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Blogging to Win!

So Real Estate Tomato is having a contest to win free admission to the REBlogWorld conference in Las Vegas next month.  All I have to do is write a blog post about why I deserve to win.

As my brain is conditioned to associate everything with popular culture, I immediately thought of a line from the movie Unforgiven:

Little Bill: “I don’t deserve to die like this…”
William Muny: “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.”

It’s hard for me to feel entitled to be the big winner. Sure I want to go, and I know I have as much to learn about blogging as anyone else in real estate. And I can more easily convince my boss to send me if I show him how I’ve already saved him $300.

But deserve to win?  This contest will be judged by experienced bloggers, and their review of my work is completely subjective.  My opinion on what I deserve hardly matters.

Sure, there are contests where a winner can be objectively identified as deserving. Michael Phelps deserves to win a race because he has the fastest time.  But soccer is my bag, baby, and anyone who knows soccer knows the better team, the team who arguably deserves to win, often does not. It’s all about who scored more goals, and goals frequently come against the run of play.

So ultimately, I have failed to meet the contest’s criteria, as I am unable to come up with a single reason why I “deserve” to win.  But I know I will flourish at an event like this. I love blogging, but am still so green at it that my learning curve will be almost vertical at every session. So if the contest judges measure deserve in those terms, I’m most certainly your winner.

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San Francisco, August 2009

Lately the blogosphere has been full of “What I learned at Inman” posts. Gadgets and widgets, who’s gone and who’s still standing. But for me, it was a real awakening  to the power of the social networking and media storm.

Where social networking was almost nonexistent at my first Inman Conference (New York  2005), now Connect  caters aggressively to this space. “Beer with Bloggers” evolved into a full Blogger’s Connect program, and now social media events run nonstop before, during and after the conference.

I avoided social networking sites when they first appeared.  Admittedly, I was influenced by the mainstream media’s sensationalism and my own age; the former maintained a steady flow of stories on people getting fired when the boss found their MySpace page, while the latter convinced me it was all a passing fad.  Facebook  and Twitter would fade away like parachute pants and soccer mullets.

Rich Bailey circa 1988

circa 1988

But had I been paying attention the last ten years, I would have known new ways of doing business would emerge as real estate professionals coped with market shifts. Some ideas would crash and burn. Others would lead the charge into new eras. It was becoming clear that the more prominent social networking sites had staying power, and were getting a firm hold in the real estate industry as a medium for new strategies.

So somewhat reluctantly, I signed up for the Blogger’s Connect in New York City last January.  Full of new perspectives, I came back to Minneapolis determined to figure it all out, and equally determined to avoid making a fool of myself. Thus far, I am confident I have done neither.

I entered the space as a “lurker”.  I got a Twitter account, choosing a pseudonym for a low profile.  I set up google reader and tweet grid, and started following the relevant blogs and posts much more closely.  Simply put, I was amazed at what I had been missing.  Not a moment too soon to start paying attention.

So, what did this mean at Inman San Francisco 2009? I discovered something remarkable. Even my lurker status, which had produced less than 100 tweets and only the occasional blog comment since January, had granted me entrance into this wonderful world of fantastic people, people I had wrongly assumed would never give a rookie like me the time of day. Some highlights:

  • Gahlord Dewald and I talked in great detail about the power of social media and our mutual love for cross-country skiing. He suggested I take up biathalons. Am I actually looking forward to a Minnesota winter now?
  • I mistook Inman contributor and blogger Joseph Ferrara for industry consultant and speaker Matthew Ferrara; apparently I don’t need Twitter to make a fool of myself. To his credit, Joseph never even blinked when I was thanking him for Matthew’s great Social Networking session at LeadingRE last March. Maybe the next time I see Matthew, I’ll tell him how much I enjoy his Inman News articles.
  • Rob Hahn welcomed me to a party as if we had known one another for years; our only connection prior to Inman was my one comment (and not even a very compelling one) on Michael Wurzer’s blog.  (Thanks for a great party at Fluid!)
  • Sarah Bandy told me all about her reality show, and that she is one of our clients. Thanks, Sarah, and good luck on your quest to hit $1 million!
  • Jim Cronin introduced me to the Irish car bomb.  Yummy.
  • Jay Thompson sat down with me at Starbucks, just to chat for a few minutes. Jay is Real Estate blogging royalty, yet remarkably humble and approachable.
  • And too many more to list…

So what does this all mean? What exactly is it that I am taking from Inman RE Connect this year? We’ve all read the posts about the cool new applications, the renewed sense of optimism, the feeling that those of us still standing as the smoke clears are ready to embrace the next challenge.

