Wednesday, November 3, 2021

While At Home: October 2021

The first several days of October still felt like the summer with lingering smoke in the air and continued worry about additional wildfires. Then we had rain and everything changed. Fresh air, fully contained Calder Fire, cooler temperatures, and fall color. October 2020 we had zero rainfall but this October we had a total of 8.82 spread over nine days of the month. One of those storms was an atmospheric river that dumped 5.49 inches in a 24-hour period. 

On October 2, my friend Chaz and I participated in the Women's March for Reproductive Rights in Folsom. One year after RBG's death there is still a large hole. We miss her and "We are Ruth Less."

We had a week mid month in southwest Texas. Texas seems like a poor choice of a travel destination for someone who just participated in the Women’s March for Reproductive Rights, but Dan was jonesing because it had been a several weeks since our last travels. So off to El Paso which was a blue county in the 2020 election. We did have a great week hiking, exploring, and seeing a place where a border wall cannot possibly be built.

On the 30th Dan and I drove 81 miles east to Esparto to attend the last 2021 Art and Ag event in Yolo County. This one at Grindstone Vineyards (so named because the patriarch told his kids to keep their noses to the grindstone). The skies were filled with beautiful clouds which is something we have been missing. We ended the morning event tasting wines.

A pomegranate tree near the tasting room. A new vine vineyard and the coast range are in the background.

The vines closest to the tasting room are young and still green because of their ongoing irrigation. Vineyards farther away and unirrigated have turned a rusty bronze color heading into fall.

To capture a reflection, I clomped my way through mud to a flooded (due to the recent rains) part of the winery. I wish I had been wearing hiking boots.

October was unusually busy both for us and for our county. El Doradoans were ready to mingle--closely with each other. Our local newspaper, The Mountain Democrat, gave me five event photo assignments this month. By far the most fun was the Main Street Halloween. When I had this assignment in 2015 it was 83℉. This year it was at least 20 degrees cooler and there were clouds.

Pain Elemental and Dome Slayers

And, Syd and Pandora in October

At the end of October, El Dorado County had a cumulative total of 15,849 positive Covid-19 cases and 155 deaths (10 of those deaths were fully-vaccinated persons). That is an increase of 910 positive cases and another 17 people dead. Fourteen percent of the total positive cases and 84% of the total deaths were those 65+. Very slowly our vaccination rate has creeped up to almost 55%.

The 2021 Brush Pile soon to be chipped

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Hiking in Carlsbad Caverns, NM, and The Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX: October 22-23, 2021

The next morning there was little obvious evidence of the prior night's storm. The Rio Grande did have a bubble of about four times more water than the river had when we visited two days before and residents of the area were thankful that there was rain to catch in their water tanks.

On the way to Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, we drove through Marfa for a very short drive by tour of various concrete art installations. From within our bus, it didn't look like any were worth spending time on. Outside of Marfa we did stop at the never open "Prada Marfa" building. Prada Marfa is just outside of Valentine, Texas, on one side of US Highway 90 and railroad tracks are on the other side. That's it, nothing else. According to the Atlas Obscura website: 

The brainchild of Berlin-based artistic team Elmgreen and Dragset, Prada Marfa was meant to be a “pop architectural land art project.” Built of a biodegradable adobe-like substance, the building is meant to slowly melt back into the Earth, serving as a surrealist commentary on Western materialism. Interesting, then, that Miuccia Prada herself was consulted on the project, handpicking the merchandise for the store’s interior and allowing Elmgreen and Dragset to use the Prada logo. Costing a sum total of $80,000 - or, put another way, about 40 Prada handbags - Prada Marfa’s grand opening occurred on October 1st, 2005, and the perplexed press spread the news all across the country.

With all the press coverage, it was only a few days before vandals converged on the site, breaking the windows, looting the store, and graffiting the walls. Elmgreen and Dragset came in and repaired the building, but this time around they’ve taken precautions: all of the store’s Prada wares are heavily alarmed, and stronger windows have been installed to protect the interior from forced entry. Additionally, the handbags have no bottoms and all of the shoes are right-footed. While the vandalism might be the most exciting thing that’s ever happened to Prada Marfa, the site still gets thousands of visitors a year, despite Route 90’s low traffic flow.

