Creepy things in Big Bend Ranch State Park

I keep my eyes peeled for any possible creepy things when I travel. You never know when a giant tarantula or hellish cistern might appear. The cistern is located in the back of the Big House on Sauceda Ranch in the middle of the park. It’s fairly tall, maybe 10-12 feet deep. Totally creepy echo in there, too.

Cistern.
Cistern.

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Bones inside the cistern.
Bones inside the cistern.
This guy is so big we saw him crossing in front of us as we were driving out of the park.
This guy is so big we saw him crossing in front of us as we were driving out of the park.

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Big Bend Ranch State Park: Hikes for kids

When I read about hiking online, I get all confused about the ratings of difficulty. So, this is my best attempt at advising parental units on which trails might work out if you’d like to bring the kiddos to this state park.

My husband and I took a 4-year-old (okay, he’s almost 5) adventuresome child on these trails and finished them without much trouble. We brought along a 3 wheeled jogging/hiking stroller for longer hikes. We did a hike in Lajitas towards the wax factory. I do not recommend that trail as a hike. It is boring. And tedious. Seriously, we did it for exercise only. It’s best for mountain bikers.

The recommended trails:

1. Nature path near Sauceda Ranch (Easy with some hand-holding.)
2. Cinco Tinajas and Ojito Adentro (Will need to help children up and down trail.)
3. Horsetrap Trail (Heavy duty jogging stroller required for smaller children, as it is a 5 mile hike.)
4. Closed canyon (Mainly easy; gets more challenging the deeper you go. We had to pass the kid between us to get him up and down the canyon in some parts. Yes, like a piece of luggage.)

Other than the Horsetrap Trail, the others are impassable with a stroller of any kind due to trail conditions. If you are just driving through the state park on FM 170, it is worth your time to stop at Closed Canyon. If you stay at the Sauceda Ranch, the other three trails should keep you occupied during a short stay.

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of what you might see on the trails.

1. Nature Path: Sorry, no pics. We arrived at 4:30 and hiked at 5:15-6:00. Not much light available in evening on 12/21 (winter solstice).

2. Cinco Tinajas and Ojito Adentro

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Ojito Adentro
Ojito Adentro
Ojito Andentro trail
Ojito Andentro trail

3. Horsetrap Trail

View once you hike up.
View once you hike up.
Snack time on trail.
Snack time on trail.

4. Closed Canyon

Kid sliding down wall at Closed Canyon.
Kid sliding down wall at Closed Canyon.

 

Parent dangling from wall of Closed Canyon.
Parent dangling from wall of Closed Canyon.

Beautiful Hixon,Tennessee

I stayed in Hixon (just a bit outside of Chatanooga) on Saturday night in a neighborhood up on a mountainside. It was so quiet that it was a bit eery for me. Even though I live in the outskirts of Austin, there’s some background noise from IH 35 and various neighbors. Nothing like that out in Hixon! The person I was staying with warned that Great Horned Owls sometimes hoot at night, but I guess they took a vacation. Or, I was so tired I passed out.

On to the flowers: The dogwoods were in full bloom, as were lilacs and other small flowers.

The neighborhood sits across from a nuclear power plant, which I would never have noticed if I had not been told. I’m just going to let the pictures speak for themselves this time. This is my visual task of ‘show not tell.’ Fewer words, more pics!

Bug on a flower.
Eeew! Bugs!!!
Among all the new construction, I found this gem sitting at the bottom of a developed property. I hope they keep it there--it's a piece of Hixon's history.
Unknown yellow flower on the lake's edge
Nuclear power plant with 5 parallel 345 Kv transmission lines (or possibly 230 Kv)

The mysterious black smoke of Ciudad Juarez.

Years ago, this was not the scene across the border. Then again, there wasn’t a war going on between two drug cartels and the Mexican federal government either.

I asked an El Paso local about the smoke so frequently observed on the other side. All he could say was, “We’re not sure, but the smoke is always black in Mexico.”

Is it tires? I mean, I’m a little fire bug. You can’t get this level of pure black using wood. It’s unnatural. There are no white plumes or grey shading or even red flames. Just black smoke. Yikes.

Thunderstorm rolls through El Paso.

It’s always fun to watch a storm roll in. So as soon as it became clear one was coming yesterday afternoon, I sped up Rim Road to Scenic Drive. First, a dirt storm hit, then the rain came in thick drops. It was over soon.

Later on that evening, I strolled through downtown. The scent of rain was still in the air. This was one of the most relaxing business trips I’ve taken to EP in a while.

A few seconds later, the cloud of sand was significantly closer.

You can’t really tell how windy it is from those shots. It was mega-windy! Here’s a picture of me to prove it. AKA: more reasons to post pics of myself on the internet.

Here’s a ground-level view from the mountainside. The sand was really closing in by this point.

Then the storm rolled in.

Did I go back to my car like the other people? Nope. ~invulnerability complex~ Nah! There was some thunder, but absolutely no visible lightning. Some were asking me if a tornado was coming, so I had to explain the science behind the natural phenomenon to random strangers. Look, if my hair were standing on end, and I got the ‘willies’ I would have run right back to my car due to lightning strikes. Aaah. Meterology 101, University of Wisconsin, Fall 1998.

Gah! It started raining in big smacky drops. I had to snuggle my camera under my shirt and run to the car. 

Oh–I got some more featherlocks this week. Now I have them on both sides. This time, I wanted them to be more noticeable.

The calm after the storm. This is a view of the Asarco plant, which is a Superfund site.  It was a smelter.

