January 26 – February 8
We’ve decided this is the place of vistas. Broad sweeping views of the desert and mountains with roads snaking along through both. It is stark, beautiful and vast. Big Bend does have an appeal and we see why people come back here year after year. Since we’re sandwiched between the national and state parks, I thought I’d blog about our visits to each one. First up, Big Bend National Park.
Santa Elena Canyon
We scoured the trail maps and figured out what we thought would be good hikes to showcase the different areas of the park. Second on our list was Santa Elena Canyon. It ended up being our first hike since we got too late a start for a longer trail. The drive alone is quite a beauty and about 50 miles from our Lajitas home base.
Pat standing on the bank of the Rio Grande at the mouth of Santa Elena Canyon. The walls are up to 1500 feet tall and the canyon is 20 miles long, making it quite spectacular.
The Rio Grande is flowing at this spot, but rolling along so leisurely that it’s hard to tell where the canyon wall ends and the reflection begins.
We saw what looked like a snake in the water, and this bird flitting back and forth from the rock to the river to drink. I tried to get a clear shot, but had to settle for this wing reflection with the little beak sipping river water.
The best view of the end of the trail where the canyon wall meets the river.
And my favorite shot of the day with that backward look. Canyon walls framing the Chisos Mountains. Hard to believe that really is flowing water.
On the way to the canyon we picked two spots to stop on the way out for more views.
Here’s the first one – Mule Ears. Can’t you just see them? There’s a better angle on the road, but this captures the surrounding area as well.
And number two – Sotol Vista overlook. Another sweeping view. if you look closely in the distance, you can see the notch in the middle set of mountains. That’s Santa Elena Canyon about 16 miles away as the crow flies.
Given the name, here’s a shot with a Sotol plant in the picture. And in the one on the right, you can see a vehicle coming up the road to the viewpoint.
Lost Mine Trail
The Lost Mine Trail was our top hiking choice in the park based on the rave review of a random camper at Seminole Canyon. Edmund waxed poetic about this hike and you could just see him go there in his mind when he described it. Apparently a yearly pilgrimage for him. Here’s the backward look with the Window View in the distance and you can see the road below where we started.
We had to pick our day carefully since this one is just short of five miles long round-trip, and has an elevation change of over 1100 feet. To put this spot in perspective, the trail head starts at an elevation of 5600 feet, which is higher than the city of Denver. Of course the highest elevation doesn’t come close to the Rockies, but is certainly up there for us sea level Floridians, and considering this is Texas. Fortunately we’ve been at higher elevations most of the year, so I didn’t have any problems with that icky altitude sickness.
At the highest point at the end of the trail. The Window View is behind me and that rock to the left is the Elephant Tusk.
A better look at that Elephant Tusk. This trail is gorgeous with 360 degree views. We were promised trees and did get them, but we had more “forest” in mind, and not just the “hanging on for dear life” trees in the rocks.
A few more shots for you. A towering old agave bloom with the mountains in the distance and on the trail, me and the Elephant Tusk, Pat at the halfway point, and the Window View at almost the highest point on the trail.
For a little perspective, see if you can find Pat on the trail. Vast and sweeping really capture this place.
Last but not least, my little blue bird of happiness, the Mexican Jay. He practically did a photo shoot for me. I even called out “work it baby” since he was posing every which way in the tree and on the bench.
These metal signposts are great with the scenic backdrop. Vistas everywhere you look.
View of the Rio Grande in one direction, and Bitsy waiting patiently for our return in the other.
Just through this locked gate is the spot where you can cross into Mexico if you bring your passport. Apparently they ferry you across the Rio Grande and then you can pay to ride burros into town. Don’t go on Monday, though. The crossing is closed. Guess what day it is?
We didn’t particularly want to cross anyway, but we did get the chance to see some Mexican souvenirs. There are little impromptu spots where the wares are laid out on rocks with price stickers and a bucket with a hole in it for your money. They were so pretty in the sun with the Rio Grande in the background. It’s illegal to purchase them, so did we or didn’t we?
The best look at Boquillas Canyon that you get. Not quite as spectacular as Santa Elena, but this is a different part of the park and definitely more desert-y.
Since they had a little rain a few day previously, several different kinds of flowers were blooming. I also had to get a closer look at the footy prints in the sand. They looked like little dunes at the base of the cliff. And probably just dog prints.
This wasn’t a particularly hard or long trail, but with the sun beating down and virtually no shade, it was easy to see why this part of the park is essentially closed in the summer. We drank all the water we took and wanted more. I definitely couldn’t do it in the 115 degree heat that they assure me is to come in just a few months.
Another road runner crosses our path on the way out. Turns out it isn’t as hard as you think to get a good picture. If you stand still, I think they become curious. I’ve watched them enough now to tell you what they do. Two flips of the tail in back and then they pop up that little headdress of feathers. Usually then they scurry. Flip flip, poof, zoom! Take the shot during the poof.
Window Trail With A Bonus
Our final national park hike is the Window Trail. We got a glimpse of this one during out scouting drive and knew we had to include it in the mix. It turned out to be about five miles with the bonus. More about that later. The trail itself takes you through the Oak Creek Canyon and finally ends at the Window pour-off.
The view at the pour-off and the obvious end of the trail. The rocks here are polished like glass since water rushes over them to form a high waterfall. That is, during the rainy season. At this time there’s only the very slick rocks and a big drop to the creek bed below.
Pat wouldn’t come any closer, but I had to see the bigger picture. I did make sure I could get back up before I slid down those slick rocks to the edge.
Along the way we see a pair of those Mexican Jays and also a red-headed woodpecker. I’ve decided my very favorite desert plant is the agave, also called agave azul or blue agave. I’m sure it’s that soft blue-green color that does it for me. Plus they have serious black spikes at the end of each leaf with alligator-like thorns along the leaf edges. They grow an amazing “mast” that looks and feels like a wooden pole with beautiful yellow flowers that seem to float in layers. (See Lost Mine trail photos for a good example). They flower once and then they die. I’d love to be here to see them in bloom and not just the dead remnants.
And now for the bonus. We read about the Oak Spring Trail that forks off from the Window Trail. The entire trail was too long, but the half-mile or so trip to the overlook proved to be well worth the detour and distance.
We had this panorama all to our selves, at least for a little while. A young man named Josh joined us briefly and took a few pictures for us, and we returned the favor. Turns out Josh was on a road-trip from Houston to LA to see his “date” for Valentine’s Day. He seemed to enjoy playing photographer and took quite a few shots. Click. Click. “Sir, please remove your hat and move back a little.” Click. Click. “Ma’am, move forward a little.” Click. Click. “Sir, put your arm around her, for Valentine’s Day.”
I got such a kick out of how seriously he took his picture taking gig. Loved this one of us resting at our overlook vantage point.
I scampered around on the edge again, while Pat sat back and reflected. As always, the look back is pretty good, too.
Parting shot with the scraggly ocotillo in front of the mountains, the trail waaaay down below, and me on the carved steps close to the Window view. There’s a little water in the canyon this time of year, but not much.
For me, the little things are just as interesting as the expansive views. The rocks change almost every half mile it seems. This rock wall looked like carved wood. You can almost imagine faces looking out at you.
I enjoyed this hike most of all. The crunch of boots on rocks drowned out all the other sounds, so we’d stop from time to time just to listen. Birds calling, wind blowing in the trees, a running spring somewhere just out of our view, and ,of course, silence.
Next Up – Big Bend Ranch State Park and the end to our month-long stay in Lajitas. See you on the way!