Written by Roger.
Texas Trip: Big Bend National Park
Texas Trip: Big Bend National Park,
September 16-20, 2019
From Fort Davis, we drove south back through the town of Alpine and then out in the Chihuahuan Dessert to the little town of Terlingua aka Study Butte....pronounced "Stooood-ee Beaut" by all 110 residents. I prefer calling "Stud-ee Butts", which conjures an interesting activity. The two-hour drive was mostly devoid of traffic.
Thursday the 19th was our first day in the park without a guide. Now I was stuck making up names for the various cacti, birds, plants, grasshoppers, streams and mountains....and I got to tell my stories to a captive audience. Pathfinder had left us with some recommendations based on his assessment of our limitations and lack of any sense of direction...or sense for that matter.
We loaded up the Wrangler with water and two energy bars in case we got lost for more than an hour in the desert. After breakfast at the best and only gas station in Terlingua, we headed off into the park on today's adventure.
The Chisos Basin is a totally different microclimate than the desert floor we had be covering the last few days. At the higher elevation, you can actually see trees starting to appear as you climb up the mountain. The temperature must be a least 10-15 degrees cooler with a nice breeze funneling through the passes. We stopped at the Visitor Center and the Ranger told Megan and everyone else that came in that we should be off the trail by noon and carry extra water due to expected high temps today. This seemed a bit extreme but we were not planning any long hikes anyway.
We started off immediately on the wrong trail. Pathfinder told us to stick to the paved trail to get the best view of The Window and avoid the issues Megan has with switchbacks and heights. We saw a sign directing us to The Window Trail and followed the rocky path for about a mile or so downhill and around some switchbacks before we questioned why it wasn't paved. We decided we'd hike back up and try another trail since the actual Window was still of in the distance and from our current vantage point, there was much of a view. The hike back up was hot and tiring.
We found the paved trail at the top pointing to a lookout point. This "hike" was about a quarter mile round trip but worth every step. The view down to the desert floor though the "window" created by the mountains was beautiful. So ended our first solo venture into the back country of Big Bend...of course we were there with about another hundred hikers, some older and some younger than us plus there was a general store, flush toilets, a hotel and a restaurants with a hundred feet so we wouldn't have even needed our energy bars if we got lost. All we had to do was walk over to the Visitor Center and ask directions.
The nearby Lost Mine Trail was another recommendation of Pathfinders but with this admonition: "Walk up the trail a mile or so until you reach a place with two benches. Megan should wait there and Roger should go on another fifty yards to a lookout point to take a photo. Don't go on to the top because of the height and drop-offs that Megan would not appreciate."
The trail was reasonably well groomed with a gentle slope rising up the mountain, We had taken the last slot in the parking lot so we expected the trail would be busy with hikers that had not received Pathfinders instructions. After seeding the warnings to report any bears, mountain lions of mutilated hikers on or near the trail to the nearest Ranger Station, Megan decided she was not going to stop at the benches and be bait for some wild animal. She braved the fifty additional yards and we walked back down. Got some nice photos along the way.
By now it was getting warm and we decided to break for lunch at the Chisos Basin restaurant. The View of The Window from the restaurant window was better than the food but the food was a lot better than the energy bars we toted along.
Old Maverick Road
After lunch, Megan too the wheel and drove us down to Santa Helena Canyon where we canoed a few days ago. I wanted to see how high the water had risen after the rains the night before. Terlingua Creek wasn't exacting raging but it was flowing enough that hikers could not easing cross it to get into the canyon. Our real purpose for driving to the canyon was to take the Wrangler on the 12 mile Old Maverick Road, a gravel road darn near poker-straight that purportedly saves 45 minutes getting back to town. The signs advise that you need a 4-wheel drive vehicle for this route, which is highly advisable not because of traction but clearance over come of the bumps and rocks along the way. We never put the Wrangler in 4-wheel mode...primarily because we could figure out how to. Our Navigator only requires pushing a button. The Wrangler requires reading the manual, a task we decided to ignore and take our chances.
We stopped a few times for photos and to replace the filling in our teeth but were proud that we didn't get lost and drive on out endlessly into the desert, but we still had our energy bars just in case. Pathfinders advice to stay on the trail was permanently etched in our brains.