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Big Bend January

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Offline ryanrodgers

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Big Bend January
« on: February 01, 2009, 06:49:36 PM »
Back home after almost three weeks in the Big Bend region, I'm getting a chance to think about the trip from the tail end. Not only did I miss out on one of the coldest Minnesota winter weeks in years, but got a taste of a fascinating corner of America. I knew the hot springs would be awesome, but didn't expect to visit it a half dozen times over the trip. Solo travel usually takes some time to get used to, so the springs offered some much needed conversation. Here's a photo of it under the one-day-shy-from-full moon.
 


Jump forward a couple weeks from the big moon, and I was car camping camping at Rio Grande Village. A camp host had said the three mile trail to the hot springs from Daniels Ranch was quite nice. Moon long gone, and the night's nearly cave dark, I set out for a sunset hike to the springs with two headlamps, gps and camera bag. Hot Springs Canyon doesn't get nearly the propers that Boquillas and Santa Elena do. Of course the latter two are grander and deeper, but with those, it is not a simple affair to hike along their rims and gaze along the river below. The springs were relatively quiet that night with only a kindly couple from Austin. I hiked quickly back in the dark without getting lost or being mauled by any wild beast of the night. The NPS always surprises me with their copious literature on the dangers of wild animals. I hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail and most of the Continental Divide Trail, both of which travel through lengths of lion and bear territory, with little fear, but since, in national parks, the numerous signs declaring the dangers of wild animals have rubbed off. I wonder how much is actual threat and how much is liability concerns. Although, I learned from a ranger in The Basin that in the two weeks prior, three tents (unoccupied) had been ripped apart by bear on the Colima Trail.


The first backpack of me Big Bend trip was an overnighter on the Marufo Vega Trail. It was climbing out of the wash at the beginning of the hike that I first enjoyed the Chihuahuan Desert. It stretched out so vast and uniform in vegetation that I admired the consistency. The ocher stone blocks that lay tumbled, strangely both neatly and chaotically, piled below the craggy slopes below barren peaks looked perfectly placed in the slow organic perfection of the natural landscape. While hiking along the river nearing sunset I encountered feral burros and the first aoudads I've ever seen and set camp near the junction with the north fork trail. It was another big moon night. Excited burros sniffed and snorted outside through the night. Noisy buggers. They had veritable highways along the new deposits of sand along the river banks.


Back to the Super Bowl for now....

« Last Edit: February 01, 2009, 11:30:18 PM by RichardM »

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BigBendHiker

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #1 on: February 01, 2009, 07:09:31 PM »
Thanks for the pics and trip report.  Looking forward to the rest of the story...


BBH

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Offline sleepy

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #2 on: February 01, 2009, 08:49:11 PM »
outstanding images and great writing.  thanks
It's never too late to be what you might have been-Geroge Elliot

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Offline dkerr24

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #3 on: February 01, 2009, 09:46:00 PM »
Awesome!  Looking forward to your next installment.

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Online SA Bill

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #4 on: February 02, 2009, 06:59:41 AM »
Looking forward to the rest!!
   Bill
Bill - In San Antonio

Growing old is mandatory.
Growing up is optional.

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Offline mule ears

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #5 on: February 02, 2009, 07:33:01 AM »
Come on Ryan, can't wait to hear the rest. What a great start though  :eusa_clap:

My brother in law lives in Minnesota and it does sound like you picked a great time to be gone.
temperatures exceed 100 degrees F
minimum 1 gallon water per person/day
no shade, no water
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Offline jim2

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2009, 06:26:34 PM »
left us hanging and wanting more . what a great place to pitch a tent !nice photos .

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Offline EdB

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2009, 07:40:49 PM »
Great report so far, really nice pics. And yes, that was definitely a good week to get outta town - it was painful up here.

Sorry about the Chihuahuas (or lack thereof).  :icon_wink:

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Offline ryanrodgers

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2009, 01:37:18 PM »
Minnesota connections everywhere!  EdB, what's your Big Bend connection?  Where does your bro-in-law live up here, Mule Ears?


