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!
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.