Category Archives: Big Bend National Park

Texas Bucket List

For all you Texans, you get this. You probably have a Bucket List, but then you have a separate Texas Bucket List, for things that every Texan should do. For all you non-Texans, I’m sorry. Hopefully you can get here some day and check all these things off of your list. Luckily there is now a song dedicated to a Texas Bucket List. It’s called My Texas, and it’s by The Josh Abbott Band. There is also a little known guy named Pat Green that sings along with him. You may have heard of him?

Anyway, the list in the song has pretty much everything you need to do in Texas – here is the breakdown.

1. Climb Enchanted Rock    CHECK    At least 4 times

2. Drink a cold Shiner down in Luckenbach    CHECK     Of course I have! And I’ll do it again, too!

3. Take your baby to the River Walk     CHECK     And I’m planning on going in March again!

4. Float the Frio River       CHECK     Used to do this every summer as a kid!

5. Listen to Red Dirt music on the radio      CHECK     Back when I was in high school, we had a good Texas country music station. Not anymore….

6. Eat Cooper’s In Llano*         (sort of) CHECK        I have an * by this, because I have had Cooper’s from Llano, but I haven’t had it IN Llano. They were leftovers a friend brought for me to try

7. Go to the Houston Rodeo    CHECK     Pretty much every year of my childhood, and I showed a steer in Houston

8. Sing “Carry On” at a Pat Green Show     CHECK        I saw Pat Green AT the Houston Rodeo

9. See an Abilene sunset

10. Catch a trout in Port A(ransas)

11. Heard the words to “Corpus Christ Bay”      CHECK      Robert Earl Keen is one of the best – I know all the words!

12. Watch fireworks on PK (I had to look this up, it’s Possum Kingdom Lake)

13. Have a kolache when you go through West*   (sort of CHECK)       Again, the * means I had them when a friend (the same friend who brought me Cooper’s from Llano by the way, brought me some, but I haven’t had fresh ones. Doesn’t matter though – they were still A-MAZ-ING.

14. Heard of the Larry Jo Taylor Fest

15. Go to the Fort Worth Stock Show     CHECK     I showed a steer here too

16. Sing along with Cory Morrow     CHECK      Did this 3 times last year!

17. See a hill country sunset    CHECK      It’s beautiful every time

18. Hike through Big Bend    CHECK      I practically lived there for 6 years while I was in college!

19. Let your hair blow through the Lubbock wind

20. Be somewhere that they call you “friend”    CHECK     I count a lot of places, most of them in Alpine. You always run into someone you know there!

21. Go to the San Antonio Rodeo    CHECK       Showed a steer here too…

22. Sing “Everclear” at a Roger Creager show        CHECK          At least 8 times

23. See an El Paso sunset     CHECK       Best place in Texas to get factory direct boots, but it was quite a drive to get to even when I lived out West. So of course I saw the sunset!

So as you can see, it’s a lot of sunsets and listening to good country music. I’ve done most everything on this list. I think there are a few things that need to be added to it though. See live music at The Salt Lick (and get the Family Style bbq meal. Just trust me on this.), go to Wurstfest in New Braunfels, the Llano Crawfish Open, horseback riding on the beach on South Padre, have a beer on the Front Porch of Terlingua, swim in Jacob’s Well, see a Willie Nelson show, drive down a hill country road to see the bluebonnets at their peak, watch the sunset over Lake Travis at The Oasis, drink cold Texas beer on a hot Saturday night, go 4 wheeling on the Brazos River, eat Huevos Rancheros at Bob’s Taco Station, eat at  ALL of the Texas Monthly Top 50 BBQ joints, and go on every brewery tour (this is going to be a hard one, since new breweries are popping up all the time!), smell the wild Mountain Laurel blooming, get a Round Rock donut, go to Pete’s Piano Bar, and climb Guadalupe Peak, the tallest mountain in Texas. Sounds like I’ll be busy, because I have a few more to do. And the things I’ve marked off the list already, I’ll probably do again.

On Earth As It Is In Texas.

