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Big Bend or Bust! => Your Trip Reports => Topic started by: jeffblaylock on April 13, 2018, 01:42:26 AM

Title: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 13, 2018, 01:42:26 AM
I and lots of other people spent Easter week in Big Bend. With some effort and a bit of planning, I managed to find lots of solitude, open spaces and the healing power of the desert.

It was a solo trip. My wife, Goldilocks, who I first met in the Basin, is a pastor, so Holy Week is not a good time for her to get away. As a government affairs guy working in a red state, Holy Week is the perfect time of year to get away.

Anticipating the crowds, I left Austin on a Saturday morning with the hope of obtaining a campsite in the Basin Campground the next day. I figured I would take whatever I could find and would be able to “trade up” during the week. I spent a restless Saturday night in a “no tell motel” in Alpine, had a huge breakfast at Penny’s Diner and headed south just after sunrise.

Upon entering the park, the first thing I noticed was a sea of red ocotillo blooms.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3005.jpg)

The second thing I noticed was the fact that I alone was following the posted speed limits. I recall a time in the park when driving 48 mph would almost certainly get one a stern warning if not a ticket. Many drivers were routinely doing at least 60. All week.

With the cruise control set firmly at 45, I drove uninterrupted to the Basin, swiveling my head this way and that to look at the desert I love, a friend long neglected and seldom visited, at least recently. I used to say it was a bad year if I didn’t make it to Big Bend at least three times. This was just my third trip since November 2012.

I turned up the familiar road to the Basin, thankful that all the cars I saw were headed in the opposite direction, and hoped I would find a good site. The Lodge was fully booked, and all the reservable campsites were spoken for, all week. Passing the bear crossing sign, I mused that I had never seen a bear on this stretch of road in what must be about 200 times driving it.

I reached the Basin around 9:30 a.m. The sign said the campground was full, echoing the sign down below, but I saw a few people clearly packing up and preparing to leave. I asked several of those people if they were leaving, and they told me their sites had already been claimed. “It’s real busy,” one of them told me. I came over the hill and saw another pair packing up and asked if their site was available. It was! I just lucked into the best site (No. 17) on the campground’s upper loop. It’s a wide site with a ramada, its own piñon pine shading the parking area, a stunning view of Casa Grande and privacy from the sites below.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3006.jpg)

Having already taken a payment envelope from the pay station, I filled it out for seven nights, placed my stub on the campsite pole, moved my car to a nearby parking area and walked down to the pay station. The couple finished packing up about half an hour later, and I moved in immediately. All I did that day was set up camp, unpack, nap (I didn’t get much sleep at the no-tell motel.), eat and watch the sunset from the nearby ridge overlooking the group campground. That sunset didn’t disappoint.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3007.jpg)

I drove down to the pullout officially designed to notify visitors about bears and mountain lions but unofficially known as the “cell phone pull-out” and called Goldilocks, something I would do each night. Bright Venus sunk to the horizon beside Pulliam Bluff, and a parade of headlights and taillights streamed past. Once again, no bears crossed the road. I settled in for the night, pondering the weather forecast and the many ideas for what I wanted to do this week – I had barely a hint of a plan for the trip. – and the happy thoughts that I was back in the Bend.

The stars were stunning. A waxing just-passed first quarter moon yielded the sky after midnight. The Milky Way, Jupiter, Mars and Saturn were especially stunning during the early hours of the morning. I had planned to photograph the Milky Way in the early morning, perhaps over the iconic dead tree in Juniper Flat, but was simply too tired to shoot tonight. It turned out that was the best night to photograph the night sky. Clouds soon streamed in, and the nearly full moon would rudely butt in shortly thereafter.

I slept in that morning (Monday). The sun, peering over Panther Pass, pierced the tent a little after 9 a.m. For all the hours I spent setting up camp and unpacking, I hadn’t actually prepared myself for the day ahead, so I didn’t leave camp until about 10:30 a.m. I headed for the Dagger Flat Auto Trail, hoping to find the giant daggers in bloom.

Only once before have I been in the park when some of the daggers were blooming, and I’ve never seen them at their peak. Almost none of the yuccas I’d seen so far were blooming, so I wasn’t terribly optimistic. The creosote was blooming, fragrant plants covered in bright yellow flowers.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3008.jpg)

That, and some cacti, were all that were abloom along most of the auto trail’s route, but then I spied the unmistakable creamy candlelight of a giant dagger in bloom. And then another.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3009.jpg)

And then dozens.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3010.jpg)

Maybe 25 percent of the daggers were in bloom. It’s more than I’ve ever seen, but I bet it’s not their best show by a long shot. Very little measurable rain has fallen in Big Bend since December, and the effects of that drought are everywhere. On the plus side, there’s hillsides full of dead and dying lechugilla, the bane of every off-trail hiker, but almost every other effect is on the minus side. Animals are stressed. Plants are brown. Flowers are limited.

Driving back, my attention was caught by a branched bloom, shaped like a heart, rising before the distant Chisos Mountains. Though not a sentimental type, I immediately felt the desert’s “I love you” message. "I love you, too," I thought, perhaps aloud, maybe with one or more tears in my eye(s).

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3011.jpg)

I would see the giant daggers from another viewpoint later in the trip, but I did not know that at the time. Driving back toward the main road, I was tempted to go down the Old Ore Road, but instead I visited the new (to me) Fossil Discovery Exhibit. It is impressive. I spent about an hour there before heading down to Dugout Wells for a picnic lunch. A pair of cardinals sang to me while I ate.

I returned to the Basin for a nap, then hiked the Basin Loop Trail, taking liberties to go off-trail when I saw, or thought I saw, something interesting. I ended up walking/scrambling to a bare rock outcrop overlooking Oak Creek and providing a largely unseen view of the Window.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3012.jpg)

The off-trail rambles were a warm-up of what was to come, but it was time to finish the loop, itself a warm-up hike, and return to camp.

Clouds filled the sky, so the sun set privately. Based on the weather forecasts for the week, I knew the next day (Tuesday) would be the best for what I considered the keynote hike of the trip. Before I retired for the night, I prepared my pack, fixed a picnic lunch, loaded the car, set an alarm and otherwise got everything ready so all I had to do in the early morning was leave for the trailhead. I needed to hit that trail before sunrise.

A familiar trail it would be, for a while, then into the wild.

To be continued.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Txlj on April 13, 2018, 03:00:50 AM
Excellent! I was there in the area at the same time. Your right about being a holy place, that's where I go to see God. No way of seeing the Bend and not see him.

sent from flatland

Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Casa Grande on April 13, 2018, 03:40:35 AM
I sure do miss your reports,  Jeff.  So eloquently written.  Glad you got to spend some time in God's country my friend.

sent from my Note 8 using the Big Bend Chat mobile app (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)

Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: mule ears on April 13, 2018, 06:36:49 AM
Like old times, happy to see a jeffblaylock report unfolding.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Jalco on April 13, 2018, 07:34:08 AM
I enjoy your writing.  Thanks!
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Jim on April 13, 2018, 08:20:15 AM
Welcome back, Jeff.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Don H on April 13, 2018, 11:59:50 AM


"Like old times, happy to see a jeffblaylock report unfolding."
My sentiments exactly, good to see you back!
Site #17 one of my faves as well in the Basin, although I seldom frequent the basin campground anymore and opt for primitive camping.




Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: House Made of Dawn on April 13, 2018, 01:19:14 PM
Hello, Jeff. I believe this is the first report you've posted since I joined the board, and I think it's fair to say that I joined this board, in large part, because of your posts. Very glad to now be in the position of reading one first-hand as it unspools. Happy to know you're back in the Bend.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 13, 2018, 03:35:11 PM
Hello, Jeff. I believe this is the first report you've posted since I joined the board, and I think it's fair to say that I joined this board, in large part, because of your posts. Very glad to now be in the position of reading one first-hand as it unspools. Happy to know you're back in the Bend.

Thank you, HMoD. I have recently restored the photographs to those old trip reports, so they are mostly whole again. Other links to other parts of my old web site will remain broken (The site suffered a catastrophic failure about six years ago, and it has been offline ever since.), but I might be able to recover attachments like GPS tracks, maps, etc., if someone asks about a specific one.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 13, 2018, 03:48:31 PM
I awoke moments before my alarm would’ve roused me. Clouds filled the skies, and It was still dark. I attended to some morning matters then started the drive down from the Basin, turned right at the junction and cruised (at 45 mph) to the road toward Boquillas Canyon. I changed into my hiking clothes at the parking area for the Marufo Vega Trail, put on my pack and looked both ways before crossing the road.

A car pulled into the parking lot immediately behind me. Really? Not even five minutes alone on this trail, I thought.

It took them about 20 minutes to catch me, and they blew right by me. The sun rose, its light briefly turning the clouds orange.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3013.jpg)

The clouds would hang around all day. So would a gusty wind.

I’ve hiked this portion of the Marufo Vega trail twice before. In February 2002, I hiked the Ore Terminal Trail. In January 2008, I led a pair of friends down the North Fork to the bottom of Boquillas Canyon and back up the South Fork (http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/your-trip-reports/of-burros-and-marufo-vegamatics/). At that time, I noticed that several of the ore tramway towers had decayed significantly from my previous hike. Ten years later, they’ve decayed a lot more. Some are no longer standing, and others continue to be reclaimed by the desert.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3014.jpg)

After the trail leaves the ore tramway behind, it begins a comically steep ascent to a shelf high above the desert floor. Rather than using switchbacks, the trail charges straight up a series of pitches, then levels out until it passes an unusually flamboyant cairn. Of course, I trekked right past it, not even remotely considering the possibility that it marked my exit ramp. A quarter mile later, I checked my GPS, realized my error and backtracked to the Jenga tower.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3015.jpg)

It was time to follow the GPS track Randell recorded years earlier toward an overlook that, on this board, bears his name.

From here, the route heads generally eastward across a pair of washes before descending into the third one. It follows this wash upstream until it disappears into a ridge.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3016.jpg)

There is one particular pour-off that requires leaving the wash to negotiate. I went to the left, presenting me with a tough, nearly 60-degree scramble up a loose slope perilously dotted with cacti to overcome. Looking at others’ paths after the fact, there appears to be a better route to the right, but I didn’t see it at the time.

