Topher and I just got back from our annual road-trip around the midwest where we hiked our first four 14ers, explored new places and made new friends! Our first and the most exciting announcement, is that we are engaged! Topher got down on one knee at 14,295ft on the summit of Mt. Lincoln, in the beautiful state of Colorado and asked me to marry him. Although we've been telling a select few that we were already engaged/married even before then, it is now official! It was a trip full of humbling moments, bursts of laughter and plenty of celebrations that we will never forget.
"We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us." -Unknown
Five states, 3,000 miles and two weeks later, we have a ton of content to go through and edit, multiple commissioned paintings to create and many other projects going on! We have taken over Backwoods' Instagram (@backwoodsretail), posting photographs from our trip and we're working on some gear reviews and destination guides for them to post very soon on their blog (www.backwoodsadventures.com/muddy-hands-blog)! The past couple weeks have been a blur of happiness and bliss, but we are glad to be home and ready to create some art and share our adventures with all of you! We'll be posting more on our blog in the near future so stay posted to see and read about this year's road trip and June's Feature of the Month. We're also posting photos to our Facebook page and Instagrams (@artistcouple_photo and @artistcouple_art.design)
Time. There is conceivably nothing more powerful than it. Time defines us, when we are born, when we die; time heals all wounds. Time allows nature to build soaring mountains and carve deep canyons. Time creates vast civilizations and razes them to the ground. Time allows us to function in complex societies and as individuals. But, the most important thing about time, for me, is spending it with those you love, because time is precious, time is relentless, time is indifferent.
Every once in a while Sara and I find ourselves being consumed by work and our business. With Time as our master, we find ourselves dragged out of bed every morning by the alarm-clock. Time has declared the start of a new day and who are we to try to refute its claim? Morning after morning the cycle repeats and as our minds soften from its hypnotic rhythm, we start to lose track. Day in and day out we travel through time, oblivious to its relentless indifference and influence on us.
Like a canyon is carved from erosion and time,
so has our routine eroded our minds.
It's not till we stop to look back at then,
till we finally realize what fools we've been.
Now we can realize what should always be clear,
it's important to make time for those we hold dear.
What better time than now, on this Valentine's Day.
To clear off the calendar, so I can whisk you away.
There's magic in nature, this much is true,
one need only go seek it, this is what we must do.
Come follow me, as I held out my hand,
and I'll whisk you away to this magical land.
I know of a place and it isn't that far, where we can be the masters,
of everything we are.
With rekindled spirits we set our sights West,
the mission was clear, there was no time to rest.
The landscape we were headed toward was weathered and old,
and therein lies the secret to what you're being told.
For you see it's natures magic to withstand the tests of time,
and when you're in its presence it will shield you from the grind.
It's nature that protects us, as Time's helpless prey,
and together we'll be victorious and keep Time at bay.
You're journey has just started, but ours must come to an end,
and with that we welcome you to,
Business is going up and patience was running out; it was time for a break. When you come to Texas, whether it's just for a vacation or you're looking to relocate here along with what seems like the rest of the country, there is one thing that will inevitably come up, the Hill Country.
So what is the Hill Country anyways? Before I became a Texan I had no clue and simply pretended like I knew where it was, "oh yeah, the hill country. You know, that one place." Little did I realize that the Hill Country isn't simply a place, it is a whole region of places in Central Texas, that all have something in common; you guessed it, karst topography and tectonic uplift!
If you don't have a degree in geology that's okay, because neither do I, so let's first learn what that means, before I talk about this gem of a protected area, because learning is fun! I'm going to try and be as concise as possible, while also trying to make this easy to understand, let's see what happens.. First things first, what is a Karst and how does it make topography? I think the easiest way to understand a karst feature is to think of a limestone cavern, that has been made by a flowing underground stream. A large portion of Texas, especially in the Hill Country is one of two kinds of limestone. Limestone is a soft carbonate rock, that can be easily dissolved with a weak acid solution, such as slightly acidic rainwater. over millions of years this denudation of the earth by rainwater and other weathering and erosive processes, has helped carve out some of this topography, along with similar underground process creating caverns, some of which collapse, adding to the undulating landscape.
The second half of the equation, tectonic uplift, happens when two or more tectonic plates, which "float" on top of the Earths molten mantel collide or subduct. While the uplift in this region of the world is tens of millions of years old and is rather complicated to explain. In very basic terms, two plates crashed into each other about 80 million years ago. This collision pushed some of the rock up to form mountains and some was sub-ducted (pushed under the other plate), where it melted and in some cases formed domes of molten rock, which eventually cooled and formed what is called a Batholith. Enchanted Rock is a prime example of a Batholith formation. Put all that together and you have the Texas Hill Country!
