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Posts tagged ‘Big Bend’

Beyond Crazy from the Heat


James Houston Evans has made a career of photographing Big Bend for the past thirty years or more. He had a commercial studio in Austin but moved to Marathon, and took a job as a cook at the Gage Hotel–knowing little or nothing about cooking. He spent his days off hiking in Big Bend.

He also worked for Keith Carter, a local photographer who teaches at Lamar University–and was one of my mentors during my master’s degree in Visual Art at same institution.

McFadden Ward House Museum hosted the event and their first ever art show. I don’t really have permission to post his photos here–the above photo is one of mine taken minutes before we were deluged in a rain storm. Here is his website;

We have been to Big Bend several times–the first time thinking we would be done with it in three days and ready to move on—but it fascinates us and we have been back many times. Although James Evans thinks living there lets him have a special knowledge of the place and the light over the mountains—but the familiar can soon become commonplace and new eyes may take a fresh new look at it all.


Here are more of my photos from Big Bend—taken at a time when I didn’t really sort through them and delete a lot–maybe that will be a project in my older age.




Kathy’s Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe Breakfast

It didn’t take long for us to pack up the cabin but I can’t figure out how the food didn’t all fit back into the two coolers—we did eat while we were there. We had decided to have breakfast at Kathy’s Kosmic Kowgirl Kafe as an easy and quick way to get started on our trip home.

Kathy’s Kafe is a collection of buses and trailers and picnic items all painted PeptoBismol Pink. Heated dining had been added—a fire ring in the center of beach chairs and plastic flamingos and fed by several locals—one was campaigning for judge. While we waited for our breakfast burritos, I asked if there were any stories of mischievous small beings that did things like move your vehicle several miles while you were out hiking or make the path steeper on return. They nodded sagely and replied—‘river guides’!

That breakfast burrito was huge and quite tasty. We made fairly good time on our way back, stopping at Buckee’s in Luling around 3 for a freshly made roast beef sandwich and home-made chips. Construction on I-10 made driving through Houston somewhat challenging but we arrived home around 8.

Unloading the truck, sorting out everything, doing laundry, uploading photos, sorting through email, phone messages, and snail mail, plus the inevitable  getting ready to go back to work always seems a bittersweet ending to a fabulous time.

We’ve already made plans for our return debating the possibilities of spring flowers and crowds versus the solitude of the winter months—or maybe both.

Our cameras were both quite destroyed with mud and sand inside the camera lenses. We used the big Canon to take some photos of the remaining days; photos are being uploaded onto the smugmug site; Glen will contact Canon to see what can be done about our cameras.

Burro Springs

Wind howled and rain pelted the tin roof of our cabin last night; both of us were thirsty after finishing off the fried pickle chips and my head still hurt. When we finally woke, it was quite chilly, the sky was overcast and we decided we might prefer hiking first and then motorcycle riding.

A Falcon trail guide gave some great details on several hikes along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Our original plan was to park at Old Maverick Road and ride the motorcycle down and then back up Ross Maxwell. But we decided to do some hiking instead.

Our first destination was Sam Nail Ranch. This was a short and extremely easy hike. Two windmills were on the property; one clearly non-functional, the other a small Aeromotor  that continues to pump. The one on my farm has a distinctive squeal and it is odd to listen to one churning with little to-do.

Next was the Burro Spring Pour-off. The hike there was not difficult, well-marked, and well worth the effort. It is hard to take adequate photos to show the size. The pour-off has smooth well-polished rhyolite. The breccias was quite impressive—it looks like someone poured huge boulders of concrete and stuck landscape rocks in the side. There were several ‘holes’ in the walls with small stones captured inside. I replaced a few much to Glen’s dismay –he thought that geologists would have a difficult time figuring out why those rocks hopped up into the wall.

Our last hike was to Burro Springs. This was supposed to be a circular trail and easy. However, the trail became quite primitive once we reached Burro Springs; we slid down the slope and hunted for rock cairns to mark our return trip. A dry wash looked to be easy walking and we followed it back to the original trail. I re-read the description of the trail—to find that most people simply returned on the original path. They would have missed the hundreds of resurrection ferns unfolding after the recent rains.

We had lunch at one of the picnic tables at Castolon, Glen off-loaded the bike. Our plan was for me to drive to Panther Junction, mail my remaining post-cards, and then meet him at the top of Old Maverick Road near the entrance to the park. Our judgment of distances and time was rather off, and I met him on the main highway. He loaded up the bike and we headed back to our cabin.