From there, it is simply a matter of following the wash until it ends. Stay to the left. The temptation will be to go to the right, to what appears to be a high vantage point. It is a false summit, and the views will disappoint relative to the effort it takes to reach it. There are likely some spectacular views to be had, but they are a long way away, and I had already spent too much energy to get here. I had been hiking for nearly three hours, and there had been nowhere to rest or sit down.
I abandoned this higher perch for one closer to the canyon rim, and within a few moments, I was greeted with a spectacular view.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3017.jpg)

It got more spectacular as I edged closer to the rim of Boquillas Canyon.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3019.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3018.jpg)

Here I sat. I ate the lunch I’d prepared the evening before: sliced Italian sausage, sliced cheese, nuts and dried cranberries. Actually, I only ate about half of that. I was tired. To my left I saw a perch that might provide a view of the actual canyon bend, but I wasn’t willing to scramble for it. It might be the type of perch I’d visit if I’d backpack up here, but I’m not likely ever hiking that comically steep section of the Marufo Vega Trail with a heavy pack again.

No, this was probably my only shot at this outcrop, and I passed. It looked like stormy weather was moving into the area. The wind grew stronger. I retreated. Rain never did hit the ground, but it sure tried.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3020.jpg)

I followed Randell’s path back down the wash. Plants and cacti have grown during the intervening years, so I couldn’t follow his path exactly. Once again, I bypassed the pouroff on what I now believe is the wrong side. I rejoined the Marufo Vega trail at that oversized cairn almost exactly three hours after I’d left it. The trail seemed like a highway.

Then I hit that aggressively steep section, where I met a pair of guys who had just climbed it. They decided to turn back rather than make for the Split Rock camp site. They tore off down the trail before I’d negotiated even a third of that awful decent. I ended up seeing 10 people on that trail, including a mother and two children who were hiking to the terminal, I guess, as I was making my way back to the trailhead. They seemed ill-equipped for the trek, but it’s their choice.

I stopped to take a closer look at some collapsed tram tower ruins.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3021.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3022.jpg)

Back at the trailhead, I saw six vehicles. Six! This place is overrun, I thought.

After a shower at the Rio Grande Village store, I retreated to my campsite in the Basin for a nap.

It had remained fairly cloudy all day, but there were enough breaks to make me think the sunset might be something special. I drove part way up the road toward Panther Pass to stake out a vantage point. The sunset was indeed something special.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3023.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3023a.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3024.jpg)

I headed down the hill and called my wife. She was happy I’d made it to Randell’s overlook and happier that I’d made it back. As for the next day, I knew where and when I needed to end up, but I hadn’t filled in the rest of the schedule. It was going to be cool and windy, so desert hikes were in order.

To be continued.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: badknees on April 13, 2018, 09:26:05 PM
Quote
There is one particular pour-off that requires leaving the wash to negotiate. I went to the left, presenting me with a tough, nearly 60-degree scramble up a loose slope perilously dotted with cacti to overcome. Looking at others’ paths after the fact, there appears to be a better route to the right, but I didn’t see it at the time.

Stay to the right!
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: RichardM on April 13, 2018, 10:23:01 PM
Got coordinates for the Jenga cairn? I'd like to guess how much we came up short...
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 13, 2018, 10:53:32 PM
Got coordinates for the Jenga cairn? I'd like to guess how much we came up short...

I recorded a waypoint on my GPS:

UTM 13R 0701779 E 3234584 N NAD27
LAT 29.225555 LON -102.92410266521527 NAD27

The Lat-Lon is calculated using an online utility. The waypoint was recorded using UTM.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Hang10er on April 14, 2018, 02:27:27 PM
On the 45mph, I had been politely warned not to speed in the park.  I never had a problem, as I was always too busy trying to see all the views.  My last trip in February was the first time I noticed that it seems to be a lot less regulated.  I had people passing me right and left.  I was somewhere and I actually pulled over so a car could pass.

What was funny was I heading east towards the basin and saw a couple of Corvettes behind me.  They never really caught up with me and when I turned off towards Croton Springs, I stopped and watched about 8 or 9 of them pass by.  Must have been a rally or club or something.  And they ALL appeared to be doing the posted 45!  Them guys and me.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 14, 2018, 05:58:51 PM
Clear skies sent the temperature freefalling into the low 40s by early Wednesday morning. Since I was cold, I didn’t particularly feel inspired to get up early and get off to a predawn start, so I dozed until after sunrise.

This was the only day when I needed to be in a specific place (The Front Porch) by a specific time (5 p.m.), so I needed to plan the day accordingly. I decided to drive down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, stopping wherever I fancied, down toward Santa Elena Canyon, then take the Old Maverick Road to the western entry station and the highway to the ghost town.

I first went to Panther Junction, hoping to find new Big Bend book to read but instead finding the visitor center overrun with people. Backtracking, I stopped to take photos of the few bluebonnets growing alongside the road.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3025.jpg)

Then it was on to the Croton Springs Road for a little hike there. I explored several of the high points overlooking the main wash.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3026.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3027.jpg)

Turning onto the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, I decided to check out the Sam Nail Ranch, which I haven’t visited in many years, and see if I could find a path into Cottonwood Creek. Turns out a nice trail leads right to the base of the big cottonwood tree and down into the wash. I didn’t recall their being such easy access to the creek, but it has been many years since I’ve visited this particular set of trails.

Once in the creek, I bypassed a flock of birders, then trekked downstream (northward) for a mile or so. I found some small pools of water and evidence of an overgrown spring.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3028.jpg)

On the way back, the tall cottonwood trees marking the wash exit could be seen from a long way away.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3029.jpg)

I planned to hike down to the Homer Wilson Ranch and environs, but that parking area was full. So I went on to Sotol Vista, where I had my traditional picnic lunch under the lone tree, chatting with several visitors and paid guides. Feisty winds blasted the area.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3030.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3031.jpg)

Prickly pears were blooming here and farther on down the road below Goat Mountain.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3032.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3033.jpg)

I stopped a little farther down the road determined to explore the “dinosaur rock” formation. From a distance, it appears like a big dinosaur bending down to eat its prey. Someone else referred to it as the “saber-tooth tiger.” I wanted to check out the natural window.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3035.jpg)

Getting to the formation is fairly easy across the open desert. In addition to abundantly blooming prickly pears, a few other cacti were showing off their colors.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3034.jpg)

As I neared the dinosaur rock formulation, I began to recall having tried to visit it sometime before. From a distance, it looks like an easy climb would take one right up to the arch/window, but it turns out to be a much more difficult ascent. A deficit of free-climbing skills combined with a surplus of sense caused me to turn around after hiking around the base. Just like I did the first time, whenever that was.

I vaguely recall that I had company the first time I was here, and I seem to remember one or perhaps both of my companions attempting the free climb and maybe even making it, but I can’t find any photos of it, so maybe I imagined the whole thing. Nonetheless, the feeling of déjà vu was very strong.

The hike back offered excellent views of Cerro Castellan.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3036.jpg)

I headed on to crowded Castolon for my customary ice cream treat, even though it was out of stock and I had to settle on a different one, then it was on to Santa Elena Canyon. The trail parking area was full, so I turned onto Old Maverick Road. Shortly thereafter, I found a picturesque ocotillo waving its red-tipped arms at the canyon.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3037.jpg)

Despite the lack of measurable rain in months, Old Maverick Road was exceptionally washboarded and rough for nearly the entire distance. I stopped at Luna’s place, partly out of admiration that he raised so many kids there but mostly out of desire to stop the bouncing for a few minutes. No one drove by or stopped while I was there. I ducked inside briefly. It was still quite cool in there.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3038.jpg)

I was happy to see the end of the road. After a shower at the motor lodge, I headed up to the ghost town intending to visit the cemetery and pay respects. The parking area at its gates was full, so I went on to the end of the road and took a seat on The Front Porch.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3039.jpg)

Someone was playing music between swapping stories with the tourists, but the locals I’ve grown accustomed to seeing were by and large absent. The parking lot began to fill.

The locals I was here to meet arrived just before the Starlight opened its doors, and we shuffled in near the front of the herd. Every table and seat at the bar was accounted for within minutes. At 5 p.m. On a Wednesday.

After an enjoyable visit, which ended well after sunset, I headed back up to the Basin, got my stuff together for an early start the next morning, set an alarm and hunkered down for a windy night. Surely I could outmaneuver these crowds.

To be continued.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Slimkitty on April 14, 2018, 06:46:52 PM
On the 45mph, I had been politely warned not to speed in the park.  I never had a problem, as I was always too busy trying to see all the views.

Last time I was in the park I was driving the posted speed limit when a coyote sauntered out into the road in front of me.  He/she barely acknowledged me as I slammed on the brakes and came to a complete stop.  I had to wait until the coyote crossed, in absolutely no hurry.  Had I been going much faster, the outcome could have been much different. 


Sent from my iPhone using Big Bend Chat (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 14, 2018, 11:45:34 PM
Easter week is one of the busiest in Big Bend National Park. Several times this week, I have driven past the Lost Mine Trail parking area to find it completely full. Additional cars scatter themselves in the various pull-outs heading down from Panther Pass in either direction, and nearly all of the people from all those cars were also on the Lost Mine Trail.

I figured it would be the least likely place I’d find solitude, and yet, I had the entire trail and summit area to myself until I started my descent back to the trailhead. For more than an hour and a half, I saw and heard no one.

The key, it turns out, is to hit the trail before sunrise. Mine was the first and only car in the parking area that Thursday morning. It was a cool 50 degrees or so, clear and windy. Morning twilight was just beginning to brighten the sky. I hiked with a headlamp for a few minutes before turning it off. Within 20 minutes, I’d reached the Juniper Canyon overlook, and there I waited for sunrise.

It was sublime.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3040.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3041.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3042.jpg)

There is something truly magical about watching light slowly pour into the desert, seeing it change from blues and purples to oranges and golds to greens and grays, watching the shadows dance around the crags in the high mountains and foreboding cliffs, feeling the new day take hold. I lingered at the overlook for almost half an hour, expecting people to join me there, voices drowning out the singing birds, including a particularly cheerful canyon wren, the rustling grasses and the whistling wind. None came.

As I headed up the trail, I looked back from time to time down into the Basin, tracking the shadow’s retreat from the Window.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3043.jpg)

I continued up the trail, stopping here and there to look and listen, still expecting someone to come up behind me. Up the switchbacks I went and onto the summit saddle, and no one was there. For the first time, I was in the bright sunshine. Winds buffeted the bare rock. Still I was alone. I wandered around the summit, enjoying the familiar views of the East Rim, Elephant Tusk, Tortuga Mountain and the hazy desert.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3044.jpg)

I said hello to the Dutch Girl spire, watched some soaring birds circle and did my best to not get blown off the mountain. The high winds discouraged me from following the saddle all the way to the end, and instead I turned back toward the trail. Casa Grande glowed in the morning sun, and I mused how easy the climb to the top looks from this angle (It’s not.). Still, I was alone.

