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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Surprise, Surprise! Extreme Shrub Shaping

I’ve seen these Texas Sage / Leucophyllum spp. for several years, and since I’ve lived blocks away for over 2 years, they’ve done this all three monsoon seasons.

Intense flowering in spite of all the things that normally cause problems. A happy exception in the tightest, most undersized-for-a-large-plant space one can imagine – things other informed horticulturists and I educate against, because we see countless examples as proof.


blows my mind every summer

Exceptions aren’t rules.

Regardless of bodacious blooms, larger shrubs can only be kept smaller so long. Plus, if they’re going to prune something tight or shape it, at least it should be done right: learn first.

Hint: lifting up bottoms of shrubs usually fails.

Failure includes an entire plant’s lower parts dying, then premature death for the plant…and no more flowering! You can read more online, or just watch it happen somewhere near you.



This is a higher road for that Texas Ranger, though.


ahhh…thoughtful placement (room), letting the shrubs do their thing


By the way, a benchmark of dos and don’ts for desert southwest shrub pruning is found – here

Wordless West Texas (almost)

I hope you enjoy my trip to Marfa and back…3 hours one-way. In much of the west or Texas that’s just down the road…in the Trans Pecos that’s almost close.

Musical accompaniment: Rollin’ By, Lyle Lovett

10 Thoughts on Texas’s Trees

You might enjoy this article, by a landscape architect I’ve heard speak on relevant tree topics, Peter MacDonagh –


He’s from Minnesota, yet he notes the importance of integrating water harvesting into plantings. He gets how much water we let or even make drain away from our Texas landscapes, not to mention so much of the arid desert southwest.

Desert Willow / Chilopsis linearis, with my former Honda for scale…in a place that was formerly in Texas (E of the Rio Grande)

My favorite line of his (no offense to the conscious engineers out there): “when arborists or LAs show up at a meeting and recommend green infrastructure, we need to use every calculation, fact and figure. When an engineer shows up at that meeting, all they have to do is shoot from the hip. It’s an engineer’s world, so don’t forget that.”

I think I’ve been to those kind of meetings!

Big: Not Just the Trucks

West Texas and it’s neighbors of New Mexico and Arizona have much in common: geography, culture and even some cuisine.

Many of those similarities must be insanely different from many coastal and international visitors’ realms. It’s fairly easy to see why people from even Austin or Houston visit! Photos from 9/27/2014 –


xeric Pinus edulis and Yucca faxoniana…

Happy together on nearby mountains, these two common plants don’t seem to mind being together at a relatively low 4,000′ elevation, either. The drip irrigation needs to be buried, to not be so unsightly, and some underplanting of compatible natives would really help.

always scalloped block and Italian Cypress somewhere………

While I like breaking down perceptions and elevating reality, there is a reason for some stereotypes. And that’s fine.

And I bet restaurants serve grits here, but not green chile – it might be 2 hours west for that.

any questions where we are…these are small trucks for here, though…

Now to something more typical, and more grand, stately Y. faxoniana; some on this hotel’s property look to reach nearly 20′ in height. When planted with live roots, they grow to a similar size in Albuquerque, where it’s often called Palm Yucca.

The coolest place I’ve seen this species still look good is Santa Fe, just smaller. I’m not sure how they mature in the hotter, low desert areas such as Palm Springs or Tucson.


a more typical truck for here…it’s huge…but the yuccas dwarf it

Can you imagine those yuccas instead of palms in a prominent garden location?

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far…

…from the Ocotillo!


my late father, on some rare “time off” from flying…

Across the street from “Old Mexico”. Check!

Dad was stationed in Douglas, Arizona briefly, training as a pilot for “the war”. It’s Chihuahuan Desert Grassland, a few hours west of where I now live, which is Chihuahuan Desert Scrub. Of course I never had to be a prisoner of war, nor did I help raise 1 child let alone 6, nor was I an immigrant, and so on.

Was it destiny that I like the desert?


me in 1991…a favorite place in the San Diego County desert…

I wasn’t dancing, but it’s hard to see my foot rested on a rock. And naturally, I had my eyes closed for the pic.

Not far from the same age as my father in his picture, I had moved from San Diego only months earlier. 23 years later, I now live in the land of huge ocotillos!

El Paso, along Rim Road…last month

Front Porch

A friend in Austin often mentions how a porch or patio on a north side creates a design challenge. She’s right.

People using such spaces must be shaded from the late day summer sun during about the hottest parts of the day. The plants we select for that exposure must take brutally hot summer sun late in the day, plus cool season shade and possibly wet soils at times.

Here are some inviting porches, no matter their placement, to ponder what makes them or how they could be –


Heather’s front porch in San Antonio faces SE…afternoon shade, but as her desert willows grow in, other times should be in morning shade

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