Goodbye Big Bend - Till Next Time!

For our second day in Big Bend, we rose before the sun and headed into the park, hoping for a beautiful sunrise!  In those early morning hours, the desert is still quite chilly, and we bundled up against the wind and watched the light kiss the clouds.  We also watched a fog bank from the east slowly creep in and gradually obscure the view and the light!  But what we saw, was lovely!  

After a stop at the visitor center for me to complete the Big Bend Junior Ranger badge, we drove down the road stopping at Dugout Wells.  There is a lovely oasis here due to the bit of water, and there were lots of birds.  

This plant called Guayacan,  fascinated me, with it's close held leaves.  The leaves fold in during the heat of the day and at night to conserve water.  

An old dead prickly pear cactus left behind a mat of interesting patterned fiber.  

Driving in the early morning fog, we caught a shadowy glimpse of mountains in the distance.  

As we got nearer and the fog continued to clear, the wall of sheer rock became more and more visible.  Those cliffs are the Sierra del Carmen in Mexico on the far side of the Rio Grande River.  Stunning! 

Just past this tunnel, we turned onto the road to Hot Springs. 

The land seemed bleached along this road, with a row of nearly barren hills to one side.  

Soon the road split into narrow one way lanes that crept along the side of the hip, with a sheer wall on one side and a quick drop off on the other.  Narrow enough that from the driver's seat, it was hard to tell exactly where the road was!  Hugging the wall on the right helped keep us on the road!  

Once we arrived at the parking area, we were greeted by this golden layered hill.  

A short walk down the path brought us to this old stone building, once a storefront.  The palm tree was quite the surprise!  

A resident of the nearby town of Boquillas (on the Mexican side of the river) left these little beaded ornaments for sale on the honor system.  

This row of stone rooms were once hotel rooms for the Hot Springs resort that operated here in the early 1940s.  

It was a beautiful spot!  

I walked through the tall river cane, down to the river's edge.  Beautiful in the early morning light!  

I felt like I'd been transported to the Nile, with pyramids in the background.  

Walking down the US side of the river, I spotted this lone Texas Bluebonnet in bloom!  

So many birds in the cane, but hard to see them!  The cane was probably 15 to 20 feet tall!  I'd never seen anything quite like it before!  

The date palms seemed so out of place here, and yet, so right for the spot!  A lovely bit of oasis in the desert!  

Behind the buildings, a rock wall rose high above, with blocks of golden rock jutting out at angles in layers as though an architect had come in and placed them all just so.  

Closer inspections revealed perfect swallow nests tucked under the eaves of rock.  

This trail led down to the actual Hot Spring, and on to Rio Grande Village.  How I wish in hindsight that we had taken the time to walk down to the spring!  

It truly was a magical spot!  I picked up a book at the visitor center, "A Homesteader's Story: Big Bend" by J.O. Langford.  It was a fascinating look at what it was like to be one of the earliest residents of the area.

I think this was my favorite spot in all of Big Bend.  It felt exotic, as though we'd travelled to the other side of the world somehow, and yet here we were, still in Texas, in the USA.  

How I would have loved to be a guest here in years gone by and stayed in one of these stone walled rooms.  

Heading on down the road, we read in our guidebook that the Boquillas Border crossing had been closed in 2002.  We decided to stop, anticipating a national park exhibit of some sort.  

However, it soon became apparent that it was in fact, a very active border crossing, as we were met by a highly armed border patrol officer, asking us pretty specific questions about why were stopping there.  He seemed skeptical of our reply about what the guidebook had said!  I wished I had it in my hand and could have shown him where it said that the closest ports of entry were now at Presidio to the west and Del Rio to the east!  We learned that while it had been closed for a time, it reopened in 2012 and is now used primarily for the residents of the Mexican town of Boquillas who work in the park to enter without having to go miles and miles out of their way.  

We drove on down the road to an overlook where we could see the town of Boquillas in the distance and had a good view of the river below us.  Soon, a border patrol agent pulled up nearby and watched us for a while.  As we drove back up the road toward Rio Grande Village, he followed us at a distance for a time!  

At Rio Grande Village, we stopped near the campground to enjoy the lovely setting of irrigated trees and fields.  It provided shade and a pleasant park like space in which to relax after the harshness of the desert.  

We had a close up view of the river flowing to the east.  

I had seen photos of the river from a high vantage point that I knew were near here, so I opted to take a short hike, on what turned out to be the opposite end of the trail from Hot Springs!  How I wish I'd opted to hike that have had my friends meet me at this end!  Knowing how well my knee did on the day prior, I thought I'd chance this steeper, rockier trail for a bit.  It went well, though I would have benefited from some hiking poles!  

At this spot, I realized that I would have had to walk a bit further than I wanted to to get to the view I had seen on postcards, so I opted to stop and enjoy this view of the river for a bit before turning around.  The wind was biting cold at this spot, so I didn't stay too long before turning around and heading back down.  

Soon the wooded areas were in view and my hike came to an end.  How grateful I am that my knee is finally doing well enough to do more than walk on flat ground!  I think the trick is to have a good mix of walking and rest throughout the day.  My hip still isn't happy, but it tolerated this ok.  

After our time at the Rio Grande Village area, we headed back to the Chisos Mountains.  