As I trudged up the north side of the summit saddle, I saw someone at the top. He paused to admire the view, and I hiked up to where he was standing. He told me mine was the only car at the parking lot when he and his wife pulled in. I told him how special it was that he was going to have the summit alone. A few moments later, I was starting my descent. I passed the man’s wife.

One switchback later, I passed a couple. Then three more people. Then a solo hiker. While waiting for a family of five to make their way up past me, I noticed a claret cup cactus in bloom. They were talking loudly about something far away from where they were and the moment they were in. I doubt any of those five people saw it.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3045.jpg)

I counted 26 more people as I headed down. When I arrived at the trailhead just after 10:20 a.m., the parking lot was full. At least a dozen people were strapping on packs or otherwise preparing to hit the trail. Two cars had their turn signals on to claim my spot as I pulled out. How they resolved their conflict I’ll never know. On my way down from Panther Pass, I saw hikers headed up to the trailhead, their cars parked in the big pullout just below the bear crossing sign.

No bears were crossing, just humans. I’d still never seen a bear along that stretch of road.

I kept going down toward the desert, determined to find a slice of solitude that didn’t depend on good timing.

To be continued.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Al on April 15, 2018, 01:56:24 AM
The new normal.  That's a really nice camera!
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: fartymarty on April 15, 2018, 12:05:08 PM
That's a really nice camera!

That joke definitely has legs. It brings a smile to my face when ever I see it here.

The point is well taken though, great photography!.... and prose Jeff! You've been missed here for sure. Goldi' too.

Great report so far, and I'm looking forward to more.  :great:
 
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Casa Grande on April 15, 2018, 09:22:41 PM
(http://s2.quickmeme.com/img/5a/5a594c30c37db765a820796ab96b94d3283cbd143afe0af99ba0480d6ae0f7c8.jpg)
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: RichardM on April 15, 2018, 09:27:54 PM
Got coordinates for the Jenga cairn? I'd like to guess how much we came up short...

I recorded a waypoint on my GPS:

UTM 13R 0701779 E 3234584 N NAD27
LAT 29.225555 LON -102.92410266521527 NAD27

The Lat-Lon is calculated using an online utility. The waypoint was recorded using UTM.
Thanks. I'm guessing we headed off into the weeds (so to speak) a little before the trail that connects to the Strawhouse Trail.

Great report and pics so far. Keep'em comin'!
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: badknees on April 15, 2018, 09:40:52 PM
(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3035.jpg)

My daughter and I thought we could climb up to that arch one time. We circled all around, but you’re right....there is no easy way up. It’s bigger and higher than it looks from the road.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 16, 2018, 12:53:42 AM
Solitude would have to wait. I wanted enchiladas.

Rio Bravo is located on the south side of Texas 170 between Study Butte and the Terlingua ghost town. It isn’t always open, but it was this day. I’m sure the whole menu is fabulous, but I always order the chicken enchiladas, and I guzzle as much iced tea as they’ll serve me. As usual, the enchiladas hit the spot.

While sitting at my table overhearing tourists discussing places other than the one they’re visiting and food other that what they’re eating, I thought through some options for the rest of my afternoon. I settled on Swirl Tinaja, a magical place of erosion, geology and scenery not on any trail. The tinaja itself is marked on the right USGS quad, but it isn’t named. One simply has to know roughly where it is, and that alone should almost guarantee solitude.

After finishing my meal and thanking the cook, I pointed the car back to the park and eventually found as good a place to park along the shoulder as I could. There are no paved pull-outs along this particular stretch of the read, so I carefully chose a spot devoid of growth. Turns out I was exactly due north of my destination.

I weaved my way through the ocotillo forest, taking care to stay off any vegetation, no matter how dead it looked, and I made my way south.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3046.jpg)

The hiking is easy, save perhaps the entry and exit of the second wash, but one of my natural hiking tendencies veered me off course. While trying to travel due south, I tended to pass any obstacle to the left. By the time I reached the correct wash, I had drifted 200 meters or so upstream. I hiked down the wash until I reached the lip of the pouroff.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3047.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3048.jpg)

Climbing down into the wash, I was able to enter the little chasm, which was filled with silt, as though several dump trucks had delivered tons of sand and tiny rocks here. A colony of flowering plants was thriving here.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3049.jpg)

After hanging out for a while, I climbed back up and headed north, this time alternative between left and right passages around obstacles. The ocotillo forest was still tipped in blazing red.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3050.jpg)

Before long, I could see the glint of the sun off my vehicle, and I was back on the road. I headed down the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. Again, the parking area for Homer Wilson Ranch was full, so I decided to hike the Lower Burro Mesa Pouroff Trail, something I haven’t done in many years.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3051.jpg)

There was no solitude at this trail, but it wasn’t overrun. The generously sized parking lot only had five cars. It’s a short hike that leads to a large, dry chute in the rock. The sun was beating down, so I hiked back under an umbrella, drawing curious stares from the other people there.

From there, I went to Castolon, where my traditional ice cream treat was once again in stock. Then it was on to a pullout along the road to Santa Elena Canyon where I could walk to the Coyote Cemetery.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3052.jpg)

I hiked the Dorgan-Sublett Trail. The ruins have been improved since my last visit to them, but even the improved ruins are starting to return to nature. One part of the “new” wall has fallen. Cerro Castellan still looks good through its window, rising above the original wall of the ruin.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3053.jpg)

This time, the parking area for Santa Elena Canyon wasn’t full, so I parked and walked across the boardwalk. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the total lack of water in Terlingua Creek or the minimal flow of the Rio Grande. It hasn’t rained in five months. While it was not the weakest flow I’ve ever seen leaving the canyon, I nonetheless could have walked to Mexico without getting very wet.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3054.jpg)

To be clear, that photo is of the Rio Grande. Terlingua Creek was completely dry.

I visited a couple of other ruins on my way back but generally did not stop again until I reached the Basin. I got myself prepared for the next day’s big hike, snacked and waited on the sunset. Like the first night I was here, I watched this sunset from the bluff overlooking the group campground. The moon rose over Panther Pass.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3055.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3056.jpg)

After sunset, I drove over Panther Pass, bound for the cell phone pull-out so I could call Goldilocks. Just as I passed the 35 mph speed limit sign, a bear, standing right on the edge of the road, bounded up into some brush. I’ve seen bears in the park before, but never crossing or near the road. I smiled the rest of the way down the hill.

To be continued.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: House Made of Dawn on April 16, 2018, 08:28:44 AM
Great report, Jeff. Your photos, even viewed on my phone’s tiny screen, are almost as good as being there. I couldn’t quite make out the bottom of Swirl Tinaja: with no rain in months, I assume It was bone dry. Yes?


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Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 16, 2018, 10:33:32 PM
I couldn’t quite make out the bottom of Swirl Tinaja: with no rain in months, I assume It was bone dry. Yes?

Oh, yes, dry and full of piles of sand, silt and small rocks. Several of those were at least a couple feet deep and were covered by flowering plants. A big rainstorm in just the right place is needed to clear it out and wash that stuff downstream.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 17, 2018, 12:43:26 AM
Slickrock Canyon has been on my list for many years, but it never got high enough up the list to get done. When I mentioned it to my local friends as a possible destination, they emphatically recommended it. There are often pools of water and abundant signs of wildlife, and the canyon is a little-known gem. A trip report posted here (http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/your-trip-reports/indian-head-to-slickrock-canyon/) earlier this year included photos of large pools of water. Having seen very little water so far this trip, the thought of a cool canyon and pools of water was quite inviting.

Heading west from Panther Junction, but before reaching the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, the main road eventually crosses Oak Creek. A fairly large gravel parking area sits just before the bridge along the westbound lane. The sun was just rising as I put on my pack, fired up my GPS and began the roughly 4.2-mile trek to Slickrock Canyon.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3057.jpg)

There is no formal trail, but there are two generally accepted ways of reaching the canyon from the south. The first is to follow Oak Creek downstream until it intersects with the unnamed wash that goes through the canyon. This first method requires one to hike west of the canyon, then backtrack to reach it. The second method is a more direct path cutting cross-country. I wanted to record a good GPS track for the first method, so I figured I’d try the second method on the return trip.

The first challenge is getting into the wash from the parking area. I scouted several options before settling on a path right by the bridge. Then I turned downstream and followed its generally northwestward path.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3058.jpg)

Oak Creek wash is wide, level and free of vegetation. Its channel is braided, and I tried to follow its main channel as much as possible, though I would frequently find myself having left it (or it left me). There’s a remarkable array of colors in the rocks strewn along the wash. There were also lots of bootprints, preserved no doubt by the lack of measurable rainfall in five months.

After about an hour of easy hiking, I could see that I was well west of the canyon I was seeking,

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3059.jpg)

In the photo, Slickrock Canyon is the V-shaped notch at the far right, but I’m still walking toward the left.

Hiking downstream is relatively straightforward. Numerous other washes enter, but typically at angles suggesting they are tributaries. There is almost no chance that one will hike into one of them by mistake. The issue is, at some point, the mistake would be not hiking into one of them.

I had taken a hand-drawn map indicating the basic configuration of the bigger washes entering Oak Creek. I noted the coordinates of the wash I wanted, as well as a couple I didn’t, and I was keeping an eye on the GPS as the trail turned decidedly westward. Within a few moments, I saw a tiny cairn, and it indeed marked the correct wash.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3060.jpg)

Some care needs to be taken here. The correct wash is the second major wash to enter Oak Creek within a distance of less than 250 meters. The first, incorrect one initially heads almost due east and eventually disappears into the flank of Croton Peak. The correct one heads north-northeast, takes an easterly turn, then follows a sharp bend back to the north. The correct junction was marked by a small cairn (UTM 13R 656252 3248156 NAD27), but it could easily be swept away in a flood, if it ever rains again.

