Terlingua Ranch - Christmas 2002

Regular visitors to this site will know that we used to visit Terlingua Ranch every Christmas and New Year, to enjoy the quietness and the scenery and the walking but also to practice our astronomy in a dark and lovely place.  Terlingua Ranch is located 16 miles into the desert, in the middle of the Christmas Mountains, and about 80 miles south of Alpine, Texas.  The last 16 miles are 10 miles of asphalt and 6 miles of dirt, and we are never quite sure what state the road will be in before we arrive.

This year it was much as usual, and although some things had changed at the ranch, staff leaving, new staff arriving, life there was going on much as we had left it.  The skies on the first few nights were mostly cloudy, but with clear bits the sort of skies which tempt and tantalize you, and which are horrible for CCD imaging.  We also had a couple of hours of rain on the first day, but after three days the skies cleared and we had mostly clear, fine weather with blue sky days and clear, cold nights.  The temperatures began quite chilly, with 4 inches of snow in Alpine, and as we have heard from Randy Brewer and Loyd Overcash, even more snow in Fort Davis.  But in Terlingua we never saw any, and as days passed we were able to enjoy once again the warmth and dryness which is characteristic of the place.  We also managed to get to Big Bend National Park, and spent many hours walking in shorts and T-shirts in the warm sunshine.  Quite unlike England in December!  The only negative side of the trip was a few days when a strong wind blew, driving the local dust everywhere and making life very difficult, both for astronomy and for walking.  A big HI to our many visitors, including Alan and Peggy Gilchrist and Mona and Danny Hyde, who saw in the New Year with us.

The pictures below are a good record of our vacation and we would regard highlights as walking from Hot Springs to Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park, climbing Christmas Mountain, a long hike from our cabin on the ranch, and climbing Emory Peak in the Chisos Mountains.  Oh! - and Paul diving head first into a spiky cactus bush in the dark.  Who said astronomers can see in the dark!?

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The first thing we did when we arrived was to erect the Sky Tent

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A convenient distance from the cabin in which we stayed

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the tent is invaluable as protection for the big scope against the wind

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and it also keeps out a lot of the local dust.  Liz is sitting outside the cabin reading

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This is our view of the mountains to the east from inside the tent, and it is the place where we would watch Orion rise every night

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Two of our very best friends chatted with us over a beer - Dennis in his new hat; and Roy in his rather older one.  These folk make being there so much more fun

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Dennis and his wife Debbie own 40 acres of land on the other side of the mountains

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and we were taken for a prospecting trip one day to search for fossils and artefacts

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All sorts of things can be found here, and this is a small selection of some things Liz has picked up, including a fossilized shark tooth embedded in rock.  

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This year there has been quite a lot of rain, and evidence of water just below the surface is seen in this desert color. 

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Clearly there was a forest here once, and this is a fossilized tree, turned to stone

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We also brought back several objects which we suspect are meteorites

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We always like to climb the mountain just behind the cabin. 

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With great views overlooking the small air strip which is there

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But climbing this mountain has hazards, as I pick cactus spines from my fingers

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Another mountain climbed was the aptly named "Christmas Mountain"

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It's quite a walk from the ranch (seen in the distance) and a stiff climb

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But the views are incredible and well worth it

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Of course - this was Christmas, and Dennis helped us finish the Jim Beam - thanks pal!

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And here are the long awaited pictures of our ascent of Emory Peak in the Chisos mountains

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This mountain is almost 8,000 feet high, and we walked up the winding path

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Views all the way were spectacular, and these photos do not do them justice

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It's about 6 miles from the visitor center to the top of the mountain

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And we were blessed with the most magical day on which to do this walk

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Climbing so high at Christmas time can get a mite chilly

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But today it was pretty hot work, even when we reached the very topmost point

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We managed about half an hour on the top before starting on the walk back, which was time to admire the views of up to 50 miles or more

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What a way to spend Christmas!

When can we go again?

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