Yet I found most compelling the sociocultural shift that has taken place within the industry in just a few short years. Real Estate has always been about people, a business of relationships. But we’ve witnessed the emergence of a giant subculture that is pushing how the industry redefines itself while overcoming hard times and a questionable public image, all via media that provide instant communication and transparancy. On a personal level, never before have I felt so much a part of a community in the middle of this shift, part of a family dedicated to improving and enhancing the industry where we all ply our trade and wares. It didn’t matter that I had done so little to be included in this family up until now, only that I was on board for the ride.

So what am I taking from Connect?    Lots of new friends, for starters. That, and the loss of my fear of looking foolish. It’s inevitable I will, no matter how hard I try to avoid it. I trust my new friends will forgive me.

Rich Bailey is the Director of Business Development at WolfNet Technologies

Follow Me on Twitter 

 

We were, arguably, every buyer agent’s dream.  Month-to-month lease in our apartment.  Prequalified for a mortgage. Laser-beamers on location, looking in a specific neighborhood with a radius of less than 3 miles. Had our eyes on the market for the last 15 months, and knew the value of what we wanted. In no hurry, and willing to be patient, but ready to pounce if the right home came along.

That was where my wife and I were when we officially entered the housing market in the fall of 2006. We even had an agent from a local company who we trusted, named Colin.  Colin was a referral from a good friend and someone I had known for years. Did it matter he had previously been a bartender at our favorite local pub?

I was on top of our search for a new home, getting email updates from our Colin’s web site on new listings nearly every day. Recently he added a mapping feature to his property search, much better than searching by zip code.  I set my map in the exact location where I wanted to buy, set my price range, bedrooms, bathrooms, garage stalls, and so on. Soon I developed an intimate understanding of the housing market in this area, especially when my agent answered any questions we had. He wasn’t pushy, just available, which was what we wanted.

Soon we started scheduling showings for our favorite listings, and that’s when we really needed Colin.   He pointed out things that I would have missed as a first-time buyer.  “Yep, cable’s already wired to the upstairs.” “Copper pipes, that’s good.” “You’ll need to install egress windows if you want to finish this basement, but at least it’s nice and dry down here.”

Of course, my wife and I did our Sunday driving without him.  We cruised back our chosen neighborhood, picking up flyers from yard signs, even stopping at open houses. “Are you working with an agent?” We confidently replied, “Yes.”  One house had great curb appeal until we saw the list price, far too high for that neighborhood, we thought. Onward.

We continued our leisurely search until just before Thanksgiving. Then one night we toured a home we can only describe as “unique”. Split level, lots of space, some great features (and some rather unusual ones, too) and a great location. We called it the Brady house, resembling as it did the house on The Brady Bunch. But just a little more than we wanted to spend.

Colin indicated the house had offers on the table. “What does that mean?” I asked? “It means,” he replied, “that if you really love it, you should write up an offer soon, probably tomorrow.”

That moment hit us like a Pamplona bull.  Before it had been so easy.  No pressure, we were just browsing. Now we had to make a decision, and actually compete with other buyers placing hidden offers.  My wife and I ran through a gauntlet of questions.  Can we afford it?  Can we live with that goofy stove contraption in the kitchen or the ugly carpet in the basement? How hard will it be to sell such a “unique” home? Instantly, our home quest went from Sunday drives to making hurried choices that would impact our lives for the next twenty years.

Colin understood. He assured us we shouldn’t feel pressured, but we needed to act if we wanted the house. “Ok,” I said. “Let’s schedule another showing and see it again. If it’s for us, we’ll make an offer.”

