On our excursion to Montserrat, my family hiked half a day and rode horses the other half. We descended the mountain and arrived at Three Rivers Ranch where we met Juan, a Spanish cowboy. His primary focus is his cattle which explains the variety of cows lazing in the sun adjacent to the stables. We learned that he leads trail rides as a way to exercise the horses. We enjoyed getting to know our horses’ personalities and learning best riding practices.
The beautiful countryside that is part of Montserrat National Park reminded me of Tuscany– rolling hills, vineyards, and gorgeous landscapes in every direction. Hon, I felt grateful that the day worked out so well, and that Hubby and I had an opportunity to share a full, active day with three of our four kids. We all love adventure, exploring, and being outdoors.
Writing this post reminds me of other trail rides, one of which was local and a great activity with tweens and teens. (info on that coming soon…)
Montserrat’s trails are rocky, sunny, and steep. Hon, I needed to catch my breath! We were lucky to be accompanied by a guide who knows the mountain well enough to re-route us when paths were blocked. You know what we saw? Mountain goats resting in the shade. The multi-peaked mountain range overlooks Catalonia and reaches 1,236m (4,055 feet) at its highest summit, Sant Jeroni. The other two main peaks are Montgrós at 1,120m and Miranda de les Agulles at 903m.
The geology and nature of Montserrat Mountain Range are unusual and to preserve it, a nature park was established in 1987. In Mesozoic era, over 100 million years ago, the mountain top was under water, part of a delta area, and the sediments in the present day rock pillars were in the bottom of a river and lake. After the lake and river dried, the area was exposed to erosion, and over a long period of time, the mountain with several peaks formed.
Not just the geology is uncommon, but also the climate up in the mountain is unique, with different micro-climates. Wildlife of the park includes mammal like squirrels, boars and goats, a wide range of different birds, bats and geckos. Vegetation varies from oak forests to small flowery meadows, and altogether there are over 1250 species of plants.
Right after New Year’s, I started a series of posts called Serene Scenes with the intention of “keeping the fresh air and wonder of nature’s beauty inside me.” I hope to find many more places to slow down, take deep breaths, and concentrate on my thoughts and wishes. I’ll share them when I do.
Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park
Hubby and I were hoping to see redwoods, but where? “On the western slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains, the peaks of Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park tower high above the Big Sur River Gorge, where the Big Sur River enters this popular park. Walk along the banks of the river and among the redwoods, conifers, oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, maples, alders and willows.” CA.Gov
The Big Sur River “is a relatively small river added to the federal system by Congress in 1992, as part of the Los Padres Condor Range and Rivers Act, which protected 84 miles of wild and scenic rivers and more than 400,000 acres of wilderness in California’s iconic central coast region.” https://www.calwild.org/portfolio/fact-sheet-big-sur-wild-scenic-river/
Hiking through the park, we marveled at “Colonial Tree,” which has a circumference of 31 feet and is estimated to be between 1,100 and 1,200 years old. Many more of these astoundingly tall trees tower up and out of the forest canopy.
I loved the redwoods and felt the gentle giants had stories to tell. Before we walked down a path at the end of our hike, we came across a stand of redwoods set up on a hill. Thick undergrowth covered the ground, so I climbed on top of stones and stumps until I stood high up in the middle of the trees. I touched their warm, bumpy ridges and listened. It felt like they were listening to me, too, even though I hadn’t spoke a word.
For all the panoramas, beaches, cliffs, parks, Big Sur is inseparable from the majesty of the Redwoods. Beyond their might and height, the Redwoods are a spiritual presence. Often they grow in circles as if a family, and form a center that seems to drain all sound of man and forest. You stand in the center of a grove and the stillness is almost mystical. If you have never experienced what we describe, make sure to never pass a grove on a hike, go inside it, sit on a log, close your eyes. It will change you.
Lucky me! My flexible schedule allowed me to plan a last minute trip to visit my son before he deployed. The last two stanzas of America the Beautiful bring tears to my eyes.
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
On a recent trip to El Paso, Texas, my son and I drove to Las Cruces, New Mexico to hike Soledad Canyon. The canyon sits in the western foothills of the Organ Mountains, which originated about 32 million years ago in the middle of the Tertiary Period. I immediately thought of America the Beautiful.