Our cameras had been drying since Wednesday and we had been able to down-load the photos. Unfortunately the lenses look dirty on the inside and we’re thinking they will have to be replaced. It feels odd to be somewhere so beautiful—or anywhere without a camera to take photos.

We decided to eat supper at La Kiva. Our guides from Wednesday were there enjoying Happy Hour and we chatted a bit about our day’s adventures. Fried catfish was the special, the green salad was particularly tasty, and we headed home under the light of a beautiful full moon. Glen decided he needed a photo of it from the motorcycle boots on top of the hill.

Tomorrow we head back home. The time here has been too short—as always and we’re already making plans for our return.

Cat Tail Falls

Thunderstorms rolled in a bit past midnight; large droplets of rain fell on the tin roof of the cabin and we lost power around 3. My head still hurt after yesterday’s misadventures and I took care to take regular doses of Tylenol and one Vicodin. Just as we were contemplating the possible merits of a trial of Turkish coffee—Glen being quite happy with yesterday’s leftover cold coffee while I require hot coffee—versus running up to GhostTown Café and whether or not they might have lights, the power came back on.

After a breakfast of pancakes and bacon, packing left-over supper for today’s lunch and another dose of Tylenol for me, we headed out. Our first order of business was to replace the hats we had lost yesterday. I got a Tula straw rodeo hat and another Scars are Tattoos with Interesting Stories T-shirt and Glen got a floppy fishing hat that actually fit.

The roads were still quite wet from the rain and we learned later that there were a lot of campers stuck in the back country due to mud and impassable roads with 8 inches of water in places. More thunderstorms are predicted for tonight; we’re quite content in our little cabin at Chisos Mining Company Motel.

Yesterday, one o f the guides had mentioned an off the beaten track trail to a lovely falls near the base of Window Rock called Cat-Tail Falls. She pointed out the entrance and noted there was a parking lot about two miles or so in; the road in being rough but passable with regular vehicles. The road was a bit rough in places but easily traversed. Two other vehicles were in the parking lot.

The trail leads through a desert of Sotol , a few century plants, and lots of lechugilla, creosote bush, prickly pear, daggers, and the occasional ocotillo. The day was over-cast and we could see rain falling in the distant mountains and mist in the Chisos. The falls itself is quite lovely with a drop of thirty feet into a large pool at the base. Maidenhead ferns were on the rock walls—not as dense as Ojito Adentro but still quite picturesque. On the trail we met a couple—retired from Christus Hospital system—and with a sister who is a nurse practitioner in Soldier’s Grove—near my hometown.

We decided to try walking up the trail towards Window Rock approaching it from the east rather than the west from the Chisos Basin. The mile marker said .3 mile and to the Window Rock trail just 1.7 but we began to think that the crow marked those miles. At 2:30 we decided to return; it was amazing how far away the truck in the parking lot appeared.

A quick run to the post office at Panther Junction was next on our agenda and we made it just in time before it closed at 4:30. Dark blue rain clouds hovered over the mountains as we drove back to our cabin, promising more rain for the night.

Leftover fried pickle chips and a handful of nuts made for a not very nutritional supper but enough.

Canoeing the Rio Grande and an Unexpected Swim

A guided river trip seems rather pretentious but it meant we did not have to plan a lunch, own canoes or paddles or full life jackets. It had been a long time since I’d been canoeing and as soon as we sat in those canoes and began paddling I remembered why I enjoyed canoeing so much.  The canyon towers above the river on both sides; Mexico on the left going upstream and the US on right. Reflections of the canyon and the rocks gave a disconcerting perspective looking like a fancy photo-shop mirror effect.

Canoes are rather tippy creatures requiring attention to footing along the keel and a close watch for rapids and river banks. Unfortunately about half-way up the river, we tumped the canoe. The water was quite cold and much deeper than I thought it would be—my feet not reaching the bottom. The canoe whacked me on the shoulder and back of the head as I went under—and being underneath the canoe, I had to exert some of my not-very-expert swimming skills. The bank was within two feet—a sheer rock face but with plenty of hand holds. I held on while Glen righted the canoe downstream; the guide pulled me up the face. Besides being sopping wet and shivery cold and a horrible headache, we were fine. Glen was not wearing his lifejacket—but I always wear mine. Swimming lessons in the college pool while wearing a lifejacket has greatly reduced my fear of unexpected tumps but I’m planning on more swimming pool time when we get back home.

