Monday, November 15, 2010

Still in Texas - Ok! It's Big!

After leaving Monahans Sandhills SP, we drive southwest to Balmorhea State Park.  It's about an hour drive.  We can see the Davis Mountains in the distance, tiny specks at first, but then looming larger with every mile ticked off.  Their peaks are quite jagged and the mountains are brown and dry.  We will likely visit the Davis Mountain State Park during the return part of our journey to Texas after we've been through Arizona and California after Christmas.

So we arrive at Balmorhea.  It is an oasis in this desert.  In the state park, there is a 3.5 million gallon pool which is man-made, but naturally spring fed, and there are so many springs feeding into it that it takes only four hours to fill the pool, most of which is 20 to 25 feet deep!  The water is as clear as the purest Brita water.  Because this is off-season, there are only about four other couples here, one of which is scuba diving or learning how to.  Brad and I have our snorkel gear, and we head to the pool.  There are tons of small fish near the back of the pool where the springs are, some larger catfish and we also see one big turtle.  The clarity of the water allows us to easily see all the way to the bottom which is natural stones and plants, not tiles like you'd expect in a pool.  The water temperature is a constant 72 to 76 degrees F, but we are wearing wetsuits anyway, just so we can stay in the water longer.  And the water does feel very warm; in fact when we come out of the pool it feels cool because of the dry air and breeze.  But the sun is hot and we heat up quickly when we come out of the pool.
Brad snorkeling in the pool at Balmorhea State Park
Balmorhea is a beautiful place to spend the afternoon, but we head out late in the day to make our way to the Guadalupe Mountains National Park north of Pecos.  We camp in the National Park because there are so many hiking trails that it doesn't make sense to drive back and forth for an hour every day from the nearest town.  There are no hookups in the park campground, so we make sure to fill with propane, water and gas for the generator.  Because of the higher elevation (the highest peak is almost at 9,000 feet and the campground is at 5,700 feet), it's very cold - about 0 degrees C or 32 degrees F at night and only about 65 degrees F or 20 C during the day.  Because the range is so high, clouds actually form above it as the warm desert air rushes up the one side, so clouds are common over the mountains and on the one side of the valley.

We hike the McKittrick Canyon trail, which has some red, gold and orange trees visible from the trail, but nothing like the colours we get in Ontario (especially in the Muskokas) where an entire hillside will be blazing with colour.  Here there will be a clump of up to a dozen trees; and this is what Texans call spectacular fall colour.  I guess in a landscape of brown, dry grasslands, these hints of fall colour can be spectacular.  We also learn that the Guadalupe Mountains are geologically significant because they contain the most extensive exposure of the world's largest fossil reef.  There are three geological markers right here in the park and it is rare to find three such markers in one place.  Yet this national park is the sixth least visited park in the US.  The other five least visited are all in Alaska.  At least we won't be elbow to elbow with other hikers here, except that we happen to be visiting on a weekend and the trail is a bit busy with fellow hikers.
Brad and Marilyn in McKittrick Canyon, Guadalupe Mountain National Park
We also drive out to the Salt Basin Dunes which are like sand dunes but they are actually made up of gypsum (the material that makes up drywall or sheetrock).  This is a one hour drive from the park campground partly on a dirt road, then a one mile hike.  The dunes rise out of the desert scrub to a maximum height of 60 feet.  There are all kinds of animal tracks in the sand - coyote, lizards, rabbits, and I believe a deer; however we see absolutely no signs of life at all.  What makes the dunes so beautiful too is that the Guadalupe Peak is the backdrop, and today there are some clouds to animate the deep blue sky as well. 
Salt Basin Dunes of Guadalupe Mountains National Park

The wind picks up late in the afternoon and by the time we get back to the campground, it's gusting pretty good.  We're in for another cold night; thank goodness for the propane furnace.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this sounds beautiful, if a bit 'alone' in parts. Grady leashing it and Brad sanddune surfing, and you and Brad snorkelling in a clear Brita pool almost makes me want to fly away from Yonge and Bloor! ENJOY!