Okay, it’s mid to late February and you have unfortunately realized spring is still at least a month away.
I know there are a lot of folks that seek snow, skis and mountains in February; but, as I have gotten older, in February, I dream of palm trees, sand and beaches.
So here are three warm weather options for winter February fun, sans snow. They all involve close to, or just over a thousand miles of travel. The bad thing about the Ozarks is that in February, we do not possess palm trees, sand and beaches, but we are centrally located for southern and western travel.
Trip No. One: Float the Salt River Canyon in Eastern Arizona, north of Globe and along U.S. 60 Hwy. It is a 39-mile trip taking three days. I have hiked up into the lower canyon, and it is filled with cactus and a few saguaros –– and is fantastic. The clear and clean water soon runs out –– it is first dammed at Roosevelt Lake, and later canalized at the east end of Phoenix, but by the time it enters Gila River, it is either dry or contains only a trickle of water.
Near the end of the run is the famous Quartzite Falls, once a mighty class IV drop. In the late nineties, after a river death, the run was dynamited by an unknown person or persons and unfortunately, it is now a rather tame class III drop.
Two quick notes on a winter Salt River Canyon run: First, you are in the mountains, and occasionally in February, the canyon can offer pretty cold winter weather. Watch the weather closely. Second, the Apache Nation now charges a rather expensive fee for floating through reservation land and for the use of an Indian gravel road at the put-in site. Do NOT attempt this run without purchasing the Apache permit.
Trip No. Two: Go to Big Bend Ranch State Park, and Big Bend National Park, in southern Texas. Our southern neighbor, Mexico, has now incorporated a large chunk of canyon lands on the southern riverbank of the Rio Grande as a national park. This country will remind you of the Grand Canyon except on a smaller scale. Some of the canyon walls rise to an almost sheer 1500 feet, towering over the Rio Grande.
In February, daytime temps can range from 68 to 98 depending on elevation. Nighttime temps average around 32 degrees; however, I have awakened in the morning to a temp of 18 degrees with the wind howling and snow on nearby mountaintops. But this rare, usually in February, you can expect decent weather with no rain.
From Presidio, Texas to Langtry, Texas, you can choose to hike some of the many trails or float five different canyon runs totaling 160 miles. These trips are off limits from May 1 to mid-October, as daytime temps in the valley floor can commonly reach 110 degrees.
If you like to hike, I recommend the rigorous but beautiful Chisos Mountain rim trail that goes past Mount Emory, elevation 7860 feet. The trail looks out over 4000 feet down to the floor of the Rio Grande Valley and canyons below. Beware, carry lots of water as the springs for the most part are sparse and must be treated. Also, there are vast deposits of Cinnabar, which is known as Quicksilver, the mineral contains mercury. You do not want to ingest mercury, as most common filters cannot remove mercury from your drinking water.
Or, you may choose one of many canyons running along the Rio Bravo Del Norte, as the Rio Grande is called in Mexico. For one-day of exciting runs and rapids, try the upper Topado Canyon run, which lasts five miles and is located downriver from Redford, Texas. Or for a true wilderness multi-day canyon trip on the Lower Canyons Run, you can float a desolate 85-miles from La Linda, near the end of Boquillas Canyon to Dryden Crossing above Langtry, Texas.
After flowing through El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Chihuahua, a metro area exceeding one-million people, the Rio Grande is basically reduced to a 20-foot wide muddy ditch until it reaches its downriver sister cities of Presidio, Texas, and Ojinaga, Chihuahua. Here the beautiful Rio Conchos reinvigorates the Rio Grande, as it flows out of the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico and through the dark Black Canyon of the Conchos before emptying into the Rio. It normally increases the river volume by four times, and changes the color of the river, as it travels through the desert canyons, from brown to green, but not blue.
A couple of cautionary notes on river running –– you are totally on your own. The nearest hospital is located in Fort Stockton or El Paso Texas. Be sure to bring along a well-equipped first aid kit and know how to use it. And, bring your own drinking water. Boiling river water will not remove mercury.
Beware of large drainage areas, and dry creek beds.
One time many years ago, I was luckily camped on a stone bench above a dry San Francisco Creek. As I was falling asleep, the cool winter night was filled with starry constellations and I kept trying to recall Greek mythology associated with each one. I was rudely awakened just before dawn by a roaring San Francisco Creek that had filled with about seven-feet of surging muddy water that had entered the Rio Grande from a northern source about 60 miles away.
Luckily I had tied my lead canoe rope around a good-sized boulder, and while my canoe was resting in about three-feet of water, it was still where I could reach it. Not one drop of rain fall on me during that night as I slept on a good sleeping pad in a sleeping bag, without the bother of erecting a tent.
A final note of caution –– try to camp on the Texas side of the river unless in a protected canyon area of the river. However, even on the Texas side at camp, I have been approached a few times by armed Mexican cowboys on horses and ponies.
And finally, you must bring along a couple of people who are willing to hang out, day hike and relax, and run the auto shuttle, and miss floating the beautiful canyons, such as, the Santa Elena, Mariscal and Boquillas. If you are foolish and leave your auto unguarded overnight there is an excellent chance that you will, upon your delayed return to civilization, be filing an insurance claim for a break-in, or stolen tires and wheels, or maybe worse.
While Big Bend National Park is probably the most stark and beautiful of any of our national parks, it is huge in area, and the back roads, as well as the river, is seldom patrolled. Also, for traveling the back roads, and that includes all river roads except in two spots, a high clearance vehicle is advisable because many dry creek washouts cross the back road system.
If visiting the Big Bend area, be sure and check out the Chisos Mountains. They are the last southern remnant of the Rocky Mountains surrounded by the Chihuahua Desert. At the top is the Chisos Mountain Lodge, and there are 13 stone cabins nearby available for rent. The cabins view Mt. Emory and the “window,” which is a large gap in the mountains that looks out over the floor of the Rio Grande and its canyons. Make reservations in advance for winter lodging months.
Another place for a no-miss visit is Langford Hot Springs, located on a gravel road four-miles upriver from Rio Grande Village.
Take the quarter mile hike down to the river. Sit-down and warm up on the desert rocks, then jump in the greenish Rio Grande and swift water will bring you into an eddy to the rear of the riverside open stone structure, which contains the Hot Springs. River temp-about 50° and hot springs, 103.5º year round.
Trip No. Three: Go to Florida and float from Alabama, or the southern borders of Georgia, on any of the following four wilderness rivers. You have a choice of the Blackwater and Yellow River, and floating through the panhandle down to Pensacola Bay. Or, you can float a different panhandle river, the Ochlockonee River, which flows into the Apalachicola Bay near the interesting old logging and fishing town of Sopchoppy, Florida.
And then there is the great Suwannee River, which flows out of Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia and ends up on the Florida Gulf Coast. It contains in its lower stretch, the only whitewater in Florida –– White Falls, a river-wide bench across the river with a drop of about 2½ foot.
When in the area be sure and float the beautiful tributaries of the Suwannee, the Ichetucknee River into the Santa Fe River, and then the Suwannee.
On all Florida rivers be aware of gators and poisonous snakes, such as the coral snake, cottonmouth and Eastern Diamondback.
While at a riverside bait shop, I once saw a photo dated from around 1958, and it showed a 17½-foot long dead alligator propped on its head, with its tail towering over the tin-roof of the bait shop. Another photo pictured three forest service workers from an area of Hell’s Half Acre in the National Forest holding a seven-foot, dead Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake, which at the widest point resembled the size of a man’s forearm.
Note: Clarence Gideon would have never been known as anything other than a small-time criminal from Florida, but for the fact the U.S. Supreme Court accepted his pro se application for a writ of habeas corpus. You see there had been a break-in at a pool hall in the town of Panama City, Florida, and wine and cigarettes were taken, along with a small amount of cash.
Clarence, who had a prison record for burglary, had been seen smoking Winston cigarettes and drinking from a wine bottle. He was arrested and tried without the benefit of a defense attorney, convicted, and sentenced to a five-year return to the Florida penal system.
Gideon appealed and requested a new trial because he was not provided with appointed counsel. The Florida Supreme Court denied the appeal, reminding Gideon that Florida only appointed counsel in homicide cases. This was common practice in many states, at that time.
Then Gideon typed up his own legal papers and sued the warden of the prison who was holding him –– a man named Wainwright. Thus the now world famous case of Gideon v Wainwright was born in 1963.
The Supreme Court appointed one of their former law clerks, Abe Fortas, a future Supreme Court Justice and noted professor of Constitutional Law at Yale University, to represent Clarence.
Bruce Jacob, another well-known attorney, represented the warden.
In a landmark decision, and beautifully written opinion by Justice Hugo Black, the Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment guarantees all accused indigent persons facing jail time the right of appointed counsel.
Subsequently, the Florida Supreme Court appointed a noted defense attorney to represent Mr. Gideon on re-trial, and guess what, the jury acquitted him! It apparently was the last time Clarence Gideon was ever to be arrested again. A few years later, Gideon died from cancer and his body was returned to his family, in wouldn’t you know it, the State of Missouri.
At a later date, the Supreme Court heard the case of Argersinger vs. Hamlin (1972) and extended this right, for all indigent persons of violating misdemeanors if there was a possibility of a jail sentence being imposed.
Thus, floodgates were opened for other pro se inmates to complain that their sentences were unconstitutionally imposed upon them, by filing federal Writs of Habeas Corpus (Latin translation: to have or to free the body, in this case, from jail.) In addition, floodgates were opened for a new bureaucratic agency to aid and assist these persons –– Public Defenders.
Now, get up and go enjoy the beautiful Ozarks outdoors.
Okay, it’s mid to late February and you have unfortunately realized spring is still at least a month away.