Saturday, April 28, 2007

Food of the Gods

I like to think I didn't start life as a redneck. True, growing up we were dirt poor but in a classy, thoughtful sort of way. Wild foods consisted of fish caught in Minnesota lakes/rivers, squirrels from the forest, pheasants from the crisp autum skies, and deer from the cleared corn fields. Fresh fruits and vegetables came from our garden or in trade with other families.

Scrounging food from vacant lots and eating water bugs? No way, we were poor but not crude.

Turns out we were pretty foolish back then. Luckily I've learned a lot over the years. Now when it's blackberry and crawdad season I'm out there gorging my face full of some of the yummiest foods available here in Texas ditches.

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Due to a cool, rainy spring the blackberries aren't as good as other years.

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However, I can't really complain...

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Mambowether certainly didn't!

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Miniwether already knows what makes for good eatin'.

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Yep, she really knows.

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Poking food with sticks.

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Bad berry weather, good crawdad weather!

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Being a Midwesterner, I really want to call them "crayfish". However, that always results in somewhat uncivilized verbal corrections from the locals...

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Mambowether, after a lot of scubbing. Blackberry juice stains are dang hard to get off! Note: she does have two legs, one is just hidden under her dress.

Anyway, both the blackberries and the crawdads will be around for a bit longer. With that in mind, can anyone help me move a couch out onto our front porch? I may as well ride the redneck lifestyle all the way to it's glorious conclusion!

Adventure! Excitment! You jus' might be...!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Four C Trail Tips

You carried that?!
-Me to group of novice hikers.

When hiking twenty miles you really have no need for a big Colman lantern, three cases of water, a case of chicken noodle soup, and one of those flashlights with the big, square lantern batteries. On the other hand, some sleeping bags are a good idea when the weather is supposed to get down into the 40'sF. Oh yeah, you should also have some clue on how to make a fire. Here's a tip, large peices of wet wood aren't going to catch fire from a match...

Well, the three hiker we met at the Walnut Creek Campsite hadn't figured these things out and being twelve miles from anywhere, were understandably not in the mood to speak much.

The Four C Trail is a really easy trail to hike, with one issue. You need to supply your own water. The ponds and streams aren't safe to drink from even if you boil it. The water is contaminated with low levels of heavy metals and even filtering doesn't pull those out. In an immergency you'd probably be okay, but guzzeling liters of it is a bad idea. To hike the trail in cool weather you probably still need at least four liters of water along to drink and cook. More if you need to wash dishes. Now, that's a lot of weight to haul up and down hills. Luckily it is really easy to stash bottles of water along your path. The Four C Trail crosses several roads that connect the different trailheads so as you just stop the car, hop out and cache water near the trail/road intersection.
Road Crossings: CR 511-3, FS 526, FS 512, NF 517, CR 1175, Big Slough Wilderness Road, CR 1170, FS 536, HW 227, FS 521-E

If you want to stash water halfway (near the Walnut Creek Campsite) leave your water just off FS 511-2. It's about 1/2 mile from the campsite. See Map

I wish we had known that. It would have made a great hike into a fantastic hike. Oh well.

We started hiking from the north end and it took about four hours to get to the Walnut Creek campsite. This did include losing the trail twice. The first time the trail was following a logging road then takes a sharp right turn into the woods after crossing a bridge. The white trail blaze was gone so we continued walking to the end of the logging road. Grrr. Backtracking eventually got us back of track. A similar thing happened the second time. Several blazes were removed which lead us to wander some until we stumbled across a bridge on the trail. Basically, keep an eye on the map/gps.

Mosquitoes were fairly active but the cool weather helped with that. You'll definately want to bring bug spray. Also, this area is know for it's heavy tick population. Make sure you spray your legs and do regular tick checks (make sure all cameras are put away during these tick checks!!!!).

There are two dedicated primative campsites along the trail. The bigger is the Walnut Creek site and the smaller is Pond Camp. Both have several tent pads (dirt areas marked off with logs) and a fire pit. The Walnut Creek Campsite also has a large, wooden hut for people. Warning, the hut is infested with mice due to people leaving food behind. There were also several pots and pans left by previous visitors. The fire circle is ringed in metal and has a steel grate covering half the pit. Wood is plentiful but it will need to be cut/split. The circle also had several logs around it for sitting, which was nice. This campsite also has a relatively nice, clean outhouse, which, suprisingly, was wheelchair accessible...

We didn't look at Pond Camp as people were already there but supposedly it also has a good firepit and several tent pads, but no outhouse.

Even though Walnut Creek campsite is halfway along the trail, the hiking times of the two legs is very different. For some reason the south leg took us over seven hours, the last hour being on an ugly gravel path through the day-visitor section of the park. There were a lot of pretty parts to the south trail but Clark and I both felt the north section was nicer. I reccomend you start on the south end and walk north. I think you have a much better walk by getting the ugly part out of the way right at the start.

As for wildlife, we did see several snakes, assorted mice, tadpoles, froms, snapping turtles, leaf-cutter ants, and the skeletons of many armadillos. We heard plenty of coyotes yipping/howling once the sun went down and the wild sounds of them chasing a deer near the camp. We also hear plenty of birdsong and the rast-tat-tat of woodpeckers. Plenty of feral pig tracks and wallows but no actual pigs. Overall, we've seen more big wildlife on the edges of our neighborhood.

Okay, now for more pictures.

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Me, somewhere very nice.

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Me, along the Neches River.

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Clark at the Walnut Creek campsite shelter.

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Big trees.

