Why Outdoor Traditions Make Our Life Better

A version of this article originally appeared in Texas Wildlife magazine. Join Texas Wildlife Association today to get this fun monthly publication with resources for ranch owners.

When we arrive at our farm, we go for a ride before doing anything else. Out on the dirt roads, without a soul or sound for miles, we unwind from city life, pick fresh vegetables from our crops, and inventory wildlife. In the evenings, we pull our chairs in the front yard to watch the sun set and the stars come out. It is one of my favorite outdoor activities–just next to sitting around a campfire with a s’more in hand. Growing up, my family had a tradition of hiking in the Rocky Mountains almost annually, a custom that has given me a permanent soft spot for Colorado and its rugged scenery.

While these traditions may seem inconsequential, they are part of what I cherish about my time outside and they have helped inspire my lifelong love of being outside.

Nearly each one of you, I’ll bet, has a tradition to share as well! Am I right?

Traditions—be they odd, funny, or serious—give the experience meaning. They solidify our relationships with each other by taking us out of our element. They inspire a feeling of kinship with Mother Nature by making us turn away from the man-made world and appreciate the unsurpassed beauty of the natural world around us.

To the average bystander, your favorite trail, park, ranch or hunting lease may look like just a blank spot on the map, but to you it is hallowed ground.

Here’s what a few Whit’s Wilderness readers had to say about their beloved traditions.

Growing up, my dad would load us into our old jeep for a ride through the pastures on summer evenings. We would drive to a high spot and watch the deer come in before sundown. That tradition carried over to our new ranch, and now my sons load up their families and drive from one pasture to another watching for wildlife. That makes four generations of my family who are drawn to the woods on summer evenings. We encounter everything from deer and wild hogs to foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and the occasional shooting star. What a great way to end a day!
— Carol Knutson, D’Hanis, TX


On the weekend before Thanksgiving, my friends and I gather at my ranch for a hunting weekend and cook a big Thanksgiving meal. Before the meal is served, everyone has to “dress for dinner” in clothes that they find in the closets, most of which have been there for decades. We call the weekend “Mock Thanksgiving” and we have been doing it for 15 years. It’s hilarious and heart-warming at the same time.
— Ashley Amini, Austin, TX

(I LOVE this Ashley!!)


Some of my favorite childhood hunting memories are from when my Great Uncle David would come to visit us on the ranch my dad managed. He would bring his travel trailer, and we would get up early to eat a breakfast of Oreos and “milk-coffee” in the trailer. When we returned mid-morning from hunting, Mom had home-made biscuits and gravy ready for a real breakfast, and in the evenings, we would hang out at the skinning shed, where my Dad would make camp coffee as we waited for folks to come in with their evening harvest.
— Jenny Sanders, Lufkin, TX


When the boys were little, the requirement for going on hunting trips was that you had to be potty trained, mind all grown-ups, and be in good standing on school work. Starting when each of my sons was about two, we took many hunting trips together—from opening weekend through Thanksgiving and year-end holiday hunts. Pronghorn and mule deer season were reserved for “daddy trips” until the boys were older. Once while I was packing for such a trip, one of the boys put his camo teddy in my bag so I wouldn’t miss my sons. This tradition continued with each of my boys. The Hunting Bear was my constant companion on many trips and no one ever teased me about having a teddy bear next to my pillow in hunting camp.
— Dr. Bill Eikenhorst, Brenham, TX


I have a favorite place on our ranch for taking photos, a high spot where the hills bend down into a narrow valley. We have been taking group shots there for years. It’s amazing to look back over the photos and see how groups have evolved and the kids have grown, but the land remains unaltered. This scenic spot is a constant in our ever-changing world – it keeps us grounded and connected to the land so we don’t forget our roots.
— Ashley Amini, Austin, TX


One thing we do is kick off the new hunting season with a Gary P. Nunn concert in the saloon at our annual Dove Bust! In the summers, we fill the pila with water to swim in. We also love hosting Texas Youth Hunting Program and Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation hunts every year.
— Crystal Watts, Boerne, TX


It may be just a scenic overlook or a simple summer evening swim, but the bond we forge with the land in those moments is lasting. Here’s to many years of traditions and memories on your favorite piece of land!

What are some of your traditions?

Heritage Game Mounts with Rita Schimpff

This month in my column for Texas Wildlife magazine I featured three talented Texas women who turn trophies into beautiful pieces of art. Today I am featuring Rita Schimpff with Heritage Game Mounts!

{Become a member of Texas Wildlife Association today to read the full column!}


Imagine the taxidermy mounts, tartan fabrics, and oil paintings you might see in a Scottish highlands castle–now, combine that image with Texas’ whitetail deer, bobwhite quail, ducks, and thornbrush. This is the one-of-a-kind artwork Rita Schimpff is known for, and it stands out from traditional taxidermy.

Schimpff’s designs include hand-carved oak leaves and acorns, tartan fabrics milled in Scotland, and hand painted landscapes and wildlife reminiscent of old world hunting scenes. To make it even more personal, your own ranch brands or fabrics can be incorporated.

Here is my interview with the wonderful and talented Rita Schimpff!

How would you describe what you make?

I make elegant antler display panels for exotic and domestic game to be displayed in old world style mountings popular in European Hunting Lodges of the past. My panels are handcrafted here in the USA and designed by me, with deep relief oak leaves and acorns to be used with either the client’s antlers or from my collections of vintage antlers. The panels come in several finishes and can be custom painted. I also paint and represent lines of sporting art and accessories.

What inspired you to start making this art?

I was inspired by family sporting heirlooms and necessity. Our shoulder mount whitetail did not stand out over the fireplace of our new home.  I had long admired the antique Swiss carvings called Brienzerware, but could not find one large enough or that did not cost an arm and a leg, so I created my own!

(Whit’s note: Brienzerware is old-fashioned forest-themed wood carvings like what you would see on a cuckoo clock or in a Swiss cottage.)

We also have a German Charivari, made of tiny sterling oak leaves and acorns that hunters wore on lederhosen to symbolize a successful hunt. These pieces started the creative process.

I continue to derive inspiration from our collection of sporting memorabilia, as well as the Victorian fascination with flora and fauna and their creative ways of display and taxidermy.

“Antlers are nature’s art & sculpture.”

What is your most popular design?

It is a tie between the Monogram Legacy and Tartan Legacy.  They make statements as wedding gifts, board gifts, a memorable hunt, ranch warming or to honor a first trophy.

I incorporate a beautiful line of tartans that are milled in Scotland by one of my favorite designers and many times people supply or have me find their family tartan.

How long have you been making Heritage Game Mounts?

I started my company in 2010 – but I have studied art since I was 10.  I graduated from TCU with a BFA in Commercial Art and a minor in textile design and printing.  I studied Tromp L’oeil, marble and stone finishes at the Day Studio in San Francisco and all the while continued to paint & draw wildlife.

What has been the most interesting piece you have done?

I painted an upland scene on my largest panel and placed a mounted flushing bobwhite quail lifting off the panel.  A lady wanted it as a surprise for her husband and we decided to incorporate their Brittany spaniels.  The pups are long gone, and held a special place in the family.

What inspired your love of wildlife and the outdoors?

My love of wildlife and outdoor pursuits started very young, I was lucky that both sets of grandparents had beautiful farms near San Antonio. I turned the sheep into pets, rode horses, helped with the cattle and learned to drive standard on an old Ford pickup.  And shot my first deer there when I was 10.

Do you like to hunt and if so, what is your favorite thing to hunt and why?

These days our passion centers around dove, upland game birds and salt and fresh water fly fishing.  I got an IGFA super grand slam on trout last summer with my grandfather’s antique bamboo fly rod and reel.  This January I caught my largest redfish on the fly—22 pounds!

How can people can purchase a Heritage Game Mount?

You can purchase the panels by themselves or with installed antlers ready to hang, through my website https://HeritageGameMounts.com or visit my home by appointment.

Garden & Gun Magazine also carries them in their online Mercantile.

 

Can people send in their own antlers to be custom made, and if so, how do they do that?

Yes, people send or drop off their processed antlers.  Often they bring their own fabrics or Ranch Brands to incorporate in a design.

Do you have shows?

I do a number of private shows in Texas each year, along with Christmas in Cowtown in Ft.Worth, Houston Safari Club and special fundraising events at Joshua Creek Ranch and Houston Gun Club-Targets for Tourette’s.

Where can people find you online?

Thank you Rita for sharing your story with us. I loved learning about the European traditions that inspire you! Keep up the good work.

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A Stunning Way to Display Your Hunting Trophy

This month in my column for Texas Wildlife magazine I featured three talented Texas women who turn trophies into beautiful pieces of art. Today I am sharing the first of them–Annlyn Osborn with Haute Horns! I have no doubt you will be as impressed as I me with her work and want to order your own custom set.

{Become a member of Texas Wildlife Association today to read the full column!}


Sometimes the best ideas come on a whim.  That’s how Haute Horns started for Annlyn Osborn, a South Texan and former Fiesta Duchess who makes intricate beaded and painted trophy artwork for clients across the state. Annlyn grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and throughout her life has kept one foot in the city and one on her family’s ranch, where her love of wildlife has blossomed. One night several years ago, her love of the natural world and her affinity for art fell together as an art project and she has been making custom trophy art ever since.

How would you describe what you make?

I like to think that I breathe new life in to old European mounts by beading them.

What inspired you to start making this art?

I’ve always had an affinity for the arts, and growing up spending time at the ranch cultivated a love for animals, so it fell together one night as an art project.

Where do you get inspiration for different designs?

A lot of my designs come from historical art and tribal patterns. I’m a sucker for a symmetrical motif.

What is your most popular design/medium?

Its a toss up between Swarovski TM crystals and seed beads. The crystals can sometimes provide a more stunning display, but the small beads showcase my attention to detail.

What has been the most interesting piece you have done?

Its so hard to pick a favorite, but I recently finished my biggest piece ever, a commissioned Swarovski TM longhorn.

What inspired your love of wildlife and the outdoors?

I hail from a long line of hunters who instilled a love for animals and conservation in my mind. Then, in 2010 I embarked on an eye opening Outward Bound journey that had a powerful impact on how I perceive nature.

Do you like to hunt and if so, what is your favorite thing to hunt and why?

I’ve been very fortunate that my family and I have been able to go on several African safaris that brought us all closer together, but the hunt that stands out in my mind the most was this past October. I took my first bull elk with my dad by my side, after looking for the right one for three years, on my family’s place in New Mexico. Never has a hunt been so rewarding. (Not to mention all the elk steaks.)

Can people send in their own antlers to be custom made, and if so, how do they do that?

Yes, I love taking commissions where the client wants to add a personal touch to a trophy or family heirloom.

Annlyn’s designs add color and flair to any trophy, small or large. I can’t wait to have a trophy worthy of Annlyn’s work!

How to Order

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10 Tips for Owning a Ranch, with Texas Rancher Carol Knutson

Yesterday you may have seen my post where I interviewed Texas rancher Carol Knutson, and today I wanted to share her brilliant tips for running a ranch! Whether you have a ranch or not, some of these ideas still apply to ownership of any property–be it suburban home or big acreage. Fellow property owners, feel free to add your two cents in the comments!

1. Find a place that you love because the work often seems hard and never-ending.

2. Look for land with potential for improvement, on a scale you can manage.

3. Expect to have a lot of responsibilities, from the livestock to the land and water.

4. Be vigilant and careful. Between animals and machinery, ranching can be dangerous.

5. Prepare for the many expenses. It’s important to generate income off the land or have another source of funds.

6. Understand that nothing in nature stays the same, and land takes work every single day.

7. Learn from your mistakes and be open to new ways.

8. Be a self-starter, have a strong work ethic, and be resourceful.

9. Have a network of people on which you can rely.

10. Take time each day to enjoy your land. Be grateful for what you have accomplished and for the time you have been given to care for it.

Modern Day Outdoorswoman: Carol Knutson

Life on a ranch is full of surprises. Many people might be surprised at the things women ranchers have to buck up and do, from operating chain saws to fixing flats, to wrangling animals into pens, pastures, and pickups. Even though the work never ends, the rewards are many. Recently I interviewed Carol Knutson, a woman who always wanted a ranch and finally, one day she was able to purchase her own. Here’s a glimpse into what life back at the ranch is like.


A version of this article appeared in Texas Wildlife magazine. Texas Wildlife Association is a nonprofit that works to conserve wildlife in the state of Texas. They host educational programs for kids, land owners, and women and do great work! 


One of the highlights of my life in the outdoor blogging, conservation, and ranching world has been the chance to meet people from across Texas who ranch, work on interesting conservation projects, or simply love the land and believe in sharing their passion with others. You all are my kind of people!

In particular, I’ve been amazed by the women I’ve met and the ambitious ranch work they take on. Their efforts “behind the gates” are impressive and not always glamorous.

One such awe-inspiring woman is Carol Knutson, a Women of the Land graduate, decade-long TWA member, and what I call a modern-day outdoorswoman. Knutson is the owner of the Muy Seco Ranch, approximately 350 acres of land near D’Hanis, Texas which she purchased in 2006. She has chickens, cattle, donkeys, llamas, and peacocks, and handles nearly all ranch chores on her own.

What inspired you to own land?

Ranching has always been a way of life for me. I grew up on my family’s ranch in Bandera County, and it’s where I raised my children. After my father passed away and I was on my own, I began looking to buy property.

Do you still feel like you’re carrying on the family tradition now that you’re on a new ranch?

When I sold the Bandera County ranch, I feared it was the end of the world. However the ten years I’ve spent on my D’Hanis land have been some of the happiest years of my life.

What qualities were you looking for in a ranch when you purchased this one?

I was looking for deep soil, good water, and land with potential to be productive. I wanted to be near where I grew up, and in an agrarian community.

What were some of the first projects you tackled?

Establishing permanent grasses on 160 acres for cattle was one of them. I’ve also worked to control mesquite, cross-fence pastures for rotational grazing, and improve roads.

What has been the most difficult project you’ve undertaken?

Laying hundreds of yards of water lines by hand was tough! Controlling mesquite is also a constant battle.

What is your favorite work to do on the ranch?

I love working in the pastures. Even though the work is dusty, I see wildlife I wouldn’t see in a 4-wheeler.

Describe an average day at the Muy Seco Ranch.

I start the day by going to the barn to see what has happened overnight, and dealing with that. Then I find what’s on the wrong side of the fence, and I put it back where it belongs. Then I see what’s running over, and I fix that. Then, I feed and turn animals out. Depending upon the time of year, I will either mow or get on the tractor. Something always has a flat, so there’s a lot of tires to be changed. I also plow and spray fields and monitor wildlife on game cameras.

Prior to purchasing the ranch, what did you envision ranch ownership would be like? Has that image changed?

I hoped it would be a dream come true, and it has been.

How has ranching changed since when you were a kid?

Back then, knowledge came from our elders and from trial and error. Now we can tap into resources using technology. From the field, I can reach my neighbors for help and search the internet for answers. It has helped me be even more resourceful.

What’s next for you?

I’m looking for a new place in the Hill Country, and I’m excited about what’s to come.

 

Ali and Crew Hike the Highest Peak in Texas

When my childhood friend Alison shared a picture of herself and three girlfriends on top of Guadalupe Peak, I was so impressed. Guadalupe Peak stands at 8,751 feet above sea level in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, one of two national parks in Texas.

These girls came, they climbed, they conquered, they celebrated with champagne. Today I’m interviewing Alison about the trip and getting the low down on this mountain. Good news: it’s not as daunting or as difficult as it seems. My only question is now, How come my girlfriends and I haven’t done this?!  (Beware friends, I may soon be recruiting you for a similar adventure.)

So, what prompted this trip?

My friend Katie, actually. She had done Big Bend the year before, but hadn’t really hiked. She mentioned Guadalupe Mountains to me and we decided to do it, and then two other friends, Allie and Shelby, came too.

When did you go?

  • Halloween weekend. I think October is a great time, it’s not scorching hot and you can actually wear pants and not be miserable.

(Whit’s sidenote — This is how Texans describe winter weather: “You can actually wear pants and not be miserable.”)

LODGING

Did you camp? Where did you stay?

  • We stayed in a hotel in Carlsbad, New Mexico. We didn’t do actual tents. I don’t know if you want to say that on your blog! Haha!

Honestly, some of my readers don’t like staying in tents. Not everyone’s hard core.

ITINERARY

Tell us your itinerary.

  • Day 1 – Left Austin at 2pm, drove from Austin to Carlsbad (7 hours)
    Dinner at a hole in the wall Mexican food joint
  • Day 2 – Hiked to the top of Guadalupe Peak
    Dinner at a local pizza place in Carlsbad
  • Day 3 – Toured Carlsbad Caverns
  • Day 4 – Drove back to Austin

HIKING TO THE TOP

How long was the hike to the top of Guadalupe peak?

  • We started around 9am, and I think it took us about 3 hours to the top.

How did you like it?

  • The hike was really fun. There is an awesome view from the top! Our friend Katie had brought food and champagne. She always likes to have champagne after a hike, and so we went to nearby McKittrick Canyon and had champagne after it was over.

How challenging was it?

  • It was challenging, definitely. There is a 3,000 foot elevation gain. The difficulty is right up front in the first hour. I was winded. Allie was just talking away as we were hiking and I was like, “How are you not winded right now?” Some of us were super fit, but some of us didn’t work out every day. No one complained so I think we all did fine.

Did you feel like you were on a mountain or did it feel like just another hill in Texas?

  • Haha yeah…pretty much another hill in Texas. It was kind of cool though. I think this land is beautiful in its own way, but I much prefer Colorado. The hike was actually really pretty because it had a great mixture of landscapes–arid desert at the beginning of the trail, and then it got rockier, and then there were pine trees in certain areas. Some trees were changing color, and it felt like a wintery day for October.

WILDLIFE

Did you see any wildlife?

  • No, actually. Which was kind of surprising.

WHAT SHE WORE

What did you wear hiking?

  • The other girls wore yoga pants but I wore some Magellan hiking pants and a black work out shirt and then I brought hiking poles.

Sidenote: Whitney and Alison agree that hiking poles are awesome! Super helpful for big hikes.

Did you bring a day pack?

  • I took my Camelbak with water and one granola bar. The hike really wasn’t that strenuous so I wasn’t that hungry.

TIPS FOR WHIT’S WILDERNESS READERS

On your next trip, would you do anything different?

  • I would have loved to camp. But you also have to think about your party you’re with and if you don’t have the gear or the experience it’ a whole different ball game.

Do you have any advice for people going on this trip?

  • Go with a person that enjoys hiking
  • Have hiking boots/shoes – just tennis shoes are not good. Buy them early and break them in.
  • Don’t expect it to be easy like Barton Springs
  • Plenty of water – have a camelback
  • Bring hiking poles

Whitney’s tip: bring a Texas flag to wave in photos up at the top!

All in all, how would you sum up your trip to Guadalupe Peak?

  • It’s a good weekend trip. I thought it was worth the drive. I mean it’s relatively close, it’s here in Texas, so why not go.


DETAILS ON CARLSBAD CAVERNS

Was Carlsbad Caverns awesome?

  • Yeah, it was really pretty. We spent a full day but I mean, we saw a lot of rock. It’s a very impressive cave.

Anything worth doing in the town of Carlsbad?

  • There’s not much to see besides the caverns.

Favorite thing you did at Carlsbad Caverns?

  • We did the lantern tour, where its pitch black except for our lanterns which was really fun. We paid a little bit extra to do that, which I think was worth it. We had this really funny tour guide who was awesome. Then we went around the really big cavern on our own.

Thanks for sharing your adventure with us, Alison! You girls are impressive for making it up the highest peak in Texas. Way to go.

So, who wants to go with me on a girl’s trip?


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The Adventure of Getting Your First Deer

My friend Kristin bagged her first whitetail deer over Thanksgiving break. Go Kristin! To be honest, I was surprised to hear it was her first deer. Kristin is so outdoorsy and has been on many a hunt, I figured she would have had the chance before. But no. She stands as proof that it’s not too late to become a hunter, ladies!

An animal lover at heart, Kristin didn’t grow up hunting and made the conscious choice to become a hunter many years ago. Now she sees it as an extension of her love of the natural world. If you’re wondering how that is possible, read on. In this interview she shares how she prepared for this hunt, what it was like to shoot her first deer, and why she does it. You’re going to love her!

Is it possible to not like someone with a duck named Waddlesworth? Really.


