Big Bend National Park, 2013

Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas.

Page 1: Chisos Mountains
Page 2: Rio Grande canoe trip
Page 3: Santa Elena Canyon

Friday, March 15, 2013

Kathy and I have wanted to go on a multi-day canoe trip for a while. It seems like a canoe river trip could be a wilderness experience similar to backpacking, but without the need to carry a heavy backpack. Our children aren't strong enough for backpacking trips yet, so canoeing might be the next best thing. We waited until this year to plan a trip so that Maggie would be old enough to stay safe on a river. She's five years old now.

Tonight we're camped in Big Bend National Park, Texas, less than half a mile from the Rio Grande River dividing America from Mexico. We spent a day and a half driving here from Colorado, partly to go on a river trip but also to enjoy the warm Texas spring weather. The forecast daily high temperatures are 80°F-100°F all this week, much warmer than our home in Colorado.

Big Bend is a large park with river canyons, mountains and desert. We'll spend a few days canoeing and the rest of our time hiking, and if we enjoy the canoeing then we might try more adventurous river trips in the future.

Daniel and Maggie in front of the Plaza Hotel in Las Vegas, New Mexico, where we spent a night on our way to Texas.

We arrived at the Rio Grande Village campground just after sunset.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

It sure felt good to wake up in a warm tent this morning, and to eat breakfast in a short-sleeved shirt without feeling cold. Back at home the temperature still dips below freezing every night. By the end of breakfast it was beginning to feel uncomfortably warm, and we knew that by midday the campground would be almost 100°F, so we fled to the hills for cooler weather. The Chisos Mountains near the center of the park are much cooler than the surrounding desert, so we drove 30 miles to a trailhead there.

Our kids did pretty well hiking up the Lost Mine Trail, which has good views of the mountains and desert. When we stopped for lunch at the end of the trail, Daniel and Maggie found a deep crevice between rocks and crawled down into it to eat lunch in the cool shade. Kathy and I sat up on a ledge to enjoy views while we ate. A few other hikers arrived while we were eating, and the kids startled each of them by calling out from their deep hiding place. When I climbed to a high point on a boulder, I was startled by the sound of a bullet whizzing past my head. After hearing the sound a couple more times I realized that it wasn't the sound of bullets, but of small birds diving past me at super speeds. I suppose they were hunting for insects.

We got back to camp in time for a late dinner, and then I spent an hour or two making preparations for tomorrow, when I'll be dropping off our car downriver. Our canoe is locked up at the nearby boat ramp, and my bicycle is mounted on top of our car.

Hiking Lost Mine Trail in the Chisos Mountains.

Views along Lost Mine Trail.

The high point of our hike.

Daniel and Maggie's shady lunch spot.

Maggie looks at a cactus that has been partly eaten by animals.

While Kathy cooked dinner, the rest of us explored a wetland near our campsite.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Distance: 77.9 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 14 minutes
Average speed: 14.8 mph

I climbed out of our tent before 5 a.m., while the Milky Way galaxy was still plainly visible in the night sky. It was time for me to drive our car to the spot downriver where we want to end our canoe trip. I needed time to drive there and then bicycle back to camp. Although the river distance between our put-in and take-out points is only 33 miles, driving from one point to the other is 77 miles.

I saw lots of jackrabbits crossing the road as I drove before daylight - many animals in Big Bend are active only at night, when the desert is cooler. Outside the park I turned onto Ranch Road 2627 and drove down to the La Linda bridge that crosses the Rio Grande. The ranch road is a 28-mile dead end because the bridge has been closed since 1992, and only 12 people live along the road. Traffic was very light.

Sunrise on the way to Heath Ranch.

At the end of the road I paid the owner of Heath Ranch to let me park on his property. His office was covered with political bumper stickers, with some saying "Obama sucks" and one with an image of the Texas flag and the word "Secede!!" When I asked him about a cluster of trailer buildings across the river in Mexico, he said that it was a mining camp for feldspar (a mineral with several industrial uses,) but now it's a ghost town. "Daddy Bush shut 'em down," he said in his thick Texas accent. "Remember when Daddy Bush (Pres. George H.W. Bush) first went to China? When he got off the plane he fell and broke his nose on the runway. He said he had the flu, but everyone knows he was lush." Apparently it was during that visit that President Bush gave China "most favored nation" trading status, which made Chinese feldspar cheaper than Mexican, and killed any need for the La Linda border crossing. I imagine that most people who park at the Heath Ranch get some kind of political education.

The bike ride back to camp was tough. The ranch road rolled up and down constantly, and there was a strong wind. Inside the park I had long climbs to Persimmon Gap and Panther Junction, but at least there were visitor centers at both those spots where I could get water. The temperature climbed to about 90°F, but my body was never sweaty - the hot, dry wind seemed to suck water right out of me.

When I arrived back at camp just before 4 p.m., Kathy was very glad to see me. The kids had been fine, but Kathy had been worried for me. We had time to eat a relaxing dinner and decorate Irish-themed cookies - today is Saint Patrick's Day.

Riding back to camp on the virtually traffic-free ranch road.

Rolling hills on the ranch road.

Torrey yucca grows taller than me in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Blue bonnets.

Prickly pear.

Maggie decorated most of our Saint Patrick's Day cookies.

Blowing bubbles after dinner.

Reading at bedtime.


Page 1: Chisos Mountains
Page 2: Rio Grande canoe trip
Page 3: Santa Elena Canyon