Day-Hiking at Buescher State Park

Earlier this spring, both Kris and I made a short trip out to Bastrop for a hike at the state park of the same name. We had a wonderful time during that hike and due to my extensive research (I visited the Texas State Parks and Wildlife website…) I found another state park just a short 15 minute jaunt down the same road where we could hike about 8-10 more miles in a similar landscape.

As many of you may already know, in 2011 there were some devastatingly destructive wildfires in this part of Central Texas. The wildfires raged that entire summer and when it was said and done there were over 35,000 acres of devastation. Later it would be learned that the cause of the fires were due to faulty power lines. Buescher State Park would lose about half of the parks 1,000+ acreage to fire damage in addition to the loss of some of the trail system and pedestrian bridges.

Having said that, when we visited Bastrop State Park this past spring we had an idea what we would be seeing, but were impressed with the bounce back the forest/park was experiencing. We were excited to see how Buescher State Park was faring as it was truly amazing to hike through this landscape only a decade later and to see all the new growth erupting from the charred remains of the forest.

With that said, we began our trip like so many others by loading up the van in the early morning with our packs, poles and copious amounts of water. The weather for the day was to begin quite crisp at about 55 degrees (Fahrenheit) turning warmer over the late morning and into the afternoon to a high of about 80 degrees. I really enjoy the cool air in the morning when you first step out of the van and onto the trail. I don’t know about you, but I get a sense that everything is right with the world and I am right where I am supposed to be. Maybe it is a “Zen” thing, I don’t know. The only detectable difference from so many other morning hikes was the heavy scent of pine.

Maybe it is the familiarity of that scent from growing up in New Hampshire, or all the fond memories of wandering around in the woods under tall pine trees as a child, but when I close my eyes I can sometimes catch that old familiar scent. So now, standing at the trailhead to the 1.5 mile “Winding Woodland Trail,” I could catch traces of the scent and was looking forward to being enveloped by it for the rest of the day.

As far as the “Winding Woodland Trail,” it was wonderful. The trail had many signposts and markers discussing the native plants and wildlife. There is something about an interpretive trail that the nature nerd in me just adores. After reading a placard about every twenty steps, and wandering around snapping photos of everything and anything, I went into “hiking mode” and took off along the gently sloping wooded terrain. After a short while, Kris and I popped out of the trail at a scenic overlook of the farmland and meadow below and it was absolutely beautiful.

From this scenic overlook there is the second trail-head in the park for the “Pine Gulch Trail.” This trail is a 3.5 mile trail with a small .5 mile cutoff that allows one to turn the trail into a loop. My preference in these parks is to do as little retread as possible and to do loops whenever I can. The terrain on the beginning of this trail introduced us to a lot of Junipers and Loblolly Pine trees. I swear it was kind of like wandering around in a Christmas tree lot for the first half mile.

Finding my groove in this coniferous wonderland, I followed the trail down into the gulch to the sounds of chickadees and warblers until the growth was so dense one couldn’t see more than a few feet into the surrounding woodland. Eventually when we reached the “Roosevelt Cutoff,” we went down a steep descent into a dry creek bed only to find a steeper ascent along the other side. Apparently this connector trail was blazed by the Civilian Conservation Corp (which president Theodore Roosevelt created) years ago. I am not particularly sure why the president created this connector trail, but I’m just going to pretend it was to provide a loop opportunity for hikers and also to offer some photo ops of the pine forest beyond.

Having looped around and found our way back to the overlook and “Winding Woodland Trail,” we sat and enjoyed a light snack before the final couple miles back to the van. During the snack-break some mountain bikers came by to the enjoy the overlook and shortly after a father and daughter came strolling up the path and joined us all. It was really nice to be around people out in nature. I was especially glad to have the trails to ourselves in the morning, but in the afternoon it was nice to see other people out and enjoying nature and the fresh air.

Thanks for taking the time to read my experience on this day-hike. If you enjoyed the post, please drop a like or leave a comment.

