Far Out West TX: Havard, not Harvard

I agreed to an online friend’s invitation to meet other plant nerds, and hike Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park.

That we did – about 14 miles and 1,800′ in elevation / up-down.

The trip there and back was almost as good. Photos 9/10/2016-ish. Many, many photos, not much text, and I added a number of plant names as you rifle through.

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moonrise, the whoosh of a speeding car

A weak cool front reinforced the moist air from the east, and cool and damp was much different than back home just 4 hours NW.

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See you on the back side, Marfa!

Light was getting low, so to meet the next day’s hiking buddies, I quickly wound through the hills to Alpine for the night – no photos there. Those hills were dripping wet, all shades of green in the mists and clouds. Agave spp., Dasylirion leiophyllum, Quercus grisea, and waist-high grama grasses…surreal.

We drove in a caravan of 4 vehicles from Alpine to Study Butte, then through the park gates up to Chisos Basin. I think that alone was another 2 hours or more.

Since the lower desert areas around Terlingua and Study Butte are often hotter than Phoenix, this was relief. Like many an early August morning back home, heavy and humid air, but with plenty of coolness to feel fresh.

Everyone but me, since I held my camera.

This group of images looks like Christy Ten Eyck has hiked here for inspiration, or just got inspiration when all she wanted was a hike. Many plants growing in cracks of boulders.

Remember “Havard, not Harvard”? With few exceptions, about the only agave I saw on the trail was Agave havardiana. They were everywhere!

Plenty of other plants, even oaks putting out a 2nd and 3rd flush of growth with the abundant moisture. Flowers, colors, even the bark…find the Arbutus xalapensis.

Bugs everywhere, though I was uneaten. Thanks in part to persistent cloud cover instead of sun.

Did I say green and moist? While the oaks had no acorns on them, the Pinus cembroides were loaded with seed, and here we stood in awe of the top of the food chain having lunch…

Water, green, more water

I wasn’t the only one taking too many photos, so we had to hustle back. That was the longest downhill I remember, since years ago on a fall day, from firs into cacti and oaks about 4000′ below, each step down in elevation warming into heat by the bottom, knees feeling the pain.

This was just greener and cooler, plus my suspicion was confirmed about my hiking boots being too used over the years.

I got shin splints, so it took me a while to join my compadres at the dinner table, but I made it. Then we said our byes, and I drove on while they stayed in Study Butte.

A 90 minute power nap off the long highway to Alpine, and my long streak of luck at Border Patrol stations ran out. I was detained for an hour, but then let go.

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it took some vacuuming to get the fur out

At least their German Shepard didn’t scratch my paint clawing on all of my car…

A new day…back in Marfa, where I got a room nearing 1 am, then a night sleeping soundly and far from La Migra.

Exploring town, enjoying being away from some bad things at work, knowing I had to leave. I milked out being in Marfa all day!

Then the last 4 hours of driving, and a desert sunset.

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the shafts of rain at dusk are called “purple rain” by some

After a few days in reality, back to the illusion that pays the bills and keeps a roof over my head. I was now ready for the coming weeks, and richer in Agave havardiana sightings.

Yes, This is How It Really Looks

Many westerners brag about the sunsets; we get so many.  And more iPhone photos from my quick work trip to Las Cruces.

From just NW of Austin…..625 miles, or so :-)

Looking S and E – 

Sierra Vista trail looking S towards El Paso

I’ve mountain biked part of this trail a few times, though it’s a bit chunky and crosses many arroyos…but the 360 degree view is great, so is that I’ve seen few others riding there.

those watermelon reds on the foothills & mountains

The blue-green foliage and golden stalks of Sotol / Dasylirion wheeleri make this even better. See the young Fishhook Barrel Cactus / Ferocactus wislizenii at the bases of a pair of sotols?

