Friday, November 13, 2009

Finishing up with Big Bend

Sunday did turn out to be a football day, but we really needed it because Monday we took our most ambitious hike of all.  The Lost Mine Trail starts from the highest elevation the Chisos Basin road gets to, around 5,700 feet, and climbs 1,100 feet in two and a half miles to the top of a ridge where there are magnificent views of the basin and the surrounding desert.


The trail has nature markers and a booklet describing things to provide reasons to stop every few minutes, but it is still up every step of the way.  Thank goodness we had worked our way up to this one, and thank goodness we had rested the previous day.  It was a good hike and we spotted a white tailed deer in the trail on the way down.


Tuesday we recovered from the previous day's hike with just a short hike on the nature trail that starts in the campground.  Unfortunately the start of the trail was washed out in the floods last year so we had to hike a circuitous route around the beaver pond instead of taking the boardwalk over it.  The trail climbed a small hill near the river that had nice views.  That evening we gave ourselves a treat.  We rode up to the Basin Lodge and had dinner at their restaurant.  The food was OK, not great, but the views were worth it.

Wednesday we took our leave of Big Bend, having given it a pretty good look over for almost two weeks.  We feel like we know it pretty well.  We drove to Pecos, TX were we stayed in an RV park so we could do laundry.

Thursday we traveled east on I-20 to Midland, TX where I spent a couple hours touring the  Permian Basin Petroleum Museum.  I found it interesting but Dianna stayed in the truck and read.  Afterwards we motored north to a small county park north of Andrews, TX for the night.  Today we will move further east somewhere, and probably spend a couple days getting to Denton where we plan to spend the holidays with Dayna and her family.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Exploring Eastern Big Bend and Terlingua

Thursday we did some exploring on this side of Big Bend.  First we went to the visitor center here at Rio Grande Village, then rode out to Boquillas Canyon where the river again cuts through a mountain in a spectacular gorge, then on towards the center of the park at Chisos Basin.  On the way we stopped at Dugout Wells where a small community sprang up around a well in the early part of last century.  The only school in the area was located there.  It is now a pleasant oasis in the middle of miles and miles of desert.  We continued on to Panther Junction where the park headquarters is located, along with the largest visitor center.  We then headed up the steep and winding road into the Chisos Mountains to Chisos Basin.

The Chisos Basin in considered the heart of Big Bend NP.  The Chisos Mountains rise from the desert floor in the center of the park to a height of 7,832 feet.  The developed area is in a bowl located within the center of the mountain.  It feels similar to being inside a volcano.  There is only one opening, called the window, with a view of the desert below.


There are very tame deer wandering around and one of them approached to within 10 feet of us as we ate a picnic lunch.  After lunch we took the Basin Loop Trail through the pines.  It was only about 2 miles but it gave us a good feel for the area.  It is just barely in the pines at about 5,400 feet, so there is a combination of trees and cactus but it was much cooler than down by the river.  We had a pleasant afternoon and plan to return to do another hike in the area, as well as have dinner at the lodge some evening.

Friday we returned to Boquillas Canyon and took the short trail into the canyon.  It ends where the rock walls come down to the river.  Just before arriving at the end there is a cave high on the wall with a steep sand dune leading up to it.  The angle of the sand is extremely steep.  It took us 10 minutes or so to climb up it, but only 20 seconds to come down.

Along the trail we discovered Mexican trinkets lying on the rocks, with prices marked and jars for money.  Mexicans living across the river come over in canoes when no one is watching, and leave the items, hoping to make a little money.   As we were hiking in we were suddenly serenaded by a Mexican on the other side of the river.  We then came across jars with signs the read "Donation for Mexican Singing."  Dianna did buy a nice walking stick from one of the displays since the prices were about 1/4 of the cost for the same ones in the gift shop.  Whatever it takes.

Yesterday we decided to attend the Terlingua Chili Festival.  We had seen reference to the festival posted on the walls of some BBQ restaurants we have been in, and some of the people here in campground mentioned they were here to attend.  Terlingua is a tiny desert town just outside the park boundaries about 50 miles from the campground.  At one time it was a mining town that produced most of the mercury mined in the US.  It is now pretty much a ghost town that has become a haven for some artists and others who like to live away from it all.  It reminded us of Jerome, AZ without the mountains.

We didn't know exactly what to expect but even so, it was not at all like we thought it might be.  While there was some judging and cooking going on, only the participants and judges were paying any attention.  In fact, unless you were a participant or judge you could not even get into that area.  Mostly what it was was a couple thousand people getting together in the desert for four days to drink beer and party.  It reminded us of a biker gathering.  It was certainly not our cup of tea and we only stayed an hour or so.  We did get some free chili and some Buffalo Wings, but they were not worth the $20 admission fee.


On the way back we filled up the scooter with gas.  Since the speed limit in the park is only 45 MPH we got the best mileage ever -- 70.5 MPG.  Wahoo!

We still have a few things we want to see and do here.  Today may be just a football day, but who knows.  Soon we will start heading for Denton.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Three Hikes in Big Bend

We decided to spend another day in the western part of the park so we could do a few more hikes.  They were all relatively short.  First we rode up to the Burro Mesa turnoff and parked at the Burro Springs Overlook Trail.   Information about the trail was not posted on the sign but it looked like it was just a short hike to an overlook.  We didn't even take water with us as we thought it would only be a few minutes.  Wrong.  It turned out to be 3/4 of a mile each way to a rather disappointing view of some greenery in a small canyon.

We then rode another mile or so up the road to the parking area for Burro Mesa Pouroff.  Pouroff's are places that would be call falls if water continously ran over them, but they are dry except when it rains.  It is a spot where water that falls on Burro Mesa during a rain storm "pours off" the mesa.  The hike was less than half a mile each way, and the formation itself was interesting.


On the way back to the scooter we saw a tarantula crossing the trail.


We then decided to try the Santa Elena Canyon Trail again.  When we were there a couple days ago the water levels were so high that it was not possible to cross Terlinga creek to get to the start of the trail.  The water levels had gone down some so we figured we had a chance.

When we arrived we watched as some European tourists waded across the creek in knee deep mud.  It looked like it was time for some adventure so we followed suit.  Yuck!


The canyon itself was very narrow and the hike was cool and pretty.  We watched several river rafters as they floated past.  The canyon itself is about 8 miles long but the trail ended in about half a mile where the canyon rock walls drop all the way to the river.   It is strange to think that the walls on the other side are in Mexico.


On the way out we met some other hikers who had found a rope attached to a tree farther up Terlinga Creek where you could pull yourself up the 10 foot sheer embankment.  We searched it out and used it to get back with dry feet, although Dianna needed a little help rappelling.

Three hikes in one day was plenty, especially because it was quite warm.  But we had a good time.

Wednesday was move day.  We relocated to the Rio Grande Village Campground on the other side of the park.  After setting up camp we did laundry and then settled in for a few days of exploring this side of Big Bend National Park.

All the photos are in the gallery.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Big Bend National Park – Day 1 thru 3

We continued south through a couple small towns, lots of open desert, small desert canyons, and open vistas with larger mountains in the distance, seeing lots of Border Patrol vehicles along the way.  We finally entered Big Bend NP at Study Butte and took the Ross Maxwell Scenic Road turnoff to Cottonwood Campground.  We dropped a couple thousand feed as we drove the 21 miles and found ourselves in a pretty grass covered primitive campground along the Rio Grande River.  There are no hookups of any kind so we will be relying on our solar panels, and since there is no cell service we will rely on our satellite internet and TV for entertainment and connection to the outside world.  After setting up camp we kicked back and relaxed for the rest of the evening.  It was quite cool and the furnace ran a lot during the evening.


We awoke to a temperature of 27 degrees, but bright sunshine soon warmed the day.  We set out to explore by scooter.  Our first stop was the Castolon Visitor Center where we learned about the history of the area.  This area has always been sparsely populated.  Even Native Americans avoided the place.  It was not until the late 1800’s that some very hardy ranchers arrived in the area.


Our second stop was at the end of the road where the Rio Grande carved Santa Elena Canyon through the mountains.  The river was too high for us to take the trail into the canyon and we are hoping that the water levels drop before we leave so we can return.  It is supposed to be one of the highlights of the area.  The canyon itself is impressive.


We continued our ride back toward the main road, stopping at each of the roadside exhibits.  Some explained the geology of the area, telling of the volcanic origins of most of the land, then the uplifting and mountain building, followed by ongoing erosion that left what we see today.  It is not what I would call spectacular scenery, but it is interesting and very pretty.  The center of the park is in the Chisos Basin area of the almost 8,000 foot Chisos Mountains that dominate the area.  We will explore that area later.


Yesterday we took a hike to Mule Ears spring.  The hike was only about 4 miles, but it was hot and lacking shade all the way.  The area around the spring where we had our lunch was a real oasis in the desert.  The small stream from the spring disappeared into the wash within a couple hundred feet but along its banks and in the pools were bulrushes, cattails, frogs, tadpoles and dragon flies.  There were tall cottonwoods and many smaller trees.


Today we didn’t do much.  We did ride a few miles up the road to Tuff Canyon overlook.  We had stopped at the overlook two days ago but had only looked.  Today we took the trail down to the bottom of the canyon and hiked as far up it as we could without rock climbing.  It was a relatively short trip but just what we needed to get the kinks out after yesterday’s more strenuous hike.


The rest of the day we just sat around, played on the computer, read, watched TV, napped and watched wildlife.  There are several coyotes who call the campground home, as well as a herd of 15 or so javalina, several road runners, woodpeckers, and a great horned owl.  All are accustomed to people and will pose for photographs as long as you don’t get too close.  The campground is very peaceful since even generators are not allowed.  It is a quiet and pretty place to spend a few days.


Pictures are in the gallery.