Most people buy the artists’ story, but a few vocal dissenters have flooded the internet with conspiracy theories. Some even argue that Prada Marfa is a trap set by aliens meant to attract potential abductees. Visitors beware.

Fortunately, we were not abducted and drove on to hike in Carlsbad Caverns.

The Descent into Carlsbad Caverns
Once inside the caverns the artificial lights gradually decreased in intensity to allow our eyes to adjust to almost total darkness. Visitors are instructed to keep their voices low or not talk because the sound carries easily in the caverns. At times, Dan and I felt we were the only ones inside. It was fantastic and the shapes were also fantastic: stalagmites, stalactites, cave pearls, lily pads, brimstone dams, popcorn formations, and helictites. 

We hiked The Big Room Trail in Carlsbad which is 1.5 miles and an easy 30' elevation gain. This trail follows the perimeter of the cave's largest room of 8.2 acres.

In some areas the formations were as intricate as the exterior of a Thai temple. Some of the "figures" looked like Buddhist sculptural figures especially with the "lily pads."

We overnighted in Carlsbad and the next morning headed back to Texas. Our hike on this last day was The McKittrick Canyon Trail in the Guadalupe Mountains National Park of Texas. The hike was a moderate 6.8 miles with a 300' elevation gain. We walked below the Capitan Reef mountain which was once part of an ocean reef (now a fossilized reef), along a spring fed creek through desert areas, and into a canyon woodlands ecosystem. We ate our bag lunches at the Grotto and headed back to the bus.

Hiking one of the dry stream beds with Capitan Mountain overhead
Deciduous trees were just beginning to show some fall color.

The Grotto
Our last overnight was the return to El Paso where the next morning we caught our flight back home. 


This, Hiking at Big Bend, Guadalupe Mountains & Carlsbad Caverns, was our first Road Scholar trip. We thoroughly enjoyed our guides Erin Little and Joe Landreth and the knowledge they shared with us. I liked how varied this itinerary was as well. It was well organized and low stress. With Erin and Joe, there were just 12 of us on this tour.

Erin and her twin sister Erica Little own Big Bend Boating and Hiking Company in Terlingua. They can arrange float trips, canoeing, rafting depending on the depth of the river, hiking, day trips, backpacking trips. 

During our bus journeys when the scenery wasn't spectacular, Erin and Joe put on various DVDs that complemented the areas history. One of the most interesting for me was The River and The Wall. Five friends by bike, horse, canoe, hiking follow the Rio Grande as it flows from El Paso to the Gulf. The scenery is stunning, the wall not so stunning, and while the interviews are of ranchers, residents, environmentalists, farmers who are against the wall their opinions are valid and their voices need to be heeded.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Big Bend National Park, Texas: October 21, 2021

This is the day that in normal years this Road Scholar trip crosses the border into Mexico at Boquillas, but this is not a normal year and the border crossing is closed so on our last day in Big Bend National Park we hiked the 5.6 mile round trip Window Trail in the Chisos Mountains. There is an 800' elevation gain, but there were quite a few shaded areas so not so bad. This was my favorite Big Bend hike.

We hiked through oak, madrone, Mexican Buckeye, cacti, willows, dry river beds, and into Oak Creek canyon before trail's end at the Window.

The window is a slot with a view to the distance, but no trail. There was a trickle of water running over the edge. 

While there wasn't a cloud in the sky while we hiked, clouds were definitely moving in and looked threatening while we had dinner at the Chile Pepper Cafe in Terlingua. 

Although there was a full moon, we hoped to do some star watching tonight in the 55 minutes or so between dusk and moonrise. Mother Nature had her own plans for the night. By the time we arrived back at the Longhorn Ranch Motel, the sky was almost black except for the bolts of lightning. 

One of our fellow Road Scholar travelers, Gail, brought out a bottle of wine to share while we watched lightning bolts dance across the clouds as the storm swept our way. The colors of the sunset peaking out from the storm clouds were glorious. We watched until the overhead clouds opened up and dumped monsoon rains over the hotel. Southwest Texas, like California, really needed this rain as the summer monsoon season had far less rain than normal.

Tomorrow hiking Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico.