Sunday, November 18, 2007

One week in Big Bend National Park

Saturday, Nov. 10, 2007

It was an easy drive from Fort Davis to Terlingua/Study (pronounced stoo-dee) Butte at the west entrance to Big Bend National Park. Since we wanted to check into a float trip on the Rio Grande, we decided to stay overnight at Terlingua. After checking with all the local outfitters, it became evident that the water level was too low for a good trip. We drove into the park in the late afternoon and took the scenic Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive in the western part of the park.

Winnie 1: Carol R. was hoping for some rough rapids; she’s rafted before. Myself, I wanted a gentle ride since it would be my first. But there wasn’t enough water for any kind of raft trip.

Winnie 2: The drive from Fort Davis to Terlingua is an interesting drive through Chihuahuan desert landscape. It is open country with broad mesas, buttes, and mountains rising up in every direction. I couldn’t help but think about the people that settled this country and have tried to make a living off the land through the years. You have to be hardy to live out here miles away (frequently 100+ miles) from telephone, mail, and medical service, food and clothing stores, service stations, etc.

Terlingua would be our last cell phone and Internet service for our week in Big Bend.

Week #2 was in Big Bend National Park

On Sunday morning, we drove our motorhomes into Big Bend National Park, stopping at one of the Visitor Centers for information and more brochures. Then we went to the Rio Grande Village Campground for full-hookup RV parking.

Big Bend National Park is in an area where the Rio Grande makes a U-shape, turning from running generally southeast to running northeast, cutting through three mountain ranges and forming deep canyons in the process. Volcanic activity many years ago formed the basis for the interesting and varied landscapes found in this part of Texas. Park elevation changes about 6,000 feet from the river’s edge to the highest point in the Chisos Mountains and includes the best-preserved example of native Chihuahuan Desert anywhere in the U.S. or in Mexico. As you climb into the mountains, you encounter thick conifer forests mixed with high desert scrub. The Chisos Mountains are dominated by pinon, oak, and juniper, along with ponderosa pine, Arizona Cypress, Douglas fir, maple and aspen at the higher elevations. The desert floor contains many kinds of cacti; in fact, over 70 species have been identified—more than found in any other national park. Animal life is varied and includes species such as the Mexican black bear, mountain lion, bobcat, mule deer, Sierra del Carmen whitetail deer (found only in the Chisos Mountains in the U.S.), javelina, along with many reptile, amphibian, fish, and insect species. Well over 400 bird species have been recorded, more than in any other national park. Some bird species are only found here.

Winnie 3: There are three distinct eco tones in the park: River (near where we are parked), desert and the mountains. All are fascinating and hold a unique beauty. I must say I have found an extra special joy in the river areas where we walked and rode bikes. (My new recumbent bike is quickly winning me over.)

During the week we took quite a few hikes: Hot Springs (the long, difficult one), Sam Nail Ranch, Rio Grande Nature Trail, Boquillas Canyon, Window View, The Window, and Dave’s Cattail Falls. We drove several park roads: paved, well-maintained gravel and one intended for high-clearance/four-wheel drive vehicles. Note: Carol R’s car has 4WD, but not high enough clearance for these unmaintained trails. At one point, as we went down and up a fairly deep wash, Carol A. got out to take photos.

Boquillas Canyon

Soon after we started up the Boquillas Canyon trail and had rounded the bend to look up the canyon, we heard singing in the distance! Mexican songs, male voice. And a wondrous echo from the canyon. What? Next we saw someone in a red shirt on the Mexico side of the river. The singing continued. When we were fairly close, a man was waving to us and calling out: “Hello, I’m Victor the singing Mexican!” Then he continued singing until we were opposite him. He assured us he was friendly, and that he had operated the ferry between the village of Boquillas and Big Bend. We certainly enjoyed his singing. Here is Victor, the singing Mexican.

The residents along the Mexican side of the river had a lot of interaction with the Park and with Park visitors prior to 9/11/01 with people from both sides evidently crossing uninhibited. A Texas guidebook published in 1998 describes where and how to cross the river to get to the villages on the other side—with the crossing generally done in rowboats manned by the Mexican natives at a cost of $1 or $2 round trip, payable on the return trip. Businesses there depended on park visitors for their business. The border is no longer open and American dollars no longer flow into the communities. The nearest legal border crossing is well over 100 miles away and would require a ride of 150+ miles over dirt roads in Mexico to get to Boquillas which is located across the river from our campground.

Some Mexicans make decorated walking sticks from Sotol cactus, wire scorpions, and other trinkets and place them along trails in the park, along with a donation jar. They ask $5-$6 for the walking sticks and other items are priced accordingly. The Park Service has posted signs in many places warning people they will be prosecuted if they are found in possession of this “contraband”. To buy the same walking stick “that has been imported legally”. you pay $18 at one of the stores in the Park, where signs are posted next to the displays indicating that all proceeds “up to the wholesale price” goes back to the villagers…

Dave’s Cattail Falls

The trail sign says just Cattail Falls, but another camper – Dave – told us about it. The trail is no longer in any park brochures because it ends where the spring water (that originated above the pour-off) is pumped into the park for use. Dave asked if we wanted to hike the trail with him and the two Carols eagerly accepted. It was a great hike and beautiful scenery. Photos just don’t do it justice. The man in the photo is "trail guide Dave".


As we get ready to leave in the morning – headed for Marathon, Texas – here are our parting thoughts.

Winnie 1: The entire Big Bend National Park was beautiful with surprises around every bend. As we drove into the park on the first day, I didn’t think I would like it – too much of the ‘same old’ desert setting. I’ve definitely changed my mind! With the exception of one windy evening and night, the weather was perfect. It is worth a return trip or two.

Winnie 2: This park is definitely a place to return to. I feel like I have hardly scratched the surface after having been here for a week. The hiking and the scenery is spectacular and I can hardly wait to float the river through the canyons! I have read that Indians say that the Great Spirit placed all the leftover rocks in Big Bend after creating the earth. That seems to describe the area very well.

Winnie 3: I'd like to come back to Big Bend, this time visiting in the spring time.

We are now (Nov. 18) in Marathon, Texas.