Since we were all out of the water and I needed to dry off, we took advantage of the sunny bank for lunch. Smoked oysters are one of my favorite ‘treat’ foods but my head was hurting too much to eat very much. I changed into my dry clothes but still was pretty shivery.

After lunch we hopped back into the canoes and continued upstream. There were a few more places that we needed to walk the canoes over the rocks. Smugglers cave lay directly ahead of us—a large cut-out spot in the banks in a place that would require a great deal of effort to rappel off the canyon walls, or ropes to clamber up the banks.

Fern Canyon was our final destination. This is a narrow canyon requiring careful attention to footing along the banks. One place called ‘the birth Canal’ involved climbing through a rocky enclosure dripping with water—the guide crawling through first and putting his foot in the small opening that fed the water. We waded through several pools over my knees. Unfortunately my camera was wet after our tump and I have no photos of the last part of the trip. The canyon is spectacular with ferns on the walls and small birds fluttering about the reeds on the shore.

Our return trip was not nearly as exciting—we managed to execute the rock walls without incident and took out a mile down river from our put-in. My lost paddle was located but our hats and my glasses unfortunately became litter in the river. Turtles were sunning themselves along both banks and a Great Blue Heron took wing. A small sanderling nervously scurried around a turtle and the little hoppy wren bird flitted about the shore.

A hot shower felt wonderful as did a handful of crackers and some pain pills. Dinner was at La Kiva where we sampled fried pickle slices—surprisingly good. All of our wet clothes were hung out on the picnic table outside our cabin. Our cameras and gear were set out to dry; Glen salvaged most of my photos—tomorrow we’ll see if the camera still works and I’ll have to get a new hat.

Window Rock

Window Rock trail

Food poisoning—made for a  miserable long night and a late start today. Breakfast was a handful of pretzels and a bottle of juice for Glen and a boiled egg with toast and coffee for me.

We had planned to do one hike in the morning and another in the afternoon with lunch at the Chisos Lodge. Our plans were scaled back to just Window Rock, a hike we’d never done before. Mountain lion and bear sightings were noted in the visitor center; Glen recalled stealing baby black bear cubs in his younger years while at Honey Rock in northern Wisconsin.

Gallantly, Glen led the way down the path so as to provide a distraction for the mountain lions that had been sighted at the beginning of the trail. I carefully selected a rock for my pocket and looked behind us frequently so as to keep an eye out for black bears. Signs posted along the way warned us to wave our hands, to store any smelly food in our vehicles and to not lag behind or stoop down. The path was down hill, through a lot of switchbacks and steps. Our return was guaranteed to be worth several workout sessions at the gym. It was a bit chilly, particularly through some of the rocky overhangs and I stopped to put a bandanna over my ears.

Several hikers were on the path, most carried binoculars and walking sticks. One had a very long lens on his camera; most commented that there were a lot of birds but no wildlife sightings. We noticed skat along the way but were careful to not step in it. Rustlings in the underbrush were frequent and I spied what I think was a javelina running away from me—thank goodness, as I needed to reserve that rock in my pocket for the mountain lion.

I experimented with taking several color swap photos. Glen took several photos of the two of us using the large rocks as a makeshift tripod. The view from Window Rock was well worth the trip; it is absolutely gorgeous. The rocks are worn smooth and I slid down the last small section. Glen stood well back, still suffering from agoraphobia and took photos. Choosing the correct exposure for a dark canyon looking over a sunlit valley is challenging.

The return was even more demanding than I expected. The sun was warm and I took off my jacket and sweater and removed the bandanna from my ears. Both knees were complaining as well as my hip and back by the time we reached the visitor center.

It was now about 4 in the afternoon, too late for further explorations even if my knees had been up to the task. We drove out of the park to Study Butte, stopped at a little grocery store to pick up sandwich makings and some milk for tomorrow’s breakfast. Tonight, I’ll sort out photos, label them, and rest my weary bones.

On our Way to Big Bend

Grafitti Tree at picnic spot near Big Bend

Driving to Big Bend from the far eastern part of Texas takes up most of two days. We had planned to listen to the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis but the radio converter could not be found; the truck was packed full but we forgot our guidebooks, the Roadside Geology book, and water repellant clothing. We chatted about what we might spend the time doing, and kept an eye out for the wind farms that keep sentinel watch on the bluffs near Fort Stockton. Since the port of Beaumont is actively involved in the transport of the parts of these windmills, we have an invested interest.