At this point, I’d traveled 2.6 miles and lost 198 feet in elevation. After a brief rest, I turned up the much narrower wash.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3061.jpg)

Hiking upstream requires one to pay more attention to route-finding. Tributaries sometimes look just as significant, if not more so, than the main wash. The steady signs of prior hikers’ bootprints added confidence as I headed up the right wash. As it turned decidedly toward the east, it passed several rock outcrops and a weirdly eroded limestone bluff.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3062.jpg)

My view of Slickrock Mountain faded while my view of Croton Peak improved. I began to wonder if I had strayed from the main wash, or if perhaps the whole path from Oak Creek was in error. There were still bootprints, but I have been led astray by those before (and would be again before this trip was done). After all, following the well-trod paths of lost hikers still gets one lost.

About 10 minutes later, the wash took a bold, confidence-boosting turn north, and Slickrock Mountain came back into view.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3063.jpg)

The canyon was near. I passed a large rock rising up from the wash floor that resembled a walrus. The amount, frequency and diversity of animal scat was increasing, adding to my belief that water would be there. Shortly thereafter, my destination, a dark gap in the mountain still in the shade, was just ahead.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3064.jpg)

Something caught my eye. Sitting upon a much darker rock was a bone-white triangle. When I picked it up, I thought it must be some kind of tooth.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3065.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3065a.jpg)

Not far from that find, the wash opened up, and I could see up the mouth of Slickrock Canyon. I had walked 1.6 miles from the wash junction to a rock I dubbed the “front desk” at the canyon mouth, still shaded from the morning sun.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3066.jpg)

I went in expecting to find pools of water, but there were none, the result of four five months without measurable rain. I could see where they must have been, only now they were silt-filled depressions in the slickrock. However, I found something I wasn’t expecting. In abundance.

To be continued.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: mule ears on April 17, 2018, 06:42:29 AM
Nice start on the Slickrock hike report jeff.  That junction of the washes looks very distinct like the entrance of the Dominguez spring wash with the Fish canyon wash, the color change like someone drew a line.

One tiny correction, it was 4 months since real measurable precip other than the .10th of an inch in Feb.  The last water hole filling precip was the big Dec. 7th snow and rain strom that took HMoD off his trip and almost held us up from ours.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: badknees on April 17, 2018, 07:26:45 AM
So dry.............a 40/30% chance of rain this Thurs/Fri :crossedfingers:
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Hang10er on April 17, 2018, 07:40:31 AM
I think your tooth is actually just a "tooth shaped" piece of bone.  Most teeth I have ever found have remains of enamel on them.  Even ones pretty deteriorated.  They also usually have a darker area that was the root part that was buried in the gums and jaw bone.  They also usually show lots of signs of wear and grinding. 

Disclaimer: Unprofessional opinion.  Not a scientist.  Just a guy who's looked at a lot of bones over the years. 
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Txlj on April 17, 2018, 02:49:23 PM
Shark teeth and vertebra as reference.

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Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 17, 2018, 11:30:55 PM
I think your tooth is actually just a "tooth shaped" piece of bone.  Most teeth I have ever found have remains of enamel on them.  Even ones pretty deteriorated.  They also usually have a darker area that was the root part that was buried in the gums and jaw bone.  They also usually show lots of signs of wear and grinding. 

I'm inclined to agree. I've looked at photos of teeth of the various larger animals in the park, and this object looks like none of them.

Txlj illustrates some shark teeth fossils that could appear in Big Bend, and this item doesn't really look like those appears to suggest a possibility that it's a fossilized shark tooth. One could imagine this "tooth" being eroded by water and bleached by the sun to remove any enamel, darker areas and signs of grinding. But I still doubt it's a tooth.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 17, 2018, 11:36:39 PM
(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3067.jpg)

Bluebonnets, some more than two feet tall, bloomed along the sandy floor from one end of Slickrock Canyon to the other.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3068.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3068a.jpg)

Most of the canyon was still in the shade, except for the western wall, which was becoming increasingly brighter as the sun rose higher. The U-shaped canyon consists of several bends along its less than quarter mile length. The slickrock floor is molded into a series depressions and pockets that normally hold water. On this day, they held only sand and dust.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3070.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3071.jpg)

Naturally occurring whitewashing occurs on the canyon walls. One in particular made me imagine a giant pictograph marking the last time the White Walkers came through here (Always the artists.).

The quiet was punctuated by the lilting laughs of canyon wrens, apparently unconcerned about the lack of water in their home.

Toward the end of the canyon, the eastern wall descended rapidly toward the desert floor, letting the sun shine from wall to wall.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3069.jpg)

The canyon gives way to the desert in the form of a wide wash.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3072a.jpg)

In rainy times, water flows down this wash and into the funnel of the canyon.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3072.jpg)

I headed back to a large rock in the shaded canyon that I dubbed the Millennium Falcon for a snack and a rest. The wrens continued singing to me. I spent a little over an hour there, split between exploring and resting on that rock.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3073.jpg)

Sunlight began to spread across the canyon floor, closing in on my perch. I packed up and began my return hike.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3074.jpg)

I imagined what that view would look like with a pair of dark pools instead of a carpet of reddish dust. On my way out, I checked out at the rock I dubbed the “Front Desk.” The attendant must’ve been on break. The “Intern’s Desk” was also unoccupied, possibly a seasonal position that hadn’t been filled.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3075.jpg)

This time, the hike in the unnamed wash headed downstream, making it much easier to stay on track, and I trekked knowing there was zero chance I might miss the junction with Oak Creek. Within about 50 minutes, I reached the big wash, and another small cairn reinforced the need for a left turn.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3076.jpg)

The last 2.6 miles is hiked upstream, creating the possibility of wandering into a tributary, so one needs to pay attention and try to remain in the main channel. The Chisos Mountains remain in view for nearly all the return hike. Every once in a while, Teapot Rock appeared between the brush.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3077.jpg)

The sun was beating down now, so I pulled out my umbrella and created my own shade. I could periodically see the glint of the sun off of vehicles on the park road. About an hour and 45 minutes after I left Slickrock Canyon, the bridge swung into view. I climbed out of the wash by roughly the path I had scampered down and arrived at my vehicle nine miles, five hours and 45 minutes after leaving it.

Rio Bravo was closed for the afternoon when I reached it shortly after 2 p.m., so I went on to DB’s Rustic Iron, a barbeque joint that was new to me (It opened in 2016.). Don’s brisket sandwich was exactly what I needed, served under a covered porch, where Pandora was tuned to Texas county standards. An injured paisano circled my feet, eventually ending up on a small rock wall nearby.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3078.jpg)

After a shower at the motor lodge, I headed back into the park. I stopped to wander around an ocotillo forest that had a great view of the Chisos Mountains.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3079.jpg)

I drove back to my Basin campsite. Pulling out a map, I considered several options for my last full day (Saturday) in the park. I sat under the campsite’s tree and watched the shadows and colors change as the sun slid slowly westward. My thought process was interrupted by the coming sunset.

I drove up toward Pinnacle Pass, parking just short of the Lost Mine Trail. I carefully walked down to a hairpin curve in the road. There, a professional photographer and I played tag with various vantage points before he opted to go farther down. I would be joined by other amateur photographers, and we spread ourselves out without conflict.

Casa Grande looked especially resplendent during the “golden hour.”

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3080.jpg)
From my vantage point, the sun set straight down the middle of the Window.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3081.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3082.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3083.jpg)

I headed over Panther Pass to call Goldilocks – no bear this time – and watched bright Venus sink to the horizon beside Pulliam Bluff. This time, I was outside the car, leaning against the exhibit wall. A nearly full moon rose over the mountains. After hanging up, I lingered for a while, listening to the sounds of the desert nightlife and pondering my last day.

To be continued.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Txlj on April 17, 2018, 11:38:45 PM
The sharks teeth were meant as a comparison to known teeth found in the area of the park. I believe as Hang10er stated, its bone. The shark teeth I posted were to show that after an unknown number of years in the sun they still show enamel and color. I think the last sharks in the park were about 70 million years ago ? I apologize for any confusion I might have caused.

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Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 17, 2018, 11:43:30 PM
The sharks teeth were meant as a comparison to known teeth found in the area of the park. I believe as Hang10er stated, its bone. The shark teeth I posted were to show that after an unknown number of years in the sun they still show enamel and color. I think the last sharks in the park were about 70 million years ago ? I apologize for any confusion I might have caused.

No apology needed and no confusion caused. I still think it's not a tooth, but if I squint real hard and use my imagination ....

I've also edited my prior post to clear up any possible confusion.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Txlj on April 18, 2018, 04:50:48 AM
Also Jeff, wonderful pictures and excellent story. You seem to capture the beauty way better than I can.

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Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: congahead on April 18, 2018, 04:58:12 AM
This is fantastic. Thanks for taking the time to do it. You blend the words and images perfectly. So far I have two main takeaways:

1. I really need to do Slickrock Canyon.
2. Trip reports for day hikes, if done as well as yours, are every bit as worthy of posting on BBC as those for overnighters.  I actually do more day hikes than backpacking trips and need to consider doing reports on those. 

Reading others’ trip reports here is the next best thing to actually being in the park!
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: mule ears on April 18, 2018, 06:26:46 AM
This is fantastic. Thanks for taking the time to do it. You blend the words and images perfectly. So far I have two main takeaways:

1. I really need to do Slickrock Canyon.
2. Trip reports for day hikes, if done as well as yours, are every bit as worthy of posting on BBC as those for overnighters.  I actually do more day hikes than backpacking trips and need to consider doing reports on those. 

Reading others’ trip reports here is the next best thing to actually being in the park!

Many times it is the day hike trip reports that inspire my routes for longer backpacking trips, someone describes a place I haven't considered and I try and walk past it if possible.  Slickrock is just such a place and it is included in my next long walk.  Thanks Jeff.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Buck on April 18, 2018, 10:35:12 AM
Very nice report, Jeff - photos of lots of old friends in that bunch  :eusa_clap:
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: DesertRatShorty on April 18, 2018, 02:17:13 PM
I'm also surprised there was no water in Slickrock Canyon. But those pools do get a lot more sun that most tinajas, plus the wildlife drinking it up. Anyway this is a useful data point on how quickly water can dry up in the desert.

Great report and photos, looking forward to the final installments.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 18, 2018, 11:56:39 PM
(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3084.jpg)

It had been an exceptionally clear night, the type that would have been a great night to watch the stars except for the nearly full moon. Despite the advancing moon, I’d been able to enjoy the dance of Mars and Saturn in the early morning sky, including on this day, when they were barely a degree apart. Bright Jupiter blazed in the south, but the Milky Way was washed out by the moonlight.