Welcome to Whit’s Wilderness Kristin! First, tell us a little bit about yourself.

I was born and raised in Eugene, Oregon and now call the Czech Out Ranch home just outside of San Antonio. My husband Adam is a Texas native and our property is a dream that came to fruition three years ago when we moved from Oregon to live a more outdoor-oriented lifestyle on 30 acres.

I am 30 years young and enjoy hiking, gardening, camping, archery and training in competitive dog sports with my rough collie Jane. Jane currently holds seven AKC titles in agility and obedience.

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My friend Nicole and I own Cowgirls and Collies where we craft custom jewelry and dog collars. I especially love creating feather necklaces inspired by my outdoor adventures.

warrinh

In addition to Jane, I have 14 ducks, 1 chicken, 1 canary, 2 cats, 1 rabbit and a wide variety of wildlife on the property from bobcat to quail. I especially love raising ducks, mainly for their eggs, but also because it is impossible to be sad with ducks around; they are unique, comical creatures.

My favorite duck I own is an Indian runner drake named Waddlesworth.

This year my crested hen Maybell hatched and successfully raised her own duckling which was quite fun to watch! Her duckling, Uno, is now bigger than she is. (Yes, all fourteen have names.)

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Did you grow up around the outdoors?

I have always felt a deep connection with the outdoors. I grew up playing in the woods behind our house in the Willamette Valley. My parents took my brother and I on adventures and I have fond memories of camping and playing on the beach or visiting places like Crater Lake National Park.

kristin-old-photo

It’s fitting because I was born on Earth Day. My mom still calls me her “mud puppy” as a term of endearment.

How did you first get exposed to the idea of hunting?

My dad grew up hunting but never thought I would enjoy it because of my gentle nature towards animals. I once named a bluegill he caught in a pond “Vince Gill” and when I found out Vince died I cried the whole car ride home.

I wasn’t truly exposed to hunting until I met Adam when I was eighteen years old. He taught me the role of hunting in wildlife management and conservation and exposed me to the fact that the very places I loved hiking were preserved with dollars from hunting licenses.

kristin-and-adam

Before you were a hunter, what was your perception of hunting?

I will admit I was a very naive to the benefits of hunting before I became a hunter. I thought I would never be able to kill or eat wild game. Even so, I followed Adam around in the woods documenting his hunting adventures with my camera. I enjoyed being in nature and seeing things that I never got to see before.

I wasn’t sure how I would deal with the death of an animal but when I saw Adam harvest his first doe with a bow I was really astounded.

I found that a hunter could still have remorse for an animal even though they took its life.

What was the first animal you ever hunted?

The first animal I hunted was blacktail deer with my bow.  In Oregon you primarily spot and stalk deer so it was quite an experience for me, though I was unsuccessful in harvesting one. I will never forget two does hashing out their territorial anger mere feet in front of me. I stood there hoping they would mistake me for a tree. Or the time I hunted in the snow and a buck came in just yards out of my comfort zone.

Bow hunting deer helped me discover some of the most beautiful land in Eastern Oregon that I would have never seen before.

The first animal I ever harvested was a pheasant with Adam’s 12 gauge Benelli at Fern Ridge Wildlife Area, a place I had grown up visiting my whole life not knowing that it was used for hunting.

kristin-pheasant

After that first pheasant I researched and purchased my own shotgun, a 20 gauge Mossberg which fit my petite stature perfectly. Since then I have proudly harvested duck, dove, jackrabbit and turkey with that shotgun.

My first pheasant hangs in my office as a reminder of how far I have come since that moment.

I did eventually end up harvesting an animal with a bow when I moved to Texas–a feral hog.

What made you want to take a deer?

I wanted to harvest a deer primarily for food. As carnivores, we spend a lot of money on beef but I know the benefits of eating lean, natural venison. Knowing where my food comes from has become important to me.

Though I have had the advantage of eating venison harvested by Adam over the years I wanted to be a contributor.  

Eating a deer you harvest is just as gratifying as plucking a tomato from your garden. I dream of a day when I’ll never have to purchase meat or the majority of my vegetables from a store.

How did you prepare to go deer hunting? What were some of the best resources you turned to?

I am fortunate to be married to an avid hunter and outdoorsman who has been my primary resource guide through it all. Adam became an Eagle Scout at the young age of thirteen and grew up hunting with the Texas Youth Hunting Program. He is the smartest person I know when it comes to firearm safety and information.

shooting

That being said I have reached out to many women through social media for guidance throughout the years. Women like Sarah Fromenthal, Andrea Haas and Christine Cunningham have always encouraged me. And of course, Whit’s Wilderness!

I watched and aided in the hunt long before I ever became a hunter. I think that by doing so it really helped me develop all the skills it takes- patience, strategy, persistence, safety and more. I now love guiding and helping others achieve their hunting goals.

What gun did you use and how did you choose it?

I used a Savage .308 rifle with a SilencerCo suppressor. I can’t tell you how many people I have met who suffer from hearing loss due to firearms. Wearing hearing protection during the hunt is difficult when you need to hear the game you seek, surroundings and/or your hunting partner. I guess that is a benefit to bow hunting.

One of my biggest worries when hunting is improper shot placement. I pray for a quick kill and the least amount of suffering for the animal I seek.

A suppressor aids in this goal by reducing recoil and muzzle flinch. Suppressors are regulated under the National Firearms Act and though they involve some extra requirements to own they are worth it to me.

How did you go about getting comfortable with your gun?

As with any weapon, target shooting is the primary way I get comfortable with a gun.

Knowing how to safely load, unload and take any gun on and off safety are the most important things for me to feel confident in the field.

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Give us a run down on the experience, from the moment you left the ranch house to after pulling the trigger.

Waking up around 4 AM in Victoria, coffee was in order before we headed to the New Ranch in Fannin about a half hour away. Our good friends Devon and Chris Bethune at New Ranch Outfitters own and operate the 3,000 or so acre low fence property along the banks of the San Antonio River. Our Thanksgiving weekend had consisted of amazing home cooking and wonderful hospitality and we were ready for our second day of hunting. Adam had harvested a doe the day before.

As Adam and I headed out to the river bottom where we would hunt that day, Chris hollered to me, “There’s a buck down there with your name on it!” It turned out that there was a cull eight point in the area that was fair game.

At first light, we saw a buck a hundred yards off and after much deliberation we figured out it was not the cull I was after. Several does made an appearance as well, however, a very large branch in the oak tree in front of our blind made it impossible to get a proper shot. It was frustrating but we hoped the does would come closer.

We were watching the does when out of nowhere appeared the biggest buck I have ever seen in person. Remember, I am originally from Oregon where our deer are much smaller bodied. It was the cull buck. I placed my sights on his big body, as close to the vitals as I could and followed him as he eagerly walked away towards the does, sniffing the air. The only time he stopped was partly behind a large tree. A part of me wanted to pull the trigger but I knew it was not the perfect shot placement I had envisioned. He quickly disappeared into the woods, along with the does.