Our first night was spent in Sonora, a tiny little town in the desert. The only place open on a Sunday night was Pizza Hut. It was filled with a group of teenagers, several families, and a large group of retirees. The teenagers were all giggling and doing something with a flashlight under the table, and the retirees must have been telling really tall tales as there were gales of laughter.

A stop at Walmart in Fort Stockton provided some of the things we had forgotten, juice, chapstick, pajamas. The next leg of the trip is through ranch country with few travelers and little sign of civilization. We had hoped for desert blooms but the desert looks dry and there is a burn ban in effect.

Chisos Mining Company Motel or the Easter Egg Valley Motel is on the way to Ghost Town Terlingua. Our cabin, #17, is painted a bright green; the ones nearby are aqua, lavender, purple, yellow, and pink. The cabin is very simple with three beds, a small kitchenette and bath. There is no TV, no phone. We unpack the truck and Glen offloads the motorcycle to take a run up to the tour companies to inquire about a jeep rental for later on in the week.

We sign up for a canoe trip in Santa Elena Canyon and since we have a good three to four hours of sunlight left head to the park. A senior citizen annual park pass is only $10 instead of the $80 we had paid previously—a bargain but catch begin that he must be in the vehicle and if lost, there is no record of the card.

One of our favorite places in Big Bend is Dugout Wells. The site of a small settlement with a still actively working windmill, there is a small trail through the Chihuahan desert with the Chisos Mountains forming a spectacular backdrop. We surprised a small covey of quail, but we were too far away to get good photos. A shrike perched in the top of one of the shrubs and several mockingbirds flitted about.

Starlight Theatre was open for two burgers for the price of one, and the parking lot was packed. Hank, a local musician entertained us while we ate—with influences of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Woody Guthrie.

Leaving Big Bend for home

day-nine-sunriseOur time in Big Bend always seems too short. I stand on the door stoop in my nightgown and bare feet—our noisy neighbors left yesterday and it is quiet and still. The sun is just peeking over the edge of the mountains and casts a shimmery orange glow. It is chilly, though, and I hustle back in for fresh hot coffee. We pack up what is left of our food stores, re-stuff the sleeping bags, and put everything back into the truck. I’m not sure why stuff seems to take up more room on the way home.


Our plan was to eat breakfast at one of the local diners but we discovered that it was closed. We refuel, I leave my boots—which constantly pinched the toes of my right foot as a gift for someone unknown to me—I had noticed a pile of ‘free things’ there the day before with only a few tattered books remaining. We drive to Alpine where we ate breakfast at one of those old diners that resembled a train car. The food was plentiful and served with a smile, particularly the man with the coffee pot who ‘heated up’ my cup at least four times.


It is a long drive back to Beaumont, the weather appearing dismal and gray during the entire trip. Although we listened to Dracula on the way back, I couldn’t help thinking about Big Bend and the people we had met there.


day-nine-sun-is-upBig Bend is about solitude and existing with nature. Unlike other parts of the world where one could imagine with some careful planning a somewhat comfortable living off the land, here life is a sometime thing and living on the edge. Water is precious and scarce but when it rains, the arroyos fill with water at an alarming and devastating rate with debris flung high in the trees along their banks. The people are reminiscent of the sixties, the men have buzz-cuts or rarely see a barber. The women either have long hair tied back or short boy style haircuts. Their faces appear weather-worn; clothing is practical and well-worn. Although the decorating style is a bizarre blend of kitsch with a nod to southwest, Betty Boop and old wringer washing machine tubs used as planters being particularly popular, I saw very little litter anywhere.


It is indeed a unique spot; I look forward to returning again—maybe at a slightly different time of year but not during spring break.

Big Bend and Paint Gap Road


day-seven-paint-gap-roadAfter another breakfast of pancakes and peppered bacon with a large pot of coffee, we set out for Paint Gap Road. Our initial plan was to ride the Yamaha. But the road was really rocky and uneven, a cool breeze was blowing, and even with helmet, jacket and two sweaters I was chilled to the bone. I got off and walked waving my arms up and down much to the amusement of the ravens circling overhead. A camper down the road was kind enough to take our photo and informed us that it had been twenty degrees that morning. I kept my helmet on with the visor down and kept walking—it was still chilly.


