The middle of May is not the ideal time to be visiting Big Bend National Park in southern Texas along the Mexico border. It's already pretty hot by that time, but we were close by, and we hadn't been there before. So, we made a short exploratory visit, and we look forward to coming back down the road.
Today we started exploring Big Bend National Park. We intended to do a little hiking.
Exploring Big Bend requires a plan. It's 80 miles from one end to the other along the east/west paved roads and there are over 800,000 acres. Hiking in Big Bend requires a plan as well. And this time of year, that plan should include being on the trails early in the morning.
The heat here can sneak up on you and can be brutal. This is no place for my usual shorts, t-shirts, and sandals.
We have heeded the warnings of our Big Bend experienced readers and the warnings found in just about every brochure you pick up.
Well, we have listened, except for the part about not hiking in the heat of the day, we just can't seem to get going early enough.
Therefore, we follow all the other precautions very closely. We have lightweight, loose, breathable hiking pants and long-sleeve shirts, hiking boots, and wide-brimmed hats.
We have all sorts of first aid items, maps, tweezers & duct tape (to remove any spines), and more. We have the basic, "hiking in Big Bend" safety kit.
Everything we read says that we should drink a gallon of water per day. So we carried a half gallon in our backpacks, and we have three gallon jugs and three and a half 24-packs of bottled water in the truck.
We had no plans to do any long hikes today. Otherwise, we would carry a gallon of water each.
As we got started, today's itinerary came together. We would drive to the far east side of the park and knock out most of what we wanted to see there.
From where we are parked in Study Butte (stoody byoot), it is 29 miles to the Chisos Basin in the center of the park and 47 miles to Rio Grande Village on the east side.
So we drove first to Panther Junction (23 miles) which is where the park headquarters is located. We asked the ranger about road conditions, trail conditions, and his recommendations. First recommendation: "Hike earlier in the morning."
We continued east and turned off the main road a few miles prior to Rio Grande Village to drive down to the Hot Springs just to see what that is all about. Well, a little over half way down the rocky, bumpy gravel road, we see a sign: "Road narrows, no dual wheel vehicles beyond this point."
We parked our dually pick-up truck and hiked the rest of the way to the Hot Springs - maybe a mile hike. So it was interesting that there is a hot springs here in the middle of the desert and there were even some people sitting in the constructed "pool".
But for our two-mile roundtrip hike in the sun, we could have skipped this "attraction".
There are some pictographs and petroglyphs in the rocks leading to the springs, but after being at Seminole Canyon State Park, they weren't impressive.
Our attention turned to wildlife. I got this shot of the tiny but loud Canyon Wren. Their song is recognizable as it echos off canyon walls and sound as if they run out of gas at the end. They always put a smile on our face.
Then we had two lizards.
This one has a tail much longer that its torso.
And a Roadrunner up in a tree.
We hiked back up the hill to the truck and continued on. We reached Rio Grande Village around lunchtime, and then continued on another few miles on the paved road where we stopped at the Boquillas Canyon Overlook.
It's hard to tell, but the Rio Grande cuts through the middle of these mountains, and our next stop was to hike through there along the river.
At the end of the road is the Boquillas Canyon Trail parking area. At both this parking area and at Hot Springs, there are signs that say something to the effect of "There have been numerous vehicle break-ins here. Take precautions to lock up and keep valuables out of sight."
Now the ranger told us that there have been "crime sprees" where cars have been broken into, but that it happens maybe two or three times a year. That sort of gets in your head as you leave your vehicle behind out in the middle of nowhere.
We played the odds that it wouldn't be our time and took the 1.4 mile round-trip trail. The other thing at Boquillas Canyon and Hot Springs is Mexican merchants set up along the remote river points and try to sell their goods.
Life has become more difficult for the people across the border due to increased restrictions after 9/11 and they have to do what they have to do, but it still takes away from the enjoyment when the signs warn you of vehicle break-ins and the illegality of buying from these merchants.
Okay, back to our hike. From the parking lot, it is a fairly steep climb up and over a bluff before descending back down into the canyon.
But it is a pretty cool view once you are in the canyon.
As we were walking, the donkey of one of the merchants started braying loudly and the sound echoed through the canyon. It was pretty amusing and Linda loves donkeys.
But then the merchant came to heard the donkey back to his stand and we noticed the donkey was lame. He could barely walk on his front legs. It ruined Linda's day to see that poor donkey loaded up with gear and ridden out of the canyon. It was really a sad sight.
The other sad sight was my face as I dropped a camera lens in the dust while changing lenses. That can't be good. Sheesh.
We hiked back to the truck. No break-ins.
After a few hours hiking in the low elevations along the river where it is the hottest, we nixed any other hiking in that area. The plan was to drive up into the higher elevations in the Chisos Mountains in the middle of the park and check it out.
Now, I know that this park is named after the big bend in the Rio Grande River. But the actual big bend in the river is very remote and it is the least accessed part of the river. Make no mistake. The heart and soul of Big Bend National park is the Chisos Mountains and the Chisos Basin.
The six mile drive from the main park road into the mountains is beautiful. There is more green, and the colors are more vibrant and not as washed out.
And it is a good 15 - 20 degrees cooler than down by the river.
We checked out the little campground, and it is our intent to tent camp a night or two up in the mountains to get the full experience of the amazing night sky and waking to the spectacular views.
We decided to hike the 1.8 mile Basin Loop Trail. The photos were pretty bad after dropping my lens in the sand, but maybe we'll get some shots later.
With about 5 - 6 miles of total hiking, we were both in pretty good shape by the end and headed on home.
Along the way, we saw quail, rabbits, jackrabbits, roadrunners, and a couple of packs of Javelinas (aka Collared Peccaries).
This one was particularly curious as it walked up to the side of the road for a sniff.
They had a nice background for a little early evening foraging.
It was a long day. There is a lot to see, and we learned that our stiff-suspension dually truck is not the best vehicle for exploring Big Bend, especially the off-pavement areas. A return trip with a different option is probably in our future.