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Posts tagged ‘Big Bend’

Big Bend Day Four More Ups

Frost was on the windscreen of the F250 but it started without too much complaint. The forecast was for low 60’s and sun—great hiking weather.

After our breakfast of coffee, bacon, eggs, and toast, we headed out. I wore far too many coats and jackets and ended up taking them off as we hiked. I thought the park should consider putting in lockers at strategic locations along with benches.

The parking lot for the trail is considerably closer to the main road with a much longer hike to the original parking lot. The ranger told us it was not a well-advertised hike as others had not been respectful. One other vehicle was parked there—we met that hiker at the Oak Spring junction; and on our return a runner in blue spandex ran ahead on the trail back to the main road.

It seemed the trail was mostly up on the way there and on the way back. I had decided to wear my hiking books—but the sole parted company from the boot. I tied a shoe lace around it; and continued on.

The end of the trail is over and between some very large granite boulders Neither of us felt sufficiently confident in our balance, agility, and muscle power to climb over the last few rocks. There was also the thought of aging bones and the challenge of packing someone out—-still it is still one of the prettiest places I have ever been. Ferns cover many of the rocks and the water running over the rocks is soothing. Water striders were in some of the quieter parts and I tried for some photos but was unsuccessful.

We stopped at the Oak Spring junction to rest a bit; I tried another drawing and then we returned to the truck where we had lunch sitting on the end gate.

Sam Nail Ranch was across the road with a working windmill, fig trees, and a raven that fussed at us for sitting on a bench.

Our final stop was at the Dorgan Sublett House. It is always fascinating to me—that people would look at this landscape of sand and rocks and scattered cactus and think—what a great place to have a farm. Growing up in Wisconsin, you could hear the corn growing and it was a challenge to keep weeds in somewhat control. Most of the farming here was stock; some fields with irrigation. The houses were made of adobe brick and carefully stacked rocks—plenty of those.


The weekend tourists seemed to have left—or perhaps they were in different parts of the park—there were more people than we expected but far fewer than the weekend.

Tomorrow we will assess the status of our feet and muscles and make a decision about the day’s activities.

Big Bend Day Three One the hunt for a spring

Anxiously, we checked the temperature in the Tesla—parked in our back yard on Sentry mode. Thinking about the freeze warnings and frozen pipes was a bit worrisome but the temp inside the Tesla was 39 degrees—unlikely to have frozen pipes and our orchids were all inside.

The cabin here is heated but it is not toasty. Twenty nine degrees outside! Lots of lovely hot water for showers, the F250 grumbled a bit at starting but we were on our way around 9:30

Our plans for the day included hiking a trail we thought was a small spring/falls we had seen before—but not marked on the map. Consulting the hiking guide and the park map, we thought it might be Ward Creek Trail, a 2.4 mile round trip. I’m not sure how those miles are measured, maybe as a crow flies or a ruler on a map. Lots of ups and downs, more ups it seemed. A Back Woods volunteer checking the trail gave us better directions.

Both of us needed a bit of a rest. We drove down Maxwell Sterling Drive and stopped at the Sotol Vista. This is a gorgeous place with views of the mountains on all sides—alas the sun was not in the right spot for photos.

Stopping at Castolon we were surprised to see the former visitor station had burned in a fire several years ago. The adobe building had sandbags around its base and  a tarp over the roof; they had been measuring the cracks widening; now it is a roofless building fenced off with cyclone fencing. No photos…entirely too dismal.

There are nice picnic tables at Santa Elana River Overlook for lunching, the river is behind reeds and willows. At the Santa Elena Canyon,the parking lot was FULL! We were surprised and disappointed as our previous trips had included a great deal of solitude. We walked down to the river—lots of changes noted—a huge boat ramp, very nice paved parking lot, and dozens of people.

I remembered the trail as only a bit challenging in spots but perhaps my memory has erased some of the challenges. We were both ten years younger and I had not had back surgery before hiking that trail. People waded across the river—that water was really cold.

We retraced our path to a desert overlook, and then back to Sotol Vista for some better photos—sun spots appeared on several photos—but it is good memory.

Today I got out my drawing tools and made three drawings—tomorrow I will be brave enough to take out my paints.

Big Bend Day Two or What shall we do First?

With temps in the high twenties. It was hard to be excited about going anywhere. Our cabin is a bit chilly particularly on the floor and my rheumatoid arthritis was complaining bitterly.

However, after a breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, and toast we set out.  Our first stop was at Panther Junction ranger station to get our stamps in our National Park Passport—a silly thing but something that is fun to keep up.

Dugout Wells is one of my favorite spots in Big Bend. The windmill is still churning, and I was able to capture the shadow of its movement. The Chihuahuan desert trail features placards identifying the plants; one year we spotted quail hurrying along but were not fast enough to capture them in photographs. Wind and still chilly temps made sitting and sketching not enticing. There is only one cottonwood tree left; the whisper of the rustling leaves is what I remember of that place.

cotton wood tree trunk

Old Ore Road was our next stop, hoping to hike up the Ernst Tenaha—another favorite place. After bouncing up the road to the first parking area, we chatted with some bicyclists and then decided to check out road conditions at a ranger station.

Rio Grande Village station was close, checked out the store looking for sweatshirts—-they had changed to their summer merchandise so no luck. The ranger was at lunch and so we had lunch too sitting on the end-gate of my truck.

A flood in October had made many of the roads difficult for non 4-wheel drive vehicles—my F250 is 2 wheel– high clearance—almost 600,000 miles on it but I was reluctant to take a chance on that road. Maybe we will hike it on another day.

Boquillos Canyon is on the southeast side of the park. It offers a great view of the Rio Grande—so shallow, barely ankle high, wading across is easy. Lots of merchandise was laid out on the overlook—walking sticks on the pathways up the overlook—a great marketing strategy. Embroidered aprons and tortilla covers and some wooden headed dolls were so tempting but illegal—Crossing the border requires passports and ours were still at home.

Our last stop was at Nugent Mountain. This is a primitive camping site located off an even more primitive road. On a  previous trip, the camper had invited me into her RV for hot chocolate and conversation while Glen drove the trail. The camper this time was not at ‘home’ and so we parked on one side.  Glen had brought his electric bicycle and I had brought art supplies—it would be a shame if neither of used those things—so I sat and sketched, and Glen rode his bicycle—we both noted that ten years made a significant difference in our activity level.

Our supper was a frozen pizza and a bottle of Malbec wine—the most expensive wine I have ever bought.

Tomorrow is a new day—we plan to spend the day in Santa Elena Canyon, Mules Ear, and Tuff Canyon.

And just because I know you all want to hear and see a windmill’s shadow.

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.