My first misconception about Big Bend was that because it was desert, cross country travel would be a breeze.  The first full day in the park I spent unwinding from the two-day drive at Grapevine Hills #1 (Government Spring).  I set my camp chair near the spring in a windless clearing amongst Allthorn, feeling quite smug to be sunning my torso, and having cell phone reception so I could brag to my wife about it.  Though soon, a hill visible across 118, toward the Chisos, beckoned, and, yawn, I decided to take a little stroll.  To my surprise the route trespassed through a severe lechuguilla and acacia garden.  The acacia mostly broke off and did little more than lodge in my pants and shoes, but the lechuguilla, oh the lechuguilla, what a plant, it treated my flesh like a toy poodle in a javelina farm.  I followed a slabby ridge past a weathered fence post in a cairn and a low stone shelter.  Who built it?  Indians?  Cowboys?  Sheppards?  Bored campers?  Such mystery and history.  I descended to Rough Spring (flowing), a small canyon and hiked back to camp.  It took over three hours.

The next day I moved to Hannold Draw and followed the namesake past a pour off and eventually to Tornillo Creek, which was cheerfully flowing.  The water was clear and mossy through the rocky shallows, but hiking north, there were a number of fairly deep, sedate green pools.  I planned to jump in one on the return trip, but instead reached Cottonwood Draw and started up it back toward the highway.

The Outer Mountain Loop sounded to be the seminal established hike in the park, so I set off to do it.  I didn’t want to drive to Blue Creek Ranch and back just to drop off water, so I began asking rangers about Fresno Creek.  I’d heard it was flowing well on this site, but didn’t want to be the first one to find it dry.  The muy pacifico Ranger Bob said there was good flow (of course advising a cache), but on a final check at Panther Junction, a young woman said there was but a trickle and that I should not drink any of it so that the animals could have more.  She said this beseechingly with wide soft eyes.  I hurried off to make the water cache.

Emory Peak 1 is a very fine campsite.  I slogged up the Pinnacles Trail suffering under two gallons of water and didn’t get there until sunset.  I must have looked wrecked because a guy at Juniper Flat asked if I was alright.  The incredible Sierra del Carmen was lit up as though there was a rose petal was wrapped over the sun. 



I’d wanted to reach Emory Peak for sunset, but missed it.  I tried again for first light, but was a little late, though was better off for not having to negotiate the summit pile in the early gray.  As it was, I first ascended the lower of the pronged summits.  The peak views were of course expansive, so much that the Rio Grande seemed a trifling distance.  I admired the massive rent of Santa Elena Canyon and wondered what and where the hell it was.

Tall golden grasses
topped with dawn catching seed.
See those up high,
in the Chisos I must be.



Spent the second night on the Dodson Trail high saddle.  Fresno creek had been flowing.  Immediately above the trail there was a washbasin of cool clear liquid nicked with water skimmers and surrounded by thick grass.  I cooked dinner there, expecting to see two other hikers I’d met a ways back.  There were some nice spots for camping, but there were also some playfully made rock sculptures that made me think of the cheery groups that must have built them.  Thinking about companionship was making me skull crazy lonely, so I chowed and kept on into small round hills that pillowed like prickly bubble tops.  The trail dropped into a high, wide shallow valley, shadow and cold already fallen, and passed the usual chunky and stringy plants and suddenly, in the flat light, the desert took on a different look.  The harsh sun made it seem so hostile and combative (or maybe that was all the thorns in my legs), but with the bright tormentor down for the night, all those spines and withered husks spoke instead of well guarded fragility.

Past the red rock fins and spires and shortly before the Blue Creek Trail starts serious switchbacking, there are a few gaping caverns on trail left, the canyon’s north wall.  They sit at the base of red cliffs climbing to the Chisos and above a steep talus slope.  Their alcove shapes and invisible reaches were too intriguing to pass untouched.  I often fantasize about crawling into a cave and finding an ancient clay pot sticking from the dust or seldom viewed rock art, and these looked too significant to have gone unused.  The largest went back a ways, but was steep inside.  The ground was covered with the expected dust and additionally, light cakes of a compacted white powder.  I picked one up and did what is always advisable to do when coming across an unknown substance—put some in my mouth.  It really had a flavor to it.  A really bad one.  One I imagined was like fertilizer.  My tongue immediately went numb and I spent the next few minutes spitting.