This Year I’m Thankful For…


Hubby and I usually use Thanksgiving as an “us” holiday. We either get together with friends or go out on our own. This year we decided to go camping in Big Bend National Park. This is where both of us did our thesis research, and basically where we lived for 6 years, so we miss it terribly. Last year around the same time, we went to Alpine, Texas for Art Walk and there was a terrible ice storm. There was a thick layer of ice on everything, and it was snowing.

Ice on the False Red Yucca and Lantana
Ice on the False Red Yucca and Purple Lantana
Snow and lights decorate the Yucca
Snow and lights (and duct tape) decorate the Yucca

Normally I like snow and don’t mind ice too much, but all of our friends who still live in the area stayed indoors where it was nice and toasty, so we didn’t get to see a lot of people. And we had planned on going to BBNP for a day, but the roads were closed because of the ice.

The Parade was cancelled because it was so bitter cold, but the floats were still cool to look at!
The Parade was cancelled because it was so bitter cold, but the floats were still cool to look at!
Vendors had bought ice to keep things cold. Obviously it wasn't needed, so when they left, they tossed it out. It only froze to a harder ball of ice in the middle of the night.
Vendors had bought ice to keep things cold. Obviously it wasn’t needed, so when they left, they tossed it out. It only froze to a harder ball of ice in the middle of the night.

So what was there to do? Go to the coffee shop to drink coffee, and go to the bar to drink beer.

Vanilla Latte from Plaine
Vanilla Latte from Plaine

It was a great weekend, but not at all what we had planned.

Fast forward about 6 months, and I was getting pretty bad “city claustrophobia”. Every time I see a new building go up it makes me want to go back out to Far West Texas and never leave. So Hubby and I planned a camping trip for Thanksgiving Weekend in BBNP, in order for me to keep my sanity a little longer. Thanksgiving is the busiest weekend that the park has because the weather is usually fantastic (cold at night but nice during the day) and it’s a 4-day weekend for must of America. Of course, weather can also be terrible, like the year before. We basically had a 50-50 shot, so it was worth taking. And we won the weather jackpot. 40 degrees at night and 70 degrees during the day, with crystal clear skies. It was perfect. We managed to get a back country camp site on Pine Canyon Road and no one else was around. It was perfect. There were a few other campers further down the road, but far enough away that we couldn’t see or hear them. Solitude. Ahhh….

Our view from Camp - Sierra del Carmen Mountain range
Our view from Camp – Sierra del Carmen mountain range

My main goal for the trip was to try out my astro-photography skills that I had acquired recently (with practice and YouTube) and I had a great time and some awesome success, if I do say so myself!

Stars through The Window
Stars through The Window
Stars over Casa Grande
Stars over Casa Grande
Moon and stars over the desert
Moon and stars over the desert
The desert floor was lit up by moonlight
The desert floor was lit up by moonlight
Stars over the Carmens
Star trails over the Carmens

We also made time to do a hike on the Pine Canyon Trail, and head into Terlingua for some culture…

Having fun with saturation and lighting, post-production
Having fun with saturation and lighting, post-production
Early morning sunrise over the Carmens
Early morning sunrise over the Carmens
Always look back when hiking on a trail. Sometimes the best views are behind you.
Always look back when hiking on a trail. Sometimes the best views are behind you.
Pine Canyon pour-off. The maples are golden against a blue sky.
Pine Canyon pour-off. The maples are golden against a blue sky.
Terlingua Cemetery
Terlingua Cemetery

For those of you who have never been to Terlingua, never heard of Terlingua, or couldn’t imagine how people could live in the desolate and harsh desert floor, you need to see it at least once. Terlingua was once a booming town, known for mining quicksilver, also known as Mercury. Unfortunately they no longer needed Mercury (and they discovered that it makes you go crazy) so the mines closed up and the town became a ghost town. Now the Terlingua Ghost Town is a tourist attraction, and people have begun moving back into the formerly vacant buildings. The cemetery is still in use today, but has graves from the 1800s as well.

The people of Terlingua are interesting. The desert provides inspiration for artists and solitude for outlaws, and Terlingua is the crossroads for these people. Basically, if you want to be left to your own devises, this is where you move.

