The Crossing, March 2007

David hikes the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains
David hikes the Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains

David Martin and I had been looking at the Big Bend National Park area of southwest Texas for a long time, and finally made ourselves go. The park service cautions that the week of spring break is the most crowded at Big Bend, but our plan was to arrive just as the crowds were headed home, and that worked pretty well.

• Spiral Diner and Monahans Sandhills

We started our trip by timing our drive such that we were in Fort Worth, Texas, in time for lunch at David’s favorite restaurant, the Spiral Diner, a vegan and vegetarian café.

At Spiral Diner, Fort Worth, Texas
At Spiral Diner, Fort Worth, Texas

By late afternoon, we were at Monahans Sandhills State Park, where we hiked around for a little while. The light was nice, and it made a few decent images.

Photographing Monahans Sandhills
Photographing Monahans Sandhills

• The Window and Santa Elena Canyon

Arrived at Big Bend to alternating clear then cloudy then clear again skies. Found a site in the Chisos Mountains campground.

Hiked The Window trail to the Window, an impassable pour-off that affords excellent views of the western half of the park.

Drove to the southwest end of the park to hike Santa Elena Canyon of the Rio Grande. It had rained on us briefly earlier in the day, but by the time we were there, all the rain appeared to have moved to our north.

David prepares to hike Santa Elena Canyon
David prepares to hike Santa Elena Canyon

It was a beautiful hike, but as we moved upstream along the canyon, I noticed that the water in the Rio Grande was rapidly getting dirtier, bringing downstream more and more mud, sticks, oil and garbage.

By the time we got back to the vicinity of the trailhead, I noticed two people who appeared to be wading in the Rio Grande. I asked David, “What the hell are they doing in the water?” We continued along this path towards the trailhead. Within another hundred yards we discovered why the people ahead of us were in the water. The open wash we had crossed on the way in wasn’t Rio Grande backwash after all. It was Terlingua Creek, and it had flash flooded behind us while we were hiking Santa Elena.

David and I pondered waiting to see if it would go down, but my feeling was that with every minute that passed, the chances increased that we would be stranded. I zipped off the legs of my convertible hiking pants to make them into shorts, and took off my shoes and socks to I could stow my socks. I put my shoes back on, hoping they would provide more traction as we forded.

Soaked but not drowned after "the Crossing"
Soaked but not drowned after “the Crossing”

I usually carry my cameras shouldered one on each side, but for climbing and scrambling, I carry them cross-slung, so they can’t fall off and don’t get in my way. I did so this time, and stashed my pants legs and socks in vest pockets. David extended his hiking pole (actually, it was my wife Abby’s, which he had borrowed), so he could us it to probe for the bottom.

Even though I don’t care for the water at all, at this point I strode right in. I decided not to waste any time, since the raging water might be worse in five or ten minutes. At its present level, we decided, we at least had some idea how deep it would be. The pressure was strong against our legs, as we crossed to a gravel island. From that point, we probed up and down for the shallowest spot. Finding it all about the same, we picked a place close to the bank, since it would limit our exposure. At its deepest, it was right at my crotch. I planted one foot and dug it in, then the other, until I was across. David threw me the hiking pole so I could anchor him, and he got across.

Sunset, western Big Bend National Park
Sunset, western Big Bend National Park
Crossing a saddle about three quarters of the way up the Lost Mine trail

• Lost Mine Trail and The Chimneys

Rain all night, sometimes hard. We stayed dry, thanks to good campsite selection and good tent placement.

Photographing an unnamed conglomerate natural arch in The Chimneys section of Big Bend
Photographing an unnamed conglomerate natural arch in The Chimneys section of Big Bend

Morning hike: Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains. It was somewhat strenuous, with some switchbacks. It was particularly nice in the clearing morning clouds. Surprisingly crowded.

Afternoon, the Chimneys in the western part of the park. Listed as primitive on the maps, it was an easy, level three miles to the Chimney formation. There, we saw a granary, a pictograph, and a natural arch.

• Emory Peak, Grapevine Hills and Boquillas Canyon

David takes in the view from Emory Peak, the high point of Big Bend
David takes in the view from Emory Peak, the high point of Big Bend

We hiked to the park high point, Emory Peak (7825 feet), without too much fuss. The last mile is rough and primitive, and the last 100 feet is strictly bouldering. Nice views, clear sky. David watched swallows flying for half an hour or more.

After lunch, we drove to the Grapevine Hills, in the central area of the park, where we hiked a level, one mile trail to a balanced rock. The trail was the most beautiful we have seen at Big Bend.

In the evening, we drove to the park low point, Boquillas Canyon of the Rio Grande.

The Rio Grande flowing through Boquillas Canyon, with the U. S. on the left, Mexico on the right
The Rio Grande flowing through Boquillas Canyon, with the U. S. on the left, Mexico on the right

• Terlingua and McDonald Observatory

Broke camp early and headed north.

Telescope, McDonald Observatory
Telescope, McDonald Observatory

Our first stop was Terlingua, which advertised itself as a ghost town. Sadly, we found it to be highly commercialized, with the exception of the beautiful Spanish cemetery.

The rest of the day we spent at the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, Texas, which we both found interesting. It was an excellent end to another excellent hiking trip. To cap it all off, we timed our return to allow us to again eat at Spiral Diner. I had the best sandwich of my life, The Mitch.