I was disappointed and questioned my judgement on the cull buck when we headed into the evening hunt. I really wanted to provide food for Adam and I. Would I ever get an opportunity again? Could I be successful?

Maybe I was overthinking deer hunting too much or my expectations were too high. These thoughts went through my head as the evening went on and no deer were to be seen. At around 5:30 PM I had given up hope of seeing anything when Adam tapped my shoulder. A doe and a young buck stepped out into my shooting lane. Adam confirmed that the doe was a good size and reassured me that the young buck was of age. Something I knew but needed him to confirm to feel more confident. I waited with my sights on her as she slowly turned back and forth, foraging. When she turned perfectly broadside I aimed at her vitals and took a deep breath, squeezing the trigger, taking my time. When my rifle went off I watched as the doe stumbled and fell mere feet away from where she had been shot. I had harvested my first deer.

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What are some of the emotions you felt right before and after pulling the trigger?

I was worried I would make a mistake in my shot placement. Afterwards I was thankful and happy it had been a swift kill. A deer in the wild can be killed in much more gruesome ways, either by a predator or a moving vehicle.

I had executed, as it turns out, a perfect shot in the heart.

Not only was I fulfilling my role as provider but I was also doing the landowners a favor [by helping them keep their population in check.]

Did you clean the deer yourself?

Adam and I cleaned the deer together. My favorite part about cleaning a deer is skinning it because I am really interested in learning to tan hides. I am still learning how to clean a deer but gaining more confidence every time.

I use a custom BRT Bladeworks knife from Oregon that Adam bought me 7 years ago.  This knife has never known a dull day and I still send photos of it in the field to the knife maker, Ben Tendick. He says it is the most used knife he’s ever made. We hung the gutted deer in a walk in freezer located at the ranch and the following day quartered it for transport.

Do you have any advice to first time hunters?

Go at a pace that suites you.

At the end of the day it is all about making memories, regardless of the outcome of the hunt.

I have never been pushed into hunting or doing anything that I didn’t want to do. I only push myself based on my goals. It may have taken me a long time to harvest a deer but I always felt comfortable, even when the anxiousness of defeat hit me. I never felt pressured.

I had a lot of ups and downs, believe me, and someone needs to tell the first time hunter that’s ok. I think sometimes experienced hunters lose patience with those less confident in the field.

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I know you are an animal lover. Why does hunting make sense to you?

Living on the land has really influenced the way I think about hunting and its role. I see and interact with wildlife on a daily basis. I respect, yet curse the coyote. My heart flutters when I bust a covey of quail in a bush or see a grey fox on my trail camera. I feel connected with these animals in a way I never experienced before.

What drives me to hunt is being joined with nature, creating memories outdoors and doing my part to balance wildlife populations that the land can support.   

What about wild game is appealing to you?

When I tasted venison for the first time it agreed with all my values of natural, hormone-free food, and plus it was delicious!

There has been resurgence in localized, all natural, healthy eating but like anything it has turned into a commercialized fad, with “organic” labels slapped on anything these days. The majority of Americans out there are still disconnected with the food they eat, organic or not. I was once one of those people.

When I became a gardener and a hunter I started looking at food a lot differently.

My food symbolized my hard work, dedication and I knew exactly where it came from. I was proud of the food on my plate.

I can’t say it better than outdoorsman Donnie Vincent,

Unless you’re a small time rancher, small time farmer, a hunter or fishermen… you really have no idea where your food comes from. Most people don’t even think about it. Well, we think about it.”

Is there anything you don’t like about hunting? 

The romanticism of one animal over another. To me, every native animal holds a special place in the balance of our ecosystem. There is a tendency to hate seemingly ugly creatures out there that don’t have doey eyes or big trophy antlers. Case in point, the Javelina. The Javelina is a native species to Texas that many deem ugly and inedible. I happen to think they are just one of many unique and interesting animals native to Texas and I can tell you they are very edible. My first rifle kill was a Javelina and it happened to score second place in the Texas Big Game Awards last season.

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In general terms, I dislike when hunters show lack of respect for any of the game they seek. I don’t think that they represent the majority of hunters out there. If anything, they contribute to the decline of our rights by misrepresenting what hunting is truly about. We need to start realizing that not everyone has to hunt our way or even be a hunter to be a supporter.

The more people who respect hunters as conservationists and wildlife stewards, the better for the future of hunting.

Okay, I have to ask a field fashion question because you know me, that’s what I do! What did you wear?

In the short years I have been hunting, I have gone from wearing an oversized men’s camouflage sweatshirt and army pants to the latest technological outerwear designed for the female hunter. Let me tell you, it makes a difference!

I primarily wear the First Lite Alturas Guide Pant and Artemis Hoody with Larkspur base layer pants underneath. I love my First Lite gear. It is form fitting, comfortable and wicks moisture. I have also worn their apparel while hiking and been comfortable in hot afternoons in Texas. I hope First Lite will continue to add to their inventory of hunting apparel for women.

(Wink wink, First Lite, if you’re reading this, get on it!)

Were there any key pieces of equipment you were glad you had brought?

  • Gloves: For being a Northerner I get extremely cold easily! Despite rising temperatures I wore my gloves all day during that hunt. Keeping my hands warm is really important to me to feel comfortable in the blind and while out in the field.
  • Snake boots: I wear my Chippewa snake boots just about everywhere, at home on the property or out in the field. Walking long distances might be tough in them because they are a little heavy but they are a necessity. My favorite thing about them is that they have a lifetime warranty.

You hunt lots of other animals, what are some of your favorites?

If I had to pick one animal to hunt for the rest of my life it would be the turkey. I love everything about turkey hunting. Hearing them glide down from the trees in the morning, sitting under a tree and calling them into a decoy or spotting them from afar and trying to cut them off. I love their beautiful feathers and watching them strut around their semi- impressed hens.

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I hope to fulfill my goal of Sandhill crane hunting in Texas one day and my number one dream hunt would be ptarmigan in Alaska.

Any parting thoughts for women considering hunting for the first time?

My advice for other women is to not get discouraged. I am always learning. If you are unsure about hunting ask to go with a friend who hunts to see what it is all about.

My mantra is I’m a professional in humility, not hunting.

You don’t have to act like man to be successful in the field. You don’t have to hunt alone, you don’t have to pull a heavy draw weight, rattle in a big buck, or shoot a weighty 12 gauge. If you do, more power to you!

Find out what drives you to get out there, whether it is the culinary aspect, the meditative outdoor experience, the exercise or the thrill of the hunt itself. Go out there and do it.

I love it.

Where can everyone find you on the internet?

Thank you for sharing your experience with us. You’re an inspiration!

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There’s Something about Roadtrips with Mary

Of all the ladies I follow on social media, my friend Mary is one of the most entertaining. Whether it’s her three year old watering the yard buck naked (yes, that ended up on Instagram) or boomerangs of various family members dancing (whether or not they know she’s recording), Mary and her family always seem to be doing something fun.

