[Part 1: Day One]
Big Bend is where the Rio Grande River takes a great sweeping arc north and east to create a large bump in the shape of southern Texas. It’s where the border between the United States and Mexico isn’t defined by a fence or a wall, but by just a shallow muddy river with cows and cacti on both sides. For Labor Day all I wanted to do was take a few days, drive west, and explore the area of the Big Bend. So that’s what we did. I planned for Ryan, Bethany and I to camp and cook and backpack for four days in West Texas and it was…how do explain the grandeur, the vastness, the unparalleled beauty and desolation and mystery in that desert?…It was perfect.
Ryan took most of the photos, excellent photos, and I did most of the navigating. I want to tell this story in parts – each part focusing on a different aspect of our venture, backpacking route, food, flora and fauna – Here’s Part One. And because we have so many photos, I’ll try to let them speak for themselves.
Ryan picked Bethany, his sister, up from the airport as I finished packing the cooler and our packs. When she arrived we jumped right on the road. I drove us over seven hours of desert and small towns to the entrance of Big Bend National Park and we arrived at the park right as the sun began to set over the Chisos Mountains. On the very last leg of the drive into the Chisos Basin Campground I got pulled over by a park ranger for going 63 in a 45 and endangering the dusky wildlife. Oops.
We made it this far. I planned to go into the National Park and backpack for a few days, then drive southwest along the Rio Grande through the State Park, swim to Mexico and back, then camp up in Marfa Texas before taking the long drive home. A reasonable plan. But there’s just never as much time as you really need.
Since we arrived late the plan was to camp in the Chisos Basin and get a backountry permit before setting out into the Chisos Mountains in the morning. We’d hike the Pinnacles, Emory Peak, Boot Canyon and Northeast Rim on the second day, camping on the Southeast Rim. On day three we’d continue the Southeast Rim to the Southwest Rim and hike out on the Laguna Meadow Trail. Roughly two days and 17 miles with almost 6,000 feet in elevation gain. I was stoked!
We scrambled three miles up the Pinnacles Trail to the Emory Peak Spur junction. Each of our packs were stashed in bear boxes and we practically bounded up the Emory Peak trail, feeling light as air without our heavy backpacks and ready for the mile and a half climb.
At the top we all removed our boots, made lunch and admired the view. It’s pretty funny to me that in all of the photos of us on the summit, we’re all barefoot. It felt so good! On our way down Ryan spotted several Mexican Blue Jays in the pinyon pines and we stopped to admire them. One bird was especially friendly and let Ryan get so close, they were closer than arms length! This began an amazing and unexpected series of wildlife encounters on this trip, that I’ll write more about in a few days.
We continued down the trail toward Boot Spring to find a surprising amount of water in Boot Canyon. One of the challenges of backpacking in Big Bend is water – there are no year-round reliable water sources so each person has to pack in all the water they’ll need, which is about a gallon per day. And a gallon a day gets really heavy, fast. So we tromped through several creeks bubbling with fresh water each carrying sixteen pounds of water. Better safe than sorry!
The terrain in the Chisos Mountains changes drastically mile by mile. Each face of every hillock even comes with its own unique blend of flowers and shrubs, or pine and grass, or cactus and wildflowers. Every turn presented something new and beautiful to behold. We hiked and hiked, up and down and around, slowly running out of energy.
Finally, after one last push up a ridge we came upon the Southeast Rim. And the view! Worth all the hard work and then some. We set up camp at the luckiest backcountry campsite, SE 3, right on the corner of the ridge overlooking the mountains and basins and Mexico.
We propped up our tents and opened hammocks on the ridge and made dinner as the sun began to set behind us.
We watched a huge rainstorm build just to the south of us, creating what looked like an alternate universe of lush green hills. Mindful of black bears in the area we put everything in the bear boxes (how did they get those up here?) and laid our tired bodies down on the rocks to watch the stars come in.
We did over nine miles with our heavy packs that day, but we vowed to wake up and watch the sun rise over Mexico.
To Be Continued…