Tag Archives: Texas

The Lost Mind Trail

This is what we would call the trail but the real name is Lost Mine Trail which is in Big Bend National Park. It’s listed distance is 4.70 miles however my hiking app registered 5.30 miles round trip. The difference could be all the little side trails to see different views we ventured on that all added up to the extra half mile.

Lost Mine Trail map

We drove a short distance to the trailhead and as soon as we emerged from the car we were in awe of the incredible views surrounding us bringing energy and excitement to get on the trail and climb higher to see even more vistas. This was a trail that was most recommended to us and the trailhead views lived up to those recommendations but could the rest of the trail compete with these amazing sights.

The rocky Lost Mine Trail


Fortunately the trail is well traveled making it easier to follow but it’s littered with rocks to step over so as long as you are capable of walking at an incline for several miles while carefully navigated over and around the rocks. Staying on the trail in this climate is very important in preventing severed erosions during heavy rains which can wash out portions of the trail. These ‘shortcuts’ are tempting but not worth the potential damage for those hiking another day.

As the trail climbed up, the views became more impressive

As the trail continued higher and higher the views continued to be impressive making for distracted hiking and slowing down the pace to get to the top although a water break from time to time is a good idea allowing you to stop and view your surroundings. In addition to the desert mountain scenery we were confronted with cactus’s beginning to bloom adding to this great trail experience.Yet another distraction pulling attention away from getting to the top of the mountain.

Cactus's beginning to bloom

At different points along the way we were joined by other critters, mostly birds, looking as though asking how our hike was going and if we were enjoying the trail. Yes we were having fun for the most part. Unfortunately one of our group had inadequate footwear making the stones on the trail feel as though piercing into their feet with each step. If that’s the worst part than it’s a successful hike.

Mexican Jay joining us on the trail

Arriving at the top the trail levels out providing a sense of relief from continually climbing up, up, up towards the sky. Time to sit and taking in the vast mountainous landscape on this bright, sunny morning and join the others doing the same thing. While taking in the views I got the first opportunity of seeing a road runner closer up just before it decided to jump off the ledge and out of sight forever.

A road runner just before it plunged over the edge

The top of the Lost Mine Trail is actually quite large allowing many people to take in this high point without really creating problems moving back and forth among the boulders. There are many different view points to take in all amazing each to their own making this a nice way to spend an hour and possibly even enjoying a picnic surrounded by rocks and boulders rising from the ground. Watching a sunrise or sunset from this location would be breathtaking I’m sure as long as you’re not alone and with flashlights because the hike to get here or leave here would be in darkness. And ohh yah, there are these little things called mountain lions which tend to be more active during these times.

Taking in the views at the top of the Lost Mine Trail

During most of the time on top of this trail I kept looking at this rock which kind of looks like Homer Simpson and wondered how to climb up to the gap under his chin. I just couldn’t find a good path and without ropes it didn’t seem safe to both get there and climb up the rock. After spending some time exploring the area I decided it wasn’t a safe venture so kind of gave up on the idea. What kind of example would that be for the kids?

A little rock climbing along the way

By the way, challenge accepted.

For more stories of Big Bend you can read posts on the Rio Grande and Window Trail


Rio Grande

While in Big Bend National Park to hike the Window Trail we traveled to see the Rio Grande which separates the United States and Mexico. It seemed somewhat ridicules to be this close to one of the US borders and not take some time to visit it first hand. From a distance there were mountains on the horizon which somewhat matched my expectations of what this area would look like.

The Rio Grande

For whatever reason, whether from photos or things I’ve read, I expected there to be a canyon kind of like the Grand Canyon with a river running through it and on one side would be the United States and the other Mexico. In this particular area that was not really the case. On one side was a desert, relatively flat, and the other was a tall cliff separated by the Rio Grande.