Terlingua Trading Company - The Front Porch of Terlingua
Terlingua Trading Company – The Front Porch of Terlingua. This is usually where you can sit and have a beer while listening to the locals play guitar and sing.
Starlight Theatre - A famous landmark
Starlight Theatre – A famous landmark

After hanging out and listening to the locals play guitar for a little while, we headed back into the park to drive some back roads to Santa Elena Canyon and then back up to the Chisos Basin to do some more star photos. On our drive, we spotted a rattlesnake in the road.

Poor injured rattlesnake
Poor injured rattlesnake

He had been hit by a car (you can see the blood on his head and on the road), but he was still alive. So Hubby got a long pole out of the truck bed, I directed traffic (ok, one car, but they still almost hit the snake!), and Hubby got the snake off the road.

Snake, safely in the grass.
Snake, safely in the grass.

Snakes don’t have to eat very often so hopefully he can heal up and get better before he starves. We tried our best at least! He was clearly not very happy with us, but it was for his own good.

It was a wonderfully successful camping trip and photography trip, and as badly as I wanted to stay and never come back to civilization, I just wasn’t ready to become a permanent desert rat. That just means that we will probably have to make the trek out to BBNP again very, very soon.

For Sale! Part 2

I had a very successful first sale day at the Farmer’s Market!

Many people were interested in my photography, and I passed out a lot of “business cards.” I say this with quotation marks because I haven’t gotten my cards yet! Luckily though, I had the forethought to bring a small pad of paper and a pen, so I was able to spread the word about my online Photo Gallery, and generate some interest in placing orders.

Soon though, I will have my very beautiful business cards that I designed, so I can hand those out at the next Farmer’s Market!

For anyone that is interested in ordering online, I have created an order form to make this a quick process.  To give a little more detail on the ordering process, here goes:

You can order prints in 5×7, 8×10, 11×14, or 16×20. The panoramics are either 6×18 or 8×24.

I prefer to print on metallic paper, because it makes the photos look much more 3 dimensional; however, the Professional Print (on glossy paper) looks fantastic as well.

If you would like the photos to be matted, there is also an option for that on the order sheet.

If you are interested in ordering photos online, feel free to send me an email at, and we can discuss it further!

And, so you don’t have to search for them again, here are the photos that I have for sale right now!

ALSO, I ALMOST FORGOT TO MENTION THAT I TAKE PAYPAL! Secure payments made online, so you don’t have to worry about sending cash or check!

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For Sale!

Well I have made the leap and finally decided to start selling my photography again. I say again because in college a sold a few here and there at a consignment shop. I loved selling my photography but I had a couple problems. 1) The lady running the consignment shop talked me into pricing my photos for more than I thought I should so I blame that on not selling very many. My theory on that is, I was living in a tourist town, with art studios and galleries everywhere. Since I was new to selling I would have been happier to sell more photos rather than sell over-priced photos. 2) The consignment shop closed and moved to Austin, and she sold all of the items left in the shop to the new owner. So when I went to go pick up my photos because I hadn’t sold them, the new owner thought I was trying to steal stuff from the shop because the previous owner didn’t have good records!

Then I got a little busy with real life, but the benefit of that is real life allowed me to afford a bigger, better camera! And with my real life job I was also able to afford trips to beautiful places and take pictures that are actually worth selling.  Now, the photos I sold were also of beautiful places like Alaska and Canada from my last family vacation in 2004 as well as photos from Big Bend National Park, which was basically my backyard for 6 years while I was in college.

So these days I’m starting out small – I’m going to be selling at the local Farmer’s Market and if this takes off then who knows! Maybe I’ll start a website to sell my stuff too.   below are some of the photos I have for sale.  Wish me luck!


Living In the Big Bend Region

For many people, living in the Big Bend Region is a dream. They love the area, but the job market doesn’t allow them to live there full time. People take rides out to the desert on the motorcycles or take RVs to live in for a few days of isolation before heading back to the grind of the city. For others, they couldn’t imagine wanting to live in a desert, where so many things either stink, sting, or stick (e.g. skunks, rattlenakes/bees/wasps/other bitey things, and sticker burrs/goat heads/cactus, etc.)  Other people don’t even know that Texas has mountains, and have never even heard of The Big Bend. But, for 6 short years, Hubby and I were able to live in The Big Bend Region while going to college at Sul Ross State University. While we were there we experienced a lot of different things: small town life (i.e. gossip and knowing everyone in town), getting annoyed with tourists for not knowing how to drive their giant rented RVs through town, having javelinas (pronounced ha-va-lee-na) eat rotten bird seed off the ground in my front yard and having the dog go berserk at 3 am because of it, having an epic battle in the backyard with the dog and a skunk at 5 am, ending up with a very disgusting (but proud of himself) dog and a zombie skunk that wouldn’t die. It was a pretty eventful 6 years.

