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DAY 171 – 02/28/2013 – Sequoia National Park, CA

We are now in California, home of some of the largest trees in the world. The Giant Sequoias are right down the road from the Mojave Desert, in the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

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The Voyage of the Tramper has included some superlatives, for sure. And the ancient Sequoias are super big, super old organisms. They are majestic and dignified. The oldest trees are 2,700 years old (National Geographic scientists say they are even older)!

We were visiting Sequoia at the end of the winter. There was snow on the ground and a chill in the air. But the weather was sunny and clear.

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Visitors were few. Walk ½ mile into the woods on any trail and you are completely alone with the silent giants.

It was awesome to be among them. You look up and see the massive tree reaching for the clouds. Walk right up to any one of them for a closer inspection.

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Except for the tree called General Sherman. At 2.7 million pounds, it “the largest living organism on the planet by volume” according to the National Park Service.

Undisputed King of the Forest, The General has a fence around it to protect the tree from people. Some would touch and love the tree. Others may try to take a souvenir piece of bark. Heresy! A hideous act!

You can just about see me in the bottom of the photo

You can just about see me in the bottom of the photo with the General Sherman

Yet, most people would take a piece of the tree without thinking about the implications of thousand – millions – of visitors doing the same thing. The magnificent General Sherman would be no more.

There are many other Sequoias; about 8,000 specimens in the Giant Forest at Sequoia NP. Lots of them are very nearly as big, and as old, as the General Sherman. I felt honored be among living things that have been alive for almost 3,000 years!

We drove through the silent forest first, stopping now and then for a closer look.

Then, we got out of the car and hiked back into the trees, and saw them standing quietly, regally, in the snow. Each one awesome: a miracle. Looking exactly as they did when John Muir campaigned for their protection in 1875.

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A forest meadow, ringed with Giant Sequoias.

The trees themselves were their own protection. When cut down, early West Coast loggers found that they fell apart, into unusable chunks good only for scrap and pulp. Yay, Sequoias!

The Sequoia has natural protection, in it’s amazing bark, from insects. Fire doesn’t destroy Sequoias, either. Thick bark protects the inner tree and branches are high above the flames. New bark slowly grows over the burned base.

Survivor of many fires and still growing!

Survivor of many fires and still growing! David lends a bit of scale.

Some of these trees show scars from big fires that occur every hundred years or so. At 2,000 years old, that’s a lot of fires!

Here’s me, tree-hugging!

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Tree love!

What a great experience. There are no trees this big on the east coast. Everything back East was logged out at some point during the last three centuries. The trees in Maryland are beautiful but very young. Young, at least, compared to the Giant Sequoias.

– Jane

DAYS 99 & 100 – 12/22-23/2012 Hiking Big Bend National Park

THE STARS AT NIGHT – ARE BIG AND BRIGHT -(clap, clap, clap, clap) – DEEP IN THE HAAAARRT OF TEXAS!

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I couldn’t resist adding that! Because, the stars really are big and they really are bright here in Southwest Texas. Of course, anywhere in the world the stars are bigger and brighter out in the country with little or no lights. But Texas is one of those Western states where the sky is really big; the better to enjoy the nighttime display.

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We camped at 5,400 feet above sea level in the Chisos Basin at Big Bend NP, the southernmost extension of the Rocky Mountains. All around us was the Chihuahuan Desert, arid and hostile to life.

The Chisos Range provides an oasis of sorts, protecting small scrubby trees and hardy plants and catching water from the infrequent rains.

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At the Pour-Off. Careful, it’s slippery and a long way down!

Arriving from Marathon in the afternoon, we set up camp and took a short hike on the Window Trail. The window refers to the Basin “pour-off” where rainwater drains out of the valley to the desert below.

Western bluebird, anticipating the falling of crumbs.

Western bluebird, anticipating the falling of crumbs.

The campground was nearly full. Camping for Christmas seems so odd to me but, I come from an area where it’s cold and damp in the winter, sometimes snowy.

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Here in south Texas, the days are in the 70’s to 80’s and the nights get only cool. So, camping at Christmas is a treat that probably takes them a little out of the holiday frenzy.

Next day, we took on the Emory Peak hike; 11 miles and 2,500 ft elevation. It took us six hours to complete the circuit.

Iris tags along

Iris tags along

The day was gorgeous and the people we met on the trail were delightful. Of course, everyone was on vacation, doing something fun and challenging so of course we were all happy!

At the top of Emory Peak, highest peak in Big Bend.

At the top of Emory Peak, highest peak in Big Bend.

Vista from the Emory Peak hike. The Tramper is down in that valley. If you squint really hard (or click on the pic) you may see a white dot on the valley floor, which would be one of the campers in the campground.

Vista from the Emory Peak hike. The Tramper is down in that valley. If you squint really hard (or click on the pic) you may see a white dot on the valley floor, which would be one of the campers in the campground.

There’s no mountain biking in the national park, so we set out for Big Bend Ranch State Park.

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You drive through the desert to get there, through tiny, sun-baked towns. We met a transplanted Marylander in a small grocery store in Terlingua. She and her Texan co-worker agreed that not everyone who decides to leave their home and move to South Texas stays.

Terlingua cemetery

Terlingua cemetery

It’s quite a different world. No shopping to speak of, no movie theater, no gym, no hospital, no big sports venues, no new car dealer, etc, etc. Baking hot summers. Isolation aplenty.

– Jane

Merry Christmas from Texas! – 12/25/2012

Here's Iris wishing you a Merry Christmas from the Tramper!

Here’s Iris wishing you a Merry Christmas from the Tramper!

Feliz Navidad from the desert of Southwestern Texas!

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– Jane & David

DAY 97 – 12/20/2012 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, TX

We are always inspired by people who dedicate their energies to preserving and protecting nature. President Lyndon Johnson’s wife, forever and affectionately known as “Lady Bird”, began conservation efforts very early in her life in Texas, culminating in the creation of the  Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin in 1982.

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She used her public platform as First Lady to “introduce people to the beauty and diversity of wildflowers and other native plants”.

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The day we visited the Center was chilly but beautiful.

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Because of the season, there were very few flowers in bloom for our visit.

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Indian Blanket

But, thankfully for us, there is more to the Center than just flowers.

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Lady Bird, and the Center, were into “Sustainable Landscapes” before sustainable landscapes was a catchword. The Center is a model for green roofs as well as water conservation, a must in arid Texas.

Pipeline leading from the water-collecting cistern

Pipeline leading to the water-collecting cistern

LB travelled all over the country during her husband’s term in office and until the end of her life in 2007. She won the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal for her work in beautifying our nations highways with wildflowers.

Behind the Center, on 279 acres, is a showcase for her beloved Texas landscape. Gravel walks and numerous informational plaques explain how this place is kept in harmony with nature.

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The Texas environment was shaped by frequent wildfires.  Now, those fires are suppressed, allowing forest to develop and overwhelm the native savannah. Livestock grazing and farming increase damage to the countryside. The Center showed us Texas as it used to be (in many places, it still is).

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There are resources at the Center and online for those who want to create a more natural landscape in their own backyard.

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We went away with some good ideas for when we get back home.

Ground glass mulch!

Ground glass mulch!

– Jane

 

DAY 84 -12/7/2012 Piney Creek Campground, Apalachicola National Forest

We left Walmart/Target errands and the Interstate knowing there were several big green expanses stretched out before us on the map.  Hoping to find more refuge we slowed for the first promising road, Log Landing, to see a closed gate and notices of “No County Maintenance”.  Drive on and hope.  Our ally is patience, the only enemy is the fatigue and irritation of driving too far or too long.  Today we know not to drive too far, we are just overcoming those pesky colds and planned to drive 2 hours max.

Bingo!  The next possibility (a road with a campground icon) from our detailed Garmin computer map is Piney Creek and here it is with a nice brown National Forest sign.  We drove in to the end where we saw a boat ramp and a family camping.  Each in high rubber boots and camo.  This turns out to be the uniform of choice, the boots have later been called snake-boots by our hunter friends.  I withold judgement as semi-friendly guy walks to my driver side door.  Are ya’ll looking for the campground?  Its the first dirt road on the left.  A little clarification and smiling banter later and we’re on our way.

Always aware, always checking we parked on the bigger dirt road and walked a few hundred yards into an idyllic clearing.

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Here were 80-100′ tall pines with barely a branch until the high canopy above.  Several nice, level, grassy areas were scattered in the clearing.  Palmetto surrounds and makes up the the thick underbrush.  Deep in the back were three tents, already set, extra canopies, a cooking area/grill canopy and a small wooden shelter-box with hay in it but No trucks.  Hmmm?  Probably hunter camp.

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We’ve become more and more comfortable with hunters as the trip winds onward, but remain wary.  We set up away from their zone, and found visual blinds feeling they may or may not come at all.

We donned our blaze orange vests and took a short hike.  Picking up the few strewn beer cans was an exercise in seeing how much we could do.  The parking lot walks, putt-putt golf had taxed us as much as our cold had allowed!   Wow, from five-thousand foot mountain hikes and intense shoreline mt. bike rides to this.  Waffling around, coughing at sea level.  Jane worried aloud whether we will have lost our fitness base.

I reassure her that one week of rest can be a wonderful restorative respite.  Some of my fastest races in the 80’s followed “longer” rests like this.  I hope for a quick return to the healthy state we have been building.  Low stress, long sleep, great food, good sights and nice people are surely the nicest environment we could have hoped for.  We’ll be strong soon.  This flatland sea level thing is funny though.  We both yearn for mountains.

Night fell after a nice cooking fire.  The Milky Way bodes us well and we asleep before 10.  Both of us alert as a truck pulls in through the sandy road and parks.  Men unload and it is clear they are occupying their hunting camp.  It is only midnight, they moved in at a modest pace, but before long I heard the long zzz,  zzz, of sleeping bag zippers, Later a bit of snoring.

Their dog Katy was first to notice me as I went out.  She bayed a wagging approval and curiosity.  Sniper, the beagle was better behaved.  I walked oner to meet three brothers; Angelo, John and Gus.  Each was gracious and had a story or two to share.  Gus had painted bridges all over the country.  His tales went to many of my favorite places.  His reaction, much as my own.  There are more good people than there are bad!

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The next night we find ourselves guests at their fire/table as Angelo came over, explained the Greek roots of Tarpon Springs, FL.  The signature dish tonight was spoken in Greek and we reiterated it’s name, then promptly forgot.  Suffice to say that blackened onions, pasta and feta cheese go well together!

The brothers were a true joy to be with.  We shared many common interests, described some differences and were struck by that quick comfort found in people sometimes.  They described some unsavory types who used to frequent this forest, but between the rangers, game wardens, and brothers, the place is nice again.

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Palmetto detail courtesy of Jane!

– David