Looking north to Big Bend National Park and the Chisos Mountains

Making our way to the Santa Elena Canyon Trail we discovered that the river bends and enters a canyon with sheer cliffs on either side. Maybe this is why my expectations were of a canyon with the Rio Grande running through it. Even so, I was surprised by how steep these canyon walls are and how small the river is. At least how small it was while we were there. During times with higher rain amounts I imagine this river to swell considerably. While learning more about the Rio Grande we found out that one of the issues with it being a major border was that the river can change course over time from a rising and falling river which also can change the border between Mexico and the United States.

Rio Grande inside the canyon

Shortly after exploring the Rio Grande I realized that this completes our adventures from one end of the United States to the other. We’ve been to the Canadian/United States border after hiking in Isle Royale National Park, the United States/Mexico border while in Big Bend and the East Coast and West Coast. Also we explored Alaska/Canadian border. The only piece left is Hawaii which will be our final trip in 2018.





Playing in Padre

After several days in Big Bend National Park we sped across Texas going from the deserts of Southwestern Texas to the Gulf Coast for our next National Parks Monopoly board destination of Padre Island National Seashore. Fortunately the big spring break crowds were here a couple of weeks earlier leaving quieter beaches for us to explore. There was a brief debate about which is better, rocks to climb or the ocean beaches. It was a short debate with the ocean winning.

A quick walk in the ocean as the sun set behind us

Padre Island is a narrow, long island running along the southeastern portion of Texas providing miles and miles of beautiful sandy beaches to get lost in all day long. Padre Island National Seashore actually has 60 miles of beach that can be driven on if you have the right vehicle. Since we had a regular car we were unable to explore past the first 5 miles of beach which has sand packed hard enough for almost any vehicle to pass over. Beyond this first 5 miles the sand is more loosely packed making it possible to sink in and become stuck which is why 4 wheel drive vehicles are recommended.

Sandy dunes shaped by ocean breezes

In addition to enjoying listening to the waves continually crash against the shore and taking a leisurely stroll through the waves, there is plenty of wildlife to capture your interest for awhile. Some of them required your attention while walking by the water as there could be consequences if you get to close. One of those was the Portuguese Man-o-war’s floating into shore on an occasional wave and landing in the sand until another wave is able to bring it back out to sea. They can sting you even when laying along the beach so watching your step is important. Many of these stranded on the beach were varying shades of blue making a beautiful contrast to the beach.

Portugese Man O War stranded on the beach

Another creature to watch out for near the edge of the water are crabs. Mostly we came across blue legged crabs and if walking close enough, they may pinch you in an attempt to scurry away without being crushed. They were great fun to watch, as long as you saw them before you were too close, while they crawled on the sand scavenging for food. These ranged from almost colorless to an intense blue on their legs giving them their name.

Blue legged crabs near the edge of the water

A very common sighting on the beach are numerous birds scattered everywhere . There are a number of different types from gulls to herons all searching for the next snack in and out of the waves. A great source of entertainment while taking in the rejuvenating rays from the sun on a beautiful Texas afternoon. We were trying to determine what they were eating just inside the wave zone as they appeared to be plentiful. After watching for a short time and exploring the beach we realized what the meals were.

Birds combing the beach in search of their next snack

Small clams of every shade lay just under the sand surface and would quickly emerge as a wave would approach revealing themselves to birds. As we watched and dug more these little sand dwellers were everywhere. When walking along the water’s edge you were walking on thousands of them, usually without ever knowing as they lye just below the surface waiting for the right wave to arrive. It was amazing and a little unnerving to know you were walking on hundreds of them with each step.

Clams rising out of the sand getting ready for the incoming wave

A quick brush of the sand and you would see them burrow to the surface all around you. There were white ones and blue ones, yellow clams and purple clams, some with strips while others were solid in color. Another great source of entertainment while relaxing on the beach. I don’t know what type of wave they were looking for but once the right wave was nearing the beach, thousands of these little clams would appear above the sand as if by magic standing straight up. Once the wave passed they would tip over laying on the beach and after another wave, disappear back into the sand making you wonder if you really saw this spectacle or imagined it.