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This summer, Mary and her husband Jethro took their three kids on a roadtrip to Colorado through New Mexico and camped in state parks and national forests along the way. Naturally, to those of us following along on social media, they seemed to be having a blast. Their adventures included lots of swimming–everywhere from hot springs to lakes–two UFO sightings (supposedly), a bear encounter, a middle-of-the-night thunderstorm at their campground, and even an impromptu recorder performance by her kids and husband. (Which was a real treat for Mary, I’m sure.) Her pictures reminded me of fun summer roadtrips when I was a child. Simple things like arriving at a new campsite or stopping at a rock shop were big events to me and I remember those days fondly.

Roadtrips are great for adults too–roadtripping is a relatively easy, affordable way to enjoy the beautiful parts of our country like the Rockies. Today I’m sharing Mary’s trip as inspiration for those of you looking for your next adventure. Enjoy!

Mary, thanks for being on Whit’s Wilderness today! Let’s start with WHY–What made y’all want to take a roadtrip to Colorado?

We had done a roadtrip to New Mexico the year before and so we wanted to push ourselves. Our kids are at an age where they can help with packing, building the tent, you know–it helps when they are a little older.

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How old are they?

Ethan is 11, Bella is 7, and Isla is 2.

Traveling with three kids can be expensive, not to mention a big undertaking. How does this trip rank as far as affordability?

It was very affordable. Under $2,000 for 1 1/2 weeks, and that’s everything included. Food, gas, everything. Trips shouldn’t have to be expensive. You don’t need that much money for this trip and kids don’t know the difference.

Was it difficult planning, packing, and getting everything together for the trip?

It was a lot of effort, yes. But really not any more than going on another trip. And it was so worth it. The kids had so much fun. I may have forgotten all of Bella’s sweaters, but it was ok–we made do.

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Tell us about the itinerary.

Day 1

  • The first day we went to Bottomless Lakes State Park in New Mexico. We got in at night so it was a little scary, but you know what–I trust my husband. I know he would take care of us. Waking up there was like Christmas the next morning, such beautiful scenery.

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Bottomless Lakes

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Bottomless Lakes

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Bottomless Lakes

Day 2

  • The next day we went to the alien museum in Roswell. It was cheesy, but this was the best money we spent on the trip! The kids loved it and for the rest of the day, they were looking out the window for aliens. Our car was really quiet that day.

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Day 3

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Storrie Lake

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Storrie Lake

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  • (Mary’s husband Jethro chimes in:) There are campsites throughout the Carson National Forest in that area which are also really nice. I would have liked to stay there.

{WW note: Storrie Lake, Morphy Lake, and Carson National Forest are all strung out in that order along the highway. See map below.}

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Day 4

  • This day we drove to Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Storrie Lake to Pagosa Springs is a really nice drive. We stopped in Taos, and that was a nice town. We saw the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is the highest suspended bridge in the nation.
  • Pagosa Springs was great! Awesome shops, nice people. I would make sure you reserve a hotel room in advance though. My husband is not the type to reserve in advance, and we ended up in a hotel room that was…not so great. I had brought our own sheets and pillows, thank God.
  • The springs themselves were great for us but not for kids. The water was too hot. (It was 110 degrees.) But the San Juan river is right next to the springs, and it is 60 degrees so we also swam there.

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San Juan River

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Hot Springs

Day 5 – 8

  • From Pagosa we went to Vallecito Reservoir, and that was beautiful. We rented a cabin (Cooper’s Cabins) and stayed for four nights. There was swimming, fishing, and hiking, and the inlet walk was beautiful.  One night we had a bear outside our cabin! We had left the cooler outside, and we hear this noise…we look out and he’s dragging our cooler.
  • Be sure to get food in either Durango or Pagosa Springs before going to the cabin, because there’s not a grocery store.

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View from our cabin

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Jethro was determined to catch a trout! He did, we cooked it, and it was delicious!

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Lake Vallecito

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Day 9

  • After we left Vallecito, we drove on the “Million Dollar Highway” from Durango to Montrose. The name was so fitting! It was so beautiful I wanted to cry. The road is on the edge of a cliff, with mountains all around. Spectacular. Be safe, drive slowy and take your time. Make sure your brakes work before you go on this road! Jethro fixed our brakes before we left and he was hoping he did it right. We loved this part of the trip.

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It took us about 4 hours to get to Ouray (on the way to Montrose).

  • Ouray was awesome and we would like to go back there some time. Probably just the two of us for a romantic getaway. The town is surrounded by the mountains, there are hot springs, shops, a brewery. We didn’t spend much time there and we regret that.

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Day 10

  • We drove from Montrose to Ridgeway and camped along the Gunnison Reservoir, the largest reservoir in Colorado. Our campground was the Cimarron Campground in the Curecanti National Recreational Area. (See map here.)

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Day 11

  • Headed home. Went through Monarch Pass, which was scary.
  • There’s a sportsman’s shop in Gunnison everyone goes to, which is worth a stop.
  • On the way home, we stayed in Carlsbad. Book as far in advance as you can for Carlsbad!

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Sounds like a very full itinerary! Would you do it again?

Oh yes! Of course. We had a great time. There were moments when we couldn’t stand each other. On the last night, we were down to a few cans of spaghetti and one last peach. We let the kids have the spaghetti and Jethro and I split the peach. That was our dinner. But we just had to go with the flow. We grew closer as a family and got so united. Imagine all sleeping in a tent, not taking showers! This week Ethan shared this trip in school and said how much fun he had with his family. That was my reward.

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Is there anything you wouldn’t do again?

Probably Pagosa Springs just because of the kids. It was really nice, but we would have enjoyed it more if it had just been us.

What tent did you take?

We got it from Target. It was great because it was easy to set up and we could put it up in the dark.

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Would you recommend doing this in an RV instead of a tent?

No. Our kids have grown so much because of this trip. Ethan already knows what to do at a campsite. In an RV, he would be more needy. There’s no restroom? Deal with it! He has to adapt.

Advice for what to wear & pack?

  • It’s cold so pack lots of sweaters. If you are from Texas, you will be cold.
  • Blanket poncho – we brought this blanket poncho and it was amazing, everyone used it.
  • Swimsuits
  • Water shoes
  • Emergency kit – with first aid, came in very handy
  • Bring lots of extras of everything
  • If I were going by myself, I would bring pepper spray. The state parks were pretty empty.

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Any advice for people wanting to take a similar trip?

  • Stop at the alien museum in Roswell – that was the best money we spent!
  • We didn’t know late July/August was monsoon season in New Mexico, so it rained a lot on our trip. I wouldn’t go during this time.
  • We really liked Bottomless Lakes State Park. Be sure to stop there.
  • Get a hitch on the back of your car to carry your cooler (WW note: like this)

Above all, trust your instinct and your husband, go with the flow, and enjoy this time — your kids go off to college so soon.