Arriving at work early the following morning, I opened an email from Colin’s web site announcing new and updated listings that matched my search. Just like most other days since I started looking, except on this day one of the houses stood out.  It was the one with the great curb appeal, the one we liked but felt had been priced too high. Not anymore.  I called Colin. “Can we see this house before we go look at the other one?” I asked.

Colin said he would check with the listing agent, and called me back 10 minutes later.  “Meet you there at 10.”  I arrived to see his familiar white Volkswagen parked in front and remembered how my wife and I felt the first time we saw the house.  Colin got the key from the lockbox and we walked in the door.

I was home.

Just like that, my entire being was filled with warmth that can only be described as a homecoming. The house was perfect.  It was an older home, more spacious than the bungalows that dominated this area, but very well-kept and not in need of any major improvements. We toured it all, and nothing changed.  It was ours.

We next went to the other house we had seen earlier, and suddenly looked at it with a more critical eye.  The whirlpool tub is nice, but it’s old, and would be expensive to fix or replace if it broke. And are those water stains in the closet behind it? Sure feels cold in here; are these windows double insulated like the house we just saw?  Look at the burn marks in the carpet near the fireplace. And so on and so on.

The next morning, Colin and I toured the dream home with my wife. She had an identical reaction, and that sealed it. We went straight to Colin’s office and wrote up an offer.  The next day, we were out for a hike when Colin called to tell us the seller had submitted a counter-offer. 

“What do you think?” I asked Colin.

“It’s a reasonable counter, and I know you like the house, “he replied.

“Then we have a deal.” We closed 3 weeks later.

There were, of course, the usual hurdles in those 3 weeks.  The inspection revealed a few minor changes we requested from the owner, to which he agreed.  And the inevitable “Oh, by the way” moment at closing (in our case, the owner informed us we would never get a queen-sized box spring up the stairs, and he was right). But I cannot imagine having a more positive first-time home buying experience.

All because of good technology, and a great agent.

Looking east toward the Chisos from the Burro Mesa trailhead

Looking east toward the Chisos from the Burro Mesa trailhead

Burro Mesa Trailhead
Burro Mesa Trailhead

Another beautiful sunrise over the Chisos Basin. Tab slept in, and we had a leisurely breakfast.  Today was our last full day in the park, and we wanted to explore some of the desert west of the Chisos Mountains. We targeted a hike into Burro Mesa, and left camp late morning.

Burro Mesa is a desert hike of just over 2 miles through a dry wash, winding through a slickrock canyon, and eventually finishing in a “cathedral”. This is where water has historically collected in a huge pool, before tumbling over 50 feet to the desert below.  There is a hike to the base of the “falls” that’s only a half mile, which we saved for the heat of the day. So the upstream side is on top of the mesa, while downstream is in the desert below.

Pink Prickly Pear

Pink Prickly Pear

On the first part of the journey, I was looking at all the life.
There were plants and birds and rocks and things, there was sand and hills and rings
The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz, and the sky with no clouds.
The heat was hot and the ground was dry, but the air was full of sound

Upper Burro Mesa Trail, near the trailhead

Upper Burro Mesa Trail, near the trailhead

People who don’t appreciate the beauty of a desert might assume there is no life in one, but such a theory couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Deserts are rife with life, especially after a rare rain, but even in drier years life abounds in many forms and colors. Everywhere scurry lizards and birds, though we were scanning the rocks for rattlesnakes or wild cats. Insects seemed to thrive in this unforgiving environment.

After two days in the desert sun, my skin began to turn red.
After three days in the desert fun, I was looking at a river bed
And the story it told of a river that flowed made me sad to think it was dead.

Tabitha hikes through a narrow wash that was the Burro Mesa trail

Tabitha hikes through a narrow wash that was the Burro Mesa trail

The trail wound through a rocky wash, where we were forced at times to scramble over rugged basins and drops.  After about a mile, the trail flattened out, and we found ourselves walking in a sandy river bed. Soon another channel joined us from the east; we noted it so as not to get suckered into taking it on the way out. Creosote and other desert shrubs dominated the landscape, with the occasional cactus and thirsty spring desert wildflower.  We used our walking stick to check for snakes, and kept our eyes on rocky crevices for bobcats and mountain lions.