Thousands of clams lying just under the surface of the sand

All in a days fun along the Padre Island seashore before retreating to find your next meal.

A Blue Heron taking in the sun rising over the ocean



Exploring History–Dealey Plaza

Dealey Plaza is the site of the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. Dallas is where we began and ended our Monopoly travels for 2016 and we wanted to spend some time in Dallas taking in a sight or two. When researching things to do and see in Dallas, Dealey Plaza seemed the most intriguing so that is the first thing we headed to see. Our flight landed mid-morning on a sunny, mild Thursday. After collecting our bags and renting a car for the week it was lunch time so we headed to a nearby place to grab a quick bite and then we were off to downtown Dallas.

Dealey Plaza panoramic

Map of the landmarks surrounding Dealey Plaza

Dealey Plaza is much the same as it was in November or 1963 making it easier to imagine the events of the JFK assassination (although some of the skyline has changed). Once parked on this warming spring afternoon, the first stop was the Sixth Floor Museum which was the location Lee Harvey Oswald shot from. Along the way from a nearby parking lot it hits you as you look to right, this is it, this is where President Kennedy was killed. Right there on that street! I’ve been asked a couple of times what the street is like. Many expect it has become a memorial no longer in use except by pedestrians exploring this historical place. To the contrary, it is a busy street much in use as any other street except this one bears an ‘X’ in the middle of it to mark the location of the killing shot.

X marks the spot

Entering the old book depository, which is now a museum, a sense of curiosity and sadness overtakes you. There is a place to purchase tickets and wait in line for your time to ride an elevator to the 6th floor to learn more about the assassination. Be warned, the procedure of getting tickets and entering the waiting line gets a little confusing and seems inefficient but there are staff to direct you around. As the doors open on the 6th floor you enter a dimly lit maze of informational boards, videos, and physical displays all there to provide information leading you to an unfortunate and expected end. There’s a look back at John and Jackie’s up bringing as well as their road to the white house as president and first lady and the policies put forth by JFK.  All of this is providing a better understanding of the potential reason Kennedy was not popular among some groups and why they may have wanted him killed. As you move through the museum, these displays move towards the assassination itself and the timeline of what happened during that short period of time and how that information was broadcast throughout the world. The museum ends with Lee Harvey Oswald being shot as well and the evidence used by the Warren Commission to declare Oswald as working alone and how he assassinated the President. There is a small amount of evidence pointing to the infamous ‘grassy knoll’. Our day in Dallas ended with a drive down Elm Street passing over the ‘X’ in the road to get one final perspective of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

The grassy knoll in the upper right and triple overpass

You can watch documentaries or movies, read books, and see pictures of Dealey Plaza but it is not the same as being in the area and viewing it with your own eyes. Pictures and videos don’t give you the same sense of perspective. It’s difficult to imagine the skill required to make the shots Lee Harvey Oswald is credited with or where the crowds gathered, how sharp the turn is the motorcade made to go down Elm St until you see it yourself and walk through the depository looking over the plaza. An educational experience for those who are able to do so.

Houston, We Have a Problem

The problem was our time here was too short. We were in Houston for a couple of days before boarding a cruise ship to the Caribbean and were looking for something interesting to explore. Researching things to do in Houston, NASA was at the top of the list and reading different people’s experience here we decided that’s how we wanted to spend one of the days.

Exploring the Moon

General admission gains access to a days worth of exhibits which include different space capsules, informational movies, multiple types of space trainers, equipment used on different space travels, and even a lab situation where moon rocks were examined all put into settings made to give you a good idea of what it’s like going into space. In addition, you can visit Independence Plaza which holds a shuttle carrier holding a shuttle, Rocket Park were there are several different rockets used to travel into space, as well as a couple of other buildings showcasing some of NASA’s current work via a tram.