Day-Hiking at Inks Lake State Park

As I’d mentioned in my last entry, “Day-Hiking Season is Upon Us,” this last month both Kris and I visited four parks and have many more planned. Being located in Central Texas, we are fortunate to have a wide variety of state parks within an hour or two. Additionally, many of our favorite long-weekend getaways extend that range another hour further out. Halloween weekend we packed up our bags and visited one of our favorite stops in the hill-country; Llano, TX and by extension, Inks Lake State Park.

For those of you who have visited the hill-country in Texas, you know what to expect in the small “cities” that dot the country-side… so I’m not going to go into that here. All you really need to know is that the people are nice, life has a relaxed pace and the barbecue is awesome (Inmans and Coopers, I’m looking at you). There is really something that can be said about seeing Austin fade away in the rear-view…

Okay, I’m getting a little bit off course here… how about the day-hike?

Rising at sunrise on a foggy morning at the Hickory Ridge Hideaway Cabin, Kris and I ran through our brief checklist. With packs, snacks, trekking poles and an overabundance of water we climbed into the van and were off.

Inks Lake State Park is located in Burnet, TX which was about 45 minutes east from Llano… nothing quite like driving east just after sunrise… If ever the sun should go supernova I would imagine this drive would have been representative of the experience. Searing heat and burnt out retinas aside, the drive was actually quite pleasant. There is a peaceful quality of hitting the road on an early weekend morning when there isn’t a soul around.

As the van bobbed up and over hill after gently sloping hill, we discussed our plans for the day and it was just then that we rounded a small bend and saw in the distance a large group of deer bounding a ranch fence and crossing the road. I can only describe the heard overtaking the fence as a display of grace, a wave of tan and white-tailed bodies moving in a fluid motion as if connected by invisible tethers. Amazing! Slowing down to watch, while creating a little space for stragglers, we watched the spectacle for about twenty seconds and then we were on our way once more.

Pulling into the park, the ranger station at the entrance was empty. Oftentimes this is the case when arriving before 8am. Cruising past, we slowed to grab our reservation receipt from the window and some maps. I don’t know about you, but I usually don’t bother with the paper map and just use a JPG screen-captured on my phone for my map. I don’t know why I do that, must be the millennial in me. Anyway, paper maps from now on, it is just easier and then I’m not that guy on the trail staring at my phone…

Anyway, when we got to the trail-head there was only one other group setting out. Taking our time to let them get a good head-start, both Kris and I meandered around the area doing all manner of innocuous activities. After a good five minutes, we grabbed the obligatory trail-head photo and started out on the “Lake Trail” which connected to our first destination trail, “The Pecan Flats.”

I always enjoy a short connector trail. These short trails give you a chance to get comfortable out there, they kind of set the pace and allow one to shift pack weight around, move rings onto smaller fingers and adjust the height of trekking poles. For me the first mile is when I am most aware of any potential discomfort. You see, I have a messed up back due to scoliosis and if my pack is “off” I’ll have a lot of trouble the next few days. Additionally, I have freakishly long arms so depending upon the terrain I might adjust my poles a few inches either way to account. As for the ring… if hands get warm, they swell and rings get tight, so there you go. What a picture I just painted for you, a swolen-knuckle-dragging-twisted-spined-freak, lol.

Anyway, this first trail was pretty nondescript. It was your typical pecan and scrub tree trail. Since it was early, the birds were peeping and the fog was lifting a bit. Comfortable and in my stride, we switched trails at the junction onto the Pecan Flats Trail.

Now, I don’t know why they call it the Pecan Flats Trail, cause it certainly wasn’t flat and the tree-cover was scant at best. Not unlike Enchanted Rock outside Fredericksburg, TX, the trail popped out of the brush and we were met with an impressive (by central TX standards) gneiss (pronounced “nice”) edifice. Apparently this particular stone formation is quite abundant in the region and consists of many types of quartz, limestone and granite. I don’t know much about geology. In fact, you could fill a large warehouse with what I don’t know as it relates to that particular humble science. But what I do know is that when the trail markers stop at the base of an edifice, that means one is to begin climbing.