As I got myself together this Saturday morning, the moon was sinking toward the Window. The sun rose as I drove down the Basin Road, painting the sheer cliffs of Pulliam Bluff a brilliant orange.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3085.jpg)

I had settled on Dog Canyon for my morning destination. It was going to be a hot, sunny day, so a fairly quick trek across the desert seemed to be the best option. I reached the trailhead a little after 9 a.m.

The Dog Canyon trail begins as a cairned route across a sparsely vegetated flat, and It remains fairly flat all the way to the canyon. The creosote bushes were blooming bright yellow in the morning sun.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3086.jpg)

A jackrabbit scampered ahead of me. He wasn’t interested in posing for a photo. All I got was a shot of this back and ears.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3087.jpg)

The trail tracks almost due east for around 1.5 miles until it reaches Nine Point Draw, which flows through Dog Canyon. At that point, a metal sign indicates Dog Canyon is to the left, and Devils Den is to the right. I’ve been to Devil’s Den once before, but, for reasons I no longer recall, I did not hike it all the way to the overlook into Dagger Flat. Earlier this week, the daggers were blooming. My desire to check this box overwhelmed my common sense, and I turned right, heading downstream toward Devil’s Den.

In my head, these two canyons were much closer together than they actually are, and I had no recollection of this part of the hike. Nine Point Draw runs southwest from the trail junction. A series of cairns marks the exit into an unnamed wash, which goes all the way to Devils Den. This wash seems to go on forever as it loops around a series of bluffs and hills.

The longer I walked, my recollection of my last trip to Devils Den started seeping into my mind. I’d reached it via a cross-country route from the Nine Point Draw campsite. I eventually found a trail that followed the southern rim of the zig-zagging canyon, which I followed as far as I followed it, then returned by the same route. So I hadn’t come this way.

Bootprints appeared in all the sandy areas, and I paid more attention to them than the scattered cairns I found along the wash. Every cairn was tiny, like the one in this photo of a particularly rocky area within the wash.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3088.jpg)

The wash turned nearly eastward, and the walls began to rise. Larger boulders appeared more frequently. The bootprints continued ever forward. At some point, the trail must leave the wash.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3089.jpg)

All of the sudden, a giant, fractured slab of rock ran across the width of the wash. There was no obvious route up its tiers, each of which must be an interesting waterfall under the right conditions. I climbed, clambered and huffed my way up the first series, at which point I saw a deep fissure cutting across the rock. It was the water course. Erosion had cut a deep, sharp-turning channel through this solid rock.
A little farther up, a really cool tinaja appeared. It was at the bottom of a chute, where water passed under an arch and into the waterslide I’d been traversing.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3090.jpg)

A little more climbing brought me to the top lip of the slab. Just as suddenly as the pouroff appeared, the wash once again opened up, and Devils Den came into view.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3091.jpg)

I followed the bootprints further upstream, but I kept thinking to myself, at some point the trail is going to leave this wash. While the wash was fairly open, it was littered with boulders the size of desks and cars. Walking turned into scrambling and hopping. My pace slowed. Yet the bootprints went on with no sign of a cairn marking an exit.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3092.jpg)

As the wash approached a bend, the canyon wall slowly grew higher and steeper. The boulders got bigger and more jumbled, with deep gaps forming between them. This can’t be right, I thought. Surely the trail wouldn’t take hikers through this rubble.

I scrambled up a particularly steep house-sized boulder only to discover I had nowhere else to go. Sure, I could have climbed down, into a void between it and the next one, and continued onward, for at least another 40 feet, but I stopped. It was almost 11 a.m. I considered turning back, because I did not want to continue across this boulder field alone.

At that moment, my eyes drifted toward the canyon wall above me. I saw a cairn clinging perilously to a rock about 30 vertical feet up. Those bootprints had led me astray. The trail had been above me for some time.

To be continued.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Casa Grande on April 19, 2018, 03:43:08 AM



At that moment, my eyes drifted toward the canyon wall above me. I saw a cairn clinging perilously to a rock about 30 vertical feet up. Those bootprints had led me astray. The trail had been above me for some time.

To be continued.





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Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: House Made of Dawn on April 19, 2018, 09:58:55 AM



At that moment, my eyes drifted toward the canyon wall above me. I saw a cairn clinging perilously to a rock about 30 vertical feet up. Those bootprints had led me astray. The trail had been above me for some time.

To be continued.




Jeff, that sort of thing happens to me all the time now that I've returned to the lowlands of the park after a decade's hiatus. I keep thinking I know where I'm going because I've been here before, and....nope....my memory is often not my friend. Every path is just slightly longer and more complicated than I remember it.   :icon_eek:
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Buck on April 19, 2018, 10:25:38 AM
Jeff, I hiked this far up the DD in '94 or '95.  I seem to remember seeing a good number of fossils embedded in the rocks near this spot... yep, a quick scan of photos from that trip turned these up:

(https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/AWs8oC8wBsyQGadTyKEvhsch466CVm-kxBYPx62ptwH5h7dsQDUOd4-K5tXxM33VmAGqn1pgVxLPz2JVKHVkVBot5t5zINxmWsPEoxyPsQbNaMXpz6DC9TMMTfgO62pFVO_-DgwYkr8awB53k95VDHVtss3VbD27o4V0DmhS9g0F90jN2AyrMjoGDXmyQsO4A-wRDMdvfje0vxSnn0zgvJvEeDDF6OFY_baNr9odGBntSdslCAXnmMENUEe812E4pbLXaZrKUe5Ia07l-oG3tbcFmmCZKRZJ0hnhDrZ4KQ2Vh6eJ2aJPoneIy996iR6IR5XW1Kwwy-QyV3rdM7BbDkgvRHzWf1vcjVZtPGWQuCNz2x-Tsr4ZIp8jCmdGdWC_5CKZFn2vrckuPviE-AxcNQv39Qy947OOy8hDdBOpEUgLzsGHmPutxe1DH4idF1mDov3rf1TC1K9ZAIOYk8Rcxz403LoaDhmjscii1-7G7FuCwliC7Pur-3XaRcgTinQ7DzilhNlJbKjadbpCNMvlFh3272hAT1r0ODgBs6G3y20XEAHpj55OH42ZAXUzDS2-PEFKPAwAxfApIX_wpnlZ8Xvd7Z_KqAyDTjNjanGI=w815-h1195-no)   (https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/P4IwR8ld3mf1p-6g-5-R-X7ax64vQjoq81lnlDhAmEhebKvy_CfPemrAXH4whemaqXgSEpCUTmcTPjBQHgevngN2JmlXK3t_UJpsrW3vX65ayTioQrCU4DaU_5OW7d8lrBF3wxJFfolJS4dlXcorFqKQkj8rD9aHvHHB1-DRuRmsfKCHtygCQTkO59jJCOEho8g-GLvr1g3FmM9JJGnwiKmO27QJMOhg7PFnrTU8gplYzM5oK-YsGxu0lH0ZfpfrDV4L5fpCOk--D-qInVxxChsGVMksC54vOI7boRjrF1wCZGJLhpNtBCPJJEx2nq18Y5KFh-XS7GHU_KB0DiSEIYm_X3RqVRGLW-42UfOc9cJd6PxSU5w1MToMo2EIYxnOchUva1-KWmImOpCV8S5SkO6kLXEroPOGcEkS8s_pshDWaBZimDr7tc3YV2IEDc6hWgIVZihsaw5_fZecoz_w7-2AmTPYso5mLmI8yl3Ha0el9G-61RdufZqBVkchXkdlymST4Q2hBsbi76LzWznUkboI8EGonNRUQRbJRnOVEKBqsMSPyT-1i6lKXCBWK-HDzNnrBPMYwViIus2gCMYBUGBcYXKYI2UQwvNRZK7N=w805-h1195-no)

Interesting to note that the 'toe' that had been sticking out near the top of the swirl has broken off and is resting at its bottom these 24 years later.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Casa Grande on April 19, 2018, 10:43:39 AM


Interesting to note that the 'toe' that had been sticking out near the top of the swirl has broken off and is resting at its bottom these 24 years later.

I'll be.  That is an interesting observation.

Sent from my Note 8 using Big Bend Chat mobile app (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)

Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: mule ears on April 19, 2018, 10:58:16 AM
Jeff, I hiked this far up the DD in '94 or '95.  I seem to remember seeing a good number of fossils embedded in the rocks near this spot... yep, a quick scan of photos from that trip turned these up:

(https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/AWs8oC8wBsyQGadTyKEvhsch466CVm-kxBYPx62ptwH5h7dsQDUOd4-K5tXxM33VmAGqn1pgVxLPz2JVKHVkVBot5t5zINxmWsPEoxyPsQbNaMXpz6DC9TMMTfgO62pFVO_-DgwYkr8awB53k95VDHVtss3VbD27o4V0DmhS9g0F90jN2AyrMjoGDXmyQsO4A-wRDMdvfje0vxSnn0zgvJvEeDDF6OFY_baNr9odGBntSdslCAXnmMENUEe812E4pbLXaZrKUe5Ia07l-oG3tbcFmmCZKRZJ0hnhDrZ4KQ2Vh6eJ2aJPoneIy996iR6IR5XW1Kwwy-QyV3rdM7BbDkgvRHzWf1vcjVZtPGWQuCNz2x-Tsr4ZIp8jCmdGdWC_5CKZFn2vrckuPviE-AxcNQv39Qy947OOy8hDdBOpEUgLzsGHmPutxe1DH4idF1mDov3rf1TC1K9ZAIOYk8Rcxz403LoaDhmjscii1-7G7FuCwliC7Pur-3XaRcgTinQ7DzilhNlJbKjadbpCNMvlFh3272hAT1r0ODgBs6G3y20XEAHpj55OH42ZAXUzDS2-PEFKPAwAxfApIX_wpnlZ8Xvd7Z_KqAyDTjNjanGI=w815-h1195-no)   (https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/P4IwR8ld3mf1p-6g-5-R-X7ax64vQjoq81lnlDhAmEhebKvy_CfPemrAXH4whemaqXgSEpCUTmcTPjBQHgevngN2JmlXK3t_UJpsrW3vX65ayTioQrCU4DaU_5OW7d8lrBF3wxJFfolJS4dlXcorFqKQkj8rD9aHvHHB1-DRuRmsfKCHtygCQTkO59jJCOEho8g-GLvr1g3FmM9JJGnwiKmO27QJMOhg7PFnrTU8gplYzM5oK-YsGxu0lH0ZfpfrDV4L5fpCOk--D-qInVxxChsGVMksC54vOI7boRjrF1wCZGJLhpNtBCPJJEx2nq18Y5KFh-XS7GHU_KB0DiSEIYm_X3RqVRGLW-42UfOc9cJd6PxSU5w1MToMo2EIYxnOchUva1-KWmImOpCV8S5SkO6kLXEroPOGcEkS8s_pshDWaBZimDr7tc3YV2IEDc6hWgIVZihsaw5_fZecoz_w7-2AmTPYso5mLmI8yl3Ha0el9G-61RdufZqBVkchXkdlymST4Q2hBsbi76LzWznUkboI8EGonNRUQRbJRnOVEKBqsMSPyT-1i6lKXCBWK-HDzNnrBPMYwViIus2gCMYBUGBcYXKYI2UQwvNRZK7N=w805-h1195-no)

Interesting to note that the 'toe' that had been sticking out near the top of the swirl has broken off and is resting at its bottom these 24 years later.