Here are the first two stanzas of America the Beautiful.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
If you’ve been to the Southwest, did you have a favorite place to hike?
In my last post, Tarantula Territory, I lamented that I didn’t see any tarantulas on a hike but, guess what I did see? A Plains Lubber Grasshopper! The approximately five-inch insect caught my attention–how could it not?–and I had to get a closer look. I looked at her and she at me. We bonded.
I can’t believe I got such a clear photo of her awesome exoskeleton, which protects her against predators and prevents dehydration. (Come to think of it, that could be a great pick-up line. “Excuse me, but you have an awesome exoskeleton.”) Plains Lubbers are native to southern and central USA and Northern Mexico.
Top Ten Cool Facts About Plains Lubber Grasshoppers
A Plains Lubber can’t fly because its wings are too small.
A lubber has a pod that holds approximately 20-35 eggs. After incubating in the ground during the colder months, or for as long as two years, the eggs hatch in May or June.
It uses two pairs of eyes (simple and compound) to see.
It uses its bluish-brown antennae to feel and smell.
The tympanum, or round membrane located on either side of its body near its legs allows it to “hear” or detect sound waves.
To breathe, it has spiracles, or tiny holes located all along the abdomen.
A lubber is capable of jumping from several inches to several feet using its oversized hind legs.
A young lubber will molt its exoskeleton five times at roughly 15-day intervals before reaching adulthood.
Bright coloring and patterning on a lubber’s shell warns predators that it’s unpalatable to downright poisonous. A lubber ingests substances in the plants it eats that, although harmless to humans and the lubber itself, are toxic to many predators. These chemicals may kill smaller creatures such as birds or leave larger animals quite ill after ingesting a lubber.
To protect against predators, a lubber can secrete a noxious foam while making a loud hissing sound. It can also regurgitate a dark brown liquid (commonly called tobacco spit) as a defense.
Hon, which category are you in? Cool or ewww?
For all of the ewww’s, consider the photos below as visual palette cleansers.
A sign says, “Please yield for tarantulas on the road.” What do you do?
a) Hightail it out of there and head to civilization or a mini mall?
b) Hike in moon boots or platform shoes?
c) Get super excited and keep your eyes peeled for large creepy-crawlies?
Hon, if you chose C, we’ll be very good friends! Two weeks ago, before a hike in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Sandia Mountains, I asked a park ranger why tarantulas might be on the road. He said it’s mating season. Cool!
Did “Caution!! Watch for Snakes” catch your eye? Even though two exclamation marks follow “caution,” snakes took a backseat to the hopeful main event–spotting a tarantula. Unfortunately, my childhood friend Cindy and I didn’t spot any. Years before in New Mexico, I did.
While driving 60 mph along a flat highway on the Turquoise Trail, I screamed, “Stop the car!” Hubby wanted to know why, but I didn’t have time to explain.
A tarantula was crossing the highway and I needed to see it up close! It was bigger than my hand!
I tried to record the big, hairy, brown spider, so I grabbed the only thing I could think of–a pencil. I placed (umm, threw) it on the ground next to the enormous arachnid and snapped a picture. I know I’m talking to “seasoned” (read: older) picture takers when I say my camera took film. It wasn’t until I got the film developed that I realized the photo was blurry. Oh well! I’ll always remember that tarantula, who somehow knew he had enough time between cars to cross the highway. Cool!
It wasn’t the extremely steep 5-6 hour hike with tons of switchbacks that made his heart race, it was the hike at the top of the mountain, on narrow ridges with deep chasms. Did I mention that you get across the most narrow parts by holding onto a chain anchored into the sandstone?
Guess what I found out? THERE ARE BREAKS IN THE CHAIN!
We warmed up by hiking Emerald Pools. Our guide then led us to the bottom of the Angel’s Landing where we started the steep ascension in full sun. Technically, the trail is called the West Rim Trail until it meets Angel’s Landing. Hiking along, we suddenly reached the aptly named Refrigerator Canyon, a mile-long shady part of the trail. We cooled off in time to sweat again, climbing Walter’s Wiggles, “steep 21 sharp zig-zags” that lead to Scout Lookout.