With trekking poles in prime position and the contents of my pack arranged in a scoliosis accommodating manner, I strode up the gneiss slab with the confidence of that Ricola guy and his shofar from those 90’s cough drop commercials. Arriving at the summit, I surveyed the surrounding landscape and got my first proper view of Inks Lake itself. The crystalline blue water was captivating. I moved about the summit capturing images of the lake from many angles… and then it happened. I somehow lost the trail…

I’m not ashamed to admit it, but hiking on these loosely marked trails up the side of nondescript slabs causes me a minor degree of distress. I know that when I arrive at the top I will always lose track of the trail, especially if the markers are 4×4 circles painted on the ground… yellow, like the natural color of many of the stones/rocks up there.

About ten minutes and several chigger bites later, Kris spotted a yellow dot and we were once again back on the “trail.” Coming down the backside of the slab, the trail meandered down into a small valley with tall prairie grasses that quickly closed in to the trail until we were hiking on what felt like deer tracks.

“Bush-wacking” with my trekking poles, or at least reaching out ahead and shifting the grasses from the trail on the lookout for snakes, the sun had made its way overhead and the heat of the day was setting in. Eventually, under the shade of a large pecan tree, we shed our outer layers and got back to “bush-wacking” on the small connecting trail that would spit us out on the “Woodland Trail.” The trail we would be connecting to was actually a large 2.5 mile loop that promised a “back-country” hiking experience.

I must say, the connecting trail was not exactly “back-country.” I think for a connector trail, it was a nice change from what the rest of the day had been. As far as the “Woodland Trail,” there were many small slabs of gneiss and pink granite under the canopy as well as some nice views of the lake. Overall it was an excellent series of trails, but not exactly “back-country.”

After completing the loop and coming back into the main trail system we began to encounter other hikers. Somehow we always manage to choose to go in the opposite direction as other hikers which is really a blessing. Unfortunately one ends up meeting most of them on the way back coming in the opposite direction on these loop trails.

On a side-note, I had heard a long time ago that when people are presented with a choice between going left or going right, that 90% of people will go to the right. I’ve actually tried this little experiment in crowded venues when leaving with the rush of people. I can honestly say that at concerts and sporting events I enter and exit to the left every time and it works like a charm. Try it next time and there is perhaps a 90% chance you will have a similar experience.

On the way back to the trailhead we must have gone by about a dozen or so groups of on-coming parties. After many quick recitations of “good afternoon” and “beautiful day to be out,” we came upon a small group of Chinese tourists meandering on a small wooden foot-bridge over a small creek. In typical fashion, they were oblivious to the fact they were blocking the path and would not move or even shift position to allow egress. After being ignored trying to get past the first cluster, I barreled through with Kris in my wake (yes, I am an ugly American if one forces me to live up to that stereotype).

Leaving the small group of Chinese tourists frantically trying to rescue several wayward party members from the creek, both Kris and I retraced the beginning mile or so back to the trail-head where we were greeted by a jam-packed parking area full of Covid-19 masked hikers.

Gear tossed haphazardly into the van and hoping to hit a couple more trails in the northern section of the park, we drove out of the lot and proceeded down the park road toward the “Devil’s Waterhole.” We had hoped that we could reach the trailhead before it go too crowded… holy s**t, when we got there we must have seen about a hundred cars and just as many people headed onto the small trails. Looking at each other and after brief simultaneous mutterings of “f**k this,” we cruised around the loop and headed for the park exit. We will surely be back next time out to Llano and we will be sure to do these trails first as to avoid the large midday crowds.

Overall, I would say Inks Lake State Park offers a great experience to day-hikers. There are some really nice and peaceful trails that offer some pretty views and if taken at a brisk pace will certainly get that heart-rate up. The pros far outweigh the cons. My only advice would be to come in early, don’t get lost on the Pecan Flats Trail and to hit the Devil’s Waterhole first to avoid the crowds.

Thanks for taking the time to read my experience on this day-hike. If you enjoyed the post, please drop a like or leave a comment.

Day-Hiking Season is Upon Us

The weather is starting to turn here in Central Texas, and with that, hiking season is back upon us. Both Kris and I are very excited to get back out onto the trail and I plan on sharing our latest adventures with everyone.