Wise words. Thanks Mary for sharing your adventure with us. I’m feeling inspired for another road trip!

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Interview: Lindsay Takes on Big Bend

What it do, y’all?! This morning my topic of choice is Big Bend National Park, and I’m interviewing my friend Lindsay about her recent trip. Her pictures are incredible, and I’m excited to share them with you today.

Big Bend is one of only two national parks in our state, located far out in West Texas, on a big bend in the Rio Grande river. It is rugged, dry, and mountainous. But when it rains, as it did before Lindsay’s trip, the hillsides light up in shades of green and the cacti bloom, and boy, it is a sight for sore eyes.

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I met up with Lindsay last week over lunch in her office, which happens to be the same engineering office where my husband works, and she gave me the scoop. Lindsay is a member of the succulent society in Austin (look at the row of plants behind her desk,) an occasional vegetarian, a cat owner and one of the more creative people I know. Her husband Kevin is a martial arts extraordinaire with a great sense of humor, and we enjoy their company.

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Lindsay, I cant wait to hear about your trip to Big Bend! Who did you go with? What was your itinerary?

We went with two of our friends, and spent about four days. Day 1 was Thursday, and we left around 6:30pm and made it to Ft. Stockton. We arrived at 11:30 and stayed at the Deluxe Inn. Kevin had chosen it, and I was glad it was surprisingly clean!

Editor’s note: Fort Stockton is halfway to Big Bend from Austin.

So you chose to split up your driving. Would you recommend that to others?

Yes, definitely. The drive that morning was only two hours, and we drove to the park just as the sun was beginning to rise. It was a great time to see wildlife. We saw deer, javelinas, coyotes, jackrabbits, and road runners, which were surprisingly not what I expected them to be–they did not look like the cartoon at all!

The rest of our itinerary looked like this:

  • Day 1 – Drive to Ft. Stockton
  • Day 2 – Big Bend, hike
  • Day 3 – Santa Elana Canyon, Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, Indian Lodge, McDonald Observatory Star Party
  • Day 4 – Balmorhea State Park

Where did you stay within the park & what did you think?

Chisos Basin. We liked it. The campsites aren’t super private but they’re fine. Each campsite had a picnic table, grill and a bearproof bin for food.

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Some had covered awnings and I would definitely recommend getting a campsite with an awning if you can. Sometimes you need a relief from the sun.

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Wait. BEARS?! Did you say bears?

Yeah. The park ranger said he spotted a mother and cubs nearby. We saw one last year when we were here over Thanksgiving too. I would be sure to put your food in the bear proof bin, instead of your car…you don’t want them trying to get in your car.

Awesome!

Dare I ask…how were the restrooms?

They were pretty clean actually! They also have a heater, which is a real perk if you’re visiting in winter. Last Thanksgiving I would stand in front of them and think Oh my Gaaaaad, this is so wonderful! It was so cold outside.

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What were the rest of the buildings and amenities like?

The architecture of the park is very midcentury, which I love, so I thought everything looked great. They had done a really nice job of keeping it maintained and clean.

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The CCC built many of the structures there around the turn of the century, so it was cool to see that history too. Like this old post office and wagon!

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On to the important part…what did you eat?

Our friends brought a propane stove and we brought a cast iron skillet, so we mostly cooked with that. Kevin made chili one night, and of course because he’s a meat-itarian, he had to use some Kobe beef instead of regular ground beef. He let me put bell peppers in there, so I liked it.

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That looks like Brandon and my cooking–all meat on one side, meat and veggies on the other.

Did you have coffee?

Yes! I brought a kettle and French Press.

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You are my kind of woman, Lindsay!

We also had egg sandwiches on English muffins and breakfast tacos. Heating up the tortillas in the skillet is the way to go.

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The night we stayed at Indian Lodge, I had a chicken fried steak. The restaurant was called Bear Lodge, and it just seemed like the place you order a chicken fried steak.

Yes I would agree. So was dish cleanup relatively easy?

Yes they have a special kitchen designated for cleaning dishes. They don’t want any food left out at your campsite. (Bears.) The park ranger got after us for leaving a cooler unattended for 45 minutes. Whoops!

Any trails you loved or didn’t love? Where did you hike?

We hiked the Lost Mines Trail this time, which was fine, but it had a lot of switchbacks.

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Last time we came we hiked Window Trail which I liked a lot more. It follows an old stream bed, and there is a big carve out where a waterfall used to be.

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The first time we hiked it, Kevin slid down over the edge. My heart stopped. I hadn’t known there was a second small landing so I thought he had fallen off the cliff.

Editor’s note: please be careful, readers, when on Window Trail! Do not try Kevin’s tricks at home.

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Did you see Santa Elana Canyon?

Yes, the next day we hiked there. It was pretty. We could see Mexico. It’s refreshing to be out in such wide open spaces when you live in Austin.

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Another important question, what did you wear?

Shorts. It gets hot. I had some from the North Face, which I wore with tank tops.

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But my arms got burned so I would have preferred Columbia fishing shirts. Even if you put on sunscreen, you just want a relief from the sun. Other than that I just wore a sports bra, and one day I wore yoga pants–though they got really dusty.

I used my Camelbak for water.

So if your Camelbak had water…then what’s in that can? 🙂

What shoes?

I was fine in my Nike running shoes, the Pegasus Trails. I should have worn taller socks because of the thorns, but I didn’t want a funky tan.

Glad to see you have your priorities straight.

Tell us about the rest of your trip! What was your favorite part?

I loved the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute. We walked in, and there were succulents everywhere. Kevin was like, “I know you’re going to be in here for a while.” There were so many different types of agaves and cactus, and they had my favorite agave, Queen Victoria.

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(Queen Victoria Agave – green and white above)

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A man resigned to his fate.

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Editor’s note: I’m going to post more pictures from this separately, there are too many good ones not to share.

Wow, looks like your happy place. How did you get so into succulents?

I’ve always been a fan of the desert because it’s so unlike the habitat I grew up in. (Florida.) I also just like plants. When I was little I used to draw lots of pictures of trees.

How was Indian Lodge?

Indian Lodge was just down the road. When we got there, I was thinking, where are all the people? I had heard it was so hard to get a reservation there, so I was expecting it to be packed. But it wasn’t.

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Was it as amazing as the pictures?

Our friend made the reservations so I had no preconceived notions.  The rooms were really cool, the original 16 rooms built by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression and had old wooden beams and hand carved furniture.

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Our room was newer but built and furnished the same way. There was plenty of space, and a coffee maker. And the restroom was nice!

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We hiked the trail around the lodge and it was good, though would be too difficult for some people because there were a lot of loose rocks.

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That night you went to the Star Party at McDonald Observatory, right?

Yes, it was very cool and I’m not even that into stars. There were about 100 people, and we all sat outside as a guy led us through a tour of the night sky with a laser pointer. He made us turn our phones off so our eyes could adjust. He said that could take up to 40 minutes! We then got to look through seven telescopes, where we saw Jupiter’s lines and four moons, and then our moon and its craters.

