Saturday, May 26, 2018

Thanks and Hueco Tanks

[Early April]

Hueco Tanks Ranchero
From 95 degree desert heat we drive across AZ to climb the backside of Mt Lemon to a chilly overnight camp at the top.  On the way up a motorcycle passes us.  The road is bumpy and Q handles it well, but two wheels are easier than four on this road.  It is that rough.  As we begin seeing a nice mix of manzanita and ponderosa pine, something in the middle of the road grabs our attention.  It looks like the biker lost a case.  A heavy case.  

Before we travel much further we see the bike heading back downhill.  After more than adequate thanks and assurance that he is okay, he describes the tumble he took.  The case fell without notice, but a few miles thereafter his jacket fell and caught, stopping the bike and sending him flying.

From Mt Lemon we head for a fav spot from last year's trip, the Chiricahua Mtns, near Chiricahua Peak.  It is another chilly camp at >8,000 feet of elevation.  It is a site that shows evidence of appreciation by other campers: a terrific fire ring with shelter, a nice store of fire wood, and no litter.

Camp at Hueco Tanks
We exit the Chiricahuas by way of Portal and are soon in New Mexico.  We drive Highway 9 across NM to TX often hugging the border with Mexico.  From El Paso it is a short drive to Hueco Tanks.  We pass a grocery store to which we will return, the Vista Market.

Hueco Tanks is a state park with possibly reactionary rule formation.  The park road locks at 6pm and all campers must be set up in assigned campsites by 8 pm.  Hiking permits are issued daily - the day of use - at 8 am. 

We somehow earn ranger trust and obtain hiking permits – and the map to a secret cave, Cave Kiva. The instructions are hilariously misleading, From picnic shelter #10 climb the boulders to the crest.  As you come over the crest find the duck.  Look over the duck's shoulder to locate the alligator.  Staying level with the duck work your way across the boulders around the valley to stand under the alligator's nose.  Follow the alligator's gaze to climb over the ridge to the cave entrance.  As a caveat at the bottom of the page it states that the duck and alligator are not actually green.

After hiking to the top of the hill, we return mid-way down where Alex spots the duck. Minutes later we locate the cave entrance and scoot inside on our backs to view the beautiful art work inside.

Once inside the cave, there is ample room to sit and even stand.  The stone floor is worn smooth. Inside the cave it does feel magical - or spirit friendly - or peaceful. Or all of the above.

It is also much cooler inside the cave than outside in the hot desert sunshine.

Hueco Tanks has been a stopping off place for people for thousands of years. Huecos are large and small rounded out bowls in the rock that hold water - some hold water year around.

We return the secret cave hike instructions and retrieve the hostage drivers license at the ranger station.  As we are again settling in under the ramada to admire brilliant sunset colors, our neighbors walk by with Izzy, their furry child. It turns out that Izzy and I share a fondness for Trader Joe's triple ginger cookies.  His people, Ella and Knapp Hudson, allow me to share a few nibbles.  

We share a few travel stories and in the process discover that they are photographers by avocation.  Ella is retired from professional forensic photography.  You owe it to yourself to visit their website and take a look at their work.

Other valuable info we gain from Ella and Knapp is that the Vista Market we passed on the way to Hueco Tanks, is worth a visit. And so it is! It is our new favorite grocery store.  While i wait at the bakery counter, a friendly local customer teaches me to request ginger pigs in Spanish: Marranitas, por favor.  

In the morning we take the official guided hike with two New York special ed teachers, Tish and Dar. They (have temporarily) left teaching, but their  teaching skills make them wonderful hiking guides.

They mention software called D-Stretch. We heard about it from Ben at the Desert Tower. It is a collection of light & color filters which makes it easier to see and photograph pictographs – even if graffiti obscures ancient art work. We bought the book from Ben, but didn’t know until now that the software is a free download.
Volunteer Ranger Dar tells the story behind the dancers

This cave is not so difficult to enter and holds many pictographs and petroglyphs as well as more recent graffiti.

D-Stretch enhanced pictograph mask

D-stretch enhanced cave wall showing layers of artwork and graffiti
As we leave Hueco Tanks early morning we see the long line of hikers waiting outside the ranger station - waiting for the door to open at 8 am so the hiking day can begin.  

We are headed for Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park, but on the way we will camp at Davis Mt State Park with a visit to admire the McDonald Observatory.

A VIP donor event cancels the star party – a night-time event for viewing stars and planets, but the campground has flushing toilets and showers. Deluxe.  We will catch the star party next trip!

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