The drive up into the Basin area was beautiful!  




We stopped at the visitor center here and had dinner.  I enjoyed some time sitting on the patio sketching.  

As evening neared, we headed back to our camp in Terlingua. 

With a little bit of daylight left, we decided to drive through the actual town of Terlingua.  There we found an assortment of little adobe houses, many appeared to have utilized old stone ruins to creat new little homes from.  Each had amazing character and many had lovely little desert garden spots attached.  It truly looked like a fun and interesting place to live!  

The evening colors looking towards Big Bend were lovely.  

Our last stop of the evening was the cemetery with it's interesting burial sites.  

And then the sunset lit up the sky with glorious color, just as we were leaving.  Beautiful!  

Our time in Big Bend came to a close.  There was a road to the east that we never did get to drive, so I am hoping that there will be a future trip to return to the area and spend a bit more time hiking and sketching.  It was easy to see just why my parents loved it here and returned so many times over the years!  


Hello Big Bend!

Good morning Big Bend National Park!  I really didn't know much about the park, other than it became a favorite of my parents, who came here to bird many times.  Driving in, the Chisos mountains in the distance were the most prominent feature on the landscape other than the very dry desert around us.

As we got closer to the Chisos, the landscape became a bit more "lush", filled with grasses in many places as well as the ubiquitous creosote bush and other shrubbery.  Later we learned that once, this entire area was a truly lush grassland, but massive overgrazing in the early 1900s led to the desert landscape that is seen today.  The grasses are just barely starting to grow again, after a hundred years.  

Facing away from the sun, the green of the creosote and an assortment of yucca, sotol, and agave becomes more apparent.  Lovely colors! 

Our drive on this first day in Big Bend sent us to the west of the Chisos Mountains, on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive and completed the drive on the Old Maverick Road.  In all the route was about 43 miles long, but took us the entire day!   

Everywhere, the brilliant green of the creosote bush gave color to the landscape.  In the heat of the day, it has a laquer that seals the pores of the leaves and twigs, keeping moisture in.  But during the cool of the morning, and especially when it rains, those pores open, absorbing moisture and releasing the scent of creosote. During a rain, the entire landscape smells like creosote!  And if you are trying to place the smell of creosote, think warm railroad ties! 

Everywhere we stopped, the ground was a kaleidoscope of color.  Testimony to eons of various geologic forms filling this land and the remnants left behind.  

To the southwest, there was a dark ridge with a strange gap that we wondered about all day.  It seemed to stay off there in the distance and we wondered that our guidebook said nothing about that strange gap, nor any of the explanatory signs that we stopped to read.  

Nearby, we wondered at the shear broad stripes of yellow ochre on the mountains. 

I found this dead Sotol very interesting.  It had become a hollow basket of sorts.  

This area of the Chihuahuan Desert definitely has its own beauty.  It turns out that this is the site of an ancient volcano.  Straight ahead in this photo, where the darker rock is, was likely the area of the vent.  Those golden layers of rock are actually some of the old pyroclastic flow that was initially laid down when the volcano erupted, topped by other lava with a different composition later on.  

Now the valley floor is covered with prickly pear and creosote, often growing together.  

Another common sight are these yucca, which grow upwards on thick stalks.  Many of them were blooming with enormous flower clusters while we were there.  

Hundreds of beautiful blooms from pink buds through creamy white flowers.  We learned that these massive stalks of flowers can weigh as much as 70 pounds!  What you cannot see in this photo, is the myriad of insect life that was humming around them!  Several varieties of wasp and bee, ants, beetles, etc!  

It seemed that every corner we went around, the scenery had something completely different to offer! Here, a block volcanic core jutting up, surrounding by a thick layer of gray tuff, which is compressed volcanic ash.  It looks like it ought to be soft to the touch, like a sand dune, but it's actually quite firm, though it erodes easily.  

Another volcanic dike that has eroded to form the Mule Ears peaks.  

After we passed the visitor center at Castalon, which was an old village and spring, the road turned to the west and followed the Rio Grande River.  Mexico on the left, USA on the right.  A small herd of cows was grazing on the Mexican side and coming to the river for a drink.  

Looking up ahead, that funny gap that we'd been seeing in the far off ridge became more apparent.

As we headed closer, the massive height of the cliffs became apparent!  As well as the size of that gap!

We stopped to see the Sublett-Dorgan ruins, dating back to about 1918 or so.  Lovely spot to have had a house! 

All around we found wild mustard growing and blooming.  So delicate looking in this harsh landscape. 

And finally, that gap was realized.  Santa Elena Canyon, where the Rio Grande River cuts through the rock.  Wow.  Just gorgeous!  

I love the way the shadows and rays of light stream from the top of the canyon across the sky!

With more and more walking each day of this trip, my knee was feeling good, so I put it to the test with a short hike up to get a better view of the canyon.  It did really well!  A true blessing!  And the view was amazing!


Here I am on the trail!

Back down at the bottom, I took this shot at water level to emphasize the heights of the 1500 foot cliffs on either side!

Evening was fast approaching as we left the canyon.

Beautiful skies and color on the distant landscape.

The last 12 miles on the Old Maverick Drive were lovely.  An alien, but intriguing landscape made even more lovely by the setting sun.  

A lovely sunset to end a grey day in Big Bend.