Additional images:

Terlingua Cemetery
Terlingua Cemetery
Another rendition of the boulder field in the Grapevine Hills, this one in black-and-white; I feel this rendering is closer to the open, high country light capture by photographers like Ansel Adams.
Boulder field in the Grapevine Hills; I feel this rendering is close to the open, high country light captured by photographers like Ansel Adams.
A moody view from Emory Peak looking southeast.
A moody view from Emory Peak looking southeast.
Stones in wash, western Big Bend National Park.
Stones in wash, western Big Bend National Park.
The Mules Ears, Big Bend.
The Mules Ears, Big Bend.
Yucca flowers, Chisos basin, Big Bend National Park.
Yucca flowers, Chisos basin, Big Bend National Park.
Sunset, Chisos basin, Big Bend National Park.
Sunset, Chisos basin, Big Bend National Park.
Texas Bluebonnets, Big Bend National Park.
Texas Bluebonnets, Big Bend National Park.
Donation "box," Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Donation “box,” Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Cliff and moon, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Cliff and moon, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Rio Grande, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Rio Grande, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Cactus and cliffs, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Cactus and cliffs, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Sunset, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Sunset, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Desert shrub, sunset, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Desert shrub, sunset, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Rio Grande after sunset, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Rio Grande after sunset, Boquillas Canyon, Big Bend.
Cactus blossoms, The Chimneys trail, Big Bend.
Cactus blossoms, The Chimneys trail, Big Bend.
The Chimneys, Big Bend National Park.
The Chimneys, Big Bend National Park.
Unnamed conglomerate arch, The Chimneys, Big Bend National Park.
Unnamed conglomerate arch, The Chimneys, Big Bend National Park.
Deer on the Lost Mine trail, Chisos basin, Big Bend.
Deer on the Emory Peak trail, Chisos basin, Big Bend.
Blue Jay, Emory Peak trail, Chisos Mountains, Big Bend.
Blue Jay, Emory Peak trail, Chisos Mountains, Big Bend.
View from about halfway up the Emory Peak trail, Chisos Mountains, Big Bend.
View from about halfway up the Emory Peak trail, Chisos Mountains, Big Bend.
David sits atop Emory Peak, the high point of Big Bend; the last eighth of a mile is strictly boulder-climbing.
David sits atop Emory Peak, the high point of Big Bend; the last eighth of a mile is strictly boulder-climbing.
Boulder field, Grapevine Hills, Big Bend National Park.
Boulder field, Grapevine Hills, Big Bend National Park.
A broader view of the boulder field looking north, Grapevine Hills, Big Bend National Park.
A broader view of the boulder field looking north, Grapevine Hills, Big Bend National Park.
Grapevine Hills, Big Bend National Park.
Grapevine Hills, Big Bend National Park.
The Grapevine Hills trail leads to this "balanced rock," Big Bend National Park.
The Grapevine Hills trail leads to this “balanced rock,” Big Bend National Park.
David climbs on formations near "balanced rock," Big Bend National Park.
David climbs on formations near “balanced rock,” Big Bend National Park.
Grapevine Hills near "balanced rock," looking southeast, Big Bend.
Grapevine Hills near “balanced rock,” looking southeast, Big Bend.
Formation in the Grapevine Hills, Big Bend.
Formation in the Grapevine Hills, Big Bend.
I think this Grapevine Hills formation looks like a dog.
I think this Grapevine Hills formation looks like a dog.
Grapevine Hills.
Grapevine Hills.
Lizard, Grapevine Hills.
Lizard, Grapevine Hills.
Snake, Grapevine Hills.
Snake, Grapevine Hills.
Cactus, Grapevine Hills.
Cactus, Grapevine Hills.
Deer on the Lost Mine trail, Big Bend.
Deer on the Lost Mine trail, Big Bend.
Tree in clouds, morning, Lost Mine trail, Big Bend National Park.
Tree in clouds, morning, Lost Mine trail, Big Bend National Park.
Clouds below Chisos mountains, morning, Lost Mine trail, Big Bend National Park.
Clouds below Chisos mountains, morning, Lost Mine trail, Big Bend National Park.
Clouds below Chisos mountains, morning, Lost Mine trail, Big Bend.
Clouds below Chisos mountains, morning, Lost Mine trail, Big Bend.
David at the top of the Lost Mine trail, Big Bend.
David at the top of the Lost Mine trail, Big Bend.
Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas.
Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas.
Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas.
Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas.
Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas.
Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas.
Sled marks, Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas.
Sled marks, Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas.
Footprints, Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas.
Footprints, Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas.
Sunset, Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas.
Sunset, Monahans Sandhills State Park, Texas.
Flower, Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park.
Flower, Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park.
Rio Grande, Santa Elena Canyon.
Rio Grande, Santa Elena Canyon.
Cliffs, Santa Elena Canyon.
Cliffs, Santa Elena Canyon.
Cliffs at the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon.
Cliffs at the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon.
Blooming yucca, Window trail, Big Bend National Park.
Blooming yucca, Window trail, Big Bend National Park.
Wasp harvesting on flower, Window trail.
Wasp harvesting on flower, Window trail.
Window trail.
Window trail.
View looking west from the end of the Window trail.
View looking west from the end of the Window trail.
Water flow, Window trail.
Water flow, Window trail.
Impassable pour-off at the end of the Window trail.
Impassable pour-off at the end of the Window trail.
End of the Window trail, Big Bend.
End of the Window trail, Big Bend.
Entrance, Terlingua Cemetery, Terlingua, Texas.
Entrance, Terlingua Cemetery, Terlingua, Texas.