Big Bend, a Park in Three Parts

There are three important parts to Big Bend: the river, the desert, and the mountains. They work together to create a landscape that is awe inspiring at every turn.

THE RIVER

The Rio Grande flows in and out of the park cutting through canyons and quenching dry sandy shores. I had the pleasure of diving into its cold waters after bathing in a natural hot spring at the river’s edge.

This hot spring used to belong to an on site hotel, where patrons would bathe in the waters for purification and healing. The bath is now just a foundation of stone, but the heat still enters the pool from a hole in the stones to the left of where I’m standing. I peered over the edge to look into the Rio Grande, which encircles the pool and laps at its sides. A red-eared slider popped his head up out of the water to taste some algae growing on the pool’s walls. I met him again when I stepped out of the pool to enter the river’s cold water. Maybe the hot spring isn’t magically healing, but there is something therapeutic about going from hot to cold in such a pristine natural environment. Heat and refreshment coming from the same source just inches away from each other leaves a lasting impression.

We also experienced the power of the Rio Grande as it cut through Santa Elena Canyon. Experiencing the little slot on the right side of the range from a distance was beautiful…

…but walking through it was an entirely different experience.

We hiked up to the canyon in the heat of the day, but slowly felt ourselves growing colder and colder as we began to enter the canyon below.

We got to share the experience with a new friend too. Anyone know what kind he is? Work that camera, bird.

The canyon walls, which seemingly rise to the heavens, were once at the very bottom of the ocean. We know this because of the geological wonder of fossils imbedded in the limestone, as noted in this interpretive sign.

THE DESERT

When you think of a desert, a wasteland often comes to mind. The Chihuahua desert is the exact opposite of this. There is life everywhere. It is almost unreal to observe green plants growing out of rocks and flowers blooming in a place that gets less than 6 inches of rain a year.

Torrey yucca is one plant you can’t miss out here. It towers over everything.

I don’t know how many times I thought I saw a crowd of people in the distance and those “people” turned out to be a bunch of yucca. Your mind fills in the gaps, and mine is used to human bodies, not super tall desert plants.

The desert is also covered in Texas’ favorite flower, the bluebonnet.

If you are lucky enough to catch a breeze in the open desert, it will surely carry the sweet aroma of these flowers.

People say the desert isn’t so bad because it’s a “dry heat.” These people don’t know what they’re talking about. Give me moist New York in August any day. It’s February and I became slightly dehydrated after a mile walk on the Dorgan-Sublett Trail viewing the old homesteads of some early settlers.

Was is the heat of the day? Yes. Did I leave my water in the car? Maybe another yes. The heat here is no joking matter. Signs constantly remind you to always have a liter on you and to drink a gallon a day. I have heeded this advice wisely after that little mishap.

So what can we learn here? The desert is alive…and it will kill you.

THE MOUNTAINS

There is no trip to Big Bend without experiencing the Chisos Mountains and mountain basin. We walked the Basin Loop before dusk, hoping to see some animals come out before catching a sunset at the Window View.

As we turned onto the loop we caught sight of five Carmen Mountain white tail deer, which are not often seen below 4,500 foot elevation. Just as we started taking their photos, the three does started running across our path. It was a little unnerving to see two giant buck begin fighting where the runaway does were just munching. We backed away slowly, but they stopped bucking horns and walked away once they caught sight of us.

We took in the sunset after our hike at Window View. A blue, orange and purple sky was the perfect ending to a day of adventure.

Or so we thought! After leaving the basin for the night to head back to our campsite at Cottonwood, we took in a dark empty road full of stars. I drove slowly, in case anything ran across the road. Due to Ryan’s keen eye sight, we spotted a giant jackrabbit. Finding things in their natural habitat never gets old.

I kept driving until Ryan told me to stop again. Three little balls hopped their way across the street. Was it? Could it be?! One jumped up about 2 feet next to the side of our car. It was! My eyes welled up in delight. Yes, I had seen the most darling of all animals: the kangaroo rat. I have loved these little creatures since viewing them at the Bronx Zoo in my early twenties. Not a decade too late. Big Bend does it again.

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