When the first designated Wilderness area is home to remote hot-springs, you rejoice and praise Aldo Leopold.
Following up from my last post, I can tell you are incredibly anxious to know the reasons for why I did not explore the cienegas.
Well, friends, the wait is over.
The story goes: I'm strolling into Balmorhea State Park head quarters after an invigorating swim in the springs when I see a familiar vehicle cruise by. It's the Leave No Trace Subaru!
With a burst of enthusiasm, I come charging in, flip flops flopping, arms waving and a smile I could not hide. Turns out they're used to this kind of behavior as they're so well known, kind of like local celebrities in the outdoor community.
Aaron, the sole occupant of the flagship vehicle rolls his window down with a smile, probably because my approach was humorous, and in a few minutes, we were kicking it at their campground. Aaron and Danelle are one of four LNT teams that travel the country for an entire year educating the public on the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace and Outdoor Ethics.
It was fun to get to know the couple and hear about the year-long journey they're on. It was also fun to speak with others who are passionate about conservation. We shared stories about our work with educating the public through recreation and how rewarding it is to work with urban youth in this arena. At the end of our sesh, we exchanged some swag and gave each other a "keep up the good work". It felt right.
To make the encounter all the more serendipitous, it was the night of the SUPER MOON! As the sun was setting, the behemoth moon rose, then shined. It shined so bright and if you're like me, you poorly photographed the moon poorly because we are not photographers and have no idea what we're doing.
What else was cool about the super moon? As I left my new LNT pals, I was headed to the McDonald Observatory which was less than an hour away. It is located in one of the darkest places in the country - the Davis Mountains. The moon was so bright I could drive by its light. In fact, for the next two nights, the moon was so bright it woke me up as I slept under the stars (moon).
Having the super moon rise at the end of a day filled with learning, experiencing and connecting was the ultimate night cap. I think I nailed the Wilderness and Friendship portion.
Some places you won't ever hear about if don't ask around so when I met Rob from Families in Nature - Austin, I had to know if there were any hidden gems between South Llano River State Park and the McDonald Observatory. The recommendation I got from Rob is turning out to be one of the highlights of this entire journey and after only spending a few hours at a small desert oasis, I am kinda bent on coming back.
In the heart of West Texas is Balmorhea State Park, known as "the cool place in the high desert." Yea, this place is cool. Balmorhea's main attraction is a nearly 2 acre natural spring pool that maintains pleasant temps year round. As much as I love a leisurely swim in a warm spring, I couldn't take my mind off of what a special place I was in.
Having the chance to speak with Christy, one of the park interpreters, I learned what makes this place truly one of a kind. The spring is home to two highly endangered species of fish, one of which is found nowhere else. The spring pumps 15 million gallons of water per day and creates cienegas, or desert marshes, from its flow. You could say life really springs out of this place. High five for that dad joke.
Coming from the Midwest there is a special place in my heart for wetlands and all the ecological equity they carry. I'm drawn to where the life is, where there is diversity and abundance. In the high desert, while not lifeless, the calling of a true oasis is irresistible. You'd think I have explored every inch of the cienega as soon as possible but that wasn't the case.
If you've kept up with the poor job I'm doing on Instagram then you might know why I never made it to the cienega, however there were two really awesome occurrences that I am excited to share. But for the sake of brevity, I'm gonna include them in my next post. Sorry for the clif-hanger!
I swear, it was my full intention to update this before I left BUT I was so busy with Adventures Accessed, supporting the Outdoors Empowered Network Summit and getting life squared away for this journey that there was sadly little time to sit down and write.
So if you're wondering, yes I have left Chicago and have made a few checks in the box like the Bell Mountain Wilderness, Buffalo National River, Davy Crockett NF and now, I'm in Austin, TX! It's been a great week so far and it was nice to grab a shower and eat Texas BBQ.
In the past few days I've had the opportunity to visit some truly special areas, like the Buffalo National River. I was blown away. Why isn't anyone speaking about this place? It was OUT-OF-CONTROL beautiful. Wild and pristine and so, so so so so inspirational. It's in the Ozarks of Arkansas and I didn't give it a fraction of the time it deserves.
All physical beauty aside, I want to mention another thing of beauty; something that embodies the Wilderness and Friendship tour to a tee. While I was hiking along the river, I met Ayesha, a young woman, out to explore the area just like me. Out to embrace freedom and natural phenomena, just like me. We hung out and became friends, and as friends, we invited another lone traveler to join our fire. Keith, our newest pal, is a retired geologist who also played the guitar professionally. And the three of us jammed for a while. Keith strumming and singing, Ayesha showing off her voice, and then me...just kinda dancing and toiling at the fire.
It was the second night of the tour and I had unlocked master level wilderness and friendship.
This is the power of nature to bring people together. Three randoms from different parts of the country unified around a simple fire and gentle smiles. If a few strangers can connect seamlessly, imagine the bonds one could strengthen by experiencing a place like the Buffalo with some friends?
I'm hoping the love continues into the new leg of the trip which I'm calling "spring break" for all the natural springs I am hopefully going to find. Wish me luck.
At what point does something get out of hand? Something too big to contain, or simply become too much work for one person? Should I consult Malcolm Gladwell to inquire where the "tipping point" may be? Because I think whatever "it" is, "it" has tipped.
You're right to think that this is going to be the journey of a lifetime; that visiting beautiful areas is just what the doctor ordered and that speaking with people who really care about our environment is going to be a moving experience. Right-O! But as soon as I decided the route was to enlighten and highlight, it became a mission.
This isn't recreation, it's passion. And it seems my passions end up being more work than a passion should be, which is cool because I believe in the projects I invest in. I believe our urban dwellers suffer from a lack of nature, hence Adventures Accessed. I also believe our public lands, wildlife and stewards don't get credit, love, recognition, resources and "thank you's"., hence the Wilderness and Friendship Tour.
So here's the deal. A little ventilation, if you will. I feel like this has become a full-time job. Planning destinations and destinations within those destinations and finding the folks to chat with and convincing them this project is worth their time is a mountain of work. I used mountain on purpose. Ah, can't leave out curating the content to actually get people activated, motivated, encouraged and inspired to just get out there and use just a slice of our 640 million acres of public lands.
Once that's done (ha) do you think we'll be finished? No, this isn't a one and done; we are not two ships passing in the night. Every year. All the nature. All the lovers of nature and all the to be lovers of nature, and those who love the lovers too! Perhaps then, we may call it a day.
*sigh* I feel better now, thanks for listening.