh

Sunday Hikes: Table Rock Mountain, North Carolina

Table Rock seems to be the go to name for any mountain with a flatish granite top. It seems like half the states have a Table Rock Mountain and all of them have incredible views! Perhaps one of the most popular and most beautiful is Table Rock Mountain in North Carolina’s Pisgah National Forest. About two hours from Asheville, Table Rock rises 2,000 feet straight up from Linville Gorge with a squared off peak that makes it impossible to miss when driving towards the mountain. It is easy to see Table Rock’s 4,101 foot elevation on paper and dismiss it since that is not very high even for east coast standards but the views from the top rival any other mountain range in the country!

After camping in an awesome little campsite off of Forest Service Road 210 (the long dirt road that leads up to the trailhead), we woke up a bit late at 9am and made coffee before heading up to the trailhead about 1.5 miles away. The road is typically fairly well maintained but the recent hurricanes on North Carolina’s coast sent enough rain to wash out the roads in a few places and create somewhat rough conditions. It is certainly still driveable but be careful in low clearance and 2 wheel drive vehicles. The trailhead has a large parking lot to accommodate how many hikers and rock climbers come to this area. I think we saw more climbers than hikers here actually. We excitedly hit the trailhead with perfect weather and an eagerness for great views.

The trails length is a bit iffy because there are many side trails to explore and an open granite top to run around on but if you hike from trailhead to where the trail ends and the mountaintop opens up then the trail is about 1.2 miles round trip. The trail is steep, slippery, and a steady incline but it is still a relatively easy trail thanks to the short distance.

Driving up the steep road I saw sneak peeks of the great views to come through the trees. The first opportunity for a view unencumbered by trees is made possible by a large rock sticking out from the trail that looks out on the Linville Gorge. Even from here (about halfway up the trail to the top) the views are amazing and make this mountain feel huge!

From here the trail continues steeply through the trees with long switchbacks and rocky steps. Soon the trail goes through two tall rocks and up some more before a split about halfway through that will take you up and right to the summit or down and left to some great rock climbing spots and is part of the Mountains-to-Sea through hiking trail.

After some more swithbacks through some dense rhododendrons the views start to really open up to the west and soon we created the peak of the mountain where there is the foundations of an old rock house that once stood at the summit.

There are many bushes on the large flat peak of Table Rock with chunks of granite poking out and giving way to incredible views. To the north is Hawksbill mountain and a thick forest.

To the west and south west is Linville Gorge plummeting down and in the distance clouds shrouded the black mountain range and Mt Mitchell, the highest peak in the eastern US.

To the south is Shortoff Mountain and Lake James.

And to the east is the flat North Carolina country that seems so far down if you fell you’d never land (don’t test that).

In every direction the views are breathtaking and worth a long while to take in and enjoy. We found a nice spot to sit down and brew some coffee and enjoy the beautiful day and beautiful views around us. We sipped our coffee and explore the top of the mountain a bit longer before deciding it was time to hear back. On our way back we ran into a friendly older man who knew everything there was about these mountains and just had to share it. He asked if we knew about the “stack rock cave” and when we said no he told us to follow him. So we did. He took us back down the trail and just after the two tall rocks we followed him somewhat warily through the brush and scrambled up a small rocky cliff and at the top was indeed a cave created by two pillars of rock that was layered making it a “stack rock cave”.

The views were very cool from here and despite the somewhat sudden and weird nature of us finding out about this place we were grateful to this guy for sharing his knowledge with us. After chatting with him a bit we headed back down to the trail head to eat our lunch. We made sandwiches in the car and then headed back down for Asheville and eventually home wishing we were still on the mountain.

Thanks! – Josh

Sunday Hikes: Beehive Trail

The Beehive Trail is one of Acadia National Park’s “iron rung” trails meaning it is mostly a non-technical rock climb up the Beehive cliffs with the assistance of iron rungs in the rock places there by the NPS. The nearby Precipice Trail is similar but involves more rock scrambling, higher cliffs, and is all around scarier but sadly it was closed due to peregrine falcon nesting when we last visited in July. The falcons don’t seem to like the Beehive cliffs though which is good for me since the Beehive is one of my favorite hikes! My only complaint is that it isn’t longer at two miles round trip (only .5miles or so is climbing).

We had just been at Sand Beach and walked across the street to the Beehive trailhead to begin our hike. It was a beautiful summer day on the Maine coast and the greens of the trees and blues of the water were vibrant as ever in the afternoon sun. Last time I hiked this trail was in the peak of Maine’s fall leaf season and the whole place was lit up with reds, oranges, and purples that glowed on the mountains. One day I hope to visit Acadia in the dead of winter to experience it in all seasons. But anyways the trailhead marker is a small stump with words carved into it and the trail starts off very rocky and uphill.

Soon we reached a fork in the road in the shape of a circle with hard granite sticking out of the dirt. A sign pointed left and a sign pointed right toward the Beehive and that’s the way we headed. Soon there is a sign warning of the dangers of climbing Beehive and it includes the fact that multiple people have fallen to their deaths on these cliffs.

With this grave news the Beehive pokes up through the trees looming as a high up peak with little ant-like people on its face. The reason it is called the Beehive is evident with this view.

The trail doesn’t take any time getting to the climbing and pretty soon we were waiting behind an old lady stuck 3 feet up with her family telling her she probably should sit out of this hike. After they talked her down we carried on upwards with some big rocky steps and a couple iron rungs. After the first few sets of iron rungs a view opens up of sand beach and the bay where we had just been. The water a deep blue that shone in the afternoon sun.

From here we climbed up several sets of iron rungs before crossing a small wooden bridge sticking out of the side of the cliff. The views here are great.

After the bridge we turned a corner and after a few more iron rungs we were up at the rocky top of the mountain with amazing views of Mt. Desert Island all around.

After we took in all the great views we went over the top of the mountain to reach the return trail. The return trail takes you down quickly with a bunch of steps cutting through the aspen forest. It felt like no time before we returned to the fork and then soon we were back at the trailhead and ready for the next hike.

I love the Beehive Trail! It is so fun and unique with great views! If you ever have the chance to visit Acadia I would highly recommend the Beehive trail.

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: General Sherman Tree

This is a picture of the worlds largest living thing (not including fungus) and a few of his friends! Look at the people in the bottom left corner for a scale on how huge these trees really are!

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