However, our best experiences were outdoors.

During my undergrad career, I had plans to go to vet school so I majored in Animal Science, but developed the realization that veterinary work was NOT what I wanted to do. I was still interested in it, but no longer felt that medicine was my calling. Hubby majored in Biology and through him I was able to meet the Biology Professors and students, and we both decided to get our Master’s Degrees in Biology.

During this time, Hubby worked on his thesis research and I later worked on mine. It was good timing because we could both help each other out while we weren’t working on our own projects. We both researched different aspects of Black bear in Big Bend National Park (yes, there are bears in Texas *eye roll*).  That means that we had a lot of amazing experiences with Black bear and other wildlife while we were looking for the bears. Here is a map of Big Bend that you can use as reference.

My gallery this week consists of photos taken while working on my research, Hubby’s research, and various other trips we took in the Big Bend Region. Each photo has a description of what we were doing at that time. Enjoy. I know I did.

Art Walk 2013

Hubby and I went to college WAY out in west Texas. And no, I don’t mean that we went to Texas Tech. Lubbock is NOT west Texas.

Texas Geography Lesson #1

Lubbock is obviously in NORTH Texas. Alpine/Big Bend National Park is obviously WEST Texas. Now, I probably didn’t draw these regions out exactly the way they are in real life (there are true divisions in this state), but some people consider San Antonio as part of Central Texas, and others count it as part of South Texas. So I guess I should have really put that as a dotted line instead.

Anyway, like I was saying Hubby and I went to college in West Texas, at Sul Ross State University. We loved living in that area, but it’s hard to find good jobs there because it’s so isolated and mostly ranch land surrounding it, so we ended up getting jobs back in southeast Texas (a sub-region dividing East Texas because sometimes East Texas is really just an extension of Louisiana). Every once in a while we like to go back to Alpine for vacation, especially because we still have a lot of friends in the area, and we love Big Bend National Park. Our plan was to go to Alpine for Art Walk. It’s an annual celebration that was started while we were living there. The art galleries stay open late, there is live music on the street, and every year it gets bigger and better.

This year, even Ray Wylie Hubbard was playing!

I travel a lot for work (the Zombie and Poltergeist Prevention business) so I get quite a few frequent flyer miles that we love to cash in for free trips, so we used my frequent flyer miles to buy two tickets to Midland, three hours north of Alpine, but still considered West Texas (Texas Geography Lesson #2).  This was our plan:

1. Fly into Midland and drive to Alpine – get into town just in time for a late dinner with friends and hit the bar.

2. Get up CRAZY early and head down to Big Bend National Park.

3. Hike the South Rim Trail, which I think is like 12 miles.

4. Get off the mountain just at the right time to get sunset photos of the Sierra del Carmen mountains, and head back to Alpine (more than a 1 hour drive).

5. Enjoy Art Walk, see all of the friends that we still have in Alpine, go to every bar, and see the artwork of a friend in one of the galleries.

6. Spend the day buying Christmas presents for our friends’ kids, and send them home with said friends.

7. Enjoy a leisurely drive back to Midland, and get on our evening flight back home.

8. Be home for a late dinner.

As the date of our trip got closer and closer, the weather forecast was getting grim. 30 degrees F as the high. Mixed sleet and snow. But we already had the trip planned, and we were determined to go. Hiking in the cold isn’t that bad, afterall. We got free drinks on the airplane because the flight attendant never came back to pick up our drink coupons that I love getting in the mail, and it was off to a pretty good start!

However, the temperature didn’t get above 27 degrees the entire time. We were able to get a free upgrade for our rental car, and got a Nissan Frontier truck. We were excited about this because we would have a high clearance vehicle for Big Bend, and if the roads were snowy, that would be helpful too. We got out to our truck and it was coated in ice. We had to set there for 30 minutes, letting it defrost so we could see through the windshield and windows.

