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.
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.
• The Window and Santa Elena Canyon
We arrived at Big Bend to alternating clear then cloudy then clear again skies. We found a site in the Chisos Mountains campground.
We hiked The Window trail to the Window, an impassable pour-off that affords excellent views of the western half of the park.
We 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.
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 so I could stow my socks. I put my shoes back on, hoping they would provide more traction as we forded.
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, at least we 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.
• Lost Mine Trail and The Chimneys
Rain all night, sometimes hard. We stayed dry, thanks to good campsite selection and good tent placement.
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
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.
• Terlingua and McDonald Observatory
Broke camp early and headed north.
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.