There’s also no El Paso heat island! Following a 97F high hours earlier, it was already below 80 at 7:30 pm. I think that spot is 5000′ elevation, so that cooled it several degrees from in town, 1000′ lower.  Oh yeah!

plants aren’t icing on the cake, they’re part of the cake

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Looking west –

about to set

Ocotillo / Fouquieria splendens all on fire

The calm was a rarity in that spot. When I would come down for work and stay overnight, I often drove up the road nearby with a cup of coffee, and just watch the stars or moon and feel the cool breeze. I sometimes take a drive to my nearby trailhead, before bed, and do the same.

A bit of solace during late nights working in my motel room, and like home away from home.

Do you have a favorite place outside for solitude?

Wild in the Wash

One thing I miss from my last two homes was creating attractive surroundings: appealing habitats for the fauna that think the desert is just fine.

A closer look at the Clark County Wetlands Park in 6/2015; even a music video pairing with scenes from Las Vegas – here

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great building approach through a desert riparian zone

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getting ready

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my first welcome greeting…a jackrabbit bunny, not even afraid

Before that, a covey of Gambel’s Quail darted out of the saltbushes and mesquites right across from my path, but my camera wasn’t ready. I still enjoyed their calls.

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desert peoples always drawn to water…certain plants like it, too

There’s little habitat where I now live, in the paved grit of an old, inner city neighborhood. In the minutes I once sipped a cup of French Roast in the waning, cool relief of dawn, it now takes weeks to witness the same amount of wildlife. Former neighbors with rock-hell yards never believing why.

There’s little habitat in 20+ miles of Las Vegas’ boom-to-bust-to-? built area, like many southwestern towns. That could be greatly cured all over their city, with a knack of making things happen fast.

Especially since Las Vegas, with 4″ annual rainfall, has so many residents and visitors.

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butterfly ID?…enjoying the cool of the morning day in the Atriplex thicket, like me

Even I think this is cute. Never have I seen jackrabbits dig and what even looks like play, or a dirt bath before it gets hot.

Back to a favorite resident of many desert residents.

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Gambel’s Quail / Callipepla gambelii

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and of course, Quailbush / Atriplex lentiformis

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Giant Sacaton / Sporobulus wrightii…the sun about to torment the city…enjoying the moment

Let me be by myself in the evening breeze
Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees
Send me off forever but I ask you please
Don’t fence me in

Just turn me loose, let me straddle on my saddle
Underneath the western skies
On my cayuse, let me wander over yonder
Till I see the mountains rise

I want to ride to the ridge where the West commences
Gaze at the moon till I lose my senses…..

You might be a westerner if you’ve done all that.

Get out there and get inspired this weekend, even if you don’t get to live in the wild west!

Purple Rain, Warm August Night

Proof positive not only “northern and central New Mexico” get purple rain. What an incredible decompression my latest drive to Marfa was, once off I-10. Photos from below Valentine TX, 8/10/2015 –

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distant storms, dry on US-90

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Texas…far west Texas

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the state grass, Bouteloua curtipendula

Chihuahuan desert grassland in one of its many forms. Too bad the Verbena bipinnitifida in rich, purple bloom by my eyes, was washed out in the photo, no matter what I did. Trust me.

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restful is my room at the Hotel Paisano…airbnb fail for tonight, at least

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and I got this room

A neighbor 10+ years ago was OK and had a Mustang with the front plate saying “Live Fast, James Dean” on it. I’ve never forgotten about that plate, or how few live fast and live.

His wife and cottonwood tree were not OK. The canyon winds obliterated that valley tree, and his wife must have disliked the place. Try being real, and having a real garden…that’s how one can be civil in an uncivil place :-)

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a great end to a stressful day, a drink out in the courtyard

Everything here is like where I lived, except it gets 2x the rain. Never mind, Marfa mornings are cooler yet. I’m the place with 61F :-)

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It’s so mellow here Mon – Wed., like purple is.

Roadtrip! Big Bend Scenes

Some people find it difficult to pick a topic for a new blog post; I find it hard to choose between so many!