On the 3 hour drive from Midland to Alpine, we were worried about frozen bridges the entire time. We finally crawled into town at 9 pm, and got a late dinner from Cow Dog, the best hotdogs you can find. Anywhere. Everything was covered in ice. We had to eat standing up because all of the outdoor seating was frozen.

We hit a couple bars, ran into old friends, and stayed out until about 2am. It started snowing and the roads were icing over. We weren’t real sure we were going to make it out to Big Bend after all. That morning we woke up and everything was coated in a thick layer of ice. There would be no traveling to the park today. For those of you who have never been to Big Bend National Park, let me explain (Texas Geography Lesson #3).

It is isolated.

I mean


If something goes wrong while you are down there, it could be a while before someone comes by. You rarely have a cell phone signal. You rarely even have a radio signal. And weather in the desert can change in an instant. The last thing we wanted to do was get stuck down in the park because they closed the roads, or worse – get stuck because there was an ice storm and we ran off the road into a canyon that three cars a day drive past.

This is what the main road to the Chisos Mountain Basin  looked like on Monday, two days after we had planned on going. If we had gotten into the park to begin with, we probably would have been stuck there until Tuesday!

So instead of risking death, or at the very least a miserable day in the cold, wind, and snow, we stayed in Alpine. We got discounted breakfast at the restaurant that is in the same parking lot as our hotel, and that place is the epitome of a small town diner. It’s called Penny’s, and it looks like it’s made out of an Airstream trailer. Food there is usually only consumed at 2 am when suddenly you are in the mood for French toast and gravy, but it was discounted and we didn’t have to drive to it, so that’s where we ate.

Now if you are looking for good service, try somewhere else in town. But if you are looking to people watch, this is the best seat around. The short-order cook makes the food right in front of you so you can watch him almost burn up the kitchen with a grease fire or try to figure out why the fryer isn’t working. You can also listen to all of the employees complain about other employees calling in “sick” or try to figure out if Hubby has been given all of his food (he hadn’t) while they make pancakes for an order that doesn’t exist. It’s entertaining at least.

Café Moca
Yummy Café Moca

Afterwards we hit the town and enjoyed the coffee shop, Plaine while we waited for our friends to meet us for lunch (this trip ended up revolving around food and bars, but we were ok with that).

T-Shirt in a hot dog bun bag
T-Shirt in a hot dog bun bag, plus free stickers!

I was FINALLY able to buy a Cow Dog t-shirt and the Cow Dog himself, Alan, recognized Hubby and me from long, long ago and we were able to chat him up a bit about moving away from Alpine.  He’s a great guy, and I’m always happy to give him my business (especially if I get a Cow Dog out of it). I really appreciated how he repurposed his hot dog bun bags for t-shirt bags. Reduce, reuse, recycle afterall!

We had heard about Big Bend Brewing Company after we moved away, and I had never had a chance to try it until this trip. I was very excited, because Alpine had once, long, long ago had a German microbrewery called Edelweiss (pronounced A-Dell-Vice for you non-German speakers) and it was the best beer we had ever had. It was actually the reason Hubby and I became craft brew snobs. Long story short, Edelweiss is no more, but you can always have a chat with the man that started it all, Harry Moise, who now owns, operates, and hangs out at Harry’s Tinaja in Alpine. Go have a drink with him, but remember, it’s cash only.

And the guy that started BBBCo was actually a brewmaster in Austin, Texas and moved to Marfa. I’m just glad he opened the brewery in Alpine instead of Marfa, but if you aren’t from that area, you won’t understand 😉


There was an open house at the brewery with free beer, but we had just eaten lunch and it was absolutely freezing inside the brewery (it’s just an open warehouse) so we didn’t stay long. Instead we went back to the hotel to take showers and take a nap, only to find that our hotel had lost power because of the ice.  We napped for a while and woke up colder than when we had fallen asleep, and then we hit the town again for the actual Art Walk. It wasn’t that big of a turn out this year because of the weather, but it was still fun, and we still got to run into a bunch of old friends.