At the end of Paint Gap Road we found the remains of an old windmill, a squeeze chute, some fencing, and a spring down a wash. Hauling water up that wash until the windmill was operational had to have been a huge chore. I filmed some short clips—me walking along that rocky road and Glen riding the motorcycle.


It was just mid-morning and Glen tinkered a bit with his DRZ and thought he identified the problem with its poor running. He rode the Yamaha up to Grapevine Hills and then off-loaded the DRZ. We rode about three miles or so up the gravel roads until I decided that I was simply too tired to ride further. It was still cold and I held my elbows in tightly, making the ride much more taxing. I rode most of the way back, with a nice couple in a truck waving cheerfully at me.


We loaded up the motorcycles and ate lunch—more squirt cheese on saltines, a handful of mixed nuts and water while perched on the end-gate of my truck—a very comfortable seat. Glen looked over the hiking trail book and thought that perhaps we could try Devil’s Den.


The initial trail to Devil’s Den is quite flat but then it splits from Dog Canyon trail up a wash. There were people foot-prints in the sand and gravel up the wash and we walked steadily up hill for nearly an hour.  A little before 4 we turned around and headed back for the truck, not wanting to maneuver our way out of the canyon and off the trail in the dark. Twilight is active time for the denizens of the desert—snakes, coyotes, tarantulas, panthers, peccaries, bears. I prefer to view them from the comfort of my truck.


My knee was complaining loudly by the time we got back to the truck.  My pedometer said I had walked nearly six miles, Glen was sure he had walked just five. A peccary stood off to one side of the road to Panther Junction and a mule deer with a huge rack stood on the road to Study Butte. Two surveyors were still busily at work as the sun set.


Supper was at La Kiva, clearly the place where the locals hang out. Happy hour on Tuesday is two hours long followed by karaoke by Cooter.  A tale was told of a dog that ate a cooler and expelled a zipper; we ate shrimp quesadillas and quail sausage and left before Cooter started singing.


It’s our last day here and we are sad to leave.


More photos are here:

Big Bend and one of the most beautiful places


Sunrise was gorgeous this morning but a bit cool. After pancakes, peppered bacon, and a full pot of coffee, we headed for the state park. Our destination was Cinco Tenahas.


The road was as rough as we remembered and we skittered and slid along the gravel and sand. We met a concrete truck along the way and noted that there were small droppings of concrete along the road in the oddest places. We decided it must be the truck off-loading a bit at a time—it looked like skat. We surprised several road-runners along the way as well as a coyote who ran for his life.


The trail to the Cinco Tenahas was well-marked with rock cairns. At the top of the Bofecilla vista, Glen decided he would walk down to the stream and walk back up toward the truck. My knee was complaining at this point and I decided to reverse my path. At the stream bed though I walked downstream; Glen had found a huge rock blocking his path and had also retreated along the original trail. Together we made our way down to the first teneha. The water here was crystal clear with a small bit of green pond scum around the edges. Rock fences marked part of the pathway and we both wondered at the tenacity of ranch-hands to work so hard at moving rocks.


Our next stop was Ojito Adentro. We had passed the roadside sign on the way to Cinco Tenahas and thought it might make for an interesting hike. The path was nearly straight down-hill but easily negotiated. An old road led straight up the hill; cattle droppings marked the path. A row of cottonwoods was at the base of the hill and we followed a rocky path through the cottonwoods for several hundred yards. A few small cairns marked the path along with some arrows glued onto rock faces.


Ojito Adentro is easily one of the most beautiful spots I have ever seen. A large rock face covered with ferns and dripping water pools into several small reflecting pools at the base of the rock. Small yellow butterflies danced amongst the ferns while the cottonwood tree leaves rustled. It was incredibly enchanting and almost too beautiful to seem real.


Our drive out of the state park was marked by meeting several vehicles but none in any of the awkwardly narrow or soft gravel spots. We had noted a sign for Close Canyon on the way to the park and since we still had an hour or so of daylight we decided to take one last hike.


Close Canyon is very narrow with just bits of sunlight reaching the base of the canyon floor. Rocks littered the bottom of the floor making us wonder if we should have worn our motorcycle helmets. Like much of Big Bend it is hard to take photos that show the scale.


Supper was Terlingua Toothpicks (deep-fried onions and jalapeno strips) and Terlingua Trio Barbecue at La Kiva. Tomorrow is our last day here.


More photos are here: