Friday, July 3, 2015

Big Bend National Park

Finally, my first National Park, Big Bend. Welcome to the home of the Chisos Mountains and portions of the Rio Grande River and Chiuaua Desert. As one of many storms rolled through, I caught the sun peeking out over the Chisos. Big Bend is the third least visited park and the only park to have an entire mountain range within its borders. As luck would have it, a friend just finished the program to become a law enforcement park ranger and was placed at Big Bend for his first assignment. Ryan arrived just a couple days before me in fact. Ryan is part of that random group of friends who are a lot of 'a friend of a friend'. He actually sold me my first backpack and he was at New Years in Colorado (on his drive down to ranger school). So we'd met a few times and it was exciting to know someone in my first park. He and his roommate graciously offered an air mattress in their living room and I happily accepted. I was especially thankful when it stormed just about every night I was there. 

The first day I drove around the park to get oriented and see what it offered. This is a picture of he South Rim of the Chisos and one day I did the 14mi hike there and back. The land use to be under the sea. As the sea receded and volcanos formed some of the mountains, hills and rocks you see now, the land became very hot and arid except for the Chisos which are at a much higher elevation. Today, you can find plant and animal species within the Chisos that doesn't exist elsewhere because it got 'trapped' in the mountain range and couldn't cross the desert. 

At each end of the park is a canyon formed by the Rio Grande. I was expecting a huge river but it is normal sized and pretty calm. It is full of sand though, so it has a milky color and gets you milky colored if you wade in. The sand acts like sand paper cutting across the rocks. You can feel where some of them are super smooth. A rafting trip down the Rio Grande would be one for the bucket list.

A view of the canyon out towards the Chisos. You can see some people down by/in the river. 

A view back into the canyon and that mud colored water. 

You can see where giant chunks of rocks fell from the canyon side as the bottom layers were eroded. I'm sure they fell long ago but it's weird to think a giant piece of mountain could squash you at any moment :). I fell in the river :(. Being oh so careful on my step in, I chose to enter the water further back. (Pause: you have to cross the river to get to the canyon trail, though it's slow moving and came up to your knees) This was on my return trip and I thought I learned from the way over. I didn't want to take a big step down and I had my big camera. So I moved further back where the bank was lower, stepped in, immediately sank in the mud/silt, loosing balance as I sunk. I did a 180 and almost face planted on the bank. But all electronics were saved! :) I was a mess. And trying to rinse off your muddy self with muddy/sandy water does not work. The above picture is the post cleaning I tried to do. 

You can see a small trail in the middle - this is what I took to get up to the South Rim. It was about five hours up and three hours down. The first part was the steepest and the worst. 

Here's the trail map from the visitor center. They've marked all reported mountain lion and bear sightings with post-it's. 

Trying to do a timer selfie with the DSLR. I do get better :). 
My first organic toilet, found along the trail. 

The view from the South Rim. It's far away, but the Rio Grande is back there somewhere. It was a pretty awesome view, but a bit windy, so I didn't go too close to the edge. And yes, those are rain clouds you see. I took a few pictures but then started back down hoping I would evade the storm. 

Here you can better see the storm front. The rain poured down in this cylinder that just continued to move across the sky. Luckily it stayed a bit east of me. I later heard part of the park was without power and there was storm damage and outages in the town just outside the park. Again, so glad it didn't hit me and that I hadn't been planning to camp on the mountains that night. 

I ran into this group of three deer a couple times. 

One of the storms that swept through - usually you'd see the Chisos. 

And of course, the post rain rainbow :). I think this was from the day arrived. I missed a hailstorm by 15-20 minutes. Golf ball sized. Everyone that got caught with their car out in it had damage. Dents on the cars and spider web cracks all over their windshields. So lucky. All I could think of was my sunroof that basically covers the entire top of my car. And insurance didn't cover it for these people. It would have been a rough start to the road trip for sure. 

The storms made for a lot of cool clouds moving through. It was also odd because May and June are suppose to be the hottest months at the park, and the driest. I think they get 10" of annual rainfall, most being in July and August and winter. 

Mule Ears :) 

One morning Ryan didn't have to work until later in the day (unfortunately my arrival coincided with all his work days) so we did a quick hike of the canyon near his place. These holes in the rocks are mortar holes used by Indians as they lived and moved through the area. 

Ryan and I in Boquillas Canyon. The water here wasn't the same muddy/sandy color, so it'd be interesting to see how the river changes as it flows. The canyon walls were just as tall though. 

So just across the Rio Grande is Mexico. Yep, cross the river and you're there - which in some spots doesn't actually look too difficult. The trinkets above are made by Mexicans and left in one or two spots to sell to tourists. It's on the honor system and I think items were like $6. The wire scorpions did look pretty cool. There is an official border crossing in the park to make it easy for people to cross - well as easy as immigration and customs makes it. That will be one area Ryan will work at. But immigration and customs are actually all done remotely. You scan your passport and documents and a video chat pops up with an official in El Paso (I think it's El Paso). There is a small Mexican town across the river and they'll bring over a boat to take you over and then you can walk, hop in a truck or get a donkey ride into town. Ryan showed me the crossing area but I passed on actually crossing. 

The end of Boquillas Canyon. 

I was impressed with the change in landscapes throughout the park. Here was a hike to Balanced Rock, northeast I think of the Chisos (in background). The park is pretty big. The speed limit is 45 on most roads and it probably takes a couple hours to go between the two canyons (east-west). There are some roads which looked like cool places in the park but were 4WD only. 

And here is Balanced Rock! It is a huge boulder just resting there. It's pretty big, I could walk through that hole and I don't think I could touch the rock. 

Another suggested hike was to Cattail Falls where I was hoping to see this great waterfall. I started the hike only a couple hours before sunset, so I needed to get there and back before it got too dark. The Chisos is bear (black bear) and mountain lion country. This freaked me out a little. But then I read there are like 12 lions and 20 bears. So the likelihood I would see one was pretty low (and I never did see one).

Ta-da! This was the great waterfall :). I'm sure in the spring it's more like the picture ;). 

A couple sunset shots as I headed back to the car. 

This rock was in another small canyon in the park - a dry canyon though. I think it only gets water when it rains. It was limestone and I thought this boulder was interesting because it was a lot of smaller rocks cemented together in this limestone. 

This was a short, easy and surprising hike for me. At the end is this huge tube that's been formed from water. Not your typical waterfall formation but an actual tube that has been cut. I'd love to see it with water rushing down. It was formed this way due to the type of rock - some volcanic rock I think that is maybe harder to erode/shape. 

A view from the bottom. 

And now for some of the critters I saw and captured on film :):
Giant bug on my leg. I initially thought this was a tarantula hawk based on some color descriptions I'd heard. But since then, I don't think that's what it I'll tell you about the cool tarantula hawk later :).
Cicadas? Or locusts? Or something along those lines. I believe this was one next to the skin it came out of. 

I saw a tail in a hole and what looked like an egg (or two!). 

A second picture and the creature was gone. Lizard or snake?

Another, similar bug to the one that landed on my leg. 

Some small red, furry looking bug in Boquillas Canyon that Ryan spotted. 

A giant centipede! They were everywhere!! You could see them crossing the road as you drove along. I later read that they can bite you and they have a little venom in them. I did not touch any. 

Lizards everywhere - and different kinds. This one blended well with the sand colored rock. It's smack in the middle, at the upper right ends of that grass patch. 

A bee hive or wasps or something. It looks small but it was up high and huge. 

Some other caterpillar. 

The dreaded tarantula! I never came upon one hiking but instead spotted them crossing the road a couple different nights as I was driving. It gave me goosebumps as I drove over them and even thinking about it later down the road. The second time though, I pulled over and went back to get this picture.  

Lots of bunnies around and I even saw a few hares (bunnies on steroids). 

A hawk of some sort I think. They also have peregrine falcons in the area. I think I saw one of those one day, but didn't get a picture. 

A different sort of lizard. 

I also caught some of the late flower blooms - I know much less about these than the critters:
Cactus flower, maybe prickly pear (although I think there are at least three kinds of prickly pear, lol).

Dunno - lots of bugs loving on this one though. 

Non-prickly pear cactus flowers :)

Branches of an ocotillo plant (full plant in background). Common in desert but not a cactus. 

Cactus flower

Some yellow flowers that the bugs were all over! All the black are bugs, not part of the plant. 

The yucca! There are tons of varieties of yucca plants and they are all over the southwest. The only one I remember is the soap tree yucca which I'm pretty sure this isn't (because of the two stems on top). 

The yucca devotes it's life to procreation. It grows for a long time, years, to push up the stem from the lower spikey part, flower and then dies. It only flowers once in its life. So sad. Also, on at least one variety, the spikey bottom leaves are super sharp and strong. They supposedly can poke a hole in your tire. I didn't try it out. 

No clue, but like it. 

These looked like some kind of berries on a bush in the desert. I think it was the only plant like this that I saw. 

Overall: Great trip! I think I spent five days total exploring. There is lots to do. Probably best to avoid the summer. Winter months are peak times in the park - but watch out for spring break and holiday breaks....those college kids come out in droves ;). 

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