Eventually we scrambled down several feet of slickrock into the cathedral above the “falls”. This chamber was carved out by water and sediment when this area was less arid; imagine thousands of cubic feet of water per second swirling in this collection area before tumbling over the precipice, rocks and pebbles carving away the softer stone.  It was a perfect place for lunch and to reflect on our own insignificance in time and space.

The top of the Burro Mesa pouroff; its over 50 feet to the sand and rocks below the edge.

The top of the Burro Mesa pouroff; it's over 50 feet to the sand and rocks below the edge.


Tab has lunch while contemplating the cathedral of Burro Mesa

Tab has lunch while contemplating the "cathedral" of Burro Mesa


Tabitha scrambles up the slickrock to emerge from the pouroff cathedral

Tabitha scrambles up the slickrock to emerge from the pouroff cathedral

 

I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name
It felt good to be out of the rain
In the desert you can remember your name
cause there aint no one for to give you no pain

 

Rich hikes back up the wash out of Burro Mesa

Rich hikes back up the wash out of Burro Mesa

Finally we emerged from the shade of the cathedral into the hot desert sun. The hike back was uneventful, though we did come across some kind of animal carcass, probably a jackrabbit. We were still captivated by the beauty of the desert, but were anxious to go over the pass to hike the ½ mile to the falls below.  Not a place you’d want to be in a rainstorm, any more than the cathedral above.

Dead animal carcass on the upper Burro Mesa trail

Dead animal carcass on the upper Burro Mesa trail


Rich stares up from beneath the pouroff

Rich stares up from beneath the pouroff


Burro Mesa Pouroff - We were at the top only 90 minutes earlier

Burro Mesa Pouroff - We were at the top only 90 minutes earlier

We could see the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon from the lower Burro Mesa Trail, so we continued on to Castalon for a cold drink, and then on to get a closer look at the canyon. Too tired and late to hike in, we settled for the photo ops from the parking lot before hour drive to camp.

An old steam engine against the backdrop of the rockface below Santa Elena Canyon, near Castalon

An old steam engine against the backdrop of the rockface below Santa Elena Canyon, near Castalon


So far away from Emory Peak two days ago, the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon looms large from the overlook

So far away from Emory Peak two days ago, the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon looms large from the overlook

We did stop a Mule Ears Peaks and encountered a large group preparing to backpack into the desert.  Their plan was to hike up Blue Canyon to Boot Spring where they would replenish their water supply.  The look on their face when I told them the spring was dry could have stopped a truck.  A young woman who was probably responsible for trip planning (or lack of it) informed me two weeks ago there was plenty of water.  I replied that two days ago, there was none. 

A man who appeared to be the group leader suggested they might want to check with a ranger before heading in.  I concurred that be a good idea, stifling my shock at their failure to confirm spring levels before venturing into the desert.  Five minutes on the NPS website and I knew to check on Boot Spring with Park Headquarters, who not only confirmed the only water was in stagnant pools. We had seen these pools on our hike to the South Rim, and couldn’t imagine drinking from it, filtered or not.  The ranger added the preferred what little water remained we should leave for the animals, and urged us to carry in all of our own water.  Maybe I was annoyed at the arrogance of this group that they didn’t need to suffer up the mountain trails as we had, but we did genuinely fear for their well-being. We wished them luck, and posed for a few shots before finally heading back to the Chisos Basin.

 

What is growing out of Tabithas head? Its Mule Ears Peaks!

What is growing out of Tabitha's head? It's Mule Ears Peaks!


Mule Ears Peaks looms more rugged and forbidding than when we viewed it from Emory Peak

Mule Ears Peaks looms more rugged and forbidding than when we viewed it from Emory Peak

After nine days I let the horse run free
cause the desert had turned to sea
There were plants and birds and rocks and things
There was sand and hills and rings
The ocean is a desert with its life underground
And a perfect disguise above
Under the cities lies a heart made of ground
But the humans will give no love

Our last night in Big Bend, and we knew our plan well.  Wine and another perfect sunset.