Christmas lights on Yucca
Christmas lights on Yucca
Ice on grass
Ice on grass
Giant grasshopper out of reclaimed metal
Giant grasshopper out of reclaimed metal
Snow on Chili Peppers
Snow on Chili Peppers
Art Walk on Main Street
Art Walk on Main Street
Ice on Lantana
Ice on Lantana
Ice on Red Yucca
Ice on Red Yucca
Bicycle Powered Parade Float - but the parade was cancelled due to the awful weather
Bicycle Powered Parade Floats – but the parade was cancelled due to the awful weather. Reindeer in the foreground, a giant bat in the background. And for some reason, a Gypsy van was there too?
Wish I could have seen this guy in action at the parade
Wish I could have seen this guy in action at the parade

Although our trip didn’t go exactly as we had planned, we still had a great time. It made me miss seeing the snow every year, but it also made Hubby remember how much he hates the snow 🙂  And, because we didn’t get to hit Big Bend National Park, it just made us want to plan another trip out there so we can see the beautiful desert and mountains that we miss so much. Because (Texas Geography Lesson #4) the desert gets in your blood.


The Young Adventurer

From the beginning I have been an adventurer. I believe my parents even went hiking while Mom was pregnant with me. I’m sure my dad is proud of his accomplishment of hiking while pregnant!

As promised early on, I will sporadically spin yarns of past adventures, and you can’t accuse me of lying either – it will either be that’s how I remember it and you weren’t there, or poetic licence. That’s a thing, right?

Anyway, I think my first hiking trip was November 1987. I say November, because it seems like that’s when we always went camping. It was always freezing, and I would have to crawl into my Dad’s sleeping bag with him in the middle of the night because (as you may have known) a scrawny child can’t produce as much body heat as an adult. I don’t think the folks figured that one out. I was always cold!

See, Mom’s in a t-shirt, I’m in a sweatshirt. Always cold!
I’m not sure where this was taken, but I’m sure since I was a toddler, we didn’t go too far from home. Based on the rocks I’m guessing the Edwards Plateau area of Texas.
Our favorite place to go as a family was always Big Bend National Park. I never would have guessed that I would continue to go there as an adult, and even do my thesis research there.
At Balanced Rock
To be honest, I don’t really remember these first trips very well, as you can imagine. I do remember though, one year in the early 1990s when we went to the Davis Mountains in November. See? It got down to 14 degrees one night. As previously referenced, I was forced to crawl into the sleeping bag with Dad because I couldn’t stop shivering. I’m sure he slept fine after that, right? Having a kid sticking their knees in your back is so much fun in a king-sized bed, I’m sure it was just as enjoyable on the ground. With rocks. And did I mention it was a bit chilly?
For years we would never want to go camping over Thanksgiving again.
We would say, “We survived being outside in 14 degree weather! We don’t need to do that again!”
And Dad would say, “We survived being outside in 14 degree weather! We can do anything!”
I’m sure about that time is when we switched our vacations to summer, but I can’t swear to it.  I’m sure we out-voted Dad. That tends to happen when you are outnumbered *smirk* My parents, for some reason, had never taken us camping in the east. Every year we went further and further west, instead. You know what happens the further west you go? It turns into a desert. And deserts are hot in the summer. Again, not sure if the folks figured that out.
You can tell we are dying of heat stroke and Dad doesn't care. See? Abuse!
One year, I think we were in Utah or New Mexico, and it was unbelievably hot. Somehow Mom and Dad thought we were being weenies, and they managed to keep hiking. I have no idea how they did it. We had those cheap hiking fanny packs that hold 2 water bottles, and I remember pulling my water bottle out of the fanny pack and taking a drink – the water was so hot I couldn’t drink it. Not saying it burned my mouth, I’m saying it was disgusting! Luckily, Big Sister and I found some shade and told Mom and Dad to go off without us. And they did. I don’t even know what was so special about that trail – all I remember is laying on the cool shaded sandstone was the best feeling in the world.
I guess, based on these stories, you might wonder why I ever went outside again. But I was always trying to learn. I would pull leaves off shrubs and study them. I would see a bug and try to remember exactly what it looked like so I could look it up later. I looked for fossils in the rocks as we went down the trail. I was a born naturalist.  I even remember seeing my first rattlesnake. I think it was on that same sweltering hot trip, and it was on the side of the trail. I wanted to watch it all day – I never had that fear that most children have of snakes. Or any animals for that matter…
When my parents thought we were old enough, they gave us pocket knives. Big Sis probably was, but I probably was not. As a child, I had to use my knife every waking moment. I was whittling. I was digging. I was cutting leaves off of plants. And I remember, VIVIDLY, attempting to cut a leaf off of a shrub and slicing my thumb open. There was a flap. Seriously. I grabbed my thumb and held it tight, and DID NOT tell my parents. Why? They had just given me a talk about how I was such a big girl, and they could trust me with this knife. I guess they didn’t realize how sharp it was! To this day, I have never been able to get a knife-tip that sharp in my life. I don’t know what they were thinking.
The good thing was, we were on our way back to the car. And on top of that, a tissue had fallen out of the car, so I reached down to pick it up and stop the bleeding. Mom’s response was to thank me for picking up litter. *tisk tisk tisk* if only she knew…As soon as we got back in the car, I was thinking about telling my parents, when Dad gave us another pep-talk. I think the conversation went a bit like this:
“You girls are the best thing in the world…*tear*…I can’t believe how blessed we are…*tear*…to think, we have 2 beautiful, smart, amazing girls…*tear*…to have the confidence to know that I never have to worry about my daughters, now or in the future….you make a father proud (breaks into inaudible sobbing and hugs Mom for giving him the two most important things in his life.)
Well – Not tellin’ em now!!!
(It took me about 5 years to work up the courage to tell Dad. And Mom might have read about this for the first time just now.  No lie).
But I guess it turned out for the best – I can easily be self-sufficient in the wild and learned at an early age not to panic. Ahh, the young adventurer.
Life is Good