While the Hill Country isn't one specific place as I came to learn, the Hill Country State Natural Area is. This incredible 5,369 acre preserve located in Bandera county, is in my opinion the definition of, "Texas Hill Country". It was opened to the public in 1984, after the land was donated to the State in parcels from 1976-1982. The beauty of this place is that it is NOT a state park, it is a state natural area. This means that the primary focus of the state is the preservation of the land in its current and natural state. If you are looking to drive up, pitch a tent and have a few beers with your buddies under the stars, while you peruse FaceBook and Instagram your "camping" excursion, this is not the place for you, because there is NOTHING out here and I LOVED it!
You won't find cell service, toilets, or electricity out here. You might be able to find water if you really know where to look and you don't mind drinking scummy hot water from a horse trough, but it's best to assume that if you need it, bring it, because they don't have it.
The topography starts off pretty easy and typical for central Texas, rocky and dry, with mixed flora, but with over 40 miles of trails and about 2,000 feet of elevation change, there is a trail for every personality and skill level. True to our personalities and general state of grumpiness, due to all the stress of getting busy with our business, Sara and I chose the "most difficult" trails. I should mention that the difficulty rating for the trails at Hill Country SNA are a bit different. The ratings start at, easiest, then go to, moderately difficult, and then MORE difficult to MOST difficult. It's important to pay attention to the last two, as there is a significant difference in difficulty between the two.
These two pictures are a good example of a "most difficult" trail. There is a couple hundred feet of elevation change from the bottom of this trail to the pass at the top.
The view at the top was well worth the extra effort though.
Because we at the Artist Couple are adventurers, we only backcountry camp. The HCSNA offers 3 sites for primitive backcountry camping. There is the "wilderness" area, which offers the highest elevation for camping in the area and a more Texas type experience. Then there is "butterfly Springs", which only has one site to camp, so if you want to be sure no one is going to cramp your style, this is the site for you. Last but not least, there is, "Hermit's Shack", which is where we stayed for the weekend. This natural area used to be a working Texas ranch and as such, there are several buildings, barns, and feeders scattered throughout the area. Hermit's Shack gets its name from a small tin building on the site, as evidence of days gone by.
One thing that should be on every good backpackers mind, when doing multi-day trips through the Hill Country in the spring, is flash flooding. The awesome power of water should never be underestimated and absolute respect for flash flooding in the Hill Country is paramount. If there are heavy rains in your forecast, I would highly recommend not camping at Butterfly springs or Hermit's Shack, as there are no less than 4 dry creek crossings and no alternative routes in a flash flood situation. Sara and I did encounter some rain at night, but we were very fortunate that the severe thunderstorms that brought flooding, hail and damaging winds were all around us and not on top of us. It did make for a spectacular symphony of aural sensations, with the gentle patter of rain against our thin vinyl tent laying down a hypnotically soothing rhythm, while epic displays of electrical discharge arrogantly touted their superior speed, as soul splitting cracks of superheated gas angrily roared in their wake.
On our only full day in the HCSNA, we got in as much therapy as we could. Some people pay to talk to people, others take medication, Sara and I require a healthy dose of fresh air in an analog state and I don't think I could have picked a better place to go. The area was pristine; cell service and roads, nonexistent; topography, challenging; views, expansive; it was everything we could have asked for and the weather was perfect to boot!
In case you didn't know, the Prickly Pear Cactus is the official plant of the State of Texas, and there were no shortages of them throughout the SNA. Spring is a special time of year in Texas I'm coming to discover, as everything blooms into a spectacular display of budding color!
The Prickly Pear wasn't the only thing blooming. Several other species of Cacti along with a plethora of wildflowers were on display for your viewing pleasure. Those pink flowers have the most spectacular coloration and designs, don't they!
Here's Sara drawing a super cute cactus I found. Sometimes you just need, ME time, and that's perfectly okay.
One thing I have never encountered in the wild, while backpacking or hiking is succulents! These little guys were only about 1-1.5" tall, but sooo supple and cute! They were definitely one of the highlights of my weekend, because I'm from the land of everything frozen for what seems like almost all the time and don't get anything even close to this growing outside back in Wisconsin.
The trails in this park are in my opinion, are some of the best I've ever hiked. Not because of their quality, but because of their purity and commitment to the ideology behind the creation of the SNA. There is everything from single -track hiking only trails, to double-track hike, bike, ride, trails, but how they cut through the landscape and wind through it, is a testament to the commitment the rangers have to the land for it, “to be kept far removed and untouched by modern civilization, where everything is preserved intact, yet put to a useful purpose.” - Louise Merrick (land donator)
One last thing that I am absolutely fascinated with in Texas, is the dramatic biotype changes in what I feel is such a small change in elevation. Can you believe that this lush green picture above, is from the same exact area as all the other pictures?!? What was once arid, rocky and dry is now, rich, lush and green. Absolutely fascinating. I can't wait for our backpacking trip to Big Bend, to experience one of the only places in the world where you can find flora from northern temperate and southern subtropical regions along with eastern and western plants all cohabiting.
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The Artist Couple
Sara & Topher
We are a working artist couple based out of Austin, TX. This blog chronicles our life and artistic ventures, as we work to make the world and environment a little better every day.