I took a week off work. I was planning to do some backpacking in the Solitario region of Big Bend Ranch State Park. I got a new Gossamer Gear backpack and a bunch of lightweight gear. I got a kitchen scale and weighed all my camping gear, putting the values in a spreadsheet. As I watched the weather the week before, however, I saw it was going to be a scorcher in Big Bend, with daytime temps around 100 F along the Rio Grande. Because even 75 F is a bit warm for hiking in full sun, I decided to look elsewhere, finally settling on the Capitan Mountains of south-central New Mexico. This range has fascinated me since a brief visit there last year, after scaling Sierra Blanca Peak above the town of Ruidoso. An added bonus, I have a good collection of geology papers describing the range and surrounding areas. But the Capitans are the subject of an upcoming blog...
On the second weekend of my vacation, the PBOC (Permian Basin Outing Club) was running a trip to the Davis Mountains, to scale Texas' "real" second-highest mountain, Mt Livermore, at 8,378'. Guadalupe Peak is Texas' highest mountain, and #2, 3 and 4 are subsidiary peaks to Guadalupe. In my mind, those don't count and Mt Livermore is the actual #2 highest in Texas.
Logistically, the Capitan Mts adventure worked out well because I could stop in Midland to drop Anna the dog on the way to the Davis Mts. Livermore is part of the Nature Conservancy area there (do not know the formal name), and dogs are verboten.
Set off for the conservancy ranch on Friday around 8 PM, which is an annoying time to drive freeways in West Texas, due to the nighttime speed limit of 65 mph versus daytime of 80 mph. Driving the MX-5 with the trunk stuffed full of my camping supplies -- the trunk on that thing is really just a big stuff sack. Went down I-20 to where it joins I-10 and west to the little "town" of Kent, TX, then south on 118 toward Fort Davis. Dark, sense mountains around but can't see much of them. Nearly missing a big buck (resulting in one second of well-deserved "hard brake"), I arrive in the camp at 11:30 PM, set up, and read a bit about the Davis Mountains Volcanic Province. Unfortunately the papers I have with me didn't specifically address the rocks of the Davis Mt high country, but are really a more general West Texas field trip focusing mainly on sedimentary rocks to the north. Hit the sack and slept like a rock, plenty of folks around camping, no fear of bears, a not-too-long-but-tiring-nonetheless drive behind me.
Camp. Mt Livermore visible in far background! 13+ year-old EMS tent, zipper #2 is finally dying.
My new $30 Brunton stove works like a charm. Why did I put up with that heavy, annoying,
leaky, trouble-prone MSR Dragonfly all these years???
My alarm went off at 8:00 am and I hopped out of bed felling well-rested. Most of the PBOC group slept on for another hour or so, then slowly began to creep out of tents and start the long, slow process of making and eating their breakfasts. This group was in no hurry; one of the hazards of a club with a steadily increasing median age.
I hopped in the Mazda and drove up the road a few miles to get cell signal. I'd invited nine other people in two groups, but both groups ended up staying in Midland and doing other things.
Now back at camp, it was close to 9:30 am. I talked with a few groggy PBOC campers and Malcolm, who I knew from Master Naturalist trips early this year. Malcolm and I decided it was time to get a move on. We packed up and started up the road, with the idea that the others would come up behind us in pickups some time later. From camp to the upper trailhead is about seven miles. The road is gated at five and seven miles.
Up the road toward Livermore
After walking and chatting a few miles, the pickups lumbered up the road and Malcolm and I hopped in the back of Bill's white F-150, joining Olivia and Kendall, who are both in 8th grade in San Antonio.
Lately I've been having a lot of "I'm getting old" moments. Recently my doctor told me I could stand to lose 10 pounds. He's right; I've gone from 135 lbs all through university to 145 lbs in Houston (Lebanese food) to 150 last summer in Midland, to 160 recently. Also as I've mentioned before that many of the things I own, such as camping equipment, are over a decade old. Example: my recently-discarded 11-year-old tube of chapstick (it finally went bad...).
Olivia, Kendall, Malcolm and I talked as the truck bounced along the high-clearance dirt road. Malcolm is the kind of guy who makes much of his own camping/hiking/photography equipment out of things like duct tape, string and tupperwares. One of the girls referred to his unique setup and I made the joke that Malcolm's middle name is actually "Macgeyver". Two 13-year-old blank stares greeted my attempted joke. In the following silence, I reflected on the fact that I am closer to 3x their age than 2x their age.
Thanks for making me feel old, girls.
At the first gate "5 mile", some of the group bailed out of the trucks to do the "long hike" to the top and back -- about six miles round trip. Five of the trucks continued to the upper trailhead, and the rest of us were left to hike up the road, following in their dust.
Richard, group leader, president PBOC, in a more dignified moment.
Up, up, up. I never complain about hiking uphill. Downhill is no fun. Still, the road was gravelling and rocky and slippy, and the tread on my 3-year-old Sportiva hiking books is worn down to almost nothing.
Nearing the upper reaches of Mt Livermore, the view began to open up in all directions. The summit area of Livermore is dominated by a few fins or ridges of resistant volcanic material. Close-up it is porphyritic and looks intermediate in composition. I couldn't immediately see if these were flows or intrusions. I think the age is around 37 Ma: another major Tertiary magmatic feature covering up and/or punching through the older sedimentary rocks of West Texas and SE New Mexico.
View of one of the volcanic fins near Mt Livermore summit
Past the upper trailhead I continued up the road. I had been walking with the group but at this point I went ahead quickly up several steep, loose sections of road. I started overtaking stragglers from the group that had ridden in the trucks to the upper trailhead. After a mile or so, the summit fin of Livermore towered 150' or so overhead. The trail continues to the right, around to the west (?) side of the summit fin, where a cairn marks a sharp turn toward the left and up the dark brown and purple volcanic rock. A 30-foot scramble from here brought me to the top.
Radio towers atop Mt. Livermore, Davis Mountains, Texas
The views were pretty amazing, and it wasn't too terribly hazy. I spent an hour or so munching on snacks, sitting around the sun and talking to PBOC hikers and people from another group who were also atop the peak. And taking the same photos over and over again...
View to SW
Pretty much the same view, shifted slightly left
View to west; Richard's back; new members Jeremiah and Chelsea
View to west; last to arrive but everyone made it! Andy, seated right, and Malcolm "Macgeyver", seated.
View to S
Similar view as two above but mountains in shade now and foreground different
Rock fin to the north of the peak of Mt Livermore
On the ridge, heading down
I hiked down as part of the lead group. When five of us made it to the upper trailhead, Bill drove us back to camp.
I packed up the Miata and headed north, down 118 for home. I did notice I was a little low on fuel... The Miata holds only 10 gallons and it's easy to run low. My options were to go south, to Fort Davis, where I knew there was fuel -- but that was out of my way. Instead I continued north toward I-10, where my GPS told me there was a gas station in Kent, where 118 meets I-10. Alas, when I got to Kent, with my low-fuel light blazing orange for the previous 30+ miles, I found the Chevron station permanently closed, abandoned, crumbling. No Trespassing or Loitering! I parked the car, considered my options, and ended up calling roadside assistance and waiting an hour and a half for a wrecker driver from Pecos to bring me fuel. I didn't technically run out of fuel, but I bet I had only five miles or so left. After I got my fuel I hopped back on I-10 east and, sure enough, about five miles down the road, perched atop a little hill, was an open Chevron station.