Another perfect sunset in the Chisos Basin

Another perfect sunset in the Chisos Basin

Lyrics to “A Horse With No Name” by Dewey Bunnell

After our huge reward meal at the Chisos Mountain Lodge, we had some preparations to make in order to enjoy a relaxing last 2 days in Big Bend.  Ice and beer, number one priority, and the Chisos Basin store took care of that.  We also wanted to get a campsite, and found the friendly ranger who had promised to reserve one of the better ones for us if no one had taken it by that morning.  He was true to his word, though he did inform us he had given permission for a backpacker to store her gear in our Bear Box that morning.  Her pack was still there, so we decided to hold off on setting up camp, since technically 4pm was check-in time. Sure enough, it was the same German girl we had seen on Emory Peak; apparently she was hitchhiking across America, and had landed in as remote a place as one could ever hope to hitchhike to. We silently wished her well, though the image of an overdressed, overburdened, over exposed to the sun girl on the mountaintop stayed with us.

Our next goal was the Rio Grande Village, the only place in the entire park with running showers.  We both needed to wash off the trail dust, and we started toward the Rio Grande, with a planned stop at Boquillas Canyon.

Rich poses on the road to Rio Grande Village, Sierra del Carmen in the background

Rich poses on the road to Rio Grande Village, Sierra del Carmen in the background

The Boquillas Canyon trail is only a half mile each way, but the nearly empty lot made us instantly regret not being able to set up camp. Numerous reports of break-in’s at trailheads near the border got us a little paranoid, and we were reluctant to leave our car full of gear.  So we hiked up to the top of the ridge where we could keep watch, and enjoyed the view of the river, even spotting some of the locals on the Mexican side.

Some locals from Boquillas, Mexico

Some locals from Boquillas, Mexico

Rio Grande near Boquillas, Mexico

Rio Grande near Boquillas, Mexico

With our site-seeing cut short, we headed on to Rio Grande Village and the much-anticipated shower.  $1.50 gets you five minutes, so we got change in the store with the opportunistic purchase of a couple of cold beers.  Near the river, the temp had soared into the 90’s.  Camping here in the summer would be miserable.  We were very happy with our choice of campgrounds, and not having to listen to RV generators all night.

Tabitha is refreshed by a shower and a cold beer

Tabitha is refreshed by a shower and a cold beer

One of the locals didnt seem to mind the heat

One of the locals didn't seem to mind the heat

Tunnel on the road to Rio Grande Village

Tunnel on the road to Rio Grande Village

Refreshed from our shower and beers, we returned to the Chisos Basin, stopping at Panther Junction to share our bear stories.  We learned they had closed all Boot Canyon and Colima camp sites due to these young bears playing trampoline on the Park Service tents, pitched by the same crew we had seen coming up by mule train the day before.  I wondered if the bears were even a threat to the regular campers; it sounded like they all knew the fun was at the service cabin, which had a full kitchen.  Hmmmm…..split pea soup, or NPS bacon and eggs.  I can see the bears’ attraction.  Made us glad we kept a clean camp.

We filled our gas tank, anticipating an early departure Friday, and returned to the Basin to set up camp.  We had picked a choice site, one that could not be reserved in advance.  Our tent pad was completely secluded in a small stand of Mexican juniper, almost invisible from the access road, and with a view of the upper Window trail.  Tonight, it was Zatarain’s Jambalaya and kielbasa for dinner, which we enjoyed with wine at the overlook.  Wine and sunset photos seemed to be the best show in town.

Casa Grande at sunset

Casa Grande at sunset

The Window at Sunset

The Window at Sunset

This view never got old, and this night some rare clouds joined the show

This view never got old, and this night some rare clouds joined the show

Up at dawn, and we used some of our remaining water to make coffee.  Not the best way to hydrate, but we figured the caffeine withdrawl headache would be worse than being thirsty.  We broke camp quickly and by the time the sun had crept into Boot Canyon, we were on the trail.

 
We climbed up some moderate switchbacks into Colima Pass, and then down the other side, passing by a couple with backcountry gear coming from Laguna Meadow.  It was substantially cooler on the shady side of the pass, which was a relief since the day promised to be warm.  Our packs were substantially lighter with no water. Tabitha had to adjust her pack, and even that early perspiration ran down the middle of her back.

Tab adjustes her pack straps on the Colima Trail

Tab adjustes her pack straps on the Colima Trail

We had noticed different animal scat throughout the trip.  Amazing about the drought was the fact that even though different animals dropped different sized pellets, it all looked the same.  Every animal seemed to be eating nothing but forage and juniper berries, from the skunks and small rodents to the deer, to even the bears.  Surely there was some moisture content in these berries; there wasn’t much other water to be had anywhere.

 
We reached the trail junction; to the left it climbed steeply toward the Southwest Rim. We turned right toward Laguna Meadow. As the trail hugged the slope the sun finally cleared the pass.  I turned to look across a small canyon to find where the Southwest Rim trail lead, and low and behold, there was another bear.  This one was an adult, probably a boar, and it sat in a small clearing on the slope earting berries.  Through the binoculars I could see the flies buzzing around its head. I steadied my camera on my trekking pole and zoomed in as much as it would let me.  I made a noise to get his attention, confident the 150 yards and rugged terrain separating us eliminated any real threat. Bears in Texas.  So cool.

An adult black bear ferociously eats berries near the Laguna Meadow and Colima Trail junction

An adult black bear ferociously eats berries near the Laguna Meadow and Colima Trail junction

We continued on and reached the Blue Canyon overlook, also the site of a significant wildfire in the 1980’s.  The day before we had stared down this canyon from atop Emory Peak, but 1,000 feet lower we got a much different perspective. It was here that Tabitha took what I think is the iconic photo of our entire backcountry trip. A shrub blocks much of the canyon, but I think it leaves more to the imagination with me admiring the view, and I like the result. The top of the Southwest Rim is just above my head.

Rich admires the incredible view

Rich admires the incredible view

We pressed ahead, still wary of bears, but we would see no more on this trip.  We did run into the same group of students that had camped in Boot Canyon two nights ago back at the Basin.  They said they had a bear in their camp at Laguna Meadow that required scaring away.  I tried to imagine their habits; a clean camp is the best defense against bears, and somehow I suspected they may have been unaware of this.

 
This was the second time we ran into members of that group after they left Boot Canyon. They were on a 3-night loop: Boot Canyon, Southwest Rim and Laguna Meadow.  We had rationed our water and still made it out with little to spare.  They had run out of water completely the second day, forced to send 3 members of the group back down the Pinnacles Trail to the Basin to get more. That group then had to hike all the way back to the South Rim with the water to meet the group at their night two campsite.  We learned of this after we had returned from the South Rim the night before; they sent another two members back to Boot Canyon to fetch the gear they left behind; apparently the packs needed to carry it to the next camp were being used to fetch more water from the Basin.  Unbelievable. Not sure what they were thinking. Oh to be so young and full of so much energy…more energy than brains.  Weren’t these students from Rice University?  Some things you cannot learn in books.

 

At any rate, we came out of Laguna Meadow and once again saw the Chisos Basin.  This route was definitely less strenuous than the Pinnacles Trail, going up or down, but the views were no less impressive.

Chisos Basin from the top of the Laguna Meadow Trail

Chisos Basin from the top of the Laguna Meadow Trail

Emory Peak looking back up the Laguna Meadow Trail.  The pass into Laguna Meadow is just to the left of the little hump on the right.

Emory Peak looking back up the Laguna Meadow Trail. The pass into Laguna Meadow is just to the left of the little hump on the right.

Tabitha with the Window, as seen from the lower Laguna Meadow Trail

Tabitha with the Window, as seen from the lower Laguna Meadow Trail

Before we knew it, we were back in the parking lot, our adventure completed with just under a liter of water remaining.  After 3 days of water rationing, bear spotting and eating backpacker food, we had only one thing in mind.  The rite of passage for anyone coming out of a long trip to the high Chisos is a burger and a beer at the Chisos Mountain Lodge.   Nothing ever tasted so good.

Mission Accomplished! Note the dry grass and dusty boots.

Mission Accomplished! Note the dry grass and dusty boots.

Rich enjoys a fitting reward after the High Chisos adventure

Rich enjoys a fitting reward after the High Chisos adventure

Rich and Tab pose in front of the precipice at the South Rim

Rich and Tab pose in front of the precipice at the South Rim

 
So there we were at Boot Canyon, and facing a water shortage.
 
It really boiled down to simple mathematics.  We would need two liters of water for the round trip hike to the South Rim, just under 4 miles.  We would need 3 cups to make dinner.  Another two liters to drink before bed.  A liter for coffee in the morning; absolutely no way were we sacrificing our caffeine fix).  And 3-4 liters for the hike down.
 
We had the water, barely, we just had to be careful how we used it.  Once we had gone through the figuring, and developed a plan for what remained, we felt we could execute it without packing up our gear and hiking back out that afternoon.  We would stick to our plan and hike down the following morning.
 
That decided, we refilled our bottles and started up the spur trail.  Tab was about to turn south up the main trail when I stopped her.  Soon she heard it, too.  Horses were coming up the trail from the Pinnacles. I knew you are supposed to stand on the downhill side when you encounter horses on a mountain trail, so we stayed right where we were.
 
It turned out to be burros, not horses. A mounted park ranger led a train of a ½ dozen animals, fully loaded with packs and trail maintenance tools like picks and shovels.  Their hooves kicked up a huge cloud of dust, which covered another crew member with a full pack, following on foot. This train had come up the switchbacks and rocky footings of the Pinnacles Trail.  Amazing. Mule train is the only way to resupply the trail maintenance crew, gearing up for the multitudes expected the following week.
 
I remembered seeing on the map something simply referred to as a “corral” near the Colima Junction. Sure enough, we only walked a few hundred yards, and more trail crew members were busy disburdening the mules. Across from the Corral was a cabin, complete with bunks and a full kitchen. More tents were pitched behind the cabin.  An entire crew of park rangers and staff were sleeping less than a quarter mile from our tent.  I would sleep better that night knowing these folks were so close.  Little did I know… 
 
Rich in Upper Boot Canyon

Rich in Upper Boot Canyon

We passed where I expected to see Boot Spring, but we only saw ugly, stagnant water in some of the deeper pools. No spring. Dry. At least we could justify our ordeal the previous day, and the current rationing strategy; there was no water at Boot Spring. We crossed the stream bed, passed the Juniper Canyon and Northeast Rim trail junctions, and pressed up toward the South Rim.
 
Upper Boot Canyon was already shaded in the late afternoon by its steep walls.  The dark gray rocks seemed like perfect mountain lion habitat, and the pools we saw might be the only water around for miles. I was wary of seeing one, and way too close.  But they remained hidden.
Rich hikes through upper Boot Canyon

Rich hikes through upper Boot Canyon

 
Finally the walls gave way to a broader meadow, and finally the trail left the creekbed through an oak and prairie grass savannah. Back in the sun, we climbed up a gentle slope, until there it was.  The South Rim, and the amazing view of the desert below.
Tabitha gazes from the shade at the spetacular view

Tabitha gazes from the shade at the spectacular view

 
Tabitha poses with the desert expanse behind her

Tabitha poses with the desert expanse behind her

Shutter clicking, we snapped several shots using the tripod.  We could see the Outer Mountain Loop trail, and the easily recognized shape of Elephant Tusk directly below us. Further on, we could see the Rio Grande, and the flats between Mariscal and Boquillas Canyons. And beyond that, Mexico and the Sierra del Carmen. 
Sierra del Carmen from the South Rim

Sierra del Carmen from the South Rim

Elephant Tusk from the South Rim

Elephant Tusk from the South Rim

From the South Rim, looking toward the Southeast Rim

From the South Rim, looking toward the Southeast Rim

Clear skies, tremendous views that seemed to reach the horizon, and the warm setting sun.  The South Rim has it all.  The trail to the Southeast and Northeast Rim was closed to protect nesting peregrine falcons. And I did not want to hike back through Mountain Lion Avenue after sunset.  So we reluctantly took one last look, and headed back to camp.
So two unique hikes, including summiting the 2nd highest peak in Texas, and multitudes of spectacular views.  In spite of our water situation, we ate a spicy Jose’s Mole for dinner, one of the more underated Backpackers Pantry entrees. Another perfect day in the books.