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Boardwalk through the Big Slough Wilderness.

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A snake.

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Another snake.

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Tadpoles.

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Logging road.

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Four C Trail

According to Clark and the other campers, a pack of coyotes chased a deer past our campsite Saturday night. The woods, pitch black outside the glow of the campfire, were filled with the scary sound of coyotes howling as they pursued the deer as it crashed through the underbrush. Considering the campfire talk centered on the tales of local Bigfoot sightings, the sounds of wild animals locked in bitter struggle was very unnerving.

On the plus side, it did somewhat drown out the sound of my snoring according to Clark.

Hey, I was tired. I'd just carried 40+ pounds of gear ten miles using a body only twelve months away from yearly prostrate exams!

Uh, sorry if that last bit was too much information...

Anyway, on with the story. Clark and I were hiking the Four C Trail through the Davy Crockett National Forest. The total trail is twenty miles (which we did) through a mix of deep woods, swamps (with boardwalks), and all-around beautiful scenery. Located less than 90 miles from Houston, this place is pretty awesome.

Because I'm not quite done celebrating my birthday yet (you did catch the earlier 12-month reference as a veiled hint to send me gifts, right?) I'm not going to go into details about the trip until later. For now you just have to look at the pretty pictures.

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Clark before a bridge.

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Me on another bridge.

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Did I ever mention that Clark is blind? These leads to some great practical jokes.

JUST KIDDING!!!!

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Pretty sights.

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Left: Clark, right: me at the Walnut Creek Campsite halfway along the trail.

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Morning at Walnut Creek campsite. There were three other hikers there who spent the night in the trail hut. There's a lot more to tell about those three, but you'll just have to wait.

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Random body of water along the trail.

The area is filled with streams and ponds but the forest rangers STRONGLY suggest you bring in your own water. There's a lot of natural mercury in the ground around here so the water is generally considered unsafe to drink even if boiled. Filtering might work if you have an activated charcoal cartidge, but otherwise you'll just be killing off brain cells with each sip. On the plus side it's very easy to cache water along your path. The trail crosses six decent logging roads where you could stop and hide water. Considering most people will need a car at both ends of the trail it's very easy to set up such water caches.

Okay, sorry stop here, but I have another birthday gift waiting. I'll write more in a few days.

More Four C Trail links:
GORP's review
Boy Scout Troop 204's trip report (with great maps)

Adventure! Excitement! Exploration!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Good Great Friday

Friday was a holiday at work, which also meant it was a holiday from being a family man for me. Instead of the eight hours of breathing acid fumes while trying fixing oil well I was free to wander in the woods.

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Having only eight hours for the adventure, I chose to spend it along Spring Creek. Big suprise, huh?

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But then, why would I want to go anywhere else?

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No tracks but mine (and raccoons, possums, coyotes, deer, and perhaps a beaver).

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Lunch was a noodle bowl with boiled water taken straight from Spring Creek. After lunch I spent four hours carving a spoon from a peice of driftwood. Maybe I'll post a picture if/when I finish it.

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A snack for later. Black berries should start ripening any day now, too.

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An abandoned oil well. These are a bit scary as these hole are very deep. I suspect the bottom is covered in animal skeletons, but I have no desire to fish around in it to find out.

The scariest thing I found though was a secret shooting range. Someone had set up their own 500 yd range along a pipeline easement. They had a shooting bench set up and target boards set up a 15, 25, 50, 100, 250 & 500 yards away. The ground was littered with spent casings including some fresh looking 7mm. Also scattered along this easement were assorted hunting blinds. Note to self: avoid this area in the fall. That is assuming they limit their hunting to the fall...

So anyway, it was a nice, peaceful walk in the woods. For a few hours I left work and family behind which, considering what is coming up at work starting this week, was vital to my well-being. It's good to be in the woods.

Adventure! Excitment! Peace!

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Almost Eaten.

You know that thing about parents suddenly developing superhuman strength to rescue their kid? Yeah, that really does happen.

What's funny was it wan't even an offical adventure. It was just a bike ride around the neighborhood and suddenly I'm trying to free Miniwether from the jaws of a beast many times her size. She's okay, but the hem of her new dress ended up pretty masticated.

Who would have thought a cow could go so bad?

On the edge of our neighborhood there live five four cows, one bull, and (currently) one calf. They are very tame as lots of people like to swing by and toss them old veggies to munch. The cows come running up to the fence to nibble the snacks and get their ears scratched by anyone who approaches. Miniwether likes to go there and feed them carrots and pet their noses. It was going along fine until a gust of wind fluttered her dress up. A cow snatched it's hem and began eating, dragging a startled Miniwether closer and closer to big, grinding teeth!

I grabbed the dress and began to pull. The cow had already taken up almost a foot of the dress into it's mouth and had no interest in giving it back. Apparently yellow cotton with a small flower print is a bovine delicacy. As I pulled the cow began to pull back, dragging me and my daughter towards the rusty barbwire fence. I remember thinking my last tetnus shot was 21 months ago (don't ask) but couldn't remember if Miniwether had had one. Rather than find out the hard way I let out a huge bellow and with muscles straining to the point of bursting I pulled the slobber-covered dress free of the cow's mouth.

Panting, I carried Miniwether out of reach then set her down to see how she was doing. Suprisingly she was mellow about the event. Her only issue was that half her dress was covered in cow drool and she wanted to go home and change into something dry.

Then she wanted to come back and play with the cows some more.

Yep, she's my girl!

Adventure! Excitment! Mastication!