We it must have been recent because it was there in Feb. 2014

(https://40yearsofwalking.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/big-bend-2014-019.jpg?w=640&h=853)
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 20, 2018, 01:07:02 AM
Thanks for digging into the archives and posting those photos, Buck and mule ears. We often think of the desert as unchanging, yet it is constantly evolving, and we've got the pictures to prove it.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 20, 2018, 01:16:15 AM
The trail left the wash long before I expected, and I mistakenly followed the bootprints of those who were attempting to hike through the canyon. Now I find myself straddling the knife edge of a boulder the size of a bus, caught between a boulder the size of a house and about a 6-foot jump away from the side of a boulder the size and rough configuration of my old pickup truck if it were poorly parallel parked.

A canyon wren laughed in the distance.

I scanned the south canyon wall, which I wasn’t far from, and spied a climbing route that I felt comfortable, at least from this angle, to attempt. I scrambled back onto the boulder behind me, then shimmied my way around a few desk-sized boulders to the wall. Of course, there was a gap between them. A rock was close enough between them that I could get a sure foothold. With one quick lunge, I was on the canyon wall, climbing my way up the terraces of square-jawed stones until I was on top, right next to a cairn and an obvious trail.

The view up the canyon revealed more boulders and lots of vegetation. Passable? Probably. Perhaps an adventure for another trip, with companions and maybe some rope.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3093.jpg)

The trail follows the southern canyon rim, at times too closely, rising steadily as the canyon zigs and zags its way to Dagger Flat. Down below, the walls closed in and pouroffs began to appear. A few tinajas held greenish pools that looked like someone dyed them for St. Patrick’s Day but never bothered to flush them with clean water. In the sandy portions, the bootprints continued ever onward.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3094.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3095.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3096.jpg)

Devils Den is strikingly beautiful, wild and rugged. I could see the appeal of traversing it, but, at this point, I had no good way to reach the bottom. An uncomfortably close encounter with a slick chute reinforced that reality. I wasn’t sure how far down it was, but I knew the fall would be over too fast to enjoy any sense of weightlessness.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3097.jpg)

Before long, the first giant daggers appeared, and they were still in bloom. Meanwhile, the canyon widened. Boulders gave way to thick vegetation. Most of the bootprints had disappeared.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3098.jpg)

After a couple of sharp turns, the trail left the canyon edge and made for a low spot along the ridgeline. The climb got steeper, but several daggers along the way offered their encouragement.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3099.jpg)

The trail ends at a rock outcrop perched along a steep ridgeline hemming in the western side of Dagger Flat. This is not the portion of Dagger Flat accessed by the eponymous auto trail. That portion is lower and much farther south.

The view is spectacular and worth whatever effort it takes to reach it.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3100.jpg)

I sat down for a few minutes and ate a little of the food I’d brought. The sun was beating down, and the thought of eating the rest of my food in the shade of Dog Canyon took control.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3101.jpg)

After one more glance at what I’d come to see, I turned around and started back down the trail, and I was going to stay on this trail. Well, at least I would stay on it once it returned to the canyon rim. The initial descent is hard to follow, so I just marched to the rim and turned left before it was too late. Some of the close approaches to the rim are even more uncomfortable heading down because one’s eyes cannot be averted from the sheer drop immediately to the right.

It was nearly noon when I passed the point I’d scrambled up the canyon wall. The trail continued above and to the south of the wash for quite some time, passing through an ocotillo forest.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3102.jpg)

I wandered off the trail here and there in search of blooming cacti. Several rainbow cacti were almost blooming, then I found one with a perfectly translucent yellow flower.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3103.jpg)

It was nearly noon, almost three hours since I left the trailhead, and I still hadn’t been to Dog Canyon, and, at this point, I was still hiking above the wash I’d tromped through earlier. The sun was beating down, occasionally lessened by a passing high cloud. The temperature was north of 80 degrees.

The trail finally bent down to enter the wash. A string of small cairns stretched across it, indicating the exit. On the far side of the wash, I saw a gravelly area covered in bootprints, which is where I must have been walking. From that vantage point, I could see only a single cairn. I never saw the series, and thus I missed the exit.

About half an hour later, I was back at the trail junction with a decision to make: go on to Dog Canyon or head back to the car. I opted to go to Dog Canyon, which couldn’t be more than 15 minutes away. Twelve minutes later, I was about to enter the canyon.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3104.jpg)

Just inside the canyon, I saw a large flat rock the size of a queen-sized bed in the shade. Here I sat. Then here I laid down. I napped for about 20 minutes. Voices – the first I’d heard all day – roused me.

To be continued.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: catz on April 20, 2018, 10:29:40 AM

Great report and great pics, Jeff.

Dutring my very first trip to the Bend my companion and I hiked into Devil's Den just like you did.  We made it over half way through when we became stymied by a pouroff.  We maybe could have made it over/around it, but we headed back.  I am pretty sure I have read posts on BBC from people who have made it all the way, even without ropes.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: presidio on April 20, 2018, 12:10:00 PM
Dutring my very first trip to the Bend my companion and I hiked into Devil's Den just like you did.  We made it over half way through when we became stymied by a pouroff.  We maybe could have made it over/around it, but we headed back.  I am pretty sure I have read posts on BBC from people who have made it all the way, even without ropes.

Yes, it it possible to go all the way through without ropes, but you may need the help of companions to surmount some of the pouroffs.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: House Made of Dawn on April 20, 2018, 12:53:19 PM
This continues to be a great report, Jeff. Really enjoying it. I love your sly, dry humor. When the canyon wrens are laughing at you, you know you're in trouble.

Agree with Presidio about heading through Devil's Den. I did it last century. It's not easy, but it's do-able. On my return, in 2016, I stuck to the upper trail, just as you did. I was headed into the eastern Dagger Flats, and from there south, up into the Deadhorse. I'm attaching a shot of the tinajas at the eastern mouth of Devil's Den that I took during that trip. Because they are so deeply shaded, I suspect these tinajas always hold good water, even in the middle of a bad drought like we're in right now.  It''s possible to descend into the Dagger Flats and re-water at these, and then (though I didn't do it) loop eastward and northward to the eastern mouth of Dog Canyon, and head westward via the canyon back to the trailhead. Possible, but difficult, and almost certainly would have required some specific prior map study. It definitely would have made for an even longer, harder, hotter day.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 20, 2018, 09:04:41 PM
Yes, it it possible to go all the way through without ropes, but you may need the help of companions to surmount some of the pouroffs.

Yep, that's what the rope is for: allowing my abler, younger and stronger companions to haul me up with it.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Quatro on April 21, 2018, 12:10:33 AM
Yep, that's what the rope is for: allowing my abler, younger and stronger companions to haul me up with it.

Wait....but you were the one setting new personal bests doing Cross Fit - seems like just a couple of weeks ago, right?  :icon_lol:
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 21, 2018, 12:47:11 AM
Wait....but you were the one setting new personal bests doing Cross Fit - seems like just a couple of weeks ago, right?  :icon_lol:

You misspelled "years."
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 21, 2018, 12:54:35 AM
My nap had been interrupted by a couple loudly declaring their disappointment at the lack of reliable wi-fi at their yurt. “I wouldn’t have booked it had I known,” the man said as they walked past the rock on which I was napping. “There are lots of other places here that have wi-fi,” the woman said. Not on the Saturday of Easter weekend, I thought, perhaps out loud.

I sat up, trying to ignore the fading echoes of their complaints. Theirs were the first voices I’d heard this day.

I thought about how fortunate I’d been to find so much solitude during one of the park’s heaviest visitation periods. Mine was just about the only vehicle on the Dagger Flat Auto Trail. I saw a few hikers on the Marufo Vega Trail, but none followed me to Randell’s overlook. The only people I saw around Croton Springs were the people packing up their campsite. Most of my stroll up and down Cottonwood Creek was devoid of people. I had the Lost Mine Trail to myself until I started back down from the summit. I saw no one on the way to and back from Swirl Tinaja and Slickrock Canyon. I even had the motor lodge’s public shower facilities to myself, three times.

Even though every campsite in the park was occupied almost every day, I landed one of the best \ in the Basin without having to trade up for it. I recalled a moment from Friday. A man driving around scouting for a site asked me how I’d managed to snag such a great one on a busy weekend. “I arrived on Sunday,” I told him.

Solitude can be found among the multitudes. Plan well. Get your stuff together the night before. Start early. Be flexible. Go off the well-worn paths. Let the crowds pass.

About that point, another hiker walked past me, saying “Hello,” and I realized I was about to lose the shade of the canyon wall. Time to go. I packed up and walked through Dog Canyon, passing the wi-fi mourners and another person who must’ve arrived during my little nap.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3107.jpg)

When I reached the end, I turned around and walked back.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3108.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3109.jpg)

I passed another couple entering the canyon as I was leaving. Within moments, I was back at the trail sign that prompted my (long) side-trip to Devils Den. This time I turned west, climbed out of the wash and trudged across the hot desert back to the car. I wanted to use my umbrella as a shade, but a strong headwind made that impractical. It was nearly 90 degrees.

It was after 2 p.m. when I made it back to the trailhead. The original plan for this day was to do a “morning hike” to Dog Canyon. That Devils Den add-on stretched it much later, but it was worth it. I drove to the Fossil Discovery center for a late lunch at its shaded picnic table. Then it was on to Study Butte for a shower. I somehow found myself on The Front Porch shortly thereafter.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3110.jpg)

Even fewer locals seemed to be on the Porch than during my previous sojourn there. I faded in and out of various conversations and did my best to blend into the background. I listened to some periodic guitar playing and incomplete songs, and my attention often drifted toward a group of riders discussing their rides and the roads nearby. The parking lot was full, and so was the street. Even the cemetery’s parking area was full. I’ve never seen so many cars there. Suddenly, my view of the Chisos Mountains was blocked by people standing in line to enter the Starlight. At 4:45 p.m. I wanted to eat before sunset, so I begrudgingly joined the herd.

