Friday, December 2, 2016

Big Bend National Park - A Journey Through Time

Cerro Castellan and historic site of camp housing US Cavalry
Big Bend National Park is a remote and wonderful place located in southwest Texas. Big Bend became a national park June 12, 1944, but it has been continually inhabited by humans for much of the last 10,000 years.   Early inhabitants were hunter gatherer tribes of native peoples, with farmers, ranchers, and miners making the land their home in more recent history.  At times, the park land has also been occupied by cavalry and air corp.  The story goes that some of the pilots stationed there enjoyed flying through Mule Ears during training.  There are many historical sites located within the park that provide a fascinating look into the human history of the area and the lives of those adventurous souls who called it home.
Mule Ears in the distance

The park covers 800,000 acres and consists of three habitats: river, mountain, and desert.  It includes the largest protected tract of the Chihuahuan Desert in the US, and it is the only park in the US that contains an entire mountain range, the Chisos Mountains.  There are also springs, canyons, and of course the Rio Grande River.  The geography and geology of the park provide a lifetime of interest.
Chihuahuan Desert

Boquillas Canyon
A bull snake crossing the trail
The park is home to a vast number of plants and animals, including some on the endangered species list.  Nonnative plants and animals can also be found in the park, some of which are considered invasive, such as the Tamarisk or Saltcedar.  Nonnative animals include the Aoudad.  We saw three of these skilled climbers scrambling up the mountainside.  It is a big job for officials trying to keep the nonnative species from spreading more, protecting the native species, and re-establishing the native vegetation in the areas that were heavily farmed and grazed in the past.  We enjoyed seeing the magnificent aoudad, and the saltcedar are lovely trees, but I understand the threat they pose to native species.  Native big horn sheep are still being re-introduced into the area,  and the aoudad are competition for habitat.  Several native creatures paid us a visit during our stay.  We saw several roadrunners, quail, a bull snake, dozens of lizards, etc.  A refreshing rain fell on our second night camping, which blessed us with an abundance of flowers afterwards, such as desert sage.

Desert Sage
There is no better place for camping, hiking, biking, driving, rafting, watching wildlife, and relaxing than at Big Bend.  There are five visitor centers, some of which include small grocery sections and camping gear as well as information and souvenirs.  There are camp grounds, backcountry camping, and the Chisos Mountains Lodge for those staying the night.

View from Chisos Basin campground

Chisos Mountains

This place will get into your soul and become a part of you.  As I lay awake in my tent at night, I sense the voices of generations murmuring with the wind as it blows through the rocks high up in the mountains.  Those same voices echoed off the canyon walls as I stood on the bank of Rio Grande in Santa Elena Canyon. I will be back.
Santa Elena Canyon
Emory Peak
Chisos Basin

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Good News

Time for a bit of a brag.

My photo, Autumn Cypress, is being featured on promotional material for La Providencia Resort and Country Club. 
Autumn Cypress

Peaceful Mountain Stream

Posters of another photo, Peaceful Mountain Stream, have been selling like crazy for months now.

A popular business card from one of my shops - The Old Family Farm.

Thank you so much to all my customers and to those who follow my work and my blog.  I appreciate all your purchases, shares, and comments so much.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Birds of Prey

 A couple of years ago I posted about meeting Sweetpea, one of the feathered ambassadors from the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center, at the North Texas Irish Festival.  You can read the post about that meeting here.  In May of 2011 and again in 2012, I had the privilege of meeting many of her fellow ambassadors and learning more about the important work carried out by the staff of the raptor center.  I love helping charities and conservation groups so after visiting and learning about their work and their financial and material needs I decided to do what I can to draw attention to them and help as much as possible.  To begin, please visit their website where you may learn about the residents of the center, see the schedule of upcoming events, read about many types of raptors, peruse their list of needed items, and make an online donation.  Also, please visit my Zazzle shop if you find yourself in need of prints, canvas prints, and a variety of products such as calendars, greeting cards, keychains, mousepads, cell phone cases, and much more, printed with photos of the birds from the raptor center.  We even have cases for laptops and tablets.  A portion of the sale of these products is donated to Blackland Prairie Raptor Center in support of their mission.

All of the birds living at the center are non-releasable due to injury or as a result of being raised by people.  Birds raised by people have been imprinted by humans rather than their species and cannot properly care for themselves in the wild.  The directors and volunteers at the raptor center provide excellent care for the birds, they rescue birds of prey that are in need, and they educate the public about raptors and about the importance of protecting them and respecting their place in the world.  They stress the importance of letting the birds stay wild whenever possible instead of trying to raise them as pets.  Too often, when a bird of prey is found in need, well-meaning people pick them up and try to keep them, only to learn that it is much more difficult than keeping a dog or cat.  These birds are wild creatures with very specific dietary needs, as well as exercise and medical needs that would be difficult for most people to meet.  If you find a raptor in need of help, please contact someone who has the facilities and expertise to take proper care of them.

Each year the center holds a photography day for anyone wishing to learn about the birds and photograph them in a natural setting.  The human ambassadors do a great job and the feathered ambassadors really seem to enjoy showing off..  One particular show-off was the young, male red-tailed hawk.  His age at the time of the 2011 photo day was the equivalent of a human teen and he was every bit a teenager - strong, handsome, confident, believes he is in charge and wants everyone to know it.  Like all hawks, he loves facing into the wind and spreading his wings.  He lives at the raptor center because he was found with both wings broken when he was younger.  He is able to fly but not well enough to survive in the wild.  Just don't tell him that.

Red-tailed Hawk (male)

The Great Horned Owl is a particularly endearing creature.  He has all the fearsomeness of a great predator but speaks to his handler in baby talk - tiny, adorable chirps and squeaks.  He was found as a baby and raised by people and as a result he never learned the vocalizations of an adult.  As a human imprint, he is, as I said earlier, non-releasable, so he lives in raptor luxury at the center.

Great Horned Owl

The center's three Eastern Screech Owls also charmed us all.  Red phase screech owls are more common in the eastern United States, the gray more common here in Texas.  There are also variations of those colors seen across the US.  The raptor center has a male red phase, a female gray phase, and a male brown phase.  They look somewhat like tiny great horned owls.  I think it's safe to say the screech owls are the cutest creatures I've ever seen in person.  The little female was raised by a human family who found her as a baby and she is completely at ease around people, which of course makes her non-releasable but exceedingly appealing.

Eastern Screech Owl (Red-phase)

Eastern Screech Owl (Gray phase)
Eastern Screech Owl (Brown phase)

 There were several other birds for us to see on this visit, all of them knowing full well how awesome they are.  No matter the size, cuteness, or age of these birds, they all have that look of a fearsome raptor.

American Kestrel
Mississippi Kite
Peregrine Falcon
Barred Owl

Red-tailed Hawk (female)
Barn Owl
Red-shouldered Hawk

I'll leave you with one last reminder to visit the center's website.

I hope you enjoy seeing these wonderful birds.  Keep well everyone, and enjoy life.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Electronics Cases Make Great Gifts

Just a quick post to list a few gift ideas from my Zazzle shop.  These cell phone, laptop, or tablet cases from Zazzle will make great gifts.  You may even want to get one for yourself.  These are just a few of the cases available.

This little screech owl will keep an eye on your device. This case is for a Samsung Galaxy S3, but as with most of the cases, it can be customized to fit other phones, including iPhone 5.

Protect a wide variety of laptops with this neoprene sleeve printed with an abstract photo of flames in a bonfire.

This Kindle case features a photo of downtown Dallas, Texas on one side and an altered version on the other. The tweaked version has been given a more primitive, painted look.

I hope to get back to regular, more informative posts soon. Stay tuned.  I wish you all a Wonderful Holiday Season!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

My 2013 Raptor Photo Calendars

Last year, through your purchases of calendars, greeting cards, and postcards, I was able to make a lovely donation to the Blackland Prairie Raptor Center in support of their mission.  I am hoping to make another, preferably even larger, donation after this holiday season.  Please visit any of my online shops to see the images of their amazing raptors.  The best selection can be found in my Zazzle shop.  You may also wish to visit the raptor center's website and donate directly to them at  Here are two ways you and I can work together to help these beautiful birds:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dinosaur Valley State Park

Paluxy River
We have made a few trips to state parks and wildlife reserves, so from time to time I will post info and photos about the parks we've visited.  This time, I will share Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas.
During the Early Cretaceous Period of the Mesozoic Era, Texas was a very different place from what we see now, in both terrain and inhabitants.  The evidence can be seen throughout the state, and some of this evidence is open to the public, such as the fossilized dinosaur tracks at Dinosaur Valley State Park near Glen Rose.  The Paluxy River winds its way through the valley, here and there offering a window into the past - rock shelves on the riverbed with the tracks of a drama that played out over 118 million years ago.
The sauropod tracks are across the top, the theropod below.

At some locations along the river, long trails of tracks indicate the large (30 feet long from nose to tail) theropod Acrocanthosaurus pursuing his prey, the 50 foot long, 30 ton sauropod Pleurocoelus.  The photo to the left shows a row of tracks from a sauropod across the photo and below that is a row of tracks from the theropod.  Pleurocoelus lumbered along on four legs, and in this photo, its steps are closer together, in relation to its size, than the Acrocanthorsaurus which walked on two legs and was more nimble and probably running when these tracks were made.

Large round tracks of the forefoot of the Pleurocoelus

The photo to the right shows a complete track, large and rounded, made by the forefoot of a Pleurocoelus.  To the right and above is a track made by the huge creature walking more on its toes.  There are also two clear prints from an Acrocanthosaurus in this shot.

Numerous tracks from different types of dinosaurs
Other areas, as in the photo to the left, reveal a mass of tracks where numerous representatives of these reptiles lived their lives in this once coastal area, along the shore of a shallow-water marine lagoon.

Here and there among the 20+ inch long tracks are sprinkled smaller tracks that could possibly be from one of the other dinosaurs that have been identified in fossil remains in the Texas and Oklahoma area - an ornithopod such as Iguanodon or Tenontosaurus, or a smaller theropod, or one of the hypsilophodontids.  These have all been identified in the fossil record of Texas.

It is an incredible sight, these tracks that look as though they were made yesterday.  Unfortunately, once tracks become exposed to the elements, they begin to erode and crack and degrade until nothing is left of them.   Some have been removed and are on display at museums such as the American Museum of Natural History in NYC.

 In addition to encouraging contemplation about the idea of dinosaurs roaming the area, Dinosaur Valley State Park is a wonderful place to hike, relax in the peace and quiet, and enjoy nature, or bring your horse and explore the equestrian trails.  It's a terrific spot for photographers, especially in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming.  There are also other fossils that can be found from time to time along the river, such as this one pictured below that we found on a dry section of riverbed.  That is a man's foot next to it, so some of these fossils are pretty large.  If you get the chance, visit this wonderful park.  If not, then visit one or more of my shops to see a selection of my photos taken at the park.

Dogs on leash are welcome.