Now that cooler weather has arrived, some of you may be thinking of hiking in the desert and canyons of the Lower Pecos region of south Texas. Wonderful idea! I had the privilege of taking the guided hike to Presa Canyon last spring. The temperature was only forecast to be 95 degrees Farenheit, so the tour was a go. If it’s more than 100 F, they don’t take groups into the canyon, for good reason. I promised you then that I would write more about it ( see my post of March 18, 2013), but it has taken me awhile to get up the guts.
The hike was about eight hours, four hours in to Black Cave, and four hours out. Information from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department describes the hike as “extremely strenuous” due to “rough terrain,’ and suggests that hikers have “experience in backcountry hiking skills.”
I had been hiking in the Lower Pecos for 20 years or so, and I said to myself, “well, it’s ALL rough terrain,” so I thought I could do this. I made my reservation and paid my fee at Seminole Canyon State Park. Everything started fine, a lovely walk though a beautiful place. I felt good.
But when we turned down Presa Canyon itself, the nice flat canyon floor became a jumble of stones ranging in size from an Easter ham to a small Volkswagen. I wish I had thought to take a photo, but I was concentrating too hard on where to put my next footstep. Over and over again. For about six hours.
We reached Black Cave about noon, had our lunch, and studied the enigmatic rock art to be found there. Then we headed back. Four hours of watching where I put my foot, step by step, in exquisite torture. I hurt the whole way back. Every time I put my foot down for the next step, my toe hit the end of my boot, which hit the rock. Ouch! In addition to several blisters, I eventually lost five toenails. I wish I had a picture of that purple horror, too, to scare you straight. Fortunately for you, I don’t.
You see, I made some poor choices about this hike. Like the socks I chose. And how much I carried on my back. And,
knowing what I know now, I should have invested in different hiking boots. Even my wide-brimmed straw hat that I thought was great, turned out to snag on every limb and thorn along the way.
Another mistake was thinking I was really healthy enough to be doing this in the first place. There is a reason I was dragging at the end. Heat, exertion, and high blood pressure. Rock canyons become radiant stone ovens by afternoon on hot days. There was a time or two during the hike I thought I might pass out from heat stroke. I drank a lot of water, but high blood pressure gets you in the end. I thought I was OK before I started, then Val asked me, “is your blood pressure under control in normal conditions?” “Yes,” I said. “Well,” she said, stating the obvious,”these are not normal conditions.” Oh. I get it now.
Fortunately, I made some good choices too. Like being reasonably fit. And taking extra moleskin along to bind those blisters. And taking my trusty hiking poles. And freezing a couple of bottles of water the night before–they were sure good in the heat of the afternoon. I even had some to share, which was good because somebody else ended up carrying my pack most of the way out. Thank you, whoever you are. Sorry I don’t know your name. You were galloping along so easily, and I was so far behind.
So, here’s my list of must-haves if you take this hike:
Sunscreen, of course
Bandana wrapped around small frozen bottle of water–wet the bandana down and wrap it around your neck in the afternoon to chill down
Baseball-style hat, possibly with neck protection
Moleskin and knife or small scissors
wool hiking socks
good fitting hiking boots
hiking poles (optional for the young and agile)
easy lunch that does not need refrigeration, like peanut butter sandwiches
one or two pieces of fruit like apple or orange for snack
camera ( I only took my iphone camera because it was light. But you may want higher resolution photos)
Bandaids (you never know when you might need first aid)
Be careful, and watch where you put your feet and hands. Rattlers, you know. Just remember that a rescue crew would have to walk in and out four hours each way too. I asked the designated first aid specialist with us , a big former Army type, if he would carry me out if I broke my leg. “Yes,” he said,” but I don’t bring anesthetic. You would hurt like hell.” Go safely, my friends.