There’s almost too much inspiration in nature, not to mention private and public gardens – good and even bad. Hence this roadtrip to the Big Bend. Photos from 5/2014 –

Above 4000′ elevation –

2000′ to 4000′ elevation –

The Big Bend is actually quite a drive from El Paso, 5 hours to the Wiley Coyote-ish, but touristy town of Terlingua. And in May, when my town has perfect, dry weather on the warm side, it’s scorching there even at higher elevations, for at least part of the day.

Know the car’s AC was cranked to and fro “the Park”, as locals call it.

Above 4000′ elevation –

2000′ to 4000′ elevation –

Below 2000′ elevation –

Once past the tourist areas, the areas east of El Paso and into the Big Bend are quite a different world, than even El Paso. Same state, in fact not even 1/3 of Texas!

Stay tuned for more of the plants we saw, plus the few towns on the way. Few photos on the return trip, as Elizabeth had to get back in time to pick up her son at El Chuco Paso “International” Airport.

Have you been to the Big Bend? Or another isolated place that could be on another planet?

Rain Lily

I’ve known Zephyranthes spp. / Rain Lily for 20+ years, when they were getting sold in more quantity to nurseries where I lived, but they never caught on – only a few designers used them.

Photos from 7/3/2014 –

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I saw this Thursday morning!

2009 was when I first specified Zephyranthes into a project. It was in 3 masses totalling over 90 peach, yellow and white, into the office breezeway where I rented a space.

Though they take the ever-tough dry, hot shade, my now-patio is the first time planting them for myself.

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Yellow Rain Lily / Zephyranthes citrina

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more buds (both opened just before I wrote this)

My office planting thrived, lush like monkey and mondo grasses all winter – but on less water. Some of their staff gleefully asked, “what kind of grass is this with such big flowers?” Kudos, since those architects are into all things bamboo, Japanese maples, westernized Buddhism, and eastern green…in the desert.

And quite a compliment on Zephyranthes – those only got weekly or biweekly hand-watering from a roof cistern when new.

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another yellow Z. citrina…but there are a few whites (Z. candida) not blooming yet

Have you used rain lilies? And what do you like, that need little to no irrigation for dry part/full shade?

Desert Alfresco

I’m interested in how people can better embrace their ecoregion and built environment, plus I like food, so outdoor dining seems to be a key. Dry air makes it possible, while intense sunshine much of the year is a challenge.

Photos from the week ending 6/20/15 –

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Hotel Paisano before dinner…I bet this beats Dallas and Houston

I found out the Capri event space sells great lunches from their kitchen area, perfect for a healthy but tasty meal in a garden.

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even the sky from the Capri is amazing

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I could hang out here all day…in the shade

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a microcosm of far west Texas mountains and central Texas

The former has the Mexican Feathergrass / Nasella tenuissima, grayish Artemisia ludoviciana and Lippia spp., plus other fragrant plants; the latter the clump Escarpment Live Oak / Quercus fusiformis, plus Twistleaf Yucca / Yucca rupicola. (or is it Paleleaf Yucca / Y. pallida from north Texas?)

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I hope they open for breakfast someday…60F lows often

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spare use of water, architecture and plenty of shade

A Mexican Elder / Sambucus mexicana, lush and overgrowing the water…perfect for this riparian tree. Luis Barragan would smile upon this scene.

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grape arbor seating, too

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prolific apricots this year…too bad I’m not into them

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another evening, in the cool of a big tree

Padres’ gravel patio is perfect, to enjoy a cold beer while writing my day’s meeting notes on the laptop. With three offerings from Alpine’s #Big Bend Brewing Co. on tap – complete with their handles at the bar – it was a La Frontera IPA for me.

And at $2 more than at the few El Paso eateries selling it, or $5+ more than from my fridge via Specs, one beer was it.

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that’s a 30′ tall Colorado Piñon / Pinus edulis