The Artist Couple
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.
Thank you for following and supporting us and your local artists!
The Artist Couple
Happy April, A.C. fans! Both this month and next are looking quite busy for both Topher and I! Yesterday we sent out our first of many monthly newsletters! This is something we just started doing, so if you'd like to sign up, reply or contact us with your email. We also recently got our own Facebook page, so if you aren't following us yet, you definitely should: www.facebook.com/artistcouple :)
Here's the info that was in our April newsletter (without the spelling errors that I hope no one noticed...), plus a few extra things going on in our lives.
Topher has been shooting some beautiful real estate lately! He has recently switched to shooting HDR (High Dynamic Range), creating sharper photos that emphasizes clarity and contrast, as you can see in the above photograph. He's putting a lot of his new stuff on his Instagram, so if you like filling your life with luxurious homes or just want to see new homes on the market around the Austin area, check them out: @tophermackphoto
In drone news, Topher is still studying up for his pilot's license. The FAA will be releasing new commercial drone usage regulations this summer, so we are eagerly awaiting the new set of guidelines. Our drone has been a great starter, however we both feel it is time to upgrade. Our Phantom 3 Pro is small and compact, which is great for traveling with it and flying it through tight spaces, but not that great for windy days. Another thing I'm not a fan of is the camera's auto exposure. You could be panning an epic view, when the lighting changes and the auto exposure kicks in and suddenly everything is brighter or darker. It'd be nice if it was a smooth fade like on our DSLR cameras but it's very jumpy and can easily ruin a good shot.
Topher plans to build a custom drone that can hold one of our DSLR cameras, using the DJI Spreading Wings S900 Hexacopter frame (try and say that 5 times fast). This frame is larger and more powerful, making it much easier fly in wind and will give us more variety and versatility when it comes to cameras, lenses, upgrades, and repairs. Also no more jumpy exposures! Yay!
As for me, I have just started a 28x8ft mural that will be installed in the Lobby of Westwood High School this May, and will be the Class of 2016's graduation gift to the school. This will be the biggest painting I’ve ever taken on, as well as the biggest thing I will have ever installed. The mural is made from 7, 8x4ft MDF panels (which are MUCH heavier than anticipated). They are currently taking up about half of our kitchen and hallway allowing me to only paint 2-3 at a time. I'll be posting process photos to my Instagram @saramsense and, of course, will be posting updates here!
I've also been getting ready for two upcoming shows I'm apart of. One of them being the Little Artist BIG ARTIST Spring Show, at Imagine Art. If you don't know of the Chula League, it is an awesome non-profit that supports art and art education. You can find more info on their website: http://chulaleague.org
This is my first year being a part of their Little Artist BIG ARTIST program and I'm really loving it. I mentor my 5th grade little artist 3 hours a week for 10 weeks. During that time, we create two pieces of art that will be displayed in two shows, a spring show that I will also be displaying a piece in, as well as a winter auction at the Cherrywood Art Fair. My little artist will be showing her first ever relief print (above) and one other relief print, while I will be showing one of the two prints below.
It has been super awesome to watch the progress my little artist has made with the carving and power tools. She reminds me a lot of myself, and so does her artwork! If you'd like to check out the show, the opening reception is April 29 from 6-8pm at Imagine Art and closes May 15. The prints above, "Air" and "Water" are both a part of the series "Calming Elements". I have a few originals left so contact us if you're interested in purchasing any originals, (giclee prints will be available soon too)! You can check out the rest of this series on my website under prints: www.cargocollective.com/sarasenseman
The second upcoming show I'll be apart of is put on by RAW artists. This is the second of 4 shows that will be in Austin this year. It is one night only, May 26 from 7-11:30. There will be drinks, live music, a fashion show, and around 60 artist displaying their work. It’s all at The Belmont, in downtown Austin and tickets are only $20.00! The money goes towards my entry fee as an artist, so if you can’t make it but would still like to sponsor me and my work, feel free to buy a ticket anyways! You can check out my RAW profile and purchase tickets here:
The work I'm putting in this show is still undecided, so I'm excited to see how it will all come together and I hope to see a bunch of people there supporting local art and creativity!!!
We really appreciate everyones support during these first few months of starting our own business! We have some exciting things coming up this summer, so check back soon for more updates!
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.