B-36 Crash Site in El Paso (1953 crash)

With the aid of an iPad compass app, I was finally able to locate the site using the coordinates. The last time I went out there, I went up the wrong peak. Later that day, I went up the correct peak (after reading a few blog posts), but I was several degrees off. I decided that since it’s such a difficult climb (off-trail on unstable soil) that it would be best if I would just bite the bullet on the 99 cents app to help me navigate. BTW- there is excellent cell phone reception up there, which includes 3G for the iPad. I got plenty of work-related calls on my (supposed) day off to hike the mountain. It gave me a chance to sit and rest, I guess.

What was nice about the app was that it would ‘ding! ding! ding!’ when I was getting closer.This meant that I didn’t have to stop and take it out of my backpack towards the last .5 mile. Big time-saver.

When I came upon the first bits of metal, I was shocked at the small size of the debris. Shards of metal were all over the place–lying there as though someone tossed them about the mountain only a few years ago. As you get higher up the peak, though, you find larger airplane parts. That’s when you finally realize the sheer force of the impact. Quarter-inch thick metal is torn apart as though it were aluminum foil.

I came down a more precarious route than I had come up because I wanted to see what other debris had been cast down the mountain. There were bits of electrical wiring and shreds of tarp, along with other pieces of twisted metal I was unable to identify.

The pictures I took are less documentary in nature than most other blog posts out there. My intent was the examine how the aircraft reminants had become part of the landscape over the decades. They overlook the city–almost in a guardian-like fashion. You can’t see them from the ground at all, especially since the parts have rusted and now blend with the colors around them.

Some parts, like one of the bent propellers, have created havens for plants to grow. Other reminants just seem oddly out of place and time, like the shiny jet engine. And, some pieces would just look like trash to the casual observer.

Here are some links to other sites which discuss the history of the crash and provide more of a documentary account:

http://www.elpasoridgewalkers.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=169:b-36-crash-site-hike&catid=1:el-paso-ridgewalkers-latest-news&Itemid=2

http://www.localhikes.com/Hikes/FMSPB36_2320.asp

http://www.cs.utep.edu/novick/hikes/B36/01.%20B36%20Crash%20Site,%20Franklin%20Mtns,%20March%202006.html

http://on-walkabout.com/2010/01/25/exploring-the-franklin-mountains-b-36-crash-site/

I should warn you that this is a very strenuous hike that is off-trail with no markings. You make your way up an arroyo to the site. Because I am impulsive and like think I am invincible, I did the hike on my own. However, for most folks, I would recommend you take a partner or group with you. I cannot stress this enough: you are off-trail on a dangerous mountain-side with little room for error. The cacti and succulents are of a most vicious nature, as well. So, while it would presumably be safer to climb in the vegetation, you will actually have more chance at injury.

I know you’re thinking, “Wah, wah. What’s a measly thorn going to do to me?”

Well, I just got over an infection in my knee joint after kneeling on a mesquite thorn and having it penetrate almost an inch deep. 10 days of anti-biotics–because I rushed to the doctor a day later when my knee felt warm and hurt like nobody’s business. If you wait longer, they have to cut you open and drain the infected synovial fliud.

Charming, right? So the lesson is that you should avoid spiky, spiny plants if you can. I am more certain now than ever: they hate humans.

B-36 Crash Site (El Paso) [I didn’t locate it this trip.]

If you are looking for the coordinates of the site, visit http://www.franklinmountainsflora.com/trails.php?trailid=9.  I wish I had done that before heading out.

On December 11, 1953 @ 2:37 PM, a B-36 Bomber crashed into the Franklin Mountains in El Paso while attempting to land in snowy conditions. Nine crewmembers serving out country died in the tragic accident. I have always respected the bravery of our armed forces. Lord knows I don’t have what it takes to do the job. I sometimes meet Fort Bliss folks on my flights out to El Paso, and they are always amazing. If all Americans could be a little more like them, I know our country would be a better place.  These are people who do more than put their money where there mouth is. They place their lives on the line to ensure our very existence.

We have a duty to nourish a society that so many brave people have died protecting. This means we need to focus on improving this country. A society worth protecting is one that provides for the most vulnerable among us. As a civil servant, I have to be careful about posting anything vaguely political. However, I think that if we all came from the same place that our service members do (a desire to protect and serve the nation) things would be different. They face brutality and war. They give their lives to make sure we can keep our nation alive, goddammit. And we bitch about taxes.  It’s something worth thinking about.

***

I set out to investigate the site. I relied on blogs alone to direct me to the location of what remains of the wreckage. On my first trip up the mountainside, I went to the wrong peak. Before my second trip up the mountain, I made sure to check out some blog posts on how to find the area. Unfortunately, I ran out of steam before I could reach the location. Also, without a GPS to locate the precise coordinates, I don’t think I will be able to find the remains.

I’ll try again on another trip. Next time, I will be more prepared (GPS, better clothing, water). I’m kinda impulsive, so I didn’t plan my trip up the mountain as well as I should have. While climbing down a ravine, I almost fell. I have some pretty ugly owies as a result. I must tell everyone that this kind of hike is not for the faint of heart or inexperienced. It is imperative to have good balance and an understanding of how to climb on unstable earth. It is treacherous territory.

Mere physical fitness isn’t sufficient protection. You need to know your limits. Stopping when you reach your limit (as I did) is not failure. It is success, for you have pushed yourself to your max and did something awesomely fun! You can always get better from there. Either way, you’ve burned a ton of calories and gotten a great workout. So stop before you break an ankle and require a rescue.  Or worse.

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I think some utility lawyers just jumped for joy/peed themselves over the power line pics I got. That’s fine. As a health care atty, I am in full meltdown right now over the AIM testing breach.