Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On the Road to Tucson (3) Big Bend National Park

February 23-25. Big Bend National Park is located in southwest Texas on the Rio Grande River bordering Mexico. It's huge! It's a really desolate area but it has a stark beauty. There are mountains, desert, and water!

We stayed at the Chisos Mining Co. Hotel in Terlingua since we wanted a kitchen. It was basic but it did have AC and worked out fine. There was a nice sunset one night and the stars we saw reminded us of the Grand Canyon.

We hiked about 5 hours every day, in 2, 3 or 4 separate hikes. Sarah Collins had recommended 2 hikes: Grapevine and Lost Mine. We hiked Grapevine Hills trail first. It was 60 degrees but sunny and windless so it felt much warmer. All of a sudden I heard "Whoosh-whoosh." I looked up and there was a black vulture overhead. We've never before heard the sound of a bird's wings that were so far away. (We've heard hummingbirds close to us.) Common in much of the desert here is prickly pear cactus, the red, purple, and blind (no spines), cholla, ocotillo and various other plants. There was a little rock scrambling at the end but the Balanced Rock was really cool. And what a great view from there. We couldn't get over the blueness of the sky. As we drove the unpaved road to get back to the main road we saw 3 javelina crossing. One person said they were really a road hazard because they stay in packs and cross the road slowly.

We took a guided hike of Tuff Canyon, a very different formation. It was white volcanic rock. We also learned two new words: dikes are uplifted rock that looks likes like it's poking out of the ground, breccia is like a conglomerate but the bits of rock are angular and sharp. Our tour guide was a volunteer like many. Besides the informative talk we found out that he (Ted Rowan) was a retired earth science teacher from Falmouth, MA. He knew Charlie Camp who spent 1 year teaching there and also knew our friends, Sharon and Ken Chapman. Ken was assistant principal of Fort River when it opened. Sharon used to teach math at ARHS and now teaches at Falmouth HS.

By the time we hiked the very pretty Santa Elena Canyon in the late afternoon it was up to 85 and felt pretty warm. We walked across a creek that fed into the Rio Grand River and on up the canyon. It was actually cooler there because there were tall grasses next to the river.

The next day was predicted to be warmer so we headed up to the Chisos Visitor Center at 5400' elevation. What a nice change of scenery: spruce, pine trees, juniper and oak trees - just lots of green. We saw 2 mule deer on our way down the Window Trail which led through a dry river bed that cut a path through the rock.

A short hike took us to a good view of a mountain aptly named Mule's Ears.

The Lost Mine trail was our most strenuous hike as it took us from 5600' to 6850'. It was steep and there were a lot of switchbacks so I was glad I had my hiking poles (a retirement gift from work). The views were gorgeous. It was actually very windy at the top and it was hard to even talk - but it wasn't hot!!


A sign outside Terlingua read "Loose Cattle." And you thought Texas cattle were all safely behind fences! (We didn't actually ever see cows roaming like in Belize.) Gas was $3.46/gallon here although the farther north we drove the less expensive it became. It's always hard to guess what the gas prices will be in another town. And we really haven't bothered to check online. It was wonderful hiking in Big Bend but we were looking forward to going underground in Carlsbad, NM.

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