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Thursday, February 24, 2011

An Enchanted Hike

244 miles southwest of Dallas, Texas sits one of the biggest rocks in the USA, Enchanted Rock.  Enchanted Rock is a batholith, a large protrusion of cooled volcanic magma.  This huge rock rises 425 feet above the surrounding area to a height of 1825 feet above sea level.  It is also the largest pink granite monadnock in the USA.
Enchanted Rock from park parking lot
The rock is part of the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.  The park is located 15 miles south of Llano, TX and 15 miles north of Fredericksburg, TX just west of TX 16 on FM 965.

Hiking is popular in the park.  There are two main trails, Summit Trail and Loop Trail.  Loop Trail is 4 miles and goes completely around Enchanted Rock and crosses Sandy Creek a few times.  Summit Trail is only 6/10 of a mile, but it rises 425 feet.
On Summit Trail look up Enchanted Rock
The Summit Trail starts on the northeast side of the Interpretive Center (map of the trail) and quickly crosses Sandy Creek.  The creek is easy to cross unless there has been a heavy rain recently.  The last restrooms on the trail are east of the trail after crossing the creek.  A little pass the restrooms is a stationary telescope that visitors can use to look up the rock.  A little after  1/10 of a mile the trail turns north and begins to ascend through some boulders and plants. 
My son looking a little worn from the climb
After the 3/10 mark the trail splits with the Echo Canyon Trail continuing northwest to meet the Loop Trail and Summit Trail veering northeast and becoming very steep as the trail is solidly on the barren rock.  The trail continues to the summit of Enchanted Rock where the 360 view of the Hill Country is amazing.  The average incline on the trail is 30%.  

There is a lot of room on the summit for the hikers.  There are numerous fissures and hallows that can be explored.  Some are very steep and narrow so caution should be exercised.  There are some cave-like features and areas that are fun to explore.  My son and I spent time exploring the features.
We explored the fissures and canyons while at the summit
We hiked to the summit during March and took water with us.  If one was hiking in the summer months they would need a good amount of water because the heat on the rock can get intense.  There is not much shade to be found on the rock.
A great view of the countryside
Wildlife is common around the park, especially deer since Gillespie County has the highest concentration of White-tail deer in the US.  The wildlife is more likely to be seen in the early morning or at dusk.  Wild Turkey, wild boar, bats, squirrels, and fox are seen often in the park.  My son and I saw deer early that morning on the way to the rock, but only birds and lizards once at the park.

The park has 46 camping sites near the visitor center with shower facilities and three primitive camping areas. This is a great park for camping and hiking.  The Hill Country is a great place for lovers of the outdoors.  Enchanted Rock is a unique geological feature and well worth visiting.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Quality footwear is important

When my feet hurt it send pain through the whole body.  Uncomfortable shoes can turn a potentially great day into a miserable experience.  I learned those things early in my adult life when I tried to save money and ended up regretting the purchases, although I had to live with my decision since I could not afford to replace my poor choices.

A few years ago I decided to save up and buy higher quality shoes, especially for hiking, walking, and/or camping.  I also had learned that if you want good outdoor equipment or gear I should go to a good outdoor store.  I was directed to REI.

After a lot of looking and testing (and a lot of anguish over the price - I had never spent that much on a pair of shoes) I purchased a pair of Merrell Moab Ventilator.  (At the time I was not blogging so this first picture is of the current Moab Ventilator model but, it has changed very little if any.)
Merrell Moab Ventilator - photo from shoebuy.com
The Moab Ventilator fit is superb.  The insole provides great support and comfort.  I found the shoe, without a doubt, the most comfortable shoe I had ever owned and I still feel that way.  At first I was wearing the Moab for outdoor activities like hiking and camping.  Soon I was wearing it on a daily basis.  I decided I would just wear them out and then get some more.  Well I am still trying to wear them out!  They are extremely durable.
 Photo taken 1/26/2011 at the office.
 Not too bad for 6+ year old shoes that get worn a lot, almost daily.

The Vibram rubber sole is possible the best on the market.  The Vibram sole is used by numerous shoe manufacturers including Red Wing Shoes, Rockport,  North Face, and of course Merrell.  The sole is very durable.  It took a long time to notice much wear in the sole and even today there is a good amount of tread left except on the heels were they get extra wear when I am driving and due to the way I walk.
I am trying to wear them out so I can justify getting a new pair.
The Merrell Moabs took me to Osprey Falls in Yellowstone 
 The Moabs took me to the Biscuit Basin Overlook and Mystic Falls
The shoes kept me comfortable all through Yellowstone.
I am very pleased with the performance, look, and durability of the Merrell Moab Ventilators.  The finishing touches and workmanship are top notch.  I will most likely purchase the waterproof Moab Ventilator soon.  I would also consider any shoe with the Vibram rubber sole.  One thing for sure is that quality shoes are worth the price.

Happy hiking!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Zipping Along

My son and I are planning on doing a zip line this coming summer during our motorcycle trip to the Smoky Mountains.  We have discussed it and some of the other guys going on the trip will join us for the zip line.  Well my son and I were surprised when my mother-in-law gave us and her other son-in-law passes to the Zoomair Adventure Park at the Central Florida Zoo at Christmas.  We had flown out to Orlando for the holidays but, we had never discussed our plans about the zip line with her.  She saw an advertisement for Zoomair and thought of us.
 Photograph from http://www.orlandotourism.us/tag/orlando/ - I deleted the one my son took.
The day after Christmas was unseasonable cool and it was raining.  We wanted to go since Bo would have to head home the next day.  By afternoon the rain had left but, it was still cold.  We called Zoomair and they were open and operating so we head to the zoo.
The three of us ready to go.
The Central Florida Zoo is north of Orlando in the city of Sanford. It is a nice zoo that we had visited in the past (before Zoomair joined them). The zoo sets in a forest and has a great “natural surroundings” for the animals.

When we arrived we were directed to the equipment house where we received an enthusiastic welcome. After being fitted with a harness and gloves our "guide" proceeded to instruct us and educate us on proper technique and safety procedures. After we passed the zip line "test" we were taken to the starting point and then released on the self-guided zip line tour.
My son on one of the early bridges
The first "games", obstacles, or air bridges (whatever you want to call them) were not too hard or very long. We moved from tree to tree at about eight to ten feet above the ground. The first zip was only about 45 feet long and started at a height of about 12 feet and went to the ground. As we continued the obstacles became more challenging and the zips were longer and from greater heights and ended at above ground tree platforms.
 Tightrope with two hand cables 
Slow going on the tightrope
Each bridge was different.  It might have fewer planks, looser ropes, step farther apart...  Each provided its own challenge and flair.
Glad he is had that red security cable
Over, up, and back over
Tree to tree zip
Across the road and fountain - 512 feet of fun!
The highlight came in the last 1/3 of the course with the 512 foot zip that started around 50 feet above the ground. Wind gusts were common that day and a big gust came when I was at the top of the tree trying to hook up to the zip line. The tree swayed, it was pretty wild! Once hooked up I shoved off. It was great. The other two followed.

Bo coming across the long zip
The second to the last zip is a 300+ zip that was about 25 feet above the ground. There were a total of 9 zips and over 40 obstacles/air bridges. We spent about 2.5 hours on the course. It was well worth facing the colder temperatures, especially since after a little while you get warmed up from all the activity.
If you get the chance I suggest you try a zip line and if you are in Central Florida check out Zoomair Adventure Park.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Petit Jean State Park, Arkansas

Arkansas is known as "The Natural State" and after spending some time in the state I would have to agree.  Arkansas has 52 state parks and acres and acres of undeveloped natural beauty.  Arkansas is a great place to ride motorcycles, camp, hike, and enjoy the great outdoors.
Valley as seen from Petit Jean Mountain
Petit Jean State Park is one of the state parks where I have camped and hiked is found northwest of Little Rock near the Arkansas River.  State Highway 154 runs through the park which sits high on a ridge south of the Arkansas River.  The mountain and state park takes their name from Adrienne Dumont who posed as a young man calling herself Petit Jean.  Click here for more on the Legend of Petit Jean.
The mighty Arkansas River
Accommodations include the 24 room Mather Lodge overlooking Cedar Creek Canyon, 21 fully equipped cabins, 12 overnight cabins, and 125 individual campsites.  Petit Jean also boast as being the only Arkansas state park with its own airport.
Another view from the Petit Jean Overlook
In July 2010 a friend and I reserved a tent campsite.  The campsite was well shaded in the late afternoon, had a nice level areas for a tent, and a picnic table.  We arrived around 5:00 P.M., sat up our tent, and then proceeded to investigate the park before dinner at Mather Lodge Restaurant.
Most campsites at Petit Jean SP are shaded.
We rode to the Petit Jean Mountain Overlook.  The overlook provides a great location to view the Arkansas River and the valley below.  The overlook is also the location of the Petit Jean grave and legend says her ghost still hangs around the mountain.
Site of Petit Jean's grave
After spending some time at the overlook we decided to get some dinner at Mather Lodge.  The restaurant is small and cozy with a great view of Cedar Creek Canyon.  While eating dinner we watched a raccoon climb on the back porch and roam around for a while.
Our dinner guest

View from the porch of Mather Lodge
After a relaxing dinner we sat and watched the sunset and walked around the lodge.  After a good night rest we packed up and decided to hike down to Cedar Falls.  The trail is 2 miles and starts at Mather Lodge.  The trail descends 200+ feet with a series of switchbacks and steps.  It is a out and back trail so hikers have to hike back up the canyon.  The 90 foot waterfall depends alot on the rainfall.  During raining seasons the fall can be very spectacular.  When we were there it had not rained a lot so the falls was very light but, still pretty.
Cedar Falls seen from the trail
There are numerous trails in the park.  One could spend many days at the park and enjoys some great sights. If you are looking for a good place for camping and hiking check out Petit Jean State Park in Arkansas.