Friends of Big Bend National Park
Big Bend Conservancy

Over-estimating your experience or under-estimating the terrain in a place like Big Bend can result in serious injury or death. Use the information and advice found here wisely. Climb/Hike/Camp/Drive at your own risk.

+-Calendar for sale

 2019 BigBendChat Calendar on sale now!


Holy Week in a Holy Place

  • 80 Replies
  • 6088 Views
*

Offline jeffblaylock

  • Horned Frog
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2307
  • I'd rather be on the South Rim
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #45 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.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

*

Offline jeffblaylock

  • Horned Frog
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2307
  • I'd rather be on the South Rim
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #46 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.



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.







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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

*

Offline catz

  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 1033
  • Old enough to know better, but...
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #47 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.
Wake me when it's time to go.

*

Offline presidio

  • Soaptree Yucca
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 3497
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #48 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.
_____________
<  presidio  >
_____________
Wendell (Garret Dillahunt): It's a mess, ain't it, sheriff?
Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones): If it ain't, it'll do till the mess gets here.
--No Country for Old Men (2007)

*

Offline House Made of Dawn

  • www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2YJduDyFA4
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 3028
  • Backpacking since '78, Big Bend since '95.
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #49 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.
"The trick, William Potter, is not minding that it hurts."

*

Offline jeffblaylock

  • Horned Frog
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2307
  • I'd rather be on the South Rim
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #50 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.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

*

Offline Quatro

  • Diamondback
  • *
  • 470
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #51 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:
When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro - HST

*

Offline jeffblaylock

  • Horned Frog
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2307
  • I'd rather be on the South Rim
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #52 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."
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

*

Offline jeffblaylock

  • Horned Frog
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2307
  • I'd rather be on the South Rim
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #53 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.



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





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.



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.





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



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.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

*

Offline Casa Grande

  • Site Founder
  • Administrator
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 6230
  • Bending It Since 1991
    • Virtual Big Bend
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #54 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
« Last Edit: April 21, 2018, 08:54:42 AM by Casa Grande »

*

Offline fartymarty

  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 1153
  • Lovin' BiBe for 50 years.
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #55 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?). 
« Last Edit: April 21, 2018, 05:44:05 PM by fartymarty »
Fort Worth

*

Offline Casa Grande

  • Site Founder
  • Administrator
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 6230
  • Bending It Since 1991
    • Virtual Big Bend
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #56 on: April 21, 2018, 08:02:27 PM »
By golly,  FM, I think you're right!

Sent from my Note 8 using Big Bend Chat mobile app


*

Offline rocketman

  • Off-Grid Space Cadet
  • Diamondback
  • *
  • 349
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #57 on: April 21, 2018, 09:42:31 PM »
That is some expert sleuthing!
Making ice cubes FROM THE SUN!!!

*

Offline jeffblaylock

  • Horned Frog
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2307
  • I'd rather be on the South Rim
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #58 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.
« Last Edit: April 21, 2018, 10:18:27 PM by jeffblaylock »
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

*

Offline jeffblaylock

  • Horned Frog
  • Golden Eagle
  • Mountain Lion
  • *
  • 2307
  • I'd rather be on the South Rim
Re: Holy Week in a Holy Place
« Reply #59 on: April 22, 2018, 01:00:08 AM »


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.



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.



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.



That panorama, fullsize

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.



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.



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.



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.
Jeff Blaylock
Austin, Texas

"We'll be back, someday soon. We will return, someday, and when we do the gritty
splendor and the complicated grandeur of Big Bend will still be here. Waiting for us."--Ed Abbey

 


©COPYRIGHT NOTICE

All photographs and content posted by members are to be considered copyrighted by their respective owners and may not be used for any purposes, commercial or otherwise, without permission.

+-Calendar For Sale

 2019 BigBendChat Calendar on sale now!

Powered by EzPortal

Facebook Comments