Hubby and Teen Daughter decided to rest on Scout’s Lookout while our guide James and I continued on. Here’s the thing. It was crowded. Walking on sandstone is slippery, the ground is gritty and the slopes are smooth. It’s hard to get traction or know where to put your foot as you climb up. I didn’t want to let go of the chain (when there was one), and people were climbing down as we were climbing up.
“I’m not letting go of the chain, so you’ll have to place your hands on either side of me and go around me,” I said.
“You come down, then I’ll go up,” I said.
“We’re doing the ‘chain dance’,” I said.
When there were breaks in the chain and we had to “Spiderman Scramble” up the mountain, I told James, “If I had a bucket list, this would officially be off of it!”
There was a point on the one-way trail where it was so crowded, we would have had to wait to keep going. I said I was “just fine” ending our hike there. James was, too. He said it but we both felt it.
Not only were we all exhilarated (except for Teen Daughter, who was out of breath!), we were ready for our next adventure.If I go back to Zion one day, I’ll wave to the Angels landing on the top of that trail.
Researching Zion, I came up with an itinerary. In the morning, we would hike the Narrows and, in the afternoon, we’d go canyoneering.
Hiking the Narrows means hiking in water through slotted canyons. Even though large rocks line the bottom of the river, we’d be dressed properly, carry tall walking sticks, and be guided by an experienced hiker. We picked up our waterproof boots and Neoprene socks at Zion Outfitter the day before, so we’d be ready to roll at 7am the next day.
One problem. It rained overnight. A lot.
The Parks Service closed the Narrows because the water level was too high. The usually clear, shallow water was now brown, swirling, strong, and deep. Even if the Park Service opened up the Narrows later, which it did, we had to make a decision. We decided to hike Emerald Pools and Angels Landing.
One more problem. Back at home, when I showed Hubby a video of hikers on Angel’s Landing, his breathing turned rapid. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “It’s just a video.” “I have no interest in hiking that!” he replied. Yet, there we were. With Plan A shelved, it was time for Plan B.
Hiking Emerald Pools was a great warm-up for the day. Our guide, James Milligan, led us to the lower and upper pools, then we hiked from the pools to the start of Angel’s Landing.
It wasn’t necessary to have a guide for the morning hikes but 1) we’d already hired him, 2) he knows the mountain so well that he efficiently led us from trail to trail (otherwise, we might still be consulting our map, wondering where to go!), 3) James could answer our many questions, and 4) having a guide gave Hubby assurance that he could hike however much–or little-of Angel’s Landing he was comfortable with!
Stay tuned for Part 2.
Have you been to Zion? Have you hiked the Narrows? Emerald Pools? Angels Landing?
Tip: “Lower you butt until it’s in line with your feet, then ‘walk’ down the canyon.”
James informed us that the bottom of the canyons had been dry for the past four years, but it had flooded in April as well as rained the night before. We were going to have to jump into water. How deep was the water? Not sure. What was at the bottom of the water? Quicksand!
Hubby rappelled first, then belayed Teen Daughter, me and James. When there was just a pool of (cold) water at the canyon bottom, Hubby would let us know where is seemed shallowest. Then we’d jump in and scramble to flat ground. Teamwork was essential!
James guessed (right) that there was quicksand at the bottom of one pool. I’d doubted if quicksand really existed. Hon, quicksand is real! Hubby went down first, hoisted himself out of the goop and made it to flat ground. Whew! He held the rope below while James held it above, creating a taut line for me and Teen Daughter to grab onto and, hand-over-hand, get us out of the muck. But the muck pulled me in!
Want to know what panic feels like? It feels like quicksand sucking you in, drawing you deeper as you try to kick your way out. Help!
I used all of my upper body strength to pull up on that taut rope. I hollered for Hubby to grab my arm and GET ME THE HECK OUT OF THERE!
Once we were all out, the feeling was fabulous. WE DID IT!
The only way back was up!
A fallen tree blocked the less steep path back to the car, so we had to change plans. “Huh?” I asked. “We’re going straight up?” Thank goodness James knew what to do. When we couldn’t find a foothold, he placed his foot sideways so we could brace against it like a step! We “Spidermanned” our way up the sandstone (which, I learned the hard way, you can’t grasp like rock because petrified sand dunes crumble when you grab them) and finally reached the car…Gritty. Dirty. Wet. Sooo happy!
When can I go again?
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