Since I was alone, I said I could sit at the bar, which got me in almost immediately. Trevor Reichman and friends provided excellent live music. As I was finishing my meal – the pork medallions, always recommended – my eyes caught what might be a familiar face. A person sitting in a nearby booth, looking down into his mobile device, looked an awful lot like BBC’s Casa Grande.

It being 2018, I decided to find out by checking Facebook. About 20 minutes earlier, Casa Grande had posted a photo of the moon rising over the Rosillos Mountains, as viewed from his porch, so he was in town. “You don’t happen to be at the Starlight right this moment?” I commented on his photo. “I’m at the bar if you are.”

A moment or two later, he once again was looking into his mobile device, then seemed startled. He looked around the Starlight until he saw me. He was indeed Casa Grande! He was there with texassarah, their family and friends. He came over and we chatted for a few minutes, catching up on our lives and wishing each other safe travels and uncrowded trails. It was good seeing him.

I intended to go over to their table and chat with everyone, but they left before I did. I blame the friendly bartender and his insistence that I try a particular beer.

After dinner, I procured a single Terlingua Gold Ale from the store for later and drove back into the park. I found a spot with a great view of the sunset and the Chisos Mountains, and there I placed my chair, sat down, enjoyed my beer and watched the sun set.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3111.jpg)

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3112.jpg)

The hot day quickly gave way to a cooler night. Bright Venus glimmered above the western horizon.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3113.jpg)

I sat for a while, hoping to hear the songs of coyotes, but none were sung. A few small critters dashed here and there, and a car occasionally drove by, its engines roaring and then fading. Otherwise, it was one last bit of solitude, and I savored it.

To be concluded.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Casa Grande on April 21, 2018, 08:48:25 AM
Wait....but you were the one setting new personal bests doing Cross Fit - seems like just a couple of weeks ago, right?  :icon_lol:

You misspelled "years."



It was good to see you Jeff.   Been way too long.  We need to hook up with you and Lisa when we're not going in two different directions, sooner than later brotha.

Sent from my Note 8 using Big Bend Chat mobile app (http://r.tapatalk.com/byo?rid=88143)
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: fartymarty on April 21, 2018, 05:26:11 PM
Interesting to note that the 'toe' that had been sticking out near the top of the swirl has broken off and is resting at its bottom these 24 years later.

We it must have been recent because it was there in Feb. 2014

I think perhaps the "toe" is still high up above. Buck's and M.E's photos are taken from roughly the same angle (south looking north?) but I think Jeff's is almost 180 degrees
away from their angle, that is looking at the same thing from the opposite side (north looking south?). 
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Casa Grande on April 21, 2018, 08:02:27 PM
By golly,  FM, I think you're right!

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Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: rocketman on April 21, 2018, 09:42:31 PM
That is some expert sleuthing!
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 21, 2018, 09:58:29 PM
I'm pretty sure I'm shooting almost straight into the morning sun, so I'm likely looking eastward to east-northeastward. In other words, I'm looking upstream.

I took only one other photo of this tinaja, and it's from almost exactly the same spot. I don't recall why I didn't circle it, photographing it from all angles, but I suspect that rock at the bottom of the tinaja had something to do with it. I don't like to stand on the rim of something when that rim has already started collapsing.

I do remember why I only took two photos. I was going to take more on the return trip, when the sun was higher. At that point, I still thought I was on the trail, and thus would be returning to the tinaja. My return hike followed the actual trail, and I did not return to the tinaja.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on April 22, 2018, 01:00:08 AM
(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3114.jpg)

Sunrise, Easter Sunday. The end of Holy Week. The end of my stay in this holy place.

The full moon kept the night bright and the stars in hiding. I awoke before dawn and drove down to just west of Panther Junction to watch the sunrise, moving from pullout to pullout until I got the best view. Clouds above the eastern horizon glowed in bands of pink, orange and purple.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3115.jpg)

A few cars went by, and a few birds chattered, but it was otherwise a silent morning.

“Most of my wandering in the desert, I’ve done alone,” Edward Abbey wrote in Desert Solitaire. “I generally prefer to go into places where no one else wants to go. I find that in contemplating the natural world, my pleasure is greater if there are not too many others contemplating it with me.”

The key words there are “too many others.” I’m always happy to have the right kind of company, but sometimes I just need to wander alone. The week of Easter is one of the busiest of the year for Big Bend National Park, and yet I chose this week to reconnect with the desert, as far from the “too many others” as I could get. Many times I was successful, sometimes not.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3116.jpg)

The desert is a healing place. It is good for the soul, the heart and the mind. Not a single ocotillo in the park is in leaf, and yet every single one is in bloom, their drab gray stalks tipped with fiery red flowers. Hardly a drop of rain has fallen in four months, and water is absent from places it normally lingers, but life goes on. The heat of the day gives way to the cool of the evening, and the desert exhales in contented relief. The darkness gives way to the dawn, and the birds sing in celebration. The sun also rises, and the moon sets yet again.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3116a.jpg)

That panorama, fullsize (http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3116a_fullsize.jpg)

People come, and they come, and they keep coming, and they go. It’s no wonder. Every single person I’ve brought to this place for the first time has fallen in love, and most have returned. I met my wife here. She discovered Big Bend on her own, on a whim, and we have visited together several times, apart other times. Being a pastor, Holy Week is not a good time for her to run into the desert’s loving embrace. She would get her turn in the healing desert a week later.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3117.jpg)

This is a spiritual place. Here, I am closer to the divine, to mother earth, to creation, to life, to purpose and meaning, to the universe, to myself. Here I am free from distractions, snares, successes, failures, requirements, commitments and doubts. Here there is no tyranny of the immediate, no ability to be constantly connected and no desire for it. Here, dreams come clean, hopes renew, life goes on.

The ocotillo nearby sends a clear message: “I am alive, though I may not look it. I am down and hurting but not out. I am not defeated. I am still here, I am still me, and I will thrive again!”

The pools will return to Slickrock Canyon. The locals will return to the Front Porch. And we will return to this beloved place.

The sun has by this point disappeared behind the clouds. I entertain the thought of staying another day and night. Not because I have a plan for what I would do with the extra time, but so I don’t have to leave. Alas, too much of a good thing is still too much. I reluctantly get in my vehicle and head back to the Basin, one last time. I see no bears along the road, again, but at least that streak got broken during this trip.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3118.jpg)

I got back to my campsite and began to take it apart, recalling, at times emotionally, the week I’d spent here. A while later, a couple pulled up and asked if I was leaving. I said I was, and they were giddy to get such a great spot. As I had done a week ago, they parked across the campground road and waited for me to leave. Several other cars were circling the campground maze, all hopeful despite the sign declaring the campground was full.

The last of my things was in the Santa Fe a little after 10:30 a.m. I took one last, brief stroll around campsite no. 17, my home for the past week, looking at every mountain, every rock and every tree. It was time to go.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3119.jpg)

I took one last trip down the Basin Road, one last right turn toward Panther Junction. Nine vehicles were waiting for gas at the Alon station. The visitor center parking lot appeared to be full. I made that left turn, the one that brought me face-to-face with the most dreaded highway sign in Texas: Marathon 70mi.

About 10 vehicles passed me as I cruised up the Persimmon Gap Road at 45 miles per hour. I soaked up the last bit of Big Bend I could. As I approached the gap, I took one last glance backward toward the Chisos Mountains. See you in November, I thought. Hopefully sooner.

I wanted to stop at the visitor center to use the facilities, but a dozen cars, two RVs and a bus were already parked there. I drove on, leaving the park, perhaps with one or more tears in my eye(s).

I thanked the Border Patrol officer for keeping us safe. I got to Marathon hoping to find some lunch, but there wasn’t much to be had. I miss Johnny B’s. I drove on to Fort Stockton where my traditional end-of-trip restaurant, Bien Venidos, was closed for Easter Sunday. La Rosita Cafe was open, and the food was exceptional. It’s one block south of the main drag on Williams Street just east of Paisano Pete. It’s my new end-of-trip restaurant.

The rest of my drive home was uneventful. I spent most of it reflecting on the trip. It was a cloudy day. Wildflowers were blooming across the Hill Country. The setting sun dropped below the cloud deck, casting its golden light on the hillsides as I approached Austin.

I pulled into the driveway a little after 7 p.m. My wife and dogs were happy to have me home, and I was happy to be home.

To paraphrase Ed, we’ll be back, someday soon, and Big Bend will be waiting for us.

The End.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Txlj on April 22, 2018, 04:19:42 AM
Very well spoken sir. You hit the nail on the head in closing. What a wonderful place.

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Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: mule ears on April 22, 2018, 06:18:54 AM
Great finish Jeff, thank you!   :eusa_clap:
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Casa Grande on April 22, 2018, 09:13:09 AM
Such a wordsmith Jeff!  You've created yet another epic trip report.   And I'm pretty sure it was an even more epic personal experience. Thanks for letting us enjoy it with you.

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Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: fartymarty on April 22, 2018, 12:11:24 PM
Excellent!  :notworthy: :eusa_clap:
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Reece on April 22, 2018, 12:50:28 PM
Great report Jeff. You inspired me and gave me some ideas for day hikes. Great insight into the cycles of life, ever changing yet changeless.

“The ocotillo nearby sends a clear message: “I am alive, though I may not look it. I am down and hurting but not out. I am not defeated. I am still here, I am still me, and I will thrive again!”

I once cut an ocotillo stalk in February (not in the park of course) and took it home to show my wife how thorny the desert plants can be. I leaned it against an outdoor wall, on a concrete walk, under some stairs. In April it bloomed!


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Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: House Made of Dawn on April 22, 2018, 01:08:42 PM
After years of digging through the BBC archives to find and read another Jeff Blaylock trip report, I am grateful to now have read one "live" as it unspooled. It's one thing to say it's a beautiful trip report...(and that it is - both your pictures and your words are wonderful)...but more importantly, I think, careful reading and looking between the lines and the pixels clearly shows that you are a wonderful person. I infer this from how you talk about the Bend - about the plants and rocks and waters and clouds and stars, and even the people, that catch your eye. You know, I love the Bend, but I do believe you love it even more - and, frankly, better - than I do. The Bend needs more friends like you.