My Amazing Time in Grad School-Thesis

Seeing as how adventure is in my blood, and “Wild” is my middle name, it only seems fitting that my graduate degree in Biology consisted of a thesis in which I got to follow and document the behavior of the largest carnivore I could find: The American Black bear.

Ok, ok so they aren’t TECHNICALLY carnivores. They are true omnivores, eating whatever they can find, BUT they are in Order Carnivora, so people think they are scary. Which they are. Kinda.

Anyway, this is how it all got started:

I heard about a month-long class I could take over the summer, in which you go to San Jose, Costa Rica and study monkeys. (Seriously, this is how it started). The course was called Primate Behavior and Conservation, and it was through DANTA. My parents didn’t really want me going down there by myself, but ones to NEVER restrict my adventures and education, my dad decided to go with me.  We would site-see for a few days, then I would meet up with the course people, and he would fly back home.  This will all be in a separate post later, because it was definitely an adventure. Unfortunately all but about 7 of my pictures got corrupted, so I don’t have anything to show you really. Sorry.

Anyway, with this class we learned a bunch of stuff, which I then brought back with me to the desert of West Texas, where I was going to school. A few days after I got back, I was taking another course for my degree called Desert Zoology. It was the best class I have ever taken. Basically, it was a hiking-until-the-prof-sees-something-worth-talking-about class, so we hiked and camped for a month. HOW GREAT IS THAT?! When we went to Big Bend National Park we saw a female bear in an oak tree with 4 cubs. Seriously, they were just hanging out in a tree above the trail.

The family that started it all

I told my prof and my BF (now Hubby) that I didn’t want to leave-I could seriously watch them all day long. My prof said, “that’s your thesis project.” See, I had been trying to come up with project ideas, and things kept falling flat, but this was the sudden epiphany I needed. My next thoughts to my BF were scrambled thoughts of working at a zoo somewhere, observing the feeding behaviors of Polar bears in captivity, Polar bears in the wild, wild lion behavior in Africa…I went on and on floating on a cloud of excitement about my future in Conservation. I was stoked.

Basically, I was going to be observing the bears for typical behaviors, which I categorized and provided detailed descriptions of.  Next I actually got to go to the park and find the bears. This sounds a lot harder than it sounds a lot easier than was just as difficult as it sounds.

But on my first day, first thing in the morning, Hubby was making breakfast and I was getting ready to hike, when he popped his head into the tent and said, “There’s a bear!”