Having spent the last week or so choosing state parks and making reservations, I am happy to report our next three parks are reserved. In the coming weeks we will be visiting Inks Lake, Buescher and Pedernales Falls State Parks for some day-hiking.

I’ve been looking at the trail and park maps and am planning on doing some miles before the weather gets cooler and camping becomes a more palatable option. Speaking of camping, we invested in some new gear over the summer and are itching to get back out there.

In the meantime, we did visit Lake Somerville State Park a couple weeks ago for our first hike of the fall and it was spectacular. Although we didn’t crank off crazy miles, we did have an awesome morning. Below are a few pics of our day-hike.

If I’m not mistaken I think we did about 6-8 miles in the morning, which was a really nice way to get back into rhythm. I also ditched my camera bag and instead used my new orange pack. I have to say it was much more comfortable and who doesn’t love fluorescent orange lol?!?

Coin Rings and Things

They say that idle hands are the devils workshop. Sometimes I get bored and fall into YouTube black holes. A little while back I ended up in a random excursion into the realm of coin rings. By coin rings, I am talking about turning a United States quarter dollar coin into a piece of jewelry; in this case a ring.

I’m one of those people who enjoy trying new things and sometimes when I see something interesting somewhere I decide it would be fun to pickup the tools or materials and “get after it.”

So with idle hands and an wishlist, I got started gathering up materials, tools and other varying supplies…

Turns out the fabrication process is cheap and quite easy. Basically, you just need some quarters, a punch, some nylon hammers, propane torch, a mandrel and some patience. Granted, there are some more sophisticated tools, taps and dies, but this was sort of a bare-minimum experiment for me.

I’ll attach a link to a video for anyone who may be interested in this process here. Anyway, I ordered some supplies and began ruining quarters. After a few attempts, I learned some technique and was able to craft some pretty cool rings. Eventually, I bought some additional gear and have been able to further refine the process and actually begin crafting some for sale.

Phoenix Sky Harbor Breakfast

I love to travel, but unfortunately I haven’t had the pleasure (other than locally) in some time. On one of last year’s journeys I found myself overnight in Phoenix, AZ after a conference with an early flight out in the AM. Fortunately for me I was in very good company and a fairly quiet airport at 6AM.

Traveling through the Sky-Harbor Airport in Phoenix there weren’t too many dining options that looked appetizing at 6AM… As we passed kiosk after kiosk and the numerous gift shops I began to lose all hope. I’ll have you know I was quite hungry and possibly on the verge of “hangry-ness.” As I arrived in Terminal 4 I was on the verge of scooping up one of those pre-made/day-old wraps from a cooler in a gift-shop and that is when I saw it, the Barrio Cafe. I don’t know if it was the colorful mural on the far wall that drew me in or maybe it was the smell of chorizo and tortillas, but either way we knew we would be in good hands.

I’m not sure what the hours of operation were, but needless to say, they were open and four weary travelers set down to some casual Mexican cuisine. I enjoyed a huge breakfast plate of chorizo and eggs, potato hash, toast and fresh pico de gallo. I have to say that after an overnight in a discount hotel cause of a flight cancellation the prior evening, this really hit the spot.

I was hungry so don’t mind the missing bite!

With “hangry-ness” abated and the check signed for, I retired to the gate and queued up shortly after for the return trip to Austin. I’ve got to say that if you should find yourself at the Sky-Harbor Airport in Phoenix, AZ you really ought to check out this cafe. The food was good, the staff was attentive and most importantly the flatware, plates and glasses were immaculate…

Sometimes airport dining can be a tricky thing and can leave one’s personal health in peril. I have to say that I have eaten at some places where afterward I wish I would have passed by… I’m talking to you Brooklyn Diner at LaGuardia… Hell, don’t even get me started on that entire airport. Last time I went through that airport I’m pretty sure I left with Covid… perhaps a story for another time.

Heine-keg Lamp

As you already know, sometimes I get bored and head out to the garage to do “stuff.” A little while back after finishing a delicious 5L Heinekin Mini-Keg, I decided it would be fun to turn it into a lamp for the hobby/media room.

