March 12-17, 2016 | EcoAdventure
On March 12th, 12 River Watchers headed west for the 2016 Spring Break EcoAdventure! They stopped for lunch at the Lyndon B Johnson National Historic Park in Stonewall, Texas. Afterwards we headed over to Independence Creek Preserve for their first evening in the wild. River Watchers walked along the spring-fed creek and learned about the bird and fish species common in that area. Thank you to The Nature Conservancy of Texas for hosting us!
On March 13th, River Watchers hiked their first mountain of this Spring Break EcoLearning Adventure… actually it was a “mesa.” The manager at Independence Creek Preserve, Corbin Neill, joined us on the hike. He talked to River Watchers about his career path and his specific work at this preserve. He showed us the area managed for shorebirds and the prairie dog habitat. As we hiked down the mesa, Corbin explained the important contribution of the springs to the Pecos River and how the quality and quantity of water are positively impacted. We packed up all of our gear and headed out for Big Bend. River Watchers had so many questions about the volcanic features they were seeing for the first time and the unique West Texas landscape. Once we arrived in the park, we identified the Big Bend Bluebonnet, which is one of the six species that makes up the State Flower of Texas. Driving further into the park, River Watchers commented on the beauty of the high canyon cliffs and were amazed to learn that they could actually see Mexico. Before leaving for our week-long EcoAdventure, we practiced setting up tents during an overnight trip to McKinney Falls, so when it came time to set up camp, River Watchers worked together to quickly set up their new home away from home. That evening River Watchers realized how drastic the temperatures can be in a desert. Luckily we brought a giant bag full of extra blankets and warm clothes.
On March 14th, our River Watch alumnus, Fidel Campuzano, saved the morning by applying a “MacGyver” fix to our gas stove. Whew! That hot breakfast was exactly what we needed to get going on that cold morning. As the sun rose over the high cliffs, we warmed up a little and got ready for our next adventure to Boquillas Canyon. At Boquillas Canyon, River Watchers scrambled up and down the football sized aeolian sand deposit on one of the sloping cliff edges and some of the River Watchers explored a cave near the top of the cliff. We talked to a Big Bend Park Ranger first before taking a swim in the Rio Grande to the other side to touch the Mexican rocks. It was awesome! We had a picnic and then headed over to the Big Bend Hot Springs. River Watchers paused to reflect about the 5,000 year history of the ancient people who lived here. They were able to look at ancient rock art, pictographs, and petroglyphs. There is also a post office, spa, and other buildings that were used starting in the early 1900s. After our big hike at Boquillas, the hot springs felt amazing. The springs are heated by natural geothermal energy deep under ground and emerge at the surface at 105 degrees. This is ancient fossil water with mineral salts dissolved in it. The Rio Grande flows next the the springs and you can jump off of the little wall surrounding the springs directly into the river to cool off. This the River Watchers did with great enthusiasm for hours and then it was time to head out to make dinner at the campsite.
On March 15th, River Watchers made their way to the Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park. Our hike started out by descending down to the camping area near the amphitheater, where we found an entrance to The Window Trail. It was along this trail last year that the young women of River Watch encountered two mountain lions eating a deer. We reviewed the safety precautions again, established our hiking groups, and headed down the path. The weather was incredible that day – cool and sunny – perfect for a hike! This hike is full of fascinating views of volcanic features. There are rock walls emerging from the soil below our feet at greater than the angle of repose and some of those rock walls occasionally jut out at a greater than 90 degree angle so that they overshadow part of the trail. River Watchers were able to appreciate the strength and tremendous forces of the earth. Sotols were dotting the landscape and many of them had beautiful blooms. When we reached the bottom of the trail, River Watchers took photos, hydrated, and ate light snacks before heading out for the last part of the hike. When we got back up to the Chisos Basin, River Watchers hit the souvenir shops and mailed a few postcards to our supporters. At the end of the long and active day, River Watchers enjoyed a meal at the Chisos Mountains Lodge Restaurant.
On March 16th, River Watchers broke camp and headed towards the west exit out of the Big Bend National Park. We could see the other great gulch, the impressive Santa Elena Canyon. As we headed north towards Balmorhea State Park, we noted areas that had not yet gone through the process of desertification and remained grassland. Balmorhea is home to San Solomon Springs, which feeds into both a recreated version of San Solomon Cienega (desert wetland) and also to Balmorhea, the big pool. Did we mention that we swam with two endangered fish species that call Balmorhea their home? The Comanche Springs Pupfish is adorable! The pool at Balmorhea is a 1.75 acre spring-fed pool built by the Civilian Conservation Corps back in the late 1930s. Part of the pool is shallow and part of it is about 20 feet deep with multiple diving boards. The River Watchers had a blast at their final desert oasis.
On March 17th, River Watchers packed up their camping gear and piled into the vans for their road trip home. The time in the van is full of fun conversations, games, singing, sleeping, and learning opportunities about the world outside of their windows. River Watchers arrived home safely after a week of adventure in West Texas. It was another extraordinary trip with the young men of River Watch.
Next spring, the young ladies of River Watch will head to East Texas for the 2016 Spring Break EcoAdventure.
March 12-17, 2016 | EcoAdventure