Sunday, April 23, 2017

Beautil Big Bend!

When Texans tell you that everything in Texas is BIG, they really do mean it!  We've visited this state quite a number of times (it's hard not to, traveling across the country the way we do!), and you would think that nothing would surprise us anymore, especially when the word "big" is in the name! 

Big Bend National Park had been on my "to visit list" for quite some time, so this was the year we were able to cross it off!  April is usually a good time to visit.  If you can time it just right, the rains will have gone and the wildflowers will be blooming, and the weather won't be to hot yet.  The trick is all in the timing... Have you ever tried to "time" Texas weather?  Good luck with that!  ;-)

Well, we didn't do to bad... According to a birder (and there are a lot of them there!) the week before we got there, it had rained (a lot!)...but according to one of the Rangers, we did miss most of the wildflowers as they "came early this year".  The heat, however started getting up there.  You certainly needed to do your hiking early in the day, because by mid-day it was getting way to hot to do much walking in the sun, and that lasted until sunset which came around 8:30pm. and then it didn't really cool down much below 75 degrees.

Once we got settled into our campsite (which wasn't much more than a slot at a parking lot) we quickly set out for our first drive to see what we could, only having 3 days to explore this HUGE park (over 1200 miles of it!).  We decided to check out the Eastside and visit Panther Junction and Rio Grande Village area.  There were a couple of "easy" trails in this area that we thought we could do before it got to late in the day.

Even though the Ranger told me that most the flowers had left already, the park was still full of cactus blooms.  Almost all the Prickly Pear's had bright yellow or salmon blooms, and every now and then I'd even see a red one.  More than half the Ocotillo's were still in bloom and the same for the Tree Cholla.  I only found a few of the Yucca's still fresh though.  All in all, still lots of pretty color to see...making Jack stop every little bit while I snapped away!   ;-)

When we returned to our campground that night, we were greeted with a band of (at least 18) friendly Javelinas enjoying their evening meal of grass under the trees!  It was quite the sight to see.  On the other side of the lot were a couple of Turkey Vultures doing the same.  Must have been dinner time for everyone!

The following day we started out early so that we could take the full day and make the long loop all around the Westside, called the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive.  This was going to encompass several trails and some dirt roads, so a long day ahead.  We loaded up on water, a picnic lunch, our sun hats and hiking shoes and headed out.

First stop was at the Sam Nail Ranch. Sam R. Nail and his brother, Jim, moved to the area just east of Burro Mesa, in 1916.  The two brothers, with little outside assistance, constructed a one-story adobe house following the building techniques of the native Mexican-Americans along the river.  The two brothers lived there alone for two years, or until June of 1918 when Sam married Miss Nena Burnam.  Here the Nails lived, reared a family, and ranched seventeen sections which they owned, plus about an equal number of leased or otherwise used sections which were within their fence. 

Although life on the ranch was difficult at times, on the whole they loved the place, and while they were in sympathy with the  movement for the establishment of the park, they gave up their ranch with considerable amount of regret. 

What is left now are ruins of one of the houses showing the adobe walls, two windmills (one still working) and a beautiful desert oasis that is a great spot for birding and wildlife viewing.

There were a number of "farmers" who, for a few years made their living here in this area, with no one around them for miles, it seems.  One such person was Wayne Cartledge, a businessman, who, back in 1922 decided to grow cotton here.  It all ended by 1942.  A few of his machines are left and a couple old buildings as a reminder of his adventure.  That's where we stopped for lunch.

Further down the road were some more ruins left by the Sublett settlers, who first came to Castolon in 1914.  They built a stone farmhouse and introduced mechanized farming into the Big Bend area.  By 1918 they had 2560 acres of sorghum, corn and alfalfa and other livestock feed crops.  They called it The Grand Canyon Farms.

From there we drove down into the Santa Elena Canyon where limestone cliffs rise 1,500' above the Rio Grande.  That was quite a site to see.  One fellow traveler remarked at looking at the canyon wall "well, that's an area Trump won't have to build the wall, Mother Nature already has done it for him!"  It separates Mexico & the US with just enough space to allow the Rio Grande to flow through quite nicely.

When we were down at the river's edge, we met a couple that were just coming out of it with their kayak and asked them how the trip went.  They shared that it had been very enjoyable!  They had gone earlier that morning for about two hours and saw wonderful things like caves and outcroppings and such beautiful rock formations.  It sure made me wish we had our own kayak...

That evening we decided to treat ourselves and have dinner at the Chisos Basin Lodge Restaurant.  So we drove the 40 minutes from the campground to there and was lucky to get a wonderful window seat.  Dinner was pretty good considering the location and as we left, the sun was just about to set.  As we started our drive back down towards the campground, we caught a really nice sunset.  It made for a nice ending to a perfect day.

Our last day in the park we decided to go check out the Hot Springs.  Now, with the temperatures being in the high 80's I had no desire to actually go into them, but I wanted to see them and the surrounding area.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but boy, I sure was glad we made the effort!  The trail, like so much of the park itself, changes from moment to moment.

As you drive down the dirt road to get to it, you pass these odd looking hills (?) that look like wavy stacks of shale.  Then when you arrive at the parking area, there are a couple of abandoned buildings that once was the home, store and small motor court back in the early 1920's when people used to come here for the "Hot Springs".  Then you continue on and you pass by a hillside that has several petroglyphs on one side and the Rio Grande running on the other side.  At the end of the path, you come to the spring.  It's odd looking too.  It's a cement square about 10 X 12 built on the edge of the Rio Grande River.  That's it.  Several people were there.  A couple submerged, a couple sitting on the edge, a couple sitting outside of it, and us.  We stayed awhile, chatted with everyone for a bit, took some pictures, then left.  Interesting.

Back at the campground we just relaxed for the rest of the day and tried to stay as cool as we could.  I was glad for the air conditioning and iced tea.  Being in the desert in mid April turned out to be a bit hotter than I expected.  This was a unique park and very diversified...I'm glad we took the time to come!

...on the road in Texas,  Marie

For additional information on this great place, you might want to check this guide: 

If you wish to view the rest of the photos from this trip, you can at my Flickr account at:

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