Days later, at the Castolon Ranger Station, I ran into the one time wide-eyed, beseeching water-for-animals ranger (this time she wanted to go to lunch and squinted as I accosted her with a lengthy list of questions).  When asked about the white cakes, she was confident they were guano, which I have since learned is a great fertilizer).



The South Rim proved its reputation.  So was the wall of smog that rose from the southwest.  All those park signs and fliers weren’t kidding about the air quality problems—ironic in about as remote of a place as one can find in the lower 48.  It was fun to visually hunt for Fresno Creek and my camp from the prior night from the rim, as was it to spot the Twisted Shoe parking lot the next morning.  The land that had been so formidable while in its midst, now looked a cute scenic novelty.  At least at its lower reaches, the Juniper trail (the hardest part of the hike, I think) looked an easy stroll over gentle swells of hill.



I took the SE and NE rim trails to Boot Canyon, which was a real sweet spot--strange birds were singing and small cliffs fell to dark pools with frozen tops on which yellow oak leaves were plastered.  It was downright enchanted.  I expected to see a twinkling fairy.  I took Colima to Laguna Meadows where I started seeing people again.  A fine looking young woman with dark hair and a backpack was ascending with her mother.  I said hello and passed by.  I heard her say to the older woman, “he’s been out for a while.”  They giggled coquettishly.  I puffed my chest out and cruised down to the Basin feeling like a king.  Be it a smelly and hungry king, but a king nonetheless.

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Offline catz

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2009, 03:34:54 PM »
What a great trip report! :eusa_clap: :eusa_clap: :eusa_clap:  You write really, really well.

You made it from Emory Peak 1 all the way to the high point on the Dodson all in one day?  With a backpack no less.  That is one heck of a long day.  Just getting down the Juniper is over 7 miles.  Speaking of which, I agree that the Juniper portion of the trail is the hardest, even though--or maybe because--it's downhill.
Wake me when it's time to go.

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Offline RichardM

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #10 on: February 03, 2009, 03:36:37 PM »
Past the red rock fins and spires and shortly before the Blue Creek Trail starts serious switchbacking, there are a few gaping caverns on trail left, the canyon's north wall. They sit at the base of red cliffs climbing to the Chisos and above a steep talus slope. Their alcove shapes and invisible reaches were too intriguing to pass untouched. I often fantasize about crawling into a cave and finding an ancient clay pot sticking from the dust or seldom viewed rock art, and these looked too significant to have gone unused. The largest went back a ways, but was steep inside.  The ground was covered with the expected dust and additionally, light cakes of a compacted white powder. I picked one up and did what is always advisable to do when coming across an unknown substance - put some in my mouth. It really had a flavor to it. A really bad one. One I imagined was like fertilizer. My tongue immediately went numb and I spent the next few minutes spitting.
Ya know, I would've never even thought it necessary to warn someone not to do that. :icon_eek: Glad to hear your taste test didn't result in a need to visit the local medical facilities, especially since they're not exactly close by.

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A fine looking young woman with dark hair and a backpack was ascending with her mother.  I said hello and passed by.  I heard her say to the older woman, "he's been out for a while."  They giggled coquettishly.  I puffed my chest out and cruised down to the Basin feeling like a king.  Be it a smelly and hungry king, but a king nonetheless.
Ouch. Excellent reaction, however.

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Offline sleepy

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #11 on: February 03, 2009, 07:22:37 PM »
don't eat the white powder cakes in the mystery cave
It's never too late to be what you might have been-Geroge Elliot

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Offline badknees

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #12 on: February 03, 2009, 07:36:14 PM »
Nice photos
Not all those who wander are lost.
– J.R.R. Tolkien

Through the Mirror
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chisos_muse

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2009, 07:56:22 PM »
Purdy fancy trip report ya got here, Mr. Rodgers!  :icon_wink:

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Offline riverrat

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Re: Big Bend January
« Reply #14 on: February 03, 2009, 08:03:18 PM »
Excellent report and pics! Looking forward to the rest!
Living so close to paradise, it is unbelievable.

 


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