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Big Bend National Park Chisos Basin and Santa Elena Canyon

Sotol VistaTuesday

This is Sotol Vista. More photos can be seen at 

Today we started out by retracing our steps to Dugout Wells. Both of us really like this location—the cottonwoods, the windmill churning, and the Chihuahuan Desert. Both of us took photos of the date palm, Glen actually picked up one of the fruits and ate it. There was a small trail through the desert which we followed dutifully. Birds were abundant and we surprised a covey of quail. They are so comical—they run importantly through the brush, their topknots upright as they dash forward hunting for cover. 

We stopped in at Panther Junction Ranger Station and stamped our passport. Then we headed out for Chisos Basin. Along the way we passed two bicyclists, we stopped, Glen took their photos as they headed up the mountain. We discovered they had been at Starlight Theatre on Sunday where the food was great and plentiful but the man ate two entrées.  No surprise, it was a hard climb up for the truck, let alone legs on bikes. The ranger at Chisos Basin patiently explained the difference between sotol, century, and yucca plants. She also suggested a short walk around Window view and the Lost Mine Trail for a bit more effort.  

Lost Mine Trail is listed as Moderate in difficulty but we managed to get to the top in about two and a half hours. I was watching carefully for lion and bears with a rock in my pocket ready to throw. We were both wearing our motorcycle jackets, thinking the Kevlar would protect us somewhat. Lion and Bear sightings were noted nearly each day in that area with most of them in early morning or dusk. But a few were during the middle of the day—and I just did not want to become someone’s lunch. The views along Lost Mine Trail were fabulous and we met several other hikers along the way. Glen handed out his card to them as he took pictures of each group. He was a bit agoraphobic on the top so sat down while I climbed to the top and took photos. My knee complained but I did not want to be left behind. 

We had a really late lunch of leftover Quesadilla and an apple for me and orange for him at Paint Gap Road. We contemplated offloading the bikes and taking a ride down it but decided we were both a bit too tired for that. So we decided to take a look at Santa Elena Canyon. 

The road was curvy but fairly easy to navigate as it was paved. We stopped at Sotol Vista—a place with hundreds of Sotol aguaves and a fabulous view. The descent was not too bad, just a few 25 mile hour hairpin turns around canyons. We passed through a really bizarre looking area which turned out to be tuff—or volcanic ash.

Castolon is a large mountain with a lava cap over a layer of tuff. We reached the Canyon around 5:30.  The Rio Grande is quite narrow but the Canyon is absolutely huge. It is amazing to think that you are looking at Mexico and it is just a stone’s throw away. We were the only people there except for a group of four Mexicans walking up from the river towards the white pickup truck in the parking lot. One of them spoke excellent English—and it is hard not to think the others were waiting for him and we were witness to an illegal border crossing.

 My pictures of the canyon look really fake—like something I manipulated in Photoshop.After we left the canyon, the sun was setting. We began to wonder when the gates might be closed and if we would have to spend the night camped out in the truck at the gate. Driving through the dark in those twisting roads wasn’t fun but there was no traffic until we got up to the main road.  

We have really enjoyed this time at Big Bend. There are enough people to make it pleasant but frequently we are the only ones at a point of interest—we are not waiting for other people to negotiate the narrow trails, there is silence—we can hear the birds, and the rush of the water over the rocks, and the humming of the bees, and the trilling of the toads.  

PS—we drove right through those gates—they were open and spent the night in our little cabin.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Sylvia, this is a real treat to read about your trip! Your photos are incredibly beautiful, and your writing is so interesting. Thanks for sharing this trip with the rest of us.

    December 30, 2007

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