I had planned all this out to the letter, but when it came time to it, I was hoping I was doing it right. Then I thought, well, it’s my research, so damnit, I am doing it RIGHT!

The next few months, I saw a lot of black figures through the trees like this:

Sow with two cubs

 Summer wasn’t so great. I didn’t see them much, but no one else did either. My personal theory was they went down to Mexico to cool off with a couple Coronas. Prove me wrong.

But I did get a lot of people asking what I was doing, and asking me if I was scared. Not once was I scared of the bears. I actually always felt safe with them. I mean, don’t get my wrong-I’m not going to be turning into Grizzly Man or anything, but the Black bears are used to human activity in the park, they are not aggressive, and I kept my distance. Even when I was heading back up the trail to camp one evening, after I had stayed on the trail a bit too long and it was getting dark. A large bear came up and met me on the trail. She (I’m assuming) stared right at me, then kept walking. It was A.MAZ.ING.

There was one time, when hiking high in the mountains with my BF that a bear got mad at us.  We didn’t even see him, because he was up the hill above us, and sleeping under a tree.  We would have walked right past him, but he sat up to look at us as we were walking, and caught our attention.

He did not like us watching him.

Black bears do a lot of huffing and puffing to try to scare people away but of course, I wasn’t going anywhere. We backed off a bit to give him his space, but it wasn’t good enough. He was still shaking branches and puffing at us, so we backed off some more. By this time, we were thinking, ‘ok, we need to go forward to get off the mountain. He does not want us to go forward. S!$t.’ He moved off a bit, to the other side of the small hill, so we thought he had gotten sick of us and left.  We grabbed our stuff that we had carefully put down while observing the bear, and speed-walked past where he had been. I looked back and he was standing there, (much closer to the trail than he had been), and we just kept going. That is why I said bears are scary. Kinda.

This little guy was my favorite through the whole study:

Yearling male

I saw him in the morning and watching him until the heat of the day when he wandered off. I came back in the afternoon and before I got to him I heard screaming and rocks further down the trail. A couple came back up the trail and this was the conversation:

Stupid people: “I wouldn’t go down there if I were you. There is a bear cub, but we didn’t see the Momma.”

Me, the amazing researcher:”I’m pretty sure I know who you are talking about, and he’s not with Mom anymore. He’s on his own.”

Stupid people: “Oh…can we follow you?”

After which they proceeded to ruin the video I was taking of him, by asking questions while I was filming. Thanks guys. I’m sure Discovery Channel has the same problems.

I also loved this guy:


I call him Jefe.  I know you can’t tell it in the picture, but this guy was HUGE. And he was hilarious. For all you non-behavioral studies types, I will explain something to you.  In the wild, animals usually survive on a feast-or-famine diet.  They attempt to spend as little energy as possible while obtaining their food, because they will need the fat they put on for when times are tough. (You know, the thing most Americans never have to worry about, and wonder why they can’t lose weight-your body “thinks” it should keep all that weight on, just in case).

Anyway, so by spending as little energy as possible, this HUGE bear was laying down under an oak tree, consuming every acorn he could reach.  Then he got up, turned around, layed back down, and continued to graze on the plethora of acorns. (Yes, I would say he had a plethora). I couldn’t believe how lazy he was! But I guess you don’t get that big by wasting time and energy.

The best part was, this whole time, I was standing on the other side of the tree, about 30 or so feet away. He knew I was there, but he didn’t really care. The area he was laying in was right next to the hiking trail, so when a couple came around the corner back up the trail, he freaked out from the sudden noise (Now do you see why I’m not scared of Black bears?) and ran away down the creek (the hikers almost ran too). Then all of a sudden, he stopped, sat down for a few seconds (pictured) and then slowly got up and walked away in the direction he had been about to run.

So, my observation was Jefe got a freakin’ head rush from standing up too quick! Seriously.

I saw some great things while doing this research, and I got to learn a lot:

I learned I don’t really like camping by myself, because it gets boring and creepy at night.

I learned that bears are actually pretty easy to predict.

and I learned that when you are on high-alert for Mountain lions, deer will scare the crap out of you every time.

The Chisos Mountains – My weekend home during the research project