Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Big Bend National Park, Texas

We reached Big Bend National Park two days ago. (To update: this would have been one week ago as I publish this entry.) We are in a wonderful park campground with nice big Cottonwoods for shade trees. This is called the Rio Grande Village campground, and the river is just over some mesquite. We can reach it from the Rio Grande Nature Trail, which we have yet to walk. As I write this it is around 2:30 p.m., and the sun is still high in the sky. Our plan is to walk it when the sun is lower in the sky. At sunset, the mountains to the east of us turn pink, and they are very pretty. I’m hoping I can get some shots of them.

This is one of the few places where it has been warm enough that we can wear shorts and sleeveless t-shirts. The temperatures have been running in the 80’s and there is a perfect cool breeze making it very pleasant. There are a lot of birds in this area since it is a transition point for birds migrating north from South and Central America, and south from North America. Just now, I took a walk through the campground and was able to get some good pictures of Roadrunners, which seem to run the place. There are also Gila Woodpeckers, White-winged Doves, crows (of course), and a red bird called a Summer Tanager.

Big Bend is one of the least known and most remote of our national parks. The riverbanks of the Rio Grande are a wetland habitat for birds and other river critters. There are also black bears, mountain lions, deer, javelina and bobcats. North America contains four big deserts: the Great Basin Desert, the Mojave Desert, the Sonoran Desert, and the Chihuahuan Desert, which is the most easterly and southern of the four. One of the most common plants in the Chihauhua Desert is the Lechuguilla (lay-choo-GEE-ya), and it does not grow in anywhere else. Like the Century Plant, it blooms just once in its lifetime before it dies. When it blooms, it sends up a fifteen-foot, asparagus-like stalk with tightly packed purple and yellow blossoms. It is not a cactus, but is actually related to the daffodils, while the agaves are related to the amaryllis family.

Yesterday, we hiked the Window Trail into the Chisos Basin. The Chisos Mountains are a rugged range that is completely within the boundaries of the park. There is a narrow canyon that runs between the mountains called the Chisos Basin. Within this area there is a small stream that flows down and pours from pool to pool to drop through “The Window” on the west side of the basin. This waterfall drops over two-hundred feet into a small inaccessible grotto covered with ferns and surrounded with oaks and maples—down on the edge of the desert.

This was a rugged, but beautiful hike between towering red bluffs. At times, the trees shaded the trail, making it comfortable, even though the temperatures were warm. There is quite an elevation change, but the switchbacks, steps, and areas of relatively flat terrain made it an easy hike both in and out (4 miles round trip). Toward the extreme end of the hike, the canyon becomes very narrow, and the rocks quite slippery. The view from the edge is quite impressive, and a big wind blows, making it seem all the more forbidding. The slick rocks made it quite dangerous to attempt to go to the edge and look over, but it was enticing all the same. I will post what pictures I have of it, but it was difficult to encompass with the shadows on the canyon walls and the bright valley below. ( . . . I saw below me a golden valley . . . ) We also saw a few javelinas and some white-tail deer, which are small. I would estimate their size to be a little smaller than an antelope. There is only one deer species that is smaller, and it lives in Florida. We enjoyed this hike very much. While the goal of the hike (reaching the window) is a short-lived thrill, it was very much worth the effort it took to get there.
I suppose that’s about all I have to say for now. I will post some pictures as soon as I am able, but we are out of cell phone range, and there is no internet available here. I’m afraid this will be one of those times when I post several days worth of entries. For those of you still reading, I apologize.

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