I began with an empty mini-keg and drilled a whole in the top and rinsed vigorously and set it out to dry over one of those hot Texas weekends. After the keg was dry and didn’t smell of beer (a process that required a few Texas weekends), I brought it out into the garage and got started.

After laying out my “design,” I determined where I wanted the front and the back of the lamp to be and then proceeded to drill a small outlet hole for the cord. A bought a small lamp kit from the Home Depot and strung the bare wire cord up through the hole on the back up into the keg. I further fished the cord through and used a modified Shiner beer bottle cap on the nipple extension and fastened all the parts together then completed the wiring.

In the end I had a working lamp made from a Heineken Mini-Keg and only needed a lamp-shade to complete the project. Got to love idle hands!

Backyard Birding: Blue Jay Bullies

This year we have quite a few blue jays who have taken up residence in our oak tree in the backyard. Although they are pretty to look at, with their bright blue feathers, they tend to bully the songbirds and go through suet and seed way faster than I would prefer. I should also mention that they don’t exactly have a “song.” In fact, they really just screech all day long.

Can you tell I don’t particularly care for blue jays? Recently I began placing no-melt suet cakes in the backyard in one of those green suet cages from the big box stores and began to find lots of new birds visiting. At first, we had some thrushes, starlings and even a ladder-back woodpecker but eventually the blue-jays took over and bullied off everyone but the doves and sparrows.

If that wasn’t bad enough, they peck away an entire suet cake over the course of twelve hours and make a giant mess in the garden that is likely to start attracting other unwanted pests.

Last week I went ahead and ordered one of those suet cages with an additional external cage to block the larger birds from accessing the food. Thus far it seems to be working with the exception of the raccoon that decided she would hang off the bottom of the cage and pick handfuls of suet… it never ends I swear.

Anyway, I’ve managed to raccoon and blue-jay “proof” the suet, so with any luck I’ll have my songbirds back in the autumn and winter. As far as the blue-jays go, I blasted their empty nest with the water hose and even blasted some individually while I was watering the garden as a warning (deterring them only slightly).

Upon doing a little research I have come to find out that blue-jays are considered songbirds in Texas, thus you aren’t allowed to shoot them (not that I would, I’m in a subdivision in city-limits), but it would be nice to have the option…

In a few weeks I also plan to change out my regular bird feeder with a caged design that will further limit access to larger birds like blue-jays, doves and starlings. Additionally, I plan on introducing some higher quality feed to attract chickadees and titmice (my personal favorites). As for the raccoon, cayenne pepper and “spicy” suet cakes should solve that issue.

What is up with all these damn glasses of water?

Okay, just a short rant today about something that has annoyed me for a long time. Whenever we go out to restaurants and order a drink I feel like the server inundates the table with glasses of water. Now regularly this wouldn’t be annoying, however when you are at a tiny table or have a lot of people, all those glasses of water just get in the way. The Earth is like 75% water already, we don’t need it taking up space on our table!

How about we try this, I’ll ask for a glass of water if I want one… and if I order a beer, pour the whole damn thing into a mug… don’t bring me a tiny little mug, pour half the beer into it and place all that stuff on the table. The worst is when they do that and leave a picture of water on the table… this is precious real-estate, especially if there may be appetizers involved.

And another thing, how about removing all the wine and dessert lists before bringing out an entrée. So if you are keeping score, that is:

  • Glass of water
  • Mug of beer
  • Bottle of beer
  • Picture of water
  • Wine menu
  • Dessert Menu
  • Random condiment assortment carrier
  • Appetizer with plates
  • Flatware setting
  • Appetizer
  • Entrée plate
  • Basket of bread or tortillas or whatever

That is per person on average… Now, I don’t cause a scene, I simply ask the waitstaff to remove the wine and dessert menus; I will ask if I want them. I humbly request no water and a large mug for there entire content of my beverage as I will drink it all before it becomes warm and as for the condiment carrier… I’ll set it on the floor or a nearby table, get that crap outta here. Eating at a table shouldn’t require expertise in residential zoning!

Oh and God forbid you order a “complicated, build-your-own entrée” like fajitas or something… and don’t even get me started about those restaurants where the banquette is too short and you are eating at nearly shoulder level… I’m nearly forty and I shouldn’t need a damn booster seat.

Sorry for the rant, not my thing, just had to vent real quickly so I can have a better start to my Monday morning, lol.. Have a great week everyone and I hope any and all restaurant tables are ample enough for your dining needs!

Backyard Birding: Our Little Oasis Update

I live in the burbs. With that said, there are some inherent challenges to birding on a home postage stamp of land. Fortunately over the years, I have found little ways around the hurdles of suburb-living and birding. I like to think that I have reached a happy compromise. 

At the moment, we are providing feed for a variety of birds and have a running water source behind the back fence where a green-belt has a small water easement tracing the center line. Additionally, the adjacent and contiguous properties have large mature trees along the periphery that are seldom trimmed and provide a lot of cover to the area. 

With all that in mind, I have a number of small flowering shrubs along the property that are trimmed in a fashion to allow many covered perches safe from predators and in view of numerous feeders and water sources. At the moment we are running a few different kinds of feeders for different varieties of bird. 

  • Tube Feeder with weight slide to prevent squirrels and heavier birds from monopolizing access. We generally feed a generic sunflower, millet and native blend.
  • Suet cage feeder (soon to be replaced by a caged variety) to provide no-melt varieties with nuts, fruit and assorted bugs.
  • Finch feeding station with under perch feeding, filled with Nyjer
  • Hummingbird feeder with homemade nectar without coloring or additives

Thus far the assorted feeders have led to a lot of unique sightings. Up to this point we have had both male and female House Sparrow and House Finches, Northern Cardinals, Bewicks Wrens, Doves, Ladder-Backed Woodpeckers, European Starlings, Thushes, Blue Jays, Grackles, Mockingbirds, Hummingbirds and have heard some random bird songs I am yet to identify that do not belong to the birds in the aforementioned list.

Postage Stamp in Suburbia

With that said, I am trying to work the feeders into an orientation that will slowly eliminate the Blue Jays, Grackles and Starlings as they often intimidate the smaller songbirds and monopolize/waste the feed. I do have to say though that when there are four or five Blue Jays fluttering around it is a pretty sight.

Anyhow, birding in the burbs does present some issues, but I feel like we have an idyllic environment to add some more species tot he mix with changes to our feeders. I’m hoping to see some Chickadees, Titmice, Warblers and Wrens as changes are made. We will see…

Backyard Birding: How About Those Hummingbirds

I love to watch hummingbirds, I find them captivating. A few weekends ago we were at a rustic cabin. Where the owner had recently placed a giant hummingbird feeder with fresh homemade nectar! Upon arrival at the cabin there were about a dozen of those little hummingbirds buzzing all around the feeder and crepe myrtle close by. 

For those of you who have been in a small swarm of hummingbirds, you are familiar with the low and rhythmic hum of their wings. I swear to you, the proximity to this swarm sounded like we were in the midst of a beehive. By the time I got over the sensory overload, I darted to the van and grabbed my camera. 

Now, when I say, “darted to the van,” I mean that I shambled clumsily over uneven terrain crashing torso first into the side of my van. Upon rising to my feet I opened the drivers-side sliding door and tore into my camera pack with reckless abandon. With lens caps strewn about the cargo hold, I emerged to find the swarm oblivious to my antics and my left flip-flop missing. 

Not unlike a zombie from a Netflix Original Series, I slowly crept along the fence-line and into position to strike… A series of continuous shutter snaps later, I captured a time-lapse of numerous hummingbirds resting, feeding and swarming the fresh nectar. Fortunately for me, when I left the house and packed my gear, I had remembered to take my 400mm telephoto lens. I absolutely adore this lens for capturing birds at a range of about 15-30 yards.

In the end, I not only got some nice shots, but I didn’t scare off the birds either. In fact, the birds were so omnipresent all weekend and oblivious to my antics, that I really could have just taken my time and would have got all these same, or at least similar shots, the whole of the weekend.

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