Experimenting with Moon rocks

We were in Houston visiting Johnson Space Center and this could be our only chance to experience this with our children so we decided we wanted to take in the full experience and went on the VIP tour. With this tour you get to visit areas not available to any other tour such as the underwater training center as well as get up close and personal in some of the areas were the tram does go such as historic mission control and building 9 where you can view new technology that may be used in future space endeavors along with lunch which can be a little expensive at a place like this.

Skylab Space Station Trainer

Our first stop was the underwater training facility. Here they have a life-size International Space Station for astronauts from around the world to train on. Luckily for us, there were a couple of astronauts training so we could see how they prepared to work in space. It’s very interesting because while underwater they each have at least two assistants for training and safety. This pool is massive as you might imagine to hold a replica of the Space Station. With space suits on these astronauts can’t get themselves into or out of the pool so they have a small crane to get them in and out.

Underwater training pool

Next we explored building 9 and got to see many of the new creations meant for use on the moon and beyond such as advanced rovers and other exploration vehicles. There were different types of space suits on display, Robonauts which can be used to explore areas not as hospitable to people, and the Orion capsule being built for possible missions back to the moon. Surprisingly, this Orion Capsule has much the same design as capsules already used to go to the moon. The technology to operate them, however, is much better and so is the equipment that can be used to explore more of the moon. Also in Building 9 there is a Soyuz capsule currently used to transport astronauts to the International Space Station and parts of the space station for these capsules to connect to. Seeing these in person is really interesting.

NASA's nxt Lunar rover

Something we got to experience, that very few get to be a part of, was the launch of astronaut Scott Kelly live. While his launch took place in Kazakhstan, the people at Johnson Space Center prepared an area for their VIP tour guests to view the launch. Because of this launch our trip to see the new Mission Control needed to be delayed as a number of NASA officials were in Mission Control as this trip began. Our experience watching this brought the United States involvement in the International Space Station to life more than any news story could. This post was not intended to coordinate with his return almost a year later. That is just a lucky coincidence as I had planned on this post a week or so before realizing Scott Kelly was returning home from his year at the space station.

Watching Scott Kelly's launch at NASA

After watching the launch to the International Space Station, our tour continued on to Rocket Park where there are several different rockets used to propel people into space. The highlight of Rocket Park is the Saturn V rocket which was used to take people to the moon. In the photograph above you can see a person walking under the rocket on the far side to indicate just how massive this rocket really is. You could stand inside one of the rocket engines and there are five engines that powered this rocket from the Earth. Walking around Rocket Park you can start to put together the timeline from the first rockets to Saturn V and even see the equipment that went into making the shuttles. Most of this rocket was used to get it off the ground and to the moon. Very little was needed for the return trip.

Saturn V

On to Mission Control. Here we were able to sit at the actual desks used to control these missions to the moon and some of the earliest Space Shuttle flights. It really felt like going back in time and humbling to be in this amazing and historic control center. There was a few minutes of presentations by NASA officials and then we had some time to look around this piece of American history. How much better could our experience get?

NASA's old Mission Control

How about witnessing the new Mission Control as they maneuver the International Space Station for the docking of the Soyuz Capsule with Scott Kelly aboard? Here I learned information I was unaware of before such as NASA is the organization that actually flies the space station and a trip from Earth to the International Space Station takes mere hours. I always imagined a trip of this distance would take a day or more. One other surprise to me was how ordinary a launch appears in Mission Control. Not all the desks were filled and people appeared to just be doing their everyday business and having conversations with colleagues just as many of us do only they’re in control of vehicles thousands of miles away and responsible for the lives of those aboard. I’ve seen more chaos in a grocery store. This was the end of our day at Johnson Space Center which required relaxing by the pool of our hotel the rest of the night just to absorb all of the information and experiences from this day. The night sky has a little different appearance now.

NASA's new mission control