BJ’s RV Park had provided some unexpected bird sightings, as it was basically on an all sand/gravel open field. The owners had planted some desert shrubs near their permanent trailer home there and had added a couple of bird feeders. Cathy happily stalked the area until dark and added yet another bird to the expanding “life list”.
Since we have been so undisciplined in when we arise in the mornings out here, we decided we needed to set an alarm to make sure we were on time at the Far Flung River Outfitters for our scheduled 0745 departure. It was another of what has been the normal cool start of the day, with temps in the mid 40s. We had been briefed to bring plenty of warm clothing, so we dressed and packed accordingly. There had also been the advisory that “getting wet is very likely”. It was a short drive to the loading area, and then a 45 minute drive to the canoe launch area at the mouth of Santa Elana Canyon. There were 12 in our group in six canoes, plus two guides, each in their own canoe. The “Plan of the Day” was to launch at the opening of the canyon, paddle 3 hours up river, with scheduled stops along the way for points of interest, and then have a shore lunch at the pre-selected point in the canyon.
The river at this point is too low to float the canoes, so, after loading the gear in the water proof bags, we would tow them up to the opening of the canyon.
The guides joked that these two person canoes are sometimes called “divorce vessels”, as there needs to be a lot of communication between the front oarsman and the rear oarsmen/helmsman. There was a practice session of getting into and out of the canoes, and then we were headed upstream into the current.
We are totally inexperienced canoeists and even with our above average communication skills, there was a steep learning curve in the art of keeping the bow not just headed upstream, but headed in the wake of the lead guide who knew where the navigable water was. There was a guide at the rear of the column as well to help those that were finding it more of a challenge than they could cope with. We DID NOT want to have to be rescued by him. 😦
Cathy was more than ready for the noon lunch stop, as were the rest of our paddlers. The guides put a very tasty sandwich and salad lunch together in short order and all hands ate hungrily. It was on the Mexican side, by the way.
We had thought it would be a “piece of cake” to gently paddle back down stream, since the 3 to 4 mph current would be helping us along. Wrong. So Wrong! There was a 15 to 20 mph wind now blowing UP the canyon (just like biking! The wind only is happy blowing in your face). We struggled more getting back than going up, and, as “advised” there was ample opportunity to “get wet” as I found out when I got out to portage-by-towing through a shallows and stepped in a hole and went clear down! All part of the adventure. But I’m totally soaked. We were all pretty well tired out by the time we debarked from the canoes a mile or so down stream from where we had put in. It was a very quiet van ride back.
Our only real concern of the day was whether we would be back at Far Flung headquarters in time to drive up to the McDonald observatory north of Fort Davis. We had made reservations for a “Star Party” at the observatory. Our guides were aware of our schedule and put every effort into getting us back on schedule. We headed north and made it up the mountain with enough time to spare to grab a quick bite at the Star Cafe before the show began.
McDonald Observatory was built in 1934, and at that time had the second largest telescope in the world. This fabulous visitor center is operated by the University of Texas, Astronomy Department, and was completed in 2002. There are now three large research telescopes, each in their own dome, and four more smaller enclosed scopes. They continue to add new technology and do a great deal of serious research with astronomers all over the world. The tickets for the Star Parties are limited to 275 an evening, and the shows are always sold out. That says a lot for an event in such an isolated location. We were treated to an astronomer with a laser-pointer showing us a number of constellations and other night features, and then released to wander around and look through the seven telescopes they had set up to view various stellar objects. Luckily, we brought blankets to wear and managed to stay warm. It was quite chilly, but we loved it! We were happy to see the number of families there with younger children along. A young family was standing in line ahead of us at one of the most “popular” scopes (viewing a “star-forming cluster” located in the sword of the Orion constellation. The kids were about the age of our grandkids at home. They had not, however, taken the weather enough under consideration and were all really getting chilled. Since Cathy and I each had a blanket, we gave them one of ours to cuddle together with. They were very grateful. Perfect ending to an eventful and memorable day.