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Last but not least, how did you like Balmorhea State Park on your way home?

I loved it. I was like, How is this here, and how have I never heard of it? Since Barton Springs is just about my favorite thing, I was surprised not to know of Balmorhea. I actually liked it more. I want to go back and stay there at their campsites.

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Me too. It’s such a cute park.

Any tips for someone going on this kind of trip in the future?

Yes!

  • Take one more day and spend the night in Marfa at El Cosmico.
  • One night at Indian Lodge is plenty.
  • Get an exterior campsite at Chisos Basin if you can. They are more private than the ones on the interior of the loop.
  • Precut your food before you get there.

Thank you Lindsay, we will take note. Anything else you want to share?

I loved driving through Big Bend. The landscape changes so much and you don’t realize how big the park is until you see it. I’m not used to that kind of landscape. It was cool.

Thanks for spending time with Whit’s Wilderness today. This was fun!

Anytime!

Plan Your Visit

FYI, reservations required at several of these places.

  • Indian Lodge: here
  • McDonald Observatory: here
  • Balmorhea State Park: here
  • Big Bend National Park: here
  • Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute: here
  • Big Bend Brewing Co.: here

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Holly Reports on Her Grand Canyon Adventure

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In honor of her birthday, and in honor of the great outdoors, today I’m interviewing my dear friend Holly about her recent trip to the Grand Canyon.

Before we start, I want to tell you a little bit about Holly. She is quick-witted, self sufficient, and fun . We met while working on Capitol Hill in DC and I learned quickly that if I were ever stranded on a deserted island, Holly is one of the people I would want there. With Holly on this deserted island, I know we would have food, shelter, and water. She would figure out some clever way to make it all happen.


Thank you, Holly, for granting me this exclusive interview.

Holly: You’re welcome.

I am dying to hear ALL about your trip to the Grand Canyon! Let’s start with your itinerary. What did you do each day?

*Editor’s comments below in Italics*”

Day 1

My friends from all over (DC, Houston, Indianapolis) and I flew into Phoenix. We stopped by REI to pick up items that we couldn’t fly with and then took off to Grand Canyon National Park.

Note to readers: REI rents gear out and it is a great way to quickly and inexpensively get equipped for adventures like this.

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We checked into the Bright Angel lodge at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It had stunning views and we made it just in time for sunset.

Holly, you look like a walking advertisement for hiking.

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Day 2

On this day, we woke up early for breakfast at the lodge and took off around 9 am for the South Kaibab Trail, roughly 7 miles long and all downhill.

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I got my hiking poles! I’m ready to go! 

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We arrived at the bottom of the trail around 2 pm, checked into our campsite and then relaxed on the Colorado riverside.

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Pretty.

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We went to bed shortly after nightfall.

Day 3

Awoke early and watched the sunrise as we left our campsite. Took off on our 9.9 mile hike up the Bright Angel Trail.

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It looks bright!

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We made it to the top around 2 pm then took off to go back to Phoenix.

We stopped at Cracker Barrel on the way home for some much needed country cooking. Arrived back at our resort and went straight to the jacuzzis.

Mmmmm Cracker Barrel.

Day 4

Everyone flew home.

Which day was your favorite?

I loved Sunday. It was Easter. We ate peeps on the trail. The trail, although longer and uphill, was so beautiful and scenic.

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You ate people on the trail? 

No, Whitney, we ate “peeps”, marshmellow bunnies.

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And, there is nothing like the feeling of conquering a multi-day hike and looking out over the canyon at all the switch backs and knowing you did it alongside great friends.

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Awwwwww! That’s so sweet! Why wasn’t I invited?

(Awkward silence.)

Where did you stay? Did you like it? How did it compare to a hotel?

On Friday, we stayed at Bright Angel Lodge in the national park. It was a beautiful lodge, with a tasty and inexpensive restaurant and beautiful look out spots. The rooms were surprisingly nice and clean and it was relatively cheap, especially considering the proximity to the trails.

Sounds like a good deal.

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Holly chillin’ in her flip flops. 

On Saturday, we stayed at Bright Angel camp ground at the base of the canyon. It was incredible and nestled right around the Colorado river.

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That looks primitive. 

Thankfully, there were bathrooms there and running water so we didn’t have to use chlorine tablets for drinking water. One catch was that all the trash you hike in, you have to hike out so that was tricky but was easy enough. They give you a huge box to lock any sort of food to keep bugs/wild animals away.

What did you bring to eat?

We brought MREs to eat that night and had a fun time on the river during the day.

MRE: meal ready to eat (read: no cooking required.)

I bet the stars were amazing.

The stars were bright and you could pick out any constellation. We went to sleep with the noise of the river rushing.

Sounds heavenly.

Did you reserve the campsite on the park website?

Yep we had to apply months in advance. You could take the chance that they may have a site open upon arrival, but that was too risky. We were told its usually full Spring through Summer.

Noted.

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What was the most helpful piece of equipment you brought?

Winner

  • Probably my Camelbak, because it was much more convenient to drink water from the straw than taking my pack off every time.

Runner Up

  • The second most helpful was hiking poles. We rented hiking poles not knowing what to expect but on the way up they were incredibly helpful. You can rent them several places in the national park.

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Hiking poles: an essential accessory indeed.

Let’s go back to the stars for a second. Can you tell us more?

Literally no words to describe how vast the sky is inside the canyon. The stars light up the sky and you can see any constellation.

Any must-see’s in the park?

The trails are beautiful. Every corner you turn, you see an even better view. Based on the time of day, the colors in the canyon change and create such a gorgeous backdrop.

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Did your friends have a good time?

Life is much better with community, and we loved going on this adventure together. It was a great excuse to get together and explore a place that most of us had never been.

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Amen, life is much better when shared with friends!

Is there anything you would do differently if you were to go back?

  • I would have done a few hikes in my hiking boots before wearing them on the trails. I got severe bruising on my ankles from the weight of my pack.
  • I would do a lighter pack or pay for a mule to take my pack down the mountain in order to really enjoy the hike.

This is GREAT advice! Preach, sister! 

How does the Grand Canyon compare to other parks you’ve been to?

GC really takes the cake.

Mmmmm, cake.

The only other place that compares, in terms of beauty and depth, is Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

I second that–Shenandoah is incredible, especially in Autumn.

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Anything else you want to let my readers know?

Another surprising thing was the weather: it was chilly at the top of the canyon. (30s/40s at night.) But, down in the canyon, the weather was in the 80s.

(PS. This was in March.)

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Good to know!

Thanks Holly for divulging all of your must-sees and secrets about the Grand Canyon. We appreciate it!

Sure thing, Whit.

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May Holly Johnson be your inspiration on your next Grand Canyon trip. 

Readers, if you have any questions for Holly, leave them in the comments.

Photo cred goes to Holly’s friend Prashant, @photogp2013 on Instagram.

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