Big Bend National Park - October 19 - 23
Big Bend National Park, Texas
We left Fort Davis, heading for Big Bend National Park. This park is massive, with over 180 kms of the Rio Grande making up its southern border, and at least 80 kms from top to bottom. The drive in from Alpine, just south of Fort Davis, was about 150 km of desert before we reached the hamlet of Terlingua and our campsite. Since it was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (almost 40 Celcius), we decided to drive through the Big Bend State Park which also follows the Rio Grande river. We didn't do any hiking but were treated to a large number of scenic vistas including many views of the Rio Grande itself.
It had cooled considerably today. As we drove through the park we were able to see each of the three distinct features - the desert, the mountains and the river. At the mountains, it was only 13 C and when we reached the river in the mid-afternoon, it was 27 C. One of the hikes in the mountains was closed due to bear activity. We hiked the Balanced Rock hike after driving 11 km on the dirt road. It was a fairly easy hike, with some neat scrambling over the last km. Next we drove along the scenic road towards Santa Elena Canyon where we stopped for a second hike. We needed to hike the dry creekbed for 100 metres before we could reach the trailhead. The path to the trailhead was cool - we had to bushwack our way through until we got back to the main trail. The main trail went high up the Texas side of the canyon and wound its way through the entire canyon. The other side of the Rio Grande was Mexico and we were advised that it was a crime to swim over. We did note that this was one area where Trump had already started building his high wall - 1500' high, sheer cliff/wall on the other side of the river.
We headed to the east end of Big Bend towards the Rio Grande Village area of the park. Since we had a bit of a late start to our day we decided to have lunch first - in Mexico!!! What an event. We first had to clear customs with the park ranger - the ARMED park ranger - who then explained to us what was in store for us on our adventure. We walked about 100 metres down to the Rio Grande, where our chariot - um, rowboat - awaited us. For only $5 a person, we could be rowed the 20 metres across the river, where we were greeted by our cadillacs - er, horses, donkeys, or pickup trucks - who would escort us the ½ km to the village, again for only $5 per person. Here we cleared Mexican customs, and then were "guided" through the village's 4 locations to buy the same trinkets and walking sticks. Our guide asked us at every store if we wanted to buy something, and would not leave our side. So we went for lunch, to lose him…he didn't go far, but at least he was out of sight. Lunch was actually quite nice. After lunch, our guide showed us to our pickup - across the street - and escorted us back to the rowboat…and asked us for a tip - I guess because of the excellent and extensive guiding he provided. It actually was a neat adventure, but we probably wouldn't recommend it.
On our return to Texas, we went for a hike to the Boquillas Canyon. It was fairly short, along the river, with gigantic towering cliffs in the background. All along the route, the panhandling continued. There were walking sticks and trinkets in 3 locations along the short hike, with a little container for "donations". At one point there was a "singing Santa" who seemed to expect that we would make a donation because he was singing. It did get to be a bit much.
Next we headed for the Hot Springs. We drove along a very narrow road, with a significant drop-off, enough so that we took pictures of the road J. After a short hike, we arrived at the hot springs, which were literally at the river's edge. A number of the younger patrons - the 20 somethings - would sit in the "tub" for awhile, then jump into the river, which had a very significant current. We had a great time here for almost an hour.
At sunset, we headed into the Chisos Mountains area, to walk the Windows Overlook trail, and to see the sun setting on the mountains. The temperature difference in the mountains was 13 degrees Celsius - from 27 degrees in the desert, to 14 degrees in the mountains.
Temperatures were cooler today for a hike in the Chisos Mountain Basin in the center of Big Bend. We chose the Windows Hike as it is the most popular hike in the park, 6 miles round trip. Shortly into the hike, after several switchbacks, we ran into a mother bear and her 3 cubs, about 90 ft in front of us. They either smelled us or heard our walking sticks as they looked up right away, and neither they nor we felt threatened. The hike was mostly downhill, but somewhat gradual. The trail was lined with lots of vegetation we had never seen before with large cacti lining the trail. It may also have been butterfly migration season, as we saw thousands of them during our hike. When the grasshoppers jumped and flew, their open wings were bright red or dark green or light green. When we reached the bottom quartermile of the trail, we were greeted with a small but fast moving stream. We needed to pick our way back and forth across several times. When we reached the Windows, there were a number of five to eight foot waterfalls in the stream and it was amazing to see how much this little stream had eroded and smoothed the rocks. There was a 200 ft dropoff at the very end so none of us got very close. The hike back was somewhat strenuous as it was uphill.