Carving A Path

This is another page in a photographic journey to get out and share the great outdoors with others.

Story has it, back in the 1840’s, after leading his men through the rugged terrain of West Texas, Texas Ranger Captain Jack Hayes came upon the, then named, San Pedro river. He stopped and surveyed theΒ  landscape and said, “St Pete, heck. This is the Devil’s River”. And the name stuck, so they say. The Pecos River and Rio Grande are also in that same area and equally as treacherous and ruthless as the Devils. I guess i’m glad he didn’t feel the same about those two rivers,Β  or we might be reading about the Devil’s Sister and the Devil’s Brother in law in the history books instead of the names we know them by now. This region is known for it’s harsh environment. For it’s unforgiving and unwelcoming attitude. It’s “oh you like the scenery, here, have a thighful of catclaw while your looking at the sunset then.” No, not the people, the land itself. It’s out to get you the minute you step foot on it. Every plant and animal has something you will not like if you get within reach. Even the rocks have thorns. Ok, maybe not the rocks…but everything else for sure.

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So why in the world would anyone go out of their way to go there?

That’s not an easy answer. Could it be the beauty, the stunning canyon walls, the crystal clear waters, the vast “nothingness” as some might say? Absolutely. But there’s more to it than that. As dumb as it might sound to some, it calls to me. It draws me to it. I can’t explain it, but for nearly 25 years I have found myself wandering the canyons, caves, and rivers of this enormous region. Walking where ancient people have walked, thousands of years before me. Seeing what they left behind for us to still marvel over. Written on cave walls and carved into rock, mile after mile. It’s the most breathtaking piece of “nothingness” these eyes have ever seen. So I continue to come back. Over and over. Back in the day, we’d drive the 2 hours down just to catch the sunset over the Pecos River Highbridge, then turn around and go back. Yea, it’s that important. It was the first road trip my wife and I went on together when we first started dating. I had to know if this was the girl for me, and figured the Pecos might help. It must’ve worked, 20 years later, here we are. lol. She knows better than anyone, my love for this place.

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But i’m not here to give a history lesson or talk about my obsessive behavior towards this place, as that might be construed as weird or unhealthy. This is about a different path being carved.

Today’s story follows the path my son is on to become an Eagle Scout. And since i’m along for the ride, I get to document our adventures and pretend i’m a photographer again.

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This is where my adventures are at this point in life.Β  So many things we have been doing lately revolves around scouts, and I have to admit, it’s been an awesome journey having that time to spend with him doing the things we love so much. He’s older now, and can pull his own weight, which helps tremendously. This course does have many requirements. One of those is the hiking merit badge. Seems pretty simple. We love the outdoors. Hiking, kayaking, whatever, let’s go. Oh, I use the word “simple” very loosely. As part of the hiking requirements, he needs 5 ten mile hikes, and 1 twenty mile hike. They must be continuous, meaning no hiking part one day, then finishing the next. There aren’t too many specifics about how or where, but it must be a hike of some sort. He’s got 4 ten mile hikes finished, but it’s that 20 that seems to be a problem for some. Main problem is finding a place to do it. We have routes around town that would work, but i’m a bit traditional in my personal thinking, so hiking to me is on some trail, away from the city. Our state park offered up 2 of his ten mile hikes so far, including the one he and I did the week before. As luck would have it, I was able to get a weekend off, which is amazing in itself. So we decided to do something different. Go somewhere away from our home turf to get that 20 mile hike. Somewhere that has a different landscape, different scenery. It didn’t take but a second or so before I brought up the great Pecos region. Head south for some trail blazin’ and tent campin’.

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Our destination would be Seminole Canyon State Park.

Seminole Canyon?

Yes, Seminole Canyon.

They don’t have 20 miles of trails there.

True. That’s correct, it doesn’t. But I will counter that with…they do if you don’t mind seeing the same awesome scenery a few times during the day. πŸ™‚ I’ll explain in a bit.

We had everything already together and in the car for our trip the night before. The plan was to leave work at 2pm, get him out of school by 2:10 and immediately hit the road. Everything went smooth on the trip down and made good time. We had to take the Ol’ Blue Beast, because the Trailblazer was having disciplinary problems and got put in time out. Stupid stubborn car. Anyway, this was our first road trip in “his” car. He’s 14 and can’t drive it for another year, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to get it for next to nothing, so we did. It’s a beauty, depending on your age. It’s a 1995 Oldsmobile Cutless Ciera. Oh yeaaa. Ok, not the ideal car for the avid outdoorsman, but it gets you from point A to point B. One strong point…that thang is a smoooooth ride. Not sure how it will handle his kayak on top yet. πŸ™‚ On with the story. We get there at 5:30 and still have a bit of sunlight left. We setup fast but noticed real quick how full the park was getting. Last time we were here, we were the only ones in the entire park. That was awesome. But we knew that it being a weekend in the cooler months would bring more folks in. After setting up, we wandered around watching the sunset, following a few game trails, snapping a few quick photos, and soaking everything in.

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Our lodging for the trip would be a Coleman Instant 6 tent. We called it the Hilton. Definitely not what we’re used to. But this is car camping, and the next day was going to be a long, hard day. Plus I never said I didn’t like a little luxury camping every once in a while. We were set up with cots and big heavy sleeping bags that nearly take two people to lift, but man oh man, are they warm and comfy. We needed good sleep, and this would do it.

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Yes, that’s a heater on the table. It was supposed to be below freezing by morning, and remember, this was a hiking trip with camping as a bonus. I never said we were roughing it…stop judging me. πŸ™‚

At 8:30pm, I thought we should head a few miles west and go check out the Pecos River Highbridge for a little while. I’ve been wanting to get back down there with my cameras and get some night shots…or at least try. We started at the bridge itself.

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I shot one similar to the next photo a few years ago, and always wanted to try it again and see if I could get a better shot since the moon was out the last few times and makes it hard to get many stars, much less the milky way. Traffic was a bit heavy since it was still early. Let me say this, when your standing on a bridge nearly 300 feet above the water and a big rig comes past at 70mph, you might want to bring a change of drawers if you’re not paying attention.

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We then went to the upper viewing area, but couldn’t find a shot I liked of the river. I did get one up there, just not of the river.

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Then we headed down to the boat ramp itself. Right on the water. Down deep in the canyon. It was so quiet it was incredible. Only a few goats hollering at each other, and an occasional fish splash were all that could be heard. You know it’s quiet when the loudest noise is the ringing in your ears. I was there for photos, but it was hard not to just stand and take it all in. But I pushed forward and grabbed my camera.

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We got back to the “Hilton” by 10:30pm, ready for bed.

We were up early Saturday morning ready to get going, but since the park closes at 4:45pm (I know, right?) and we got there at 5:30, we still needed to check in to pay our entrance fees even though our reservations were already paid. They open at 8am, so we just had to hang out until then before we could get moving. The morning temperature was 31 degrees so I really didn’t have too much of a problem hanging out in the office.

At 8:15 we were at the trailhead and ready to go.

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Here’s a run down of how we came up with 20 miles in a park that has less than 10 miles of trails. We used the parks interactive trail map and saved the kml file. Then opened up google maps, imported said file, then mapped three different routes that would bring our total to 20 miles. We used the main Rio Grande and Canyon Rim trails as our primary mileage, but taking side trips to different areas, and different ways back. After that was all set, we exported that kml file from google maps and imported it into our GPS. (that might sound difficult, but it’s really simple. It has to be because i’m not that smart) So all said, we would hit the Rio Grande trail, then follow Canyon Rim trail, head back to the trailhead, replenish our water, then head out again. We figured we would end up at the Rio Grande overlook three times before it was all done.

On with the hike.

It started cold but after a few miles we were warming up just fine. The trails start off somewhat smooth. More like a four wheeler trail for a while.

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It was dirt, then gravel, then rock, back to gravel, more ankle twisters, even, uneven, high, low…it was all accounted for. That was pretty much it for the first three or so miles. Then we got to the Rio Grande overlook. As you might imagine, it was a surprise to see such a sight in all the ruggedness. My son stated the water looked like something out of the Caribbean. I’m used to the brown water west near Langtry, before it starts forming into Lake Amistad.

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DSCF3463I left all the big cameras at the car. I knew there was going to be amazing photos to be had, but ten pounds of gear on a hike like this wasn’t my idea of fun. So I chose to bring my old faithful kayaking camera, the Fuji Finepix XP60. Great little camera for what I need to get fish photos, but can’t compete with the guns. It lightweight, very rugged, and fits in my pocket, so it had to do for this hike.

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The Rio Grande offered up some beautiful views, but we were on a schedule, and many miles lay ahead of us. I was told many times that we needed to move on, hurry up, please don’t stop again. It was tough not to stop every little bit and take photos, especially on the Canyon Rim trail.

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As we moved along the Rim trail, we came up on the entrance to Seminole Canyon itself. The views were grand, then I saw something way off across the canyon. That looks like a boat dock. A boat dock? Whoa, of course, there’s Panther Cave. It’s only accessible by boat. We have planned for years to paddle there. It’s a 9 mile trip from the Pecos River boat ramp. I’ve been wanting to see this for so long from the kayak. Every time we plan it, we end up deciding to head upriver and just never made it down there. For those that might not know, the Pecos River runs into the Rio Grande a a ways upriver from here. And now with the river low, and all the sediment deposited at that confluence of those rivers, it’s impassable by boat. So the only way to get there is from Box Canyon at Lake Amistad…30 some odd miles downstream.

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Here’s some info about it here…https://tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/bbp09

They do have plenty of info at the park as well as along the trails to help understand what you’re looking at.

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And you can get closer to view if you don’t have a fear of heights. Yes, it is that close to the edge. A little tip, don’t lean too hard on the rail, it’s got a little give to it and can make you feel…um, how should I say…freaked out for a moment. But good for a laugh if anyone is watching.

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We took a break after about 5 miles. The constant up and down trail gets hard on old bones, and we had planned on a break every 5 to 6 miles just to make sure we will have the endurance for the rest of the day and helps us keep the 3.8 to 4 mph pace we set so far.

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I’m a kayak fisherman before I am many things. And one of those things is hiking. I love it…but in moderation I think.

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After a little bit, we headed back on the trail. More up and down for a while before it levels off.

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Mile after mile we made a steady push to our goal. It was interesting to see all the awesome creations around us, but also to see them under our feet on parts of the trail.

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Soon we were at the entrance to Pressa Canyon. Another in a long line of jaw dropping views.

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You can get right up on the edge. It’s crazy how small you feel down in this part of the world.

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This next photo was taken right before I realized what he was doing. The caption might read, “going for a closer view” but it actually has a different caption that was given at that moment. It reads, “hey, are you nuts? Get back over here. If you fall, I mine as well jump too, you’re mother will kill me.”

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We got back to the trailhead and our car with a little less than 10 miles accumulated so far. We replenished our water, sat down for a few minutes, then up and at ’em again. Our pace was slowing and we were now averaging 3.2 to 3.5mph.

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More hours went by, and more miles covered. The Rio Grande overlook was still awesome the second time, but it was starting to feel like a grind.

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The wind was still chilly but the air temps were in the upper 50’s. It made it tough because we would be sweating while the wind was calm, then get cold when it whipped up. We got back to the car for the third time. More moleskin was applied. More aches, more pains, more soreness. 16 miles behind us and 4 more to go. It was definitely getting to be a grind. I couldn’t help but laugh at myself when thinking about how difficult it was becoming. There are so, so many trails closer to home. Most were smooth, flat surface trails. Trails we have done with the kids when they were barely out of strollers. Easy trails. Why exactly did we choose such a strenuous area? Again I laughed at myself, but kept pushing on. The benches that we scoffed at earlier in the day, became a welcome sight. Breaks were getting longer and more frequent.

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The end was getting near. Our morale was still high, even though our bodies were telling us different. The GPS that followed our every footstep, verified mile 20 about a hundred yards from the car. We did it. It’s over. High fives all around. 8 hours and 3 minutes after we began, our hike is over.

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I think we could have made better time, but all the photo ops during the first 7 miles, coupled with the breaks that kept getting longer throughout the day really slowed our pace. By the last few miles, we were averaging 2.5mph with the rest of my body dragging along a half mile behind me. You would think after all the paddling miles we’ve done with more miles than this, and even hiking to the top of Guadalupe Peak, this would be a walk in the park. But it was a tough one. I refuse to say it’s the age talking. Although it is a little louder than it used to be.

We set a goal and we finished it. That’s all that matters. Just one more 10 mile hike to go, along with his trail reports and paperwork to finish, and this merit badge is in the books.

We showered up and had an overwhelming dread of cooking supper at the campsite. We were beat. I believe it was Nicholas that offered up the suggestion to head in to Del Rio to eat and relax away from all things pointy and jagged for a little while. Nourish ourselves with something other than freeze dried cuisine. There was no argument from me. I told him not to get used to this kind of camping, but since this was a hiking trip, it was allowed. πŸ™‚

We got back after dark and he headed in the tent. He was going to lay down and read for a while. No problem, I decided to use the last of my energy to go outside and take a few more photos. It’s not too often we get a night sky clear enough to see all the stars. So out I went.

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I even had to get a shot of Ol’ Blue Beast in all its glory.

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I went back in about 15 minutes later and big dude was already out cold. I quietly put my gear up, laid down on my cot and crawled in my sleeping bag. I don’t remember falling asleep, I just remember waking to the sun coming up. We got up later than we expected, and packed up everything. We had a quick breakfast consisting of a freeze dried skillet scramble and coffee. The reason we brought the lightweight cooking equipment was we are currently in a burn ban in our county. When that happens it usually goes all over the state. Much to our surprise Val Verde county wasn’t in one. We didn’t bring any fire cooking supplies, so we just got to smell all the other folks cooking as we choked down our meal.

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It was a great morning to reflect on the challenging task we completed the day before. We were sore and moving slow, but morale was high. It’s hard to believe the little dude was becoming a big dude. It’s becoming more and more evident. I was doing less in camp, as he was doing more. I’m not used to all this. Even at breakfast. He got everything out, then cooked, cleaned and put away. I didn’t ask him, he just did it. I think as a father, it’s hard to want to let go of the child to make room for the man. It makes me proud but at the same time sad. He doesn’t rely on me for absolutely everything anymore. All the years I couldn’t wait for this, suddenly turned into wishing it would go back. As I was told once before…they spend the first part of their life chasing you, then you spend the rest of your life chasing them. Hard pill to swallow, even though I was warned of this early on. I’m proud of both my kids for staying true to the Lord, to their family, and helping me to do the same. Our lives aren’t perfect. We have many lows, but they’re overshadowed by the awesome highs.

We waved goodbye to the big shaman of Seminole Canyon and headed home. We talked of future adventures and made plans for the present.

Just no more hiking for a while.

Please, no more hiking for a while.

Isn’t there a merit badge that requires the use of a recliner? Please?

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Thanks for coming along,

Scott

Scott Gartman

Scott Gartman

Scott Gartman is a photographer and filmmaker. He is also an avid fisherman, kayaker, backpacker, and overall outdoorsman. His accolades are too many to list, as with the many streets and towns named after him. He's a legend in his own mind. Check out his home page at www.flyrivermedia.com

6 thoughts on “Carving A Path

  • February 9, 2016 at 12:36 pm
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    Oh what a wonderful trip. Congratulations on 20.

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  • February 9, 2016 at 3:55 pm
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    I enjoyed every minute of the trip. Just wish I could have gone along..I read all your trips, etc. and look forward to the next one. Cousin Mae

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  • February 9, 2016 at 6:24 pm
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    Excellent – well written! I enjoyed all the pictures, too. It has been many years since I was in that area. Yes, I even did some hiking, but not twenty miles! Thanks for the armchair journey..

    Reply

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