Caprock Canyons State Park Hitch Recap 4/28/19

Caprock Canyons State Park was beckoning us for our 6th hitch to do maintenance on the quickly eroding trails there. Waterbars, check steps, rubble walls and drainages needed to be built, put in, and touched up. Few of us had experience doing that and some of us have never been in the desert or seen a canyon before. We were excited for red sand canyons, bison, primitive camping, higher elevations, and the desert!!! Far away from home in Austin, as enchanting as it looked in photos, (with its rugged rocky terrain,) the desert provided only heat, and no access to drinking water. The absence of other amenities like showers and outlets, designated flat tent pads, and a nearby town showed how spoiled we were at Guadalupe River State Park. Some of us have never primitive camped before, but we are TAT. With our knowledgeable leaders, (Amber, who had extensive backcountry living and trail building experience in California with CCC, and Sam who has built 800 lbs granite stairs on the Appalachian Trail in NY), we had justified confidence that we are going to not only survive but thrive on this hitch solidifying our tribe’s bond and learning cool new trail building techniques with just a bit of extra planning this time. We were stoked to do good work and looked forward to exploring new territory.

After a full long day of driving, we entered the park at sunset. Wow! Mountains! Bison strolling on the road! As tired as we were after a whole day of driving, we all crawled out of the van at the visitors center and limped on our half asleep from the drive legs to the edge of a cliff to snap photos of the setting sun behind the towering canyons and grazing bison in the distance.

The next morning we chewed on our breakfast and watched million of stars fade away, the early sun rays illuminated the vistas all around us. Red, orange, brown cliffs with splashes of green on the towering canyon walls were aglow all around us! Whoa! Everywhere you looked the red giants guarded us, giving their morning salutations to welcome us. These gorgeous lands and canyons were going to be our home and walls for the next ten days!

We had two set work sites going on Haynes Ridge Overlook Trail, which is about 600ft of elevation gain from the trailhead to the top. One worksite, which was at the very top, needed rock steps and a rubble wall built. The other site, about 300ft below that point, needed waterbars and check steps built and a few features reinforced. Our legs protested carrying all the tools up the steep with loose rock and way over 8 percent grade trail. The two-ton griphoist was extra nasty to the knees, but our hearts and minds loved it.

Some of us struggled with the steep hike to the worksite in our bulky workboots and  pounds of water in our packs. The heat was excruciating, the red sand was in every nook and cranny of our clothes, gear, pots, and bodies.  A few of us got away with just scratches from spikey desert plants, some of us sunburnt, and some with smashed fingers, but the tribe persevered and we not only completed the planned work but did extra maintenance, fixing up eroded waterbars and junk walls in many areas. We put in 6 new huge check steps, 4 waterbars, repaired a check step, cleared 3 existing waterbars, and installed 8 rocks stairs!!!

Our strong team bond helped us excel, work well together, and exceed our set goals on this hitch. Heavy winds and epic thunderstorms broke one of our tents and everyone was glad to have helped rebuild and come up with shelter solutions. Instead of retiring to our tents after dinner, like we were used to (maybe because of the heat), all of us stuck around after dinner and hung out together playing games or just cracking jokes and just lounging in each other’s company. It was a whole other camping experience with the crew this hitch. We were closer because of our isolation from the public and being in a new territory, everyone got along brilliantly. We were eight people working and camping just a few feet from one another on daily basis and all was well. Caprock is truly magical. It brought us even closer together.

A few days before the end of our hitch, our off-highway-vehicle, Ranger, got a deflated tire. We waited for the park’s staff to come rescue us. Dennis from maintenance showed up to save us and fixed the Ranger’s flat only for the other one to get another flat later in the day. Dennis helped us with numerous back and forth rides to carry out our camp stuffs and tools back to the parking lot. He helped patch the injured Ranger up and answered our trillion questions about the park. Dennis is officially a trail angel and a good relationship advice counselor. We think you should meet him when you visit Caprock Canyons before he retires.

This hitch has been a productive adventure. We did good work, grew as a team, and explored together. On behalf of TAT, I want to thank everyone who planned our work hitches, this one and previous ones, and who made it all possible. Such exposure to skills, people, parks, and new regions of Texas are tremendously valuable experiences, making everyone a better person and the world truly a better place. I wish many future TAT teams to have amazing hitches and mind-blowing, life changing experiences like we are continually having this season.

P.S.: Oh, and we like eggs and high fives!

Happy trails,

Yuliya Semenova

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