(http://www.jeffblaylock.com/new/3119.jpg)

That image made me tear up, too. (I know, I know...)

Anyway, thanks for the report. It's one of those that, upon finishing, I want to go right back and re-read in one sitting. I think I'll go do that right now.  :icon_smile:


p.s. - La Rosita Cafe in Fort Stockton has become a favorite of mine, too. The food is good, the portions are HUGE, and nobody minds if you stay there forever, with maps and guidebooks spread out all across the table.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: presidio on April 22, 2018, 03:46:46 PM
I once cut an ocotillo stalk in February and took it home to show my wife how thorny the desert plants can be. I leaned it against an outdoor wall, on a concrete walk, under some stairs. In April it bloomed!

It might be important to affirmatively state you did not do that cutting in the park!!! :s_laugh:
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Txlj on April 22, 2018, 04:52:44 PM
Too late, the guys in suits are on the way.

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Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: rocketman on April 22, 2018, 09:39:09 PM
Jeff, what a fabulous report of a fabulous trip! Your personal narrative and photography combine with your love for the Bend into a great read!

This part made me spit some bourbon on my keyboard though, as I am pretty certain that these people were renting my yurt.
Quote
My nap had been interrupted by a couple loudly declaring their disappointment at the lack of reliable wi-fi at their yurt. “I wouldn’t have booked it had I known,” the man said as they walked past the rock on which I was napping. “There are lots of other places here that have wi-fi,” the woman said. Not on the Saturday of Easter weekend, I thought, perhaps out loud.

Some folks just can't enjoy solitude. And yes, the Wi-Fi sucks.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: House Made of Dawn on April 22, 2018, 09:53:22 PM
Jeff, what a fabulous report of a fabulous trip! Your personal narrative and photography combine with your love for the Bend into a great read!

This part made me spit some bourbon on my keyboard though, as I am pretty certain that these people were renting my yurt.
Quote
My nap had been interrupted by a couple loudly declaring their disappointment at the lack of reliable wi-fi at their yurt. “I wouldn’t have booked it had I known,” the man said as they walked past the rock on which I was napping. “There are lots of other places here that have wi-fi,” the woman said. Not on the Saturday of Easter weekend, I thought, perhaps out loud.

Some folks just can't enjoy solitude. And yes, the Wi-Fi sucks.

:rolling:
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Casa Grande on April 23, 2018, 06:05:41 AM
Jeff, what a fabulous report of a fabulous trip! Your personal narrative and photography combine with your love for the Bend into a great read!

This part made me spit some bourbon on my keyboard though, as I am pretty certain that these people were renting my yurt.
Quote
My nap had been interrupted by a couple loudly declaring their disappointment at the lack of reliable wi-fi at their yurt. “I wouldn’t have booked it had I known,” the man said as they walked past the rock on which I was napping. “There are lots of other places here that have wi-fi,” the woman said. Not on the Saturday of Easter weekend, I thought, perhaps out loud.

Some folks just can't enjoy solitude. And yes, the Wi-Fi sucks.
And it's supposed to suck!

I remember several years ago,  after they had installed the first cell tower close to the park,  I was at one of the Grapevine campsites and a guy got a cell signal which happened to be the strongest near my site.  So,  he had to call everyone he knew just to tell them he was calling from the "middle of nowhere" in Texas.

One of the best things I remember when I discovered BIBE was the lack of any radio signal,  save for the occasional AM stray, usually from the other side.  No communication to the outside world was part of why I fell in love with the place.   Desert Solitude as Abbey wrote.

I feel ya.

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Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: fartymarty on April 23, 2018, 11:31:30 PM
In someways the past had more communications than now. There used to be a TV signal repeater (I assumed on Emory Peak, but I don't really know for sure) for the park. This seemed to end with the small dish Satellite TV proliferation, but prior to that one could get 3 Midland/Odessa TV channels in the Basin with just a small antenna.
------------------------------------
Also reference the earlier photographic spot with the "Toe", I just now ran across this post (http://www.bigbendchat.com/portal/forum/big-bend-photographs/photos-from-my-last-trip-janfeb-2017/msg153984/#msg153984) with another photographer's take on it.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Txlj on April 24, 2018, 01:44:09 AM
I agree. The lack of technology was a huge plus in the Bend. I remember after crossing the hills out of Alpine losing all service. It was wonderful. Now everywhere you go people sit and text instead of talking to one another. I miss the lack of service. I go to the Bend to escape the world. Now it comes with me.

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Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Lance on April 26, 2018, 11:45:59 AM
A most excellent trip report Jeff! Awesome photos too. Glad you're back and posting on the board!
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Poppins on January 01, 2019, 07:15:25 PM
"Back at the trailhead, I saw six vehicles. Six! This place is overrun, I thought."


I wonder if they saw your vehicle and thought the same thing?
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Al on January 01, 2019, 07:51:00 PM
Interesting to note that the 'toe' that had been sticking out near the top of the swirl has broken off and is resting at its bottom these 24 years later.

We it must have been recent because it was there in Feb. 2014

I think perhaps the "toe" is still high up above. Buck's and M.E's photos are taken from roughly the same angle (south looking north?) but I think Jeff's is almost 180 degrees
away from their angle, that is looking at the same thing from the opposite side (north looking south?).

I learned some years ago it is best not to debate FM on such matters . . .
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: dprather on January 01, 2019, 09:43:10 PM
I wonder if the place will still be toxic by this Easter??
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: mule ears on January 02, 2019, 06:17:49 AM
Interesting to note that the 'toe' that had been sticking out near the top of the swirl has broken off and is resting at its bottom these 24 years later.

We it must have been recent because it was there in Feb. 2014

I think perhaps the "toe" is still high up above. Buck's and M.E's photos are taken from roughly the same angle (south looking north?) but I think Jeff's is almost 180 degrees
away from their angle, that is looking at the same thing from the opposite side (north looking south?).

I learned some years ago it is best not to debate FM on such matters . . .

True that Al!   :victory:
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: Summit on January 31, 2019, 05:46:08 PM
Yet another excellent trip report.  I really enjoyed reading about your trip and the photos did my soul good.  I suffer from NDD (nature deficit disorder), and your report helped stave off the symptoms.  Much obliged! 
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: jeffblaylock on January 31, 2019, 10:28:25 PM
Yet another excellent trip report.  I really enjoyed reading about your trip and the photos did my soul good.  I suffer from NDD (nature deficit disorder), and your report helped stave off the symptoms.  Much obliged! 

Thank you, Summit. I suffer from NDD, too. There are some fine desk vacations on this site.
Title: Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
Post by: wotantx on February 01, 2019, 07:53:33 AM
On the 45mph, I had been politely warned not to speed in the park.  I never had a problem, as I was always too busy trying to see all the views.

Last time I was in the park I was driving the posted speed limit when a coyote sauntered out into the road in front of me.  He/she barely acknowledged me as I slammed on the brakes and came to a complete stop.  I had to wait until the coyote crossed, in absolutely no hurry.  Had I been going much faster, the outcome could have been much different. 


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Back on 12/31/17, I was driving 170.  I peaked a hill between arroyos and came across this:

(https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/YuRTB3ee9YGiUsAJ8UF_7FOqZE4hBA-j5FoDrK_dBHNSi-GBOGIWvKGEHi-DXn9OOOBvyYKEIWDNhsBMnrx09c_u6ylMSYPzvm3ePqSua1qa3dH8lBF9Wap_9XwvZx7anHilK0i9_jlXNVixyeLaonSPVTv0Ens3znzazgkjUMne2CNwjtFuIRG9QgeyQ6LhrBZ9beva1bbuLz3B7w5v7Mi4qmJ8e77yzN_JpY-aN0niDfZ-R9gBtMOx7K-6WDA5wblPW_8abnJRr2WLPAptsfr48-DL-FIkuSG2xAN6gwlJkV9Q1zBU9fKiuCmZ1pKuqjVWklRcjb6AlXm7zF3WUg_1jwra2HmQzswaFV4aWnFMAJCPSVE6Oab-bjgo76ZI-8Sw5kx4QRC1aFe3uxnXVhg9NG0cz1jL9ZSsrHhaZxmtJRp94TH9KGXdyWDwsiZEPHrWoNegZWnzfxU_OpiX6Z2a-5XfkohsIVmrojAPL8Pt8QD9taT-gy6zAvWabe5P5YmXjCmqU4EuyNhVqWcM-f5FNzQb9Q0nylS7xJ_q5pbkiQeJFKCfeLPywpixqVvolUgRyPtC_gRDUlaF2Xn1KE-etGNesgOQ5gkr3lKeGRE5910bzsltdIc3Qy9b9KWy-2seidVNxOcIAiNFhvRgmZLUjg=w1324-h880-no)

(https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/6pnD1G3BUydnbfuQiL5TYsNnpREfEtXvId8CcuZPoqVqiXbCgZ5J9j7iqWqVELRTB-6cLCaMzeVr75Ez3Wd5g4wVe7cEHQU4PCMfX22axsRoM2tS_9FGV1_FqzD6-t3G4hT9q6MVuoYfMuJLUz1AfXVEDHmxy7Nuvkkt2jlGS8U5dc1thpOGBsN_tIznParBWHhyCntN_Wupc4OgfQSJOZAI9gsjqiI_7YLzJZ6WtQe8l7NNH6BaHZUeVOetPLzd8BqrU6pMmMpjwFiZC_GktlPMOjYwdbO4QmXJXdnfKXz_UMq4aR0keB2BE1c7W8ihNROcsuOnS4jvWO_0LKRTLQBODhQRblOvTLBMmlu2a2pzI9OMBGqKYhO0ptNCyEplnnPYy9giRTs6I4NE7B_OdhAFFltjN25D7GJVjtW6YB5M4f01mikoYG4bthyAKsPF1jEqwYvD3s6lHO8vsY_ZqHDY-1kn3R7VzNoR2A1CAGYKhjq9bOvOwCTJnL72aX7qlJEjbvPYDXVOrWnXuhyqXQRzinkM-4Z-V4NJHib-zayHn0UOQcU2mM0usNbIrsp0aYQHigLapLj0pgzMJ1ZQ984xH_K-rp6_O31XgByqXi6RyfFodp6WFxJmwIfafb5BkP8rAAJWmCtiKVI_msx0eXSzyA=w1324-h880-no)

Obviously, I had time to stop, as did the person behind me